Leadership can be tricky.
You have to juggle respecting tradition and research that has been done in the past, while focusing on the people in the building right now (students and staff), and also keeping an eye on the future. What is often necessary is having an awareness of all three; ignoring the past sometimes loses people in the present, and focusing too much on the future sometimes does the exact same thing.
With what we know now (or at least have the access to knowing now), tells us a lot about the shaping of the schools and the opportunity to constantly look at a shifting pedagogy. Dean Shareski once said, “the longer we keep up the facade that school is the primary place of learning, the sooner we will become irrelevant”, and there has been no more important time in our world to develop our students as true “lifelong learners”. Some schools aren’t even close to the “present” right now. YouTube, probably one of the biggest libraries of information in the world is closed in many schools, or access is only given to teachers. Where does that leave our students? Do we develop learners that do not see YouTube as a rich learning resource because of our own concerns and fears? Of course YouTube has great entertainment value, but it can also be used for powerful learning, but people are not seeing this. This is not even a focus on the future; this is what our world looks like today.
But what about the future?
There are still schools that are getting to the point of providing WiFi to their students and staff, leaving places like Starbucks as a more accessible learning environment, not only because of Internet access, but because of the different seating arrangements that serve a wide range of learners. Yet the goal for some schools is to build an infrastructure that supports one device per child, but I am seeing adults in my workshops using two and sometimes three, depending on what they need at that time. I know money is a part of this, but it is also shifting our thinking. Do we want to put in a lot of money into providing the bare minimum amount of access (“sorry…YouTube needs to be blocked because of bandwidth issues”), or do we want to be thoughtful and create rich learning experiences that include not only viewing, but creating different forms of media. If a student best shares their learning through creating a video and posting it on YouTube, shouldn’t schools provide the access to do it?
As I was sitting with principal Brad Gustafson on a panel recently, and he was sharing some of the amazing things that are happening at his school, someone asked him “where do you get the money to do this?” I was nervous that he was going to share a grant process that may have been only available to people in his state of Minnesota, but he simply said that he shifted money over to a budget line that he created called “innovation”. He did not add money but simply rethought what the school was doing and adjusted the budget accordingly. If your textbook budget is eating up a major chunk of your money, what does that tell you? Could you do something different that provides better learning opportunities for your students?
I recently heard that a principal who is in school that is trying to go paperless decided that when their photocopier went down, it didn’t make sense to get a new one. If you are trying to go paperless, why is a photocopier an essential need? I heard this story from a third party and do not know all of the details, but I do know it would take guts because this pushes people in a different direction. Could they still use paper? Probably, but do they need to spend thousands of dollars on a machine that has traditionally been used for worksheets?
In my own context, we developed a digital portfolio process that can be used for a student’s time in our school, but can also be exported to their own space when they either graduate, leave our schools, or at any time of their choosing. This gives peace of mind to educators moving forward, yet it also ensure that years of learning shared in one space is not hidden within the school walls. Can you imagine doing 12 years of work in anything, and when you leave, it is not accessible to others, or even yourself? Our universities and colleges pushinig for digital portfolios? Maybe they aren’t right now, but they will be, and even if by chance they never want to see this, the learning is hopefully invaluable to the student. This is both focused on the present and the future.
Recently, it was shared that Nova Scotia was going Google Apps across the province for schools, yet some organizations say that this is impossible to do this. So why on one hand do we have an entire province moving this direction, yet organizations saying that it is not possible? I know that communities and situations are different, but I also know that some places have chosen one direction not because of where they need to go, but are focused on the platforms they (usually IT departments) have been trained in. If it a good decision for kids (which is what ultimately matters), it shouldn’t matter what you have been trained in, but where you need to go. Yes, things might be easier for a little while, but where is the accountability to what our students need and are more likely to use?
I understand why teachers use things like “Edmodo” for students (it is a great service from what I have seen), but I have not seen adults en masse create Edmodo groups to connect with one another outside of education. Are you using this service to provide the training wheels to something else, or is this a “school solution” that is not really focused on what our learners are more likely to use on their own? I am not saying that it is wrong to use it, but it is important that in education when we create solutions that we do not just think about what is good for today, but what is necessary for tomorrow.
If you go back and answer the question, what is best for kids, what do your answers lead you to, and what are you doing to get to that place? True learning organizations constantly move and grow, and for this to happen with our students, it has to happen at all levels of leadership. If we expect our students to learn and grow as individuals, we need to model this at the organizational level.
Wayne Gretzky once said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” As educators, it is essential that we do not try to think about only today, but ultimately what our work is leading to in the future of our schools and our students. We need to try and understand where the puck is going to be and get there.
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