Thursday, July 10, 2008

Leadership Day 2008::Connecting the Dots::

Scott McLeod asked this of bloggers through his blog Dangerously Irrelevant:
On July 4, 2008, blog about whatever you like related to effective school technology leadership: successes, challenges, reflections, needs. Write a letter to the administrators in your area. Post a top ten list. Make a podcast or a video. Highlight a local success or challenge. Recommend some readings. Do an interview of a successful technology leader. Respond to some of the questions below or make up your own. Whatever strikes you.

School leaders have a lot on their plates. And then there's technology. When it comes to technology, I think of it as a game of connect the dots without always numbers and a definable shape. Where to start and where to finish (if there's such a thing) are often murky. Everyone usually has their own dots to add or order in which to connect them. That adds complexity. Finally, the reasons for connecting the dots surely can throw the monkey wrench into the spokes. Come to think of it - it's much like the act of understanding or knowing in our classrooms (but more on that later). Here's an attempt to connect at least some dots to define a possible shape of technology leadership.

[ I hope the sophomoric Sketchcast I made to map out this blog post isn't making you feel that you've lost 3 minutes 41 seconds of your life that you'll never get back. I included it to help visualize this concept. ]

1st Dot - Vision Vision may seem too M.Ed. 101-ish for some but I think it deserves the opening dot when talking about educational technology. Thompson and McKelvey (2007) described vision in schools as a "guidepost for decisions". This is a perspective that resonates with me for a number of reasons. It implies the vision is living and commonly embraced to be referred to on an regular basis. If it's commonly embraced, I have to assume that folks at all levels of the school have hopefully help set the vision or at least buy into it.

Vision is hard stuff. It's even a tougher question to answer when we throw technology into the mix. I think the one central question that a vision of technology should answer is: "what is technology's role in learning and teaching?" This question could help us answer, "what and how do we want students to understand?" which I think is the overarching question.

But one person - even the school leader - can't answer these questions by him/herself. They've got to be answered by everyone. It's all stakeholders' responsibility. We can't expect leaders to come up with them on their own. It's up to everyone to help craft the answers. The good news is that there really are no right answers. When it comes wrong answers, excuse the cliche, the only one is not answering them at all.

A lot can be written about vision but since I'm already 3:41 in the hole with you, I'll move on.

2nd Dot - Culture
Beneath the conscious awareness of everyday life in schools, there is a stream of thought and activity. This underground flow of feelings and folkways wends its way within schools, dragging people, programs, and ideas towards often-unstated purposes: This invisible, taken-for-granted flow of beliefs and assumptions gives meaning to what people say and do. It shapes how they interpret hundreds of daily transactions. This deeper structure of life in organizations is reflected and transmitted through symbolic language and expressive action. Culture consists of the stable, underlying social meanings that shape beliefs and behavior over time" (Deal and Peterson, 1990, p.7)
Like vision, I don't know if we always talk about culture in the same breath as technology. But we can't overlook it as it's such a quiet gale wind force in our schools. I'm sure we've all seen the whole gamut of school cultures: brilliant, mediocre, and toxic; student-focused, teacher-focused, curriculum focused, cynical, energetic, and flat. And since vision is on our minds, I believe a vision is as only strong as the culture of a school. Jerald (2007) notes a school’s strength of culture is about alignment between vision and actions. If the vision's spirit is to enhance teaching through technology, the culture has to be amiable to it. The "beliefs and assumptions" that Deal and Peterson talk about have to be grounded in things such as: learning can be enhanced using technology, the professional development is worth it, and personal time investment will be fruitful.

No matter how cool the technology tools, culture, I believe, will win the tug-of-war. There still may be a few trailblazers but systemic buy-in is likely to be minimal. I believe culture ensures the sustainability that Michael Fullan talks about. It's the culture to paraphrase Deal and Peterson that impacts everyday. The President of Southwest Airlines Colleen Barrett writes a similar sentiment about culture in the airline's magazine Spirit, "Their experiences confirm what I have always believed: Lip service can be a great danger. It’s easy to write columns like this bragging about our Culture; the hard work is living up to it every day." How does your school's culture live up to learning and using technology everyday?

3rd Dot - Ethnography - We all need to put on our ethnography hats and do a little listening to what kids are saying, thinking, and doing inside and outside of the classroom. Listen the same to teachers, parents, community members, practitioners, and experts on modern student learning/understanding, pedagogy, and educational technology. Listen for the patterns and stories that Daniel Pink talks about. Not to taint your research, but we do know our students are reading and writing ferociously. How does that impact our instructional decisions? The spirit of these enthnography questions asked about literacy by my former professor Dr. Jamie Myers can serve as a starting point:

How often have we focused our inquiry on what is going on inside students’ heads? Why do they read and write? What do they do with literacy to marginalize or expand consciousness? What do they want to know more about and how could literacy facilitate that learning? How do the lessons and literacy practices we sponsor serve the construction of their identities, relationships and values in their lives within and beyond our classroom community? (Myers, 2001)
4th Dot - Teaching - Teaching is a huge one to talk about with technology for 3 reasons: (1) technology use, I believe, is really about the learning and teaching, (2) teaching encompasses so much, and (3) there's a fine line between tools and teaching. So in trying to recoup the time you've lost watching the Sketchcast, I'll keep this simple and present 2 tools a la cart (I'd go with Chris Lehmann's talk personally).

Tool 1: What Research Says About Teachers and Technology Adoption
Teachers choices and beliefs about technology fascinates me. Maybe it's because it seems like a binary yes/no decision. Maybe it's a control issue. In either case, here are 7 themes that I found through my research looking at research about teachers and technology adoption that I think are important for school leaders to consider:

  1. Teacher's beliefs of teaching (pedagogy) and student learning (epistemology) affect teacher technology adoption.
  2. Teachers who engage in more teacher-led pedagogy adopt less technology.
  3. Teachers who leverage constructivist-centric pedagogy have a tendency to use more technology.
  4. Teacher's beliefs and values are not hardened systems; however, they are complex and prone to revision.
  5. The richness of an environment (technology, support, quality, quantity) can change a teacher's beliefs and values in learners and pedagogy.
  6. The manner in which technology is presented-teacher-centered or student-centered-impacts those teachers holding differing views.
  7. Web 2.0 and 21st century skills are collaborative in nature; thus they are constructivist. This collaborative and constructivist nature of the technologies require teachers to adopt their beliefs which brings us back to theme #1.
Tool 2: Chris Lehmann's (Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia) NECC Presentation: Schools 2.0: Combining Progressive Pedagogy and 21st Century Tools. Listening to this presentation recorded by Wesley Fryer via Ustream could very well be the best 44 or so minutes you spend all summer.

5th Dot - Learning - This is another biggie not just in importance but in scope. In fact, it's the core of every school and educator's mission. There's a lot that can be said about how students learn, what they should be learning, how learning should take place, teacher's role in learning, and technology's role in learning.

Despite this being the star of the show, I'm not sure if we spend enough time on it especially when we talk about technology. Back on the 3rd dot, I mentioned ethnography because it's a great tool for us to see really what's going with our students, to try to better understand them. A lot has changed since we were undergrads learning about learning theories, if they were even discussed. Even more has changed since our K-12 days. We all did well for ourselves learning the way we did. But that was then. Our students are here in the now. We need keep this our focus and connect it outward to the other aspects of our schools: teaching, technology, culture, vision, and assessment. That's my elevator pitch.

Now for the dim sum cart. First, here are some ways to experience 21st century learning outside of dot 3's ethnography (compare these references to what you find in your ethnography-how do they compare?). Secondly, are two diagrams I created to help present some of these concepts.

Dot 5 Books
  1. Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat
  2. Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind
  3. Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams' Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything
  4. Partnership for 21st Century Skills
  5. Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay's Flat World Project
  6. Connectivism - A compelling new learning theory from George Siemens
Dot 5 Diagrams
The first diagram shows the sources of understanding in a "traditional" classroom. The second is in a "21st century classroom". I use standards since we are familiar with them as topic of understanding. The objective of including these is to help visual these sources of understanding and show how they can be used in learning.

Traditional Classroom

21st Century Classroom

6th Dot - Professional Development/Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) Professional Development has never been so easy and so hard at the same time. We can learn, connect, ask, talk, communicate, collaborate, share, teach, or just plain lurk 24 hours a days, 7 days a week, 365 days a year all without leaving the glow of our monitors. The hard part is: making it stick, sustaining it through vision and culture, and connecting it to learning and teaching. Welcome to Personal Learning Networks...and they're not just for teachers.

Personal Learning Networks are sources of conversations, information, experiences, thought, and guides that an educators can leverage thanks to technology. Specifically, they include blogs, wikis, social networking sites such as Classroom 2.0, Twitter, and Skype. Through the networks that are developed, other networks emerge since you and everyone else likely has 2 different networks. Through these networks the world is at your fingertips. Have a question? Twitter it or post it to Classroom 2.0. Want to explore something or reflect on a experience? Blog it yourself. Interested in some thoughts of colleagues (who are likely in similar situations as you), read a blog.

One of most enticing things of personal learning networks to me is that they're personalized. Most teachers from my experiences come into workshops with a range of expectations and needs. Trying to effectively meet them all is hard and really, really tough especially when managing different subject areas, grade levels, and experience levels. Using personal learning networks takes the N/A out of how does apply to my classroom column on evaluation sheets. It makes learning relevant, meaningful, and real. Just when we think we're islands with unique problems, we find that there's a bunch of folks around the world going through the same thing with the same thoughts. PLNs take a very isolated profession and turn it into a very connected one.

Here's a great resource from Lisa Nielson on developing your own Personal Learning Network.

7th Dot - Support/Access This is a subject near and dear to my heart and SEDTA's heart too. I wrote an article a couple of years ago on this topic. More recently I blogged about it. Since you most likely don't want to hear stories: I'll be direct: without support and adequate access, technology will not see appreciable rates of adoption. The technologies may be complex but the logic is simple: frustration with technology stinks for most people. And most users don't want to know, care to know, or even know how (that's not a criticism just an many people can replace their car's brakes?) to fix slow network connections, sluggish computers, or errant applications. And when things break or get slow, which they do, someone needs to help out quickly. Support and adequate access are the keystone to a 21st century school and something leaders need to keep in mind.

8th Dot - You/Your Dot! I reserved this one for you (us) school leaders since I think there's a lot of leaders and potential leaders in our schools. I really never feel comfortable with writing prescriptive lists. There's always something that's left out or doesn't apply. (These statement are in no way an admission of omission of not coming up with an 8th dot for U in the Sketchcast.). Seriously, every person brings to leadership experience, insight, and wisdom. And there's usually a nuance to every school. The challenge is to put something there about you or your school to complete the picture of leadership.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Deal, T, & Peterson, K (1999). Shaping School Culture: The Heart of Leadership.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Jerald, C.D (2006, December). School Culture:"The Hidden Curriculum". Retrieved March 1, 2008, from The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement Web site:

Myers, J (2001, March 3). University of Pennsylvania Ethnography Forum: Quotes shared by Jamie Myers ( Retrieved July 6, 2008, from Various Quotations on Literacy and Inquiry Web site:

Thompson, S, & McKelvy, E (2007). Shared Vision, Team Learning and Professional Learning Communities. Middle Ground. 10, 12-14.

Photo Credits Connecting the Dots photo is from user mlsj from Flickr


Julie Lindsay said...

Edwin, I am flattered to be included on the same list as Friedman, Pink, Tapscott and Siemens!
I enjoyed reading your post and you highlight some excellent issues and challenges to do with leadership. I am a great fan of Scott McLeod also and fully support his vision (that you share) for an informed, flexible and creative leadership structure to support 21st century learning. We have a long way to go however.......

Vicki A. Davis said...

Edwin -
I've been out of town, but just got back in and your amazing post came through my rss reader. Very nice work. I particularly like the comments about the culture of the school.

I do want to make the point that if the administrator is supportive of their staff and gives a culture of empowerment, whether or not admin is technology savvy, there can still be technology change.

Of course, so much of change is leadership and so much of leadership is the individual leader. I've seen great organizations under great leaders crumble when a micromanaging power monger takes over. Sustainability is probably the holy grail of the human race.

We need empowering, humble, hard working leaders in order to facilitate change anywhere.

Excellent post! This will be on my blog tomorrow.

etalbert said...

Yes, this is a wonderfully crafted and thoughtful post.

I loved the Sketchcast and the systematic way you approached your discussion. Your writing is very persuasive.

I will share this with all the principals I know.


Edwin Wargo said...

I've been slowly getting back online for being away for a few days. So I apologize for the delayed responses and bunching up my responses.

@Julie - Thanks for the kind comments. We do have a long way to go but it's really exciting time and look forward to the journey. I attended yours and Vicki's Flat Classroom Project NECC presentation through Ustream. The presentation was incredible and so is the project.

@Vicki - Thanks for the mention on your blog! That's a great honor. I think you make a great point about how it's not necessarily technology knowledge of a leader but their ability to cultivate a "culture of empowerment" and individual leadership that sustains learning and understanding.

@Elaine - Thanks for your comments. I'm glad you liked the Sketchcast - it was certainly a risk! After creating it, I do see a huge value in tools like Sketchcast for mapping out ideas and reflection.