Showing posts with label change. Show all posts
Showing posts with label change. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Are You Ripe for Change?

This week I am giving some guest bloggers the opportunity to share their ideas and experiences. This is a post from Dr. Robert Dillon. 

Watching vegetables grow until the moment that they are perfectly ripe for harvest can be an exercise in patience. Each day it means carefully inspecting a variety of facets of the vegetable with the eventual question being, “will it be even better tomorrow?” Waiting one more day holds the potential for vegetable nirvana, but it also gives the squirrels another day to destroy all the patience and waiting that led up to the day of perfection in one tiny squirrel bite.

Too many schools around the country are waiting for perfection to begin the transformative changes needed in our spaces of learning. They are waiting for a better infrastructure or few more people to retire. They are waiting for the completion of the right amount of professional development or the semester change when things will settle down. They are waiting. They are waiting. They are waiting. Waiting is often an effort to ignore doing the really hard stuff. Waiting is a strategy to avoid failure and not lean into the uncomfortable. Waiting is hurting kids. Waiting also allows others outside of education to fill the void.

Over the last 18 months, the Affton School District in Saint Louis, Missouri has broken through the inertia of waiting and into a fresh mindset of fire, ready, aim. This shift in mental model (by a growing number of learners throughout the ecosystem) has unleashed fresh energy for innovation throughout the district. Two factors have been the primary catalysts for allowing this to occur.

The first was building a culture of service. When things are broken, in need of update, or outdated, the innovative spirit is crushed. When instruction is inhibited because there is no support, risk taking becomes non-existent. As the lead innovator in the district, it was important for me and my team to take visual, concrete steps that showcased that fresh culture of service and rallied every human resource available, both technical and instructional, into action to solve the backlog of problems. The result has been a new trust and the opportunity for new conversations around our future as a learning community.

The second was a dedicated effort to saying YES. The most powerful change agent in education is the word YES. It unleashes ideas. It grows confidence. It builds momentum. It releases trapped wisdom into the system. It really is that powerful. Affton said yes to an app development pilot. Affton said yes to a Bosnian Studies program. Affton said yes to traveling to other schools to see innovation in practice. Affton said yes to a library redesign. When NO is your default setting at any level of your organization, bits and chunks of the system are wilting.

Affton School District hasn’t arrived. It is on a journey, a long journey, but no one is waiting. Instead there is a growing acceptance that failing forward fast and being in beta by design are the new way forward. Transformational change, the kind that comes from when we are working with the goal of being different as opposed to getting better, is exactly what all of the kids should expect each day from the adults that are in charge of making our schools ripe for learning.

Dr. Robert Dillon serves the students and community of the Affton School District as Director of Technology and Innovation. Dr. Dillon has a passion to change the educational landscape by building excellent engaging schools for all students. He blogs at:, and he learns and shares on Twitter @ideaguy42. His first book, Engage, Empower, Energize: Leading Tomorrow's School Today is set for publication in the fall.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hey Seth, How About Some Practical Ideas?

Warning: This post is a bit of an editorial rant. I rarely do this on Free Technology for Teachers, but this has been bugging me for a while and I need to get it off my chest.

This week a couple of videos (here and here) featuring Seth Godin made the rounds on Twitter and other networks. In both of these videos Godin takes the public education system to task for not producing creative thinkers and for producing students who lack initiative and subsequently sit around waiting for directions from their teachers and later their bosses. That doesn't bother me because Godin's not the only person to say such things and I believe those statements are accurate when applied to the majority of public schools. What bothers me about Godin saying those things is that he doesn't follow them up by offering any practical implementation strategies. What's worse is that he has a huge following of people (many of them wealthy and powerful) outside of education who will rally behind him and further take public education to task while again not offering any practical reform strategies.

Now before people jump on me for using too small of a sample size to judge Godin's statements on education; I've listened into live web conferences in which Godin eluded questions of practical reform implementation, watched a dozen videos featuring him, read one of his books, and listened to the audio of another of his books. In other words, I think I have a good handle on what Godin's all about. In fact, I like what he has to say about business, leading people, and his general cheese-moving qualities. But when it comes to education, I lump him in with all of the other people calling for reform in education without having stepped into a public school classroom and without offering any practical solutions.

I was venting about all of this on Twitter this morning when Colin Davitt asked who do I see as pointing out the problems and offering practical solutions. Here are some of the folks that are doing good work toward making practical change; Chris Lehmann, John Carver, Eric Sheninger, Patrick Larkin, and see my Twitter list of K-12 administrators for others. These people are in schools making changes happen at an administrative level. You can be out of the public school system and still make contributions to changing education. Wes Fryer, David Warlick, Scott McLeod, and others on my Twitter list of Ed Thought Leaders demonstrate that. And as classroom teachers we can stop wishing for permission and make changes happen in our classrooms, Lee Kolbert demonstrated that in her blog during the last school year. And as for me, I've sat in the hot seat because I don't wait for permission I go on the offensive with a case and evidence that almost requires a change of thinking. Nothing says "he's got a point" like hundreds of pages of research dropped on a naysayer's lap (yes, I literally did that once).

So Seth, have you got any ideas for us?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Common Sense Responses to Common Complaints

I very rarely write posts about educational theory, educational philosophy, or the politics of public education not because I don't have ideas, but because that's not the purpose of this blog. But, it is my blog and I do have ideas so this morning I'll venture off course just a bit. If you don't like this post, don't worry. I promise that the next 100+ posts will be focused on free resources for education.

Anyone that has spent more than a few minutes in a teachers' break room can probably tell you that the most common complaints from teachers center around disagreement with administrative decisions. Another common complaint, more common amongst younger teachers, is about low salaries. I'm as guilty as the next teacher of engaging in these complaining sessions. However, over time my response to hearing these complaints from other teachers has changed from joining into the complaining to blocking out the complaining plowing ahead to do my best for my students. (Although again I still do complain sometimes, I just try to do it less).

Yesterday, I read a post from Dr. Scott McLeod that really reflects my newer (relatively) thinking about the common complaints of teachers about the state of public education. After listing the responsibilities of school leaders McLeod writes,
We can point fingers. We can blame others. We can rail against the system. But we must recognize that we are in charge of the system."

He then goes on to write,
"We must point those fingers inward."

Granted, McLeod is addressing school administrators, but I believe those same ideas can be used by classroom teachers too. We can complain that we don't have the computers we know students need, or that we don't have the least restrictive Internet environments we need, but that shouldn't stop us from trying to creatively work around those problems and bringing those problems and our solutions to the attention of administrators in constructive manners.

Dr. McLeod's post reminded me of something Diana Laufenberg wrote last summer. In No One is Coming for Us! Diana addresses teachers with this,

"Many teachers are looking around wondering where the leaders are, who will ‘allow’ them to implement their big ideas for change. The thing that I have come to realize, people, is that NO ONE IS COMING FOR US."

Diana goes on to encourage teachers to stop waiting for permission to make changes in their instruction and to just start making the changes they need to make. Reading Diana's post last summer and again this morning reminded me of Seth Godin's Tribes.In Tribes Godin, like Diana, also implores leaders at all levels to stop waiting for permission to lead. Implementing change without permission can be a risk. Yet if we are to do our best for our students we owe it to them to take that risk.

On the topic of salaries, my friend and special education teacher Harold Shaw wrote a no-nonsense response to complaints about low salaries. Using simple mathematics Harold explains to teachers that we need to make apples to apples comparisons when comparing our salaries to other public sector employees. While Harold's analysis won't put more money in your pocket, it might make you feel a little better about your salary.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Making the change: technology and teaching

Two weeks ago I started a whole new adventure in my teaching career. I was, and remain quite nervous about the whole experience. I began teaching a class entirely in a computer lab.

I understand that for many people, especially computer teachers this is nothing extraordinary, but for me this was a big change. I have been teaching for almost ten years, and for ten years I’ve only taught the odd class using computers, so it’s had a pretty steep learning curve. Despite the fact that I am writing on a blog that extols the wonders of technology for teachers, I have been reminded that when you put thirty computers in front of thirty students on a daily basis the mix can be problematic. One of the things that I found myself dealing a lot with is a lot of ‘tech’ problems. Stupid, simple, run-of-the-mill problems, keyboards and mice that don’t work are common, and each issue takes time to solve. On Thursday, however, as I working on one of these problems I had to stop and really think about what I was doing. I had to think about what my goals were for the class.

When I was asked to take this class I had a clear choice, I could have taught this class like I have taught the dozens of other classes in my past or I could try something new. Since I asked for the computer lab you can imagine that my choice was to go for something new.

I have been inspired over the last five months by the amazing writers of so many educational blogs like this one. As the newly appointed teacher-librarian for a fair size high school it was certainly my job to get significantly more acquainted with technology, and reading blogs and following twitter has allowed me to move forward rapidly. The more I have read great blogs form people like Richard's here, Dave Truss, Shelley Terrell, and so many more, the more I realized that technology is just one piece of the puzzle, if I was going to be better, I had to change my approach to teaching and use technology as a tool to achieve it.

So that brings me back to my class from Thursday, should I really be fixing the students’ computer problems? Probably the answer is no, except for the fact that having students dig around thousands of dollars worth of equipment makes me a bit squeamish, so maybe I will keep fixing these problems.

However the small question of how I deal with the technological issues is representative of some other issues with this class. I still find myself answering all sorts of questions, and that is what I’m struggling with.

After ten plus years of teaching in one particular style it is really hard to break the mold. I have always taught in a teacher-centred classroom (learned in them too), and it’s hard to take a step back. There is always that little thought: ‘remember the exams; tell them this so that they pass.’ Not only am I struggling with it, but my so are my students. Since they are in the last semester of grade twelve, they have probably spent a good chunk of the preceding eleven and a half years learning form teachers just like me (or like I used to be). Their molds are hard to break, and many of them just want to ask the teacher so they get the 'right' answer.

So what to do? Well in the last couple of days I’ve noticed something. Some students are beginning to look for answers on their own. They are no longer asking me for the easy answer. It’s a step, a very small step, but maybe as I learn to pull back, the students can learn to step in, and we can enjoy the journey together.

I’m still nervous, I realize this won’t be easy, but maybe it can be fun.

My name is Greg MacCollum and I am the teacher-librarian and IB coordinator in Edmonton, Alberta. I have been teaching for about 10 years and until this year I had been teaching social studies, French and Spanish. Along with all the changes in my life this year (which included the birth of a son in June), I began writing my own blog Greg’s Eduweb blog this past October. It remains a work in progress.