Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Fallacy of Best Practices

In an education world obsessed with standardization, the pursuit of "best practices" reigns supreme. Countless systems and schools rely on pre-defined, one-size-fits-all approaches, promising guaranteed success. However, this rigid adherence to a single ideal can stifle innovation and hinder progress. We must shift our focus to effectiveness – achieving desired results in a way that adapts to unique situations. 

The allure of best practices lies in their simplicity. They offer a seemingly foolproof formula, eliminating the need for critical thinking and tailored solutions. This, however, ignores the dynamic nature of learning. Industries evolve, technologies change, and societal needs are constantly in flux—context matters.  A practice deemed "best" today might be obsolete tomorrow, especially in a disruptive world. Chasing an elusive ideal can leave schools stagnant, resulting in students who cannot adapt to new circumstances. The reality is that there is no such thing as a “best” practice.  If there were, every system, district, school, and educator would implement them with high fidelity and get amazing results. 

Effectiveness, on the other hand, prioritizes results. It encourages experimentation, research-based pedagogy, and data-enhanced decision-making. Schools that embrace effectiveness analyze their specific context, identify goals, and then explore diverse approaches to achieve them. This fosters a culture of innovation, where solutions are not copy-pasted but thoughtfully crafted. 

Imagine a marketing campaign: a "best practice" approach might dictate a specific social media strategy. However, focusing on effectiveness would analyze the intended audience and platform trends, potentially leading to a more innovative, targeted approach. Like a marketer analyzing their audience and platform trends to tailor their approach, educators should assess their students' individual and collective needs, key concepts, and the most recent pedagogical research. This could lead to more innovative, personalized, and effective teaching strategies that deviate from traditional practices but result in better learning outcomes.

Best practices often lack nuance. They are developed based on broad trends in education or a world that no longer exists, failing to account for unique strengths and weaknesses at the school or individual level. Effectiveness, however, thrives on understanding specificities. It empowers schools to leverage their unique assets – their culture, staff skillset, or niche expertise – to achieve their goals in a way that optimizes their strengths. This approach encourages autonomy, knowing what actually works in a given context, and innovation, allowing for the adoption of cutting-edge strategies that resonate with the current generation of students. It also fosters a more dynamic environment where feedback and data from actual classroom experiences can shape ongoing approaches, keeping learning relevant and impactful.

The shift towards effectiveness is a testament to the power of educators and schools. It requires a change in mindset, a move away from blind adherence to methodologies that some figureheads and organizations claim are the only way to get results, and instead, a move towards continuous learning and adaptation. Schools need to invest in ongoing support, evidence collection, and analysis, allowing them to track the success of their chosen strategies. They must cultivate a culture of open communication where educators feel empowered to challenge assumptions and propose alternative methods. 

Embracing effectiveness isn't about discarding all existing knowledge. Established practices can serve as valuable starting points. The key lies in using them as a springboard, not a rigid blueprint. Schools gain the agility and creativity needed to navigate an ever-changing world by prioritizing effectiveness, not clinging to the fallacy of best practices. Achieving real results in a dynamic world trumps a theoretical ideal. 

The time has come to break free from the shackles of "best practices" and embrace the power of effectiveness driven by the true experts in education—the schools and educators who implemented these strategies consistently and with a high degree of fidelity. It is these people who move an idea into action and determine its effectiveness.  

Sunday, April 7, 2024

11 Artificial Intelligence (AI) Tools to Support Effective Teaching and Leadership

It goes without saying that AI is a hot topic of conversation in education circles and beyond. In the beginning, I was a skeptic myself, but now I use it to support my professional work, especially when I coach leaders. While there are legitimate concerns and anything generated by AI needs to be fully vetted, the most profound benefit is how it can save educators precious time.  Teachers can use it to help design lessons, build assessments, unpack standards, personalize, scaffold questions, develop hooks, provide relevant connections, and so many more possibilities.  Leaders can use certain AI tools to streamline communication, personalize feedback, provide targeted support to staff, find peer-reviewed research in a snap, and aid in other leadership tasks. 

Here are some of the most popular tools being used at this moment:

  • Magic School - Get help with lesson planning, differentiation, writing assessments, and so much more. Click on the “magic tools” tab at the top of the page to see all of the options available to teachers.   
  • School AI - Know what students need, when they need it and deliver it with AI support. The company behind this tool is extremely committed to data privacy. 
  • QuestionWell - Generate an endless supply of questions so you can work smarter, not harder.
  • Gradescope -Seamlessly administer and grade all of your assessments, whether online or in class. Save time grading and get a clear picture of how your students are doing.
  • Parlay - Facilitate meaningful, measurable, and inclusive class discussions.
  • Diffit - This is a great tool for differentiation. It allows teachers to get “just right” instructional materials, saving tons of time and helping all students access grade-level content. 
  • Chat GBT – A chatbot that uses natural language processing to create humanlike conversational dialogue. It can respond to any prompt, such as unpacking a standard into scaffolded questions or differentiating aligned tasks. I recently used it when working with a fourth-grade teacher to create a song on long division as part of a review activity. Users who have the paid version can create elaborate images. 
  • Gemini – A chatbot from Google that is very similar to Chat GBT. The free version allows for the creation of pictures that do not contain people. 
  • Brisk Teaching – A Google Chrome extension that helps busy teachers save time in the tools they already use, like Google Classroom, Docs, Slides, YouTube, and online articles. In seconds, teachers can create unlimited instructional materials, give feedback, evaluate student writing, and level or translate texts - all without needing to switch between apps. 
  • Ideogram – A free image creation tool. Create picture prompts for worksheets and writing tasks. During coaching sessions, I have helped elementary teachers create images for sight words.
  • Copilot (free, but need a Microsoft login) – Very similar to Chat GBT and Gemini. 

Another tool that I have begun to explore is Leap. It can convert my blog posts to podcasts that sound very professional. When I listened to the first recording, I was amazed.  Stay tuned as I launch my podcast later this year. 

AI can be an invaluable timesaver for all educators. However, it is important to note that it cannot facilitate lessons and feedback conversations.  It is a tool to support effective practices, not drive or replace the work of educators. The real power behind AI is the people who use it strategically to work smarter, not harder.