Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Paradigm Shift

The world continues to change as a result of technological advances.  Just a few years ago it would have been near impossible to predict some of the paradigm shifts we have experienced.  It all began around 2003 when the smartphone wars started with Blackberry, but was quickly taken over by the Apple iPhone in 2007.  At this point change began to happen at a rapid pace. Disruptive innovations, such as Uber and Netflix, have begun to dramatically alter consumer behaviors, in many cases for the better. Make no mistake about it; technology is shaping the world in ways that we could never have imagined. The types of disruption we are seeing are improving effectiveness, efficiency, and results. It's a dog eat dog world in the digital age. Either adapt and evolve or become obsolete and extinct. The dying taxi industry and Blockbuster provide stark reminders of this fact.

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With all the change the world is now experiencing it is quite dumbfounding, to say the least, as to why schools and education remain static when it comes to change. All one has to do is walk into a school and for the most part they will see the same structure and function that has dominated for the past 100 years. The pressure to conform to a world that solely equates school success to standardized metrics is, for all intents and purposes, the reason why we are not seeing disruptive innovation at scale. However, if schools and leaders do not take cues from history it is only a matter of time before they suffer the same fate of obsolescence. The domino effect here could be catastrophic to our economy and the world, as we know it.

Maybe evolution is not the right approach for education, but rather a concerted focus on paradigm shifts to professional practice.  As Thomas Kuhn (1970) argues, scientific advancement is not evolutionary, but rather is a "series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions", and in those revolutions "one conceptual world view is replaced by another". Thus a paradigm shift constitutes a change from one way of thinking to another to spur a revolution that transforms learning and professional practice. This sounds great in theory, but it won’t just happen. For a paradigm shift to occur and be sustained it must be driven by change agents who are willing to disrupt the status quo embedded in the global education system.

Paradigm shifts need to be driven by change agents in classrooms, schools, districts, and other educational organizations across the globe.  In a world where technology is becoming more and more embedded by the minute, it is incumbent upon leaders, regardless of position, to replace the conceptual view of school with a more meaningful one. This is where the concept of digital leadership really comes into play. By carefully analyzing current components of professional practice, educators can begin to make the necessary paradigm shifts to replace existing practices with more effective and relevant ones. The following are some specific paradigm shifts in relation to the Pillars of Digital Leadership:

Student Engagement, Learning, and Achievement

We can ill afford to teach and lead in the same ways we were taught and led. It is important to sift through the fluffy ideas that abound as well as the allure of the tools and begin to integrate technology with purpose when appropriate. Success is contingent upon sound instructional design, quality assessments, and an improved feedback loop. To validate this paradigm shift, the concept inherent in this pillar should be aligned to actual results that exhibit improvement not just in terms of engagement and learning, but also achievement as evidenced by a Return on Instruction (ROI). When implemented correctly, digital tools can transform education.

Learning Spaces and Environments

Desks in rows, LCD projectors used as glorified overhead projectors, uncomfortable furniture, poor lighting, and inflexible arrangements have to go. To prepare our learners to think and solve problems in the real world and beyond, they need to learn in spaces and environments that most emulate this reality. Research has shown that redesign can impact student learning (Barrett et al., 2013). More importantly, it can empower our learners.

Professional Growth

Traditional forms of professional development such as “sit and get”, one-size-fits-all, a few isolated days in the school calendar, and trainings lacking accountability are all a waste of time and money. Technology now allows for professional learning to take place anytime, anywhere, and with anyone. Combining improved professional learning experiences with the power of a Personal Learning Network (PLN) sets the stage for meaningful improvement that can be transformational.


Schools still rely on traditional means (email, newsletters, phone calls). The shift here is to begin to meet stakeholders where they are at and engage them in two-way communications. This blended approach will result in more transparency, exposure, and message amplification.  

Public Relations 

If you don't tell your story someone else will. Do you really want to roll the dice and take a chance with this? Everyone has access to the same free video, picture, and text tools to become the storyteller-in-chief. There is such power in stories that focus on student successes and staff accomplishments. No longer does any educator have to rely on the media alone to share the daily awesomeness that occurs in classrooms and schools. 


Here is a simple equation: Communications + Public Relations = Branding.  This is not a business-minded concept focused on selling, but instead telling stories and consistently sharing a positive narrative about education. The focus on telling and sharing work in concert with one another to build powerful relationships with all stakeholders. This results in greater support and appreciation for the whole child approach that many schools are focused on.


As the saying goes, if opportunity doesn’t knock then build a door. The digital world allows us to open doors like never before. The paradigm shift here will naturally result with a sustained focus on the other six pillars.

A paradigm shift in learning, teaching, and leadership is needed to improve our education system. Opinions, talk, and ideas alone will not do the trick, especially those not connected to research and evidence. Let’s raise the bar for schools and ourselves so that a scalable paradigm shift occurs and holistic improvement becomes the norm, not an exception.

Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat,J., Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on pupils' learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689

Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


  1. Hi Eric, thanks again for the great reflection. Based on the work I do with principals and their schools, the two pillars that are the biggest challenges are Student Engagement, Learning, and Achievement, and Professional Growth. In schools that are integrating tech and transforming pedagogy, there is a need to figure out how they want to measure the impact quantitatively. There is a lot of qualitative data, but not enough quantitative. My take is that it all comes down to planning out how they will measure the impact ahead of time. School boards are also questioning themselves as to what is the best way to measure this.

    The other challenge we are seeing is PD. Slowly school boards are taking notice and are realizing that they need to look at PD in a different way. As for the teachers, more and more are starting to build their PLN (Twitter in particular), but many are still deciding to to jump in. I believe the main reason is that often our PLN resides in the informal (Twitter chat in the evening for example), thus outside "work hours". We are currently putting in a lot of effort in regards to developing a growth mindset, and for teachers and principals to come to the realization that professional learning, defective practice and intrinsic self-directed PL and PD has become an integral part of our profession.

    I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks again for the post & reflection !

    1. Sorry reflective practice and not defective LOL

    2. Those pillars are definitely the most important in my opinion as well. They key is to find balance and connect tech integration as best as possible to quantitative data. This in itself is not ideal, but in the minds of many of our stakeholders it is all that matters. The most important element in this equation is instructional practice and pedagogy. If these do in fact change for the better through the purposeful integration of technology quantitative data should become more readily available. If you can take a look at standardized test scores, graduation/attendance rates, acceptances to 4 year colleges, and discipline referrals before and after implementing holistic tech initiatives. Then ask can you identify positive trends. As to your second point we need to continue to press on with modeling and showing powerful examples of how PLN's are positively impacting professional practice.

    3. I agree: instructional practice and pedagogy are at the heart of what teaching is all about. Thanks again for your thoughts !

  2. "With all the change the world is now experiencing it is quite dumbfounding, to say the least, as to why schools and education remain static when it comes to change."

    I am seeing schools change quite a bit. Not all of them, but a lot more recently. Maybe not at the rate of acceleration that many would like, but many parents want to focus on their children being safe and cared for, over "branding". What does "branding" mean to a parent if their child hates school?

    I appreciate what you have shared, yet I also think that many schools are doing some remarkable things, and a lot of educators are making a huge difference within their own practice right now. We need to continue to move forward while appreciating progress that has been made by many.

    1. There is definitely change as you point out. Some schools and districts are evolving in amazing ways. However, most of what I see from my point of view as of late is isolated pockets of excellence as opposed to systemic change throughout the system. This is especially true with larger school districts here in the US. The branding piece is less about the word and more about the work that takes place. Agree with it or not, the point here is about building powerful relationships about the great work that takes place in schools everyday (with and without tech). I think we are on the same page here, but just disagree in the terminology. I appreciate progress, which is happening, but shouldn't we continue to advocate until even more kids and educators can experience what's possible? No generation should lose out in my opinion.

  3. I think how we advocate is as important as what we advocate for. Sometimes more so because the message can get lost with the messenger or the delivery. I think there has to be a balance of pressure, support, and appreciation. Teaching is an insanely tough job as it is, and I think that we need to acknowledge that often.

    I appreciate your voice pushing for something better for our kids. We need this.

    1. Teaching sure is hard, but so is leadership. Balance is key, but also a focus on transformational change that makes things better for teachers, administrators, and kids. Sometimes a direct push is needed to compliment support and appreciation. Sometimes constructive pressure is needed more to get over the hump. By no means am I saying what method actually works the best, but I have seen some educators work so hard for the change that we both champion only to see the rest of the system stay the same. Thanks for the dialogue George.

  4. I don't find the world dumbfounding at all. I am confident that Malaguzzi, Dewey, Holt, Kohl, and other progressive educators would have no trouble whatsoever teaching in the age of Twitter, YouTube, and cell phones. Perhaps these new technologies have had so little impact on education is because they don't matter all that much. None of them represent the sorts of megachange Papert called for.

    1. I agree, the world is definitely not dumbfounding. What happens to be is the fact that many (not all) schools or professional practice have not changed in meaningful ways. As you allude to is that many technologies don't matter much at all as they are being used so ineffectively. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. No! Not every app holds the potential to "transform" or "revolutionize" education. Chasing the golden app is a fool's errand. Some technologies offer a greater promise of ROI than others. Social media has been overhyped successfully in education because it's easy - essentially watching cat videos and jabbering. It's passive, asks nothing of us, and conforms to the overwhelming dominance of talking, looking stuff up, and being lectured to in school. Calling it transformative doesn't make it so. To quote Sigmund Freud, sometimes a smart phone is just a phone.

    (See A New Paradigm for Evaluating the Learning Potential of an EdTech Activity -

    I am alarmed by how discussions of schooling are so easily hijacked by facile tips from business magazines. True business leaders don't read listicles about success.

    The New York Times article, C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success (, tells us that most successful business leaders, the people self-help book readers wish to emulate, do not read business books. They read poetry and novels and great non-fiction written by experts. In short, CEO libraries are tributes to a great liberal arts education. Now that is a lesson school leaders should learn!

    It sure would be swell if educators spent more time reading their own literature.