Sunday, January 25, 2015

Leading Schools of the Future

Portions of this post are adapted from the Future Ready Schools website with permission.

Advances in technology continue to impact society in amazing ways.  The evolution of the Internet allows anyone with access the ability to communicate, collaborate, acquire information, and learn with anyone, at anytime, and from anywhere.  Learners today have embraced this digital world and have begun to explore their passions in ways never imagined.  They thrive in this world and find relevancy and value through a variety of experiences that technology provides.  Growing up in a digital world has expanded their creative boundaries while motivating them to be self-directed learners.  With the changes in technology, virtually every facet of society has adapted in some way, with one major exception – schools.  

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The structure and function of the majority of schools in this country is the exact opposite of the world that our learners are growing up in.  There is an automatic disconnect when students, regardless of their grade level, walk into schools due to the lack of engagement, relevancy, meaning, and authentic learning opportunities.  Our education system has become so efficient in sustaining a century old model because it is easy and safe.  The resulting conformity has resulted in a learning epidemic among our students as they see so little value in the cookie-cutter learning exercises they are forced to go through each day. The bottom line is that they are bored.  It is time that we create schools that work for our students as opposed to ones that have traditionally worked well for the adults.  Schools and districts need digital leadership.

Digital leadership takes into account recent changes such as ubiquitous connectivity, open-source technology, mobile devices, and personalization. It represents a dramatic shift from how schools have been run and structured for over a century, as what started out as a personal use of technology has become systemic to every facet of leadership. Digital leadership can thus be defined as establishing direction, influencing others, and initiating sustainable change through the access to information, and establishing relationships in order to anticipate changes pivotal to school success in the future. It requires a dynamic combination of mindset, behaviors, and skills that are employed to change and/or enhance school culture through the assistance of technology.

Creating schools that work for students requires digital leaders who articulate a bold vision for change that not only tackles the status quo embedded in the industrialized model of education, but also one that sees the inherent value of technology to enhance the teaching and learning process.  We need to realize that many traditional elements associated with education no longer prevail. How we go about doing this will vary from school to school or district to district, but the process begins with the simple notion of putting students first to allow them to follow their passions, create, tinker, invent, play, and collaborate.  Schools that work for students focus less on control and more on trust. 

Future ready schools are those focused on learning in a digital age and prepare students for the world of today and of the future.  The culture of these future ready schools is based on building a leadership team, establishing a coherent vision for change, developing a systematic action plan, modeling for leaders effective and efficient ways to leverage digital tools to increase effectiveness, and modeling for teachers how to harness tools to support students’ learning. Working smarter, not harder, by discovering natural complements to the work already being done enhances outcomes.  

Digital Leadership and Future Ready 

Recently the U.S. Department of Education and the Alliance for Excellent Education announced Future Ready Schools (FRS), which aligns seamlessly with the Pillars of Digital Leadership. FRS is a free, bold new effort to maximize digital learning opportunities and help school districts move quickly toward preparing students for success in college, a career, and citizenship. Future Ready provides districts with resources and support to ensure that local technology and digital learning plans align with instructional best practices, are implemented by highly trained teachers, and lead to personalized learning experiences for all students, particularly those from traditionally under-served communities.   If your district has not taken the pledge yet please do so by clicking HERE.  There will also be a series of free summits for district leadership teams to attend.  Leadership is central to the FRS effort.  As a coalition partner ICLE is uniquely positioned to assist leaders in transforming their districts to be Future Ready.

The Time is Now

This effort comes at a critical time as districts embrace college and career readiness as the goal for all students and recognize the potential of digital tools to help teachers personalize learning for each student. While less than 30 percent of U.S. schools have the bandwidth they need to teach using today’s technology, federal and state efforts are expanding this capacity to ensure that at least 99 percent of the nation’s students have access to high-speed internet in their schools within the next five years. Such connectivity, along with strategic planning by districts to maximize its availability, has the potential to transform the educational experiences of all students, regardless of their background.  Will your district be ready for this transition?”  District leaders must respond to these changes with thoughtful planning to align necessary technologies with instructional goals to support teaching and learning.

For more on Future Ready, visit

Sunday, January 18, 2015

How Digital Tools Improve Teaching and Learning

Adapted from an article I co-authored, Real-World Ready: Leveraging Digital Tools

Digital tools are transforming essential elements of the education space. Understanding how they are impacting teaching and learning will help guide your consideration of which tools are useful and how to best implement them. 

Currently, online tools....

  1. Increase collaboration: Just as social media has given rise to new definitions of community, digital tools are transforming community and the give-and-take between students and teachers. Platforms for web-based discussion threads and creation of course or class wikis alter the types of student involvements in project-based and writing-specific assignments. A piece of student writing can become a diverse and substantive document when it is the basis for a step-by-step exchange of ideas and questions between teacher, peers, authors, and mentors. When digital tools are integrated in a pedagogically sound fashion they also promote and enhance other essential skills sets such as communication, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, digital literacy, entrepreneurship, global awareness, and digital responsibility/citizenship.
  2. Innovate assessment: As formats and contexts for assignments evolve, the methods of assessment has had to keep pace. The openness of the online environment and the integration of such things as game attributes, shape all kinds of assessment, especially formative assessment, which measures learning progress (not only endpoints in learning). 
  3. Enable learning about information and research: Research projects will always require substantive research, accurate and relevant synthesis, and defined audience-oriented approaches. However, in an information-saturated world, students are drawing on tools that help them analyze and understand multiple representations from a range of disciplines and subjects, such as texts, data, and photographs.
  4. Transform time-frames around learning: In many instances, digital tools offer an asynchronous (not simultaneous) environment for response and inquiry not present in brick-and mortar environments. Written and video discussions online can enable diverse views, opportunities for collaboration, and time to think and plan before responding in ways that in-class discussions do not provide. This is true for both online classrooms as well as “blended” classrooms, those integrating online and digital tools into a traditional learning setting.
  5. Ownership of learning: According to John Dewey, the type of activities that stimulate real involvement "give pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking, or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results".  There are thousands of free digital tools available that promote the art of doing.  Students can now pick the best ones in order to create an artifact that demonstrates conceptual mastery through the construction of new knowledge as well as the acquisition and application of essential skill sets.  The process of choice increases engagement, authenticity, and ultimately more value in the learning process. Unleash the power of digital tools and empower students to take ownership of their learning.
By no means is this list exhaustive. With that being said, what would you add? How do you see digital tools transforming teaching and learning?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Drivers of a Successful BYOD Initiative

Technology seems to be more accessible that ever before.  It is common to walk into a typical household these days and see a variety of devices being charged. One of the first things I look for when I go to a friend’s house is whether or not any charging cables are readily available in case I need one.  Even when we entertain guests I will go to charge my iPhone and find that someone has already commandeered my charger, much to my chagrin.  Many other people regularly take some sort of charging apparatus with them wherever they go.   Access to technology is by no means isolated to only adults.  As devices have become more affordable over the years, parents have bestowed a variety of mobile technologies upon their children.  We really are living in a digital age.

As a result of the advances in technology and an increase in Wi-Fi access, schools have slowly begun to respond to this trend.  The realization now is that many students possess devices and it only makes sense to harness and leverage their immense power. For many, even the most stubborn school districts that have fought this trend for years have begun to change course.  All one has to do is look to the largest school district in the United States, the New York City public school system, to see that they have just lifted a ten year ban on students bringing their cell phones to school.  The potential is there for schools and educators to empower students to take more ownership of their learning.  This has resulted in a growing trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives being adopted.  This has been the preferred option as opposed to 1:1 initiatives due to overall cost.  However, many schools and districts that have adopted BYOD have done so without proper planning and support.

The overall goal of any BYOD initiative should be to support and enhance student learning.  It should not be implemented as a way to just pacify students by allowing them to use their devices only during non-instructional time or to eliminate discipline issues. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that these are two important outcomes of BYOD, but firmly believe that student-owned devices in school have to be aligned to learning outcomes first and foremost.  Other important outcomes on behalf of the student include increasing productivity, conducting better research, becoming more digitally literate, and developing into a digitally responsible citizen. BYOD begins with trusting and respecting students.  The fact remains though that the cart is too often placed before the horse.  A rash decision is made to go BYOD without a sound rationale for how it will impact student learning.   The following are key drivers of a successful BYOD initiative:

  1. Infrastructure – Herein lies a common pitfall for many schools/districts that implement BYOD. Before going any further it is pivotal to ensure that the plumbing can withstand the stress of mobile technologies accessing the Wi-Fi network.  You need to expect that there will be more devices connected to the network on a given day than there are students.  Not only will some students bring in more than one device, but you have to account for staff member access as well.  There is nothing worse than developing and implementing a lesson that integrates mobile learning devices than to have the Internet slowed down to a snail’s pace. Or even worse, the network crashes or begins to negatively impact teachers and students using school-owned mobile technology.
  2. Shared Vision – This is extremely important, as you will have staff and community members on both sides of the fence.  Before going full steam ahead with BYOD, gather key stakeholders to establish a shared vision that includes rationale, goals, expected outcomes, expectations, and means to assess the effectiveness of the initiative.  Central to a BYOD vision is a consistent focus on student learning.
  3. Strategic Plan – The shared vision that is created by all stakeholder representatives, including students, will drive a plan for action.  As is the case in any successful initiative, sound planning is imperative.  During the planning process one must consider community outreach, budget allocations to improve existing infrastructure, policies, professional development (teacher and administrator), student trainings, and evaluation procedures (i.e. How do I know that this is impacting student learning?). Sound pedagogy must be at the heart of any BYOD initiative. To assist in this area check out these mobile learning frameworks.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  4. Policy Development – Part of the strategic planning process will be to develop policies and procedures relating to BYOD.  It is important that the resulting artifacts are not too overbearing and afford students the opportunity to be trusted and empowered to take ownership of their learning.  A sound policy addresses Wi-Fi login procedures, a focus on learning, acceptable use, equity, and absolving the school of any liability for lost, stolen, or broken devices.   
  5. Professional Development – As I work with schools and districts across the country on BYOD initiatives, I can honestly say that this is one area where mistakes are made. Teachers need proper support in terms of developing pedagogically sound lessons, designing assessments aligned to higher standards, exposure to web-based tools and apps that cater to BYOD, ensuring equity, and developing classroom procedures.  Prior to rolling out a school or district-wide BYOD initiative, teachers should know full well what the outcomes are as articulated in the shared vision and have a set of tools and instructional strategies that can be used on the first day. Another key to success is ongoing professional development to provide teachers with additional strategies and ideas so that devices are used to support learning.  In addition to teachers, leaders also need professional development in regards to the observation and evaluation process. They are the ones after all that have to make sure that mobile devices are being used properly to support learning while addressing higher standards.  Before implementing BYOD as a school or district make sure professional development has been provided to teachers and administrators. 
  6. Student Programs – Students themselves need a form of professional development on the expectations and outcomes of device use.  Successful initiatives contain an embedded component that includes educational programs for students before a BYOD initiative is rolled out and ones that are continued each year.  These programs, which can be held once in the beginning of the school year, focus on how devices should be used to support learning as well as digital responsibility.  As principal, I held annual assemblies in the early fall for each grade level, which focused on cyberbullying, creating positive digital footprints, and the tenets of our BYOD program.  The end result was that our students embraced the shared vision and device use was more focused on learning than off-task behavior. We were also in a better position to give up control and trust our kids.
  7. Budget allocations - Although BYOD initiatives are a cost-effective means to increase student access to technology in school, there are solutions available to help streamline teaching and learning devices.  ClassLink Launchpad is a fantastic learning management system (LMS) that can be purchased to deliver a uniform experience across all devices in order to assist with the teaching and learning. With ClassLink students and teachers can access a customized dashboard that is pre-loaded with a variety of tools that are used on a regular basis. Some teachers have even used it to help transform their classroom to paperless environments.
By focusing on these drivers BYOD can be implemented successfully in your school or district with the primary focus being on student learning. For the latest BYOD resources and tools check out this Pinterest board. Please consider sharing your thoughts on the advantages and perils associated with BYOD. By openly discussing both sides of the issue we can crowd source the best set of drivers to ensure BYOD success.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Leading the Maker Movement

Over the past year more and more schools across the globe have embraced the concept of making to learn.  This phenomenon trickled into schools as the Maker Movement became more popular and natural connections to learning became quite evident.  To begin to understand the educational value of making we must look at the roots of this movement.  A recent article in Newsweek sums it up nicely: 
THE MAKER MOVEMENT is a global community of inventors, designers, engineers, artists, programmers, hackers, tinkerers, craftsmen and DIY’ers—the kind of people who share a quality that Larry Rosenstock says “leads to learning [and]…to innovation,” a perennial curiosity “about how they could do it better the next time.” The design cycle is all about reiteration, trying something again and again until it works, and then, once it works, making it better. As manufacturing tools continue to become better, cheaper and more accessible, the Maker Movement is gaining momentum at an unprecedented rate. Over the past few years, so-called “makerspaces” have cropped up in cities and small towns worldwide—often in affiliation with libraries, museums and other community centers, as well as in public and independent schools—giving more people of all ages access to mentorship, programs and tools like 3-D printers and scanners, laser cutters, microcontrollers and design software.
As the Maker Movement has gained steams schools and educators alike have begun to incorporate makerspaces as exploratory centers for students to invent, tinker, create, and make to learn.  A makerspace can best be defined as a physical place where students can create real-world products/projects using real-world tools.  In 2013 I was fortunate enough to hire media specialist/teacher librarian Laura Fleming, who took the initiative to create a makerspace in our school. Through her work I discovered some guiding principles that might just help you begin to create a makerspace in your school or integrate the process of making across the curriculum.  It is first important to understand three underlying qualities that essential in ensuring that students make to learn:

  1. Making is a process – As with any process, making requires the ability for educators to give up control and trust students. It can be messy and unpredictable, but the products students create, problems they solve, and questions they answer become learning relevant learning experiences they value. Making is guided by a student’s natural inquiry and self-directed learning. Specific skills are require of students, the first of which is knowing what tool to use and how to use it safely. The second involves problem-solving and diagnostic skills that are required to figure out why something won’t work, come up with a creative solution, and not get frustrated. 
  2. The right educator makes the difference – The process of making requires patience on behalf of an educator who will not have all the answers nor know how to help students out every time they experience a problem.  This is quite ok as it is near impossible for someone to have all of the required content knowledge to assist students as they make to learn. The right educator helps students diagnose a problem so that they can create a solution.  He or she guides students through the inevitable highs and lows of making something while tying the process and embedded concepts of various maker projects to different content areas.  This educator understands that there needs to be a fundamental shift from transmitting knowledge to enabling a student to create his/her own solution.  The right person is a coach, models when necessary, and has the mindset of a maker educator.                                                                                                                        
  3. Identify the perfect space – This can be a challenge as available areas to set up a makerspace in many schools are few and far between.  The perfect space must encourage creativity and support the idea that anything is possible. It should contain comfortable seating, have limited rules and control, be flexible, have ubiquitous access to WiFi and technology, and infuse prompts and guides to promote inquiry. Possibilities include the library/media center, classrooms, or a common area of the school. You can even develop a pop-up makerspace or a makerspace on a cart. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination. 
Once you understand the essential qualities to create the perfect makerspace or environment for your students it is time to begin planning.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel here are there are many resources available. For a curated list of online resources related to makerspaces check out this Pinterest board. To learn more in depth about the concepts associated with making be sure to purchase the book Invent to Learn by Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez.  Laura Fleming's World's of Making website has everything you need to get started, including suggested items to outfit the space with. She also has generated a step-by-step flow chart pictured below that will assist you in your makerspace planning. 

For a maker culture to succeed and thrive in a school, leadership matters. I learned some of these lessons unbeknownst to me as they were only brought to my attention after making to learn became an embedded component of our school culture. Selecting the right person to lead the initiative is pivotal.  Once that is done give him or her the autonomy to make decisions related to the space and process.  Ensure that there is a mutual understanding of the freedom to execute on innovative ideas and create a space that is always in a state of controlled chaos.  Provide encouragement every step of the way, as there will be times when equipment does not work or fellow colleagues attempt to undermine the process due to their own insecurities.  Finally, make sure there is an allocated budget for the maker educator to establish a space that attracts students.  In simple terms, get out of the way.