Friday, July 24, 2009

The Times They are A-Changin' (or not)

Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

-- Bob Dylan

Will Richardson's outstanding "Tinkering Toward Utopia" blog post contemplates the challenges of achieving meaningful change within our schools. Please read it as I've only pulled out one quote from Phillip Schlechtly's book:

As long as any innovations that are introduced can be absorbed by the existing operating systems without violating the limits of the social systems in which they are embedded, change in schools is more a matter of good management than one of leadership. . . .In these cases, while it is sometimes difficult to break old habits, usually after a brief period of resistance, old certainties are abandoned and new certainties are embraced. For example, teachers now routinely use PowerPoint slide shows where once they used overhead projectors and slate boards. The reason this transition was relatively easy to accomplish is that it did not change the role of the teacher. . . . But when innovations threaten the nature and sources of knowledge to be used or the way power and authority are currently used and distributed–in other words, when they require changes in social systems as well as operating systems–innovation becomes more difficult. This is so because such changes are disruptive in inflexible social systems.

I believe this to be true-- our schools' cultures will need to changed in order to adopt the kind of connected, personalized learning environments that many of us envision. But it's important that those who are reluctant not be scolded and threatened. They'll just hunker down. They must be shown that it's easier than ever before to jump into the Read/Write Web and become acquainted with popular sites and applications. One can branch out from there. Furthermore, as much as I hate "death by PowerPoint" the latest versions of presentation software (Gosh, just check out Apple's Keynote) allow for terrific creativity, multi-media, and web integration. This is a far cry from slate boards.

We CAN also insist to our friends and peers that the important tools which will make learning easier for our students, even if we have to stretch ourselves a bit. Most teachers care enough about the kids to be concerned about giving them the best. At this point, perhaps the best we can hope for is an environment where experimentation and innovation is encouraged "at the fringes", providing successful models for enticing other teachers. Then, other members of the community need to be connected to those driving change.

As I've argued before, leaders must work to support (and model) this kind of exploration by the risk takers in the school community. Laying out guilt-trips is quick and easy (and won't accomplish change). Take a look around. The connectivity afforded by the Web is transforming many of the old institutions at a rapid pace. Educators must accept this and do their darndest to find the best ways to lead this transformation by engaging with it at whatever level possible.

"Bob Dylan-- The Times They Are A-Changin" used with kind permission of 8270037.


WillKnott said...

So much of what the article and your parsing of it say is on the money. I do think that the school has changed its tactics so many times and has spoken with so many voices, and broken so many pledges that there are those who are intimidated. Best to let those like you offer the subtle and non-threatening examples. Also, I think, a true long range plan, long enough so that those like me won't feel threatened and those like me who want to be the best will eventually do what they can and learn what they can.

FYI: Will sent my scores even though I didn't request them, or want them. But it worked out all right. 55 took it. Probably the sum of any three other AP tests.
I had 12 5s, 19 4s, 13 3s, 8 2's (more than in all previous years combined) and 1 1. My second in six years. So I am pleased. At least they know that I didn't coast. Will even complimented me. Maybe just because I am gone.

Larry Baker said...

Congratulations on tremendous scores-- great arguments in themselves for not "changin'" for changes sake

Ironically, when you commented, I was making slides for a presentation to Mame36. I am going to romp through about 20 slides in a minute all showing the free stuff at iTunes U. This includes tremendous archival recordings and video from the Smithsonian, Library of Congress, etc. Also tremendous video and audio material from Duke, Yale, Stanford, Michigan. ALL disciplines.

Who wouldn't want to set their kids loose on this stuff the way they go after iTunes? Each change like this is not revolutionary, but concurrent incremental changes (I can think of dozens) throughout a school could have a substantial impact in a short time. This requires a plan. Ways for sharing information over social networks would have to be an instrumental part of this plan. Leadership must also be networked as co-learners.

Tracie Krawczyk said...

I agree that, as teachers, we need to look at redesigning delivery of curriculum to include new technologies. And I'm right with you that technology can both increase student involvement and ownership in their learning.

Here's a question to ponder, though: How does a school implement new ideas without overwhelming the students with it? This was the scenario at MVHS last year. Our group incentive project was to include blogging in our classes and then collect data on the quality of critical thinking found in their responses. At first, students were excited to try something new, especially students who felt more comfortable in front of a screen that with a pencil and paper. However, as more and more teachers began to implement the same requirements, students saw it less as an new opportunity and more as a chore. Perhaps, it was the way that blogging was rolled out at Mt. Vista (making it a class assignment instead of as an option for an assignment). I wonder if rolling out new ideas works best (in terms of student buy in) if done first by a few brave teachers and then trickling down through the less and less brave, rather than rolling it out as a school wide initiative.

(I don't know the answer to this, by the way.)

Larry Baker said...

Tracie, I absolutely endorse the pilot approach, so long as it is not treated as a sideshow that the p.r. folks can point to and say, hey, we're doing some tech here.

I'm not at all surprised that the computer work would get old, fast. As I indicated in "The Digital Natives Aren't that Restless", "I find that students often treat Web 2.0 activities as, well, assignments."

I'm moving even farther out of my comfort zone to give greater control over the DESIGN of the project. My next blog will be about Apple's Challenge Based Learning model, and how I hope to implement it in AP Gov (as a pilot). Stay tuned...I'll be wandering out on the rope without a net.

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