“Learning is not attained by chance; it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” – Abigail Adams How do you make, not find, the time to learn and get better? Often the number one impediment in this area is fitting it into our busy schedules. Trust me; I get it. There never seems to be enough time in the day to do what needs to be done both personally and professionally. The only piece of advice I can give you that has worked for me is to take a critical lens to how you currently use your time and try to carve out at least fifteen minutes a day. Easier said than done, right? The best course of action is the focus on the “what if” instead of the “yeah but” aspect when it comes to time. If it’s important to you, then you will find a way. If not, then you will make an excuse. In a perfect world, your organization, school, or district provides not only the time but also relevant options of which you want to be a part. Even though this is a great start, there have to be other associated elements to make it a valuable and worthwhile endeavor. One-and-done events might get everyone pumped up and excited, but what comes next? The same can be said about drive-by professional development. Like change, learning is a process, not an event. There should always be a long-term plan following any keynote or workshop. When it is all said and done, the best experiences are ongoing and job-embedded so that the needed support, application into practice, feedback, and accountability for growth lead to actual changes to teaching, learning, and leadership. These elements also go a long way to scaling both practices and initiatives. So, what does meaningful professional learning look like? Take a look at the image below from Sylvia Duckworth to see what educators really value and think about what needs to change in your school or district.
Let me now get back to the time issue that kicked off this post. I really dig the quote from Abigail Adams as it applies to both formal and informal pathways. It is essential to acknowledge that learning can happen by chance, but when it comes to professional improvement, seeking out opportunities to grow is what actually results in changes to practice. Making the time is only one piece of the puzzle. The other is ensuring what has been learned leads to improvements in teaching, learning, and leadership. For the purposes of this post, let’s put aside more traditional pathways that are either provided to educators or ones that are sought out, such as conferences and workshops. The digital world now provides all of us access to some fantastic opportunities. Here are some no-cost (or relatively low-cost) options.
Webinars Improved bandwidth and increased access to technology have helped learning through webinars gain in popularity. Many publishers and professional organizations offer these free of charge to their membership. While every webinar is broadcast live at a set time, what makes them very appealing is that they are archived for convenient viewing. The ability to stop and restart compensates for many of the challenges educators face when it comes to making the time to learn. Some providers even make certificates of completion available. I highly suggest you take a look at edWeb as they have been a leader in this space for many years. Personal Learning Network (PLN) Social media allows any educator to learn anytime, anywhere, with anyone they want. Access to resources, ideas, strategies, feedback, and conversation as well as the ability to ask and answer questions is readily accessible with an array of devices. Herein lies the power of a PLN. It is like a human-generated search engine on steroids that is at your beck and call. You select how much time to dedicate, who to connect with, and what tools to use. It’s all about YOU! To learn more about creating or improving a PLN, click HERE.
Book Studies Reading is such a critical aspect of one’s personal and professional growth. I have yet to meet an educator who does not see the value in reading to improve his or her craft. Whereas the other two options are no-cost, engaging in a book study means you have to front some cash for the book. Many organizations, schools, and districts will participate in a book study throughout a period of time, typically focusing on a chapter or two a week. Technology tools such as Voxer, Twitter, Instagram, and live video platforms have now afforded people from all over the world to read and learn together. Nowadays, many books come with study guides to assist both individuals and groups reflect upon the ideas and strategies presented as well as to develop action plans for implementation. In the updated edition of Digital Leadership, I included the book study right into the text to better serve educators. At the end of each chapter, you will find a series of discussion and reflection questions to not only push one’s thinking but also to be cognizant of applying what has been learned. If you or your group uses Digital Leadership for a book study, let me know, and I will participate digitally as best I can. You can either share the hashtag (#) or invite me into the Voxer group for asynchronous participation. I am also willing to video conference at the end of the study to answer any questions. Just let me know! Learning should never stop, and the ideal way to grow is choosing a pathway(s) that works best for you.
The future of work should be on the top of everyone’s mind as it is smacking us right now in the face. As I have previously written, we are in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution, where rampant innovation and exponential advances in technology are changing the societal landscape. We are seeing professions being redefined or outright eradicated. Here is a fact. Millions of jobs are and will continue to be, lost as a result of artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, and automation. So, what does this all mean? Below is a synopsis from the World Economic Forum (WEF):
As technological breakthroughs rapidly shift the frontier between the work tasks performed by humans and those performed by machines and algorithms, global labor markets are likely to undergo significant transformations. These transformations, if managed wisely, could lead to a new age of good work, good jobs and improved quality of life for all, but if managed poorly, pose the risk of widening skills gaps, greater inequality, and broader polarization. In many ways, the time to shape the future of work is now.
The WEF goes on to summarize five trends that everyone needs to know about to be ready for this paradigm shift.
Automation, robotization, and digitization look different across different industries
There is a net positive outlook for jobs – amid significant job disruption
The division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms is shifting fast
New tasks at work are driving demand for new skills
We will all need to become lifelong learners
There is a great deal to unpack here. To begin, let’s focus on the most critical overreaching element. Change is not only on our doorstep, but it is about to kick the darn door in. As a parent, this terrifies me as both my children will be thrust into this world very soon. There is some good news, however. In the midst of the 4th and eventually the 5th Industrial Revolution, there will be millions of new jobs. Will our learners be ready?
The question above is meant as a catalyst for reflection. The future of work requires new skills, and it is up to K-12 education to lead the charge in this area. Skills are not enough, in my opinion. Yes, we want learners to have the requisite skills to meet the needs and demands inherent in the 4th Industrial Revolution. More importantly, it is our duty and the role of education to ensure that they are competent. Here are some of the thoughts I shared on this in a previous post:
Competencies outline "how" the goals and objectives will be accomplished. They are more detailed and define the requirements for success in broader, more inclusive terms than skills do. There is also an increased level of depth that considers skills, knowledge, and abilities. To succeed in the new world of work, students will need to demonstrate the right mix of skills, knowledge, and on-the-job ability. A skill is a practical or cognitive demonstration of what a student can do. Competency is the proven use of skills, knowledge, and abilities to illustrate mastery of learning by solving problems.
The image below outlines the critical competencies (left side) that students will need in the future of work and how educators can make sure they develop them (right side).
Empowering our learners to think critically and solve real-world problems is paramount. However, as the WEF notes, lifelong learning is a must for all of us, not just the kids we serve. To meet the demands and expectations for work now and in the future, we must commit to professional growth. It is vital to make the time to learn and grow as opposed to finding the time. If we rely on the latter, chances are it will never happen. Lifelong learning can come in many forms, but in my opinion, the most practical and time-friendly option is the creation and use of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). Using social media allows all of us real-time access to the most relevant ideas and knowledge that can be immediately implemented into practice to prepare learners for their future better. The time is now to move the needle on needed change. The longer we wait, the greater the risk for those we serve – our kids.
“Don’t prepare kids for something. Prepare them for anything!” I remember a world without the Internet, smart devices, mobile phones, 3D printers, and 4K televisions sets. After all, this was the world that many of us grew up in. There was an abundance of playing outside, reading, walking around the mall, going to the movies, and talking on the phone. Sure, we had our technology at the time, which now seems quite archaic compared to even the most rudimentary devices of today. However, we were not connected even in the slightest bit when compared to the present. Rotary phones and face-to-face were the main, and really only viable, options available. Little did we know that we were in the midst of the 3rd Industrial Revolution and the dawn of the computer age was upon us. Disruptive change was upon us; we just didn’t know it back then.
Whether you like it or not, we are in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution and have been so for many years. It has and will continue to, fundamentally change the way we engage with each other, work, and go through life. It is exhilarating as it is terrifying. Take this view from the World Economic Forum:
We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.
Tom Murray and I presented a call to action, highlighting the need to transform teaching, learning, and leadership in Learning Transformed to meet the demands and challenges inherent in the 4th Industrial Revolution. In the updated edition of Digital Leadership, I took it a step further. Improving upon and then building pedagogical capacity in ways that align to the competencies that our learners will need in a world that is almost impossible to predict is critical. Rest assured, it is not as arduous an endeavor as you might think. The key to future-proofing education, and learning, for that matter, is to empower students to think and construct new knowledge while simultaneously having them apply what they have learned in relevant ways. More specifically, education has to prepare kids to be competent in the following areas:
Critical thinking and real-world problem solving
Relationship building (inter and intra-personal)
Digital awareness and use
Career and job-specific requirements
So where to begin? For starters, it is vital to get everyone on the same page. The Rigor Relevance Framework provides the common vision, language, and expectations to help learners develop the competencies to succeed in the 4th Industrial Revolution. For more detailed information, you can view a series of posts on the framework HERE. Now more than ever, the importance of education cannot be overstated. However, things do need to change at scale. The status quo cannot be tolerated. If schools continue down the same path as they have for decades, two things will happen. In one possible scenario, our students could begin to abandon them as they will find more relevant and applicable programs and information online. The more likely outcome though is that they will not be adequately prepared for the new world of work. In either case, both of these should be viewed as unacceptable. Challenging the mantra of TTWWADI (that’s the way we’ve always done it) requires both a bold and fearless educator. The good news is that we have many of these people in our schools.
One thing I have learned from hundreds of classroom coaching visits each year is that innovative practices are present. I have been so inspired by teachers and administrators who have begun to embrace different and better pedagogical techniques aligned to the competencies listed above while also improving outcomes in the process. The challenge is moving practices that prepare kids to succeed in the 4th Industrial Revolution from obscurity to more mainstream. We must not be satisfied with isolated pockets of excellence. Even though they represent a great starting point and should be celebrated, it is essential to remember that every learner deserves excellence. Will the learners in your school be ready?
“When you finally let go of the past, something better comes along.” – Anonymous There are many reasons why we tend to fall back on what we are either comfortable with or have always done. For one, comfort tends to be the enemy of growth. In other cases, the fear of failure of the unknown can derail us from taking the needed risks to implement new and better ideas. Then there is the most dangerous view in education that the way we have always done it is the best way. One last factor has to do with our experiences. We tend to teach the way we were taught and lead the way we were led and, in a sense, become victims of our past. My point here is that change can be hard, confusing, scary, and unpredictable. None of these reasons should stop anyone from doing what’s best for kids.
With changing times, continuous reflection and learning are needed in order to move schools forward now. As I have said over and over again, the world is changing. Jobs are changing. Expectations are changing. As such, teaching, learning, and leadership must change if growth and improvement are the goals. It requires all leaders, regardless of title, to seek out answers to crucial questions that can pave the way for innovative ideas aimed at improving outcomes for all learners while fostering better relationships with stakeholders. The image below can help you get started with this process.
I am not implying that we throw out the baby with the bathwater, but instead work to do what we already do, better. Here is where the Pillars of Digital Leadership come into play.
Each of the seven outlined below are either embedded components of school culture or an element of professional practice that leaders already focus on (or should be). Innovation in education is, in many cases, not an entirely new idea, but instead doing what we already do better. Let’s look at these Pillars and ways that we can lead in the now: Student engagement, learning, and outcomes: We cannot expect to see increases in achievement if students are not learning. Students who are not engaged are not likely to be learning. Engagement is not a silver bullet, though. Students need to be empowered to think at the higher levels of cognition while applying what has been learned in relevant contexts. Leaders need to understand that schools should reflect real life and allow learners the opportunity to use real-world tools to do real-world work. As technology changes, so must pedagogy, especially assessment and feedback. Leaders should always be looking to improve instructional design and establishing accountability protocols to ensure efficacy in digital learning. Innovative learning spaces and environments: Would you want to learn under the same conditions as your students do, or in similar spaces? More often than not, the answer is no. Research has shown the positive impact that innovative spaces can have on learning outcomes. Leaders must begin to establish a vision and strategic plan to create classrooms and buildings that are more reflective of the real world while empowering learners to use technology in powerful ways through either personalized or blended strategies and increased access in the form of BYOD or 1:1.
Professional learning: Research has shown, and continues to show, that job-embedded, ongoing professional learning results in improved learning outcomes. This needs to be prioritized. Additionally, leaders need and should want access to the latest trends, research, and ideas in the field. With the continual evolution of digital tools and increasing connectivity, schools can no longer be silos of information. All educators can now form their own Personal Learning Network (PLN) to meet their diverse learning needs; acquire resources; access knowledge; receive feedback; connect with experts in the field of education as well as practitioners; and discuss proven strategies to improve teaching, learning, and leadership. Digital leadership also compels educators to create more personalized learning pathways for adults during the school day and year. Communication: You will not find an effective leader who is not an effective communicator. Leaders can now provide stakeholders with relevant information in real time through a variety of devices by meeting them where they are. No longer do static, one-way methods such as newsletters and websites suffice. A variety of types of information can be communicated through various tools and simple implementation strategies to create a more transparent culture. Public relations: If you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and more often than not, another’s version will not be the one you want to be told. Leaders need to become the storyteller-in-chief. Leaders can use free social media tools to form a positive public relations platform and become the de facto news source for their school or district. It is time to change the narrative by sharing all of the positives that happen in schools every day to create a much-needed level of transparency in an age of negative rhetoric toward education. Branding: This is how your school or district is defined. It is not something that you want to leave up to others. Businesses have long understood the value of the brand and its impact on current and potential consumers. Leaders can leverage social media to create a positive brand presence that emphasizes the positive aspects of school culture, increases community pride, and helps to attract/retain families looking for a place to send their children to school. Tell your story, build powerful relationships in the process, and empower learning with a brandED mindset. Opportunity: It is vital for leaders to consistently seek out ways to improve existing programs, resources, and professional learning opportunities. It requires a commitment to leverage connections made through technology to take advantage of increased opportunities to make improvements across multiple areas of school culture. The other six pillars connect and work together to bring about unprecedented opportunities that would otherwise be impossible, such as securing donations, resources, authentic learning experiences for students, and mutually beneficial partnerships. As Milton Berle says, "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." In the updated edition of Digital Leadership, I take readers on a deep dive into each pillar while providing pertinent research and evidence to better lead in the now as opposed to the past. Be sure to check out the video below that adds additional context on each as well as practical implementation strategies.
For even more insight, ideas, and strategies, you can take a listen to one (or all) of the following podcasts read an interview transcript that emphasizes how to lead in the now effectively.
The dreaded zero. For many students, this number elicits a certain amount of fear and anxiety that all assignments are turned in on time. I, for one, felt this way and made sure that everything was turned in when it was due. Compliance and following rules, even if I didn’t agree with them, were just natural parts of my view of school. Unfortunately, the effect does not transcend to every kid. Sometimes they forget. Other times they just don’t care. Regardless of the reasons, I think it is essential to critically examine the message and lesson that we are imparting to our youth through this outdated and, quite frankly, insensitive practice. The policy for giving zeros to students who do not turn in assignments when they are due has pretty much been entrenched in schools across the world. It is one of many examples that fall into what I call the “death trap” in education – that’s the way we have always done it. Just because something has been done in the past, or is a traditional component of school culture, does not mean it is an effective practice. In my opinion, it is well beyond the time to revisit this practice and determine if it truly is in the best interests of our learners. Take the scenario below shared by Powers Thaddeus “Teddy” Norrell.
Emily is an engaged student who always pays attention in class, has a high class rank, and has never made a grade lower than an A. Emily’s first four grades in physics are 100, 99, 99, and 98. Emily is set to have a 99 average for the term. However, she has had an unusually busy week, and when she arrives at school on the morning the final assignment is due, she realizes that she has completely forgotten to do it. She explains her situation to the teacher and begs to be allowed to turn it in the next day. The teacher is unsympathetic and assigns Emily a grade of zero for the final assignment, telling her that this will prepare her for the “real world.”
Let’s examine the last statement regarding preparation for the real world. Correct me if I am wrong, but in education, teachers and administrators don’t receive zeros if they:
Don’t arrive to work on time.
Fail to meet a determined deadline (i.e., turn in lesson plans, complete all observations/evaluations by a set date, etc.)
Don’t read or respond to email and as a result, are unprepared for meetings or don’t get needed information to colleagues when required.
Forget to call parents back
Now other professions might have stricter accountability, but more often than not, there is leeway. The question then becomes what message or lesson are we really teaching students by giving zeros? If learning and growth is the goal, then it is our responsibility to tackle this issue as the negative impacts on our learners far outweigh the need to make an example or fall back on the “preparation for the real-world” rationale.
As a principal, I worked with my staff to tackle this issue as well as the overall practice of grading. I’m not going to lie; it was one of the hardest change initiatives I ever engaged in during my tenure as principal. Now I am not saying our solution was perfect or the best by any means. However, it did represent a step in a better direction in that we focused more on learning as opposed to grades and marks. You can see the specific changes and associated rationale for our revamped grading philosophy HERE. Below is what the committee came to a consensus on in regard to zeros:
No zeros: Students are not to be assigned a grade of zero (0). This not only reflects grading as punishment but also creates a hole that students cannot dig out of (Guskey, 2000; Reeves, 2004; Reeves, 2008; O'Conner and Wormeli, 2011). This includes HW, quizzes, tests, projects, etc. An exception to this would be cases that involved cheating, plagiarism, or a midterm/final exam no show without a justifiable excuse (i.e., doctor’s note, death in the family, etc.).
For some practical alternatives to dishing out zeros check out the latter portion of the article by Norrell titled Less Than Zero. It is important to determine why students don’t turn in specific assignments such as homework and projects as a way to mitigate even having to consider doling out zeros. Consider the following questions:
Is the assignment meaningful and relevant?
Does the learner see the purpose in it?
Will feedback be given?
Reflecting on these questions can help lead to the creation of better assignments that are more relevant, and kids actually want to complete. Punishing learners with zeros destroys both morale and a love of learning by digging a hole that many cannot recover from (nor do they have any aspirations to do so). They also create a mirage in terms of what was actually learned. If a grade does not reflect learning than what’s the point? We owe it to our students to pave a better path forward. Guskey, T. R. (2000). Grading policies that work against standards … and how to fix them. NASSP Bulletin, 84(620), 20–29. O'Connor, K. (2007). A repair kit for grading: 15 fixes for broken grades. Portland, OR: Educational Testing Service. O’Connor, K., & Wormeli, R. (2011). Reporting student learning. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 40-44. Reeves, D. B. (2004). The case against zero. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(4), 324–325. Reeves, D. B. (2008). Effective grading practices. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 85–87.