The Role of Leadership in Change

Scott McLeod of Dangerously Irrelevant has a very powerful post about the role of and necessity for leadership in effecting change in technology in our schools. Here is the overview:

When we talk about technology in K-12 schools, why must we focus on school leaders? Well, as the Wallace Foundation Learning from Leadership Project reminds us, principals and superintendents are the ones charged with setting direction and developing people. They’re the only individuals with the power to redesign the organization. Research has shown that school leadership, through both direct and indirect effects, is ‘second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school’ and that ‘leadership effects are usually largest where and when they are needed most.’ In other words, ‘the greater the challenge the greater the impact of [leaders’] actions on learning. . . . Indeed, there are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader.’Dangerously Irrelevant: Professional development for the leaders

I have been encouraged and supported in my use of all kinds of technology by my principal and superintendent, for which I am very grateful. But I also believe that the possbilities that come with these technologies require buy in at all levels.

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What makes good educational technology leadership?

Scott McLeod, of Dangerously Irrelevant, issued a challenge to edubloggers to address the topic of educational technology leadership.

Administrators’ lack of knowledge is not entirely their fault. Most of them
didn’t grow up with these technologies. Many are not using digital tools on a
regular basis. Few have received training from their employers or their
university preparation programs on how to use, think about, or be a
leader
regarding digital technologies.

So… let’s help them out. Wednesday, July 4, 2007 is American Independence Day
and is as good a day as any to celebrate independent (and hopefully innovative)
thinking and leadership. I hereby invite all edubloggers to blog
about effective school technology leadership next Wednesday.

I wanted to highlight something that happened to me that I thought was an example of excellent leadership.

Before the end of the last school year (June 2006), I mentioned to my principal that I was planning on reading Will Richardson’s book, Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts, about which I was excited. I had no idea what I was going to do come that fall, but I knew that this stuff mattered. When I returned in September, I learned that this principal had read the book and insisted (yes, insisted) that all the administrators in our district read the book and think about how to apply the technologies. I was greeted by our Superintendent telling me about how excited she was to see what would happen.

As the year went on, I used blogs, wikis, and podcasts in my 7th and 8th grade science classroom. The students loved using them and I saw incredible results, particularly in their science literacy. At every step of the way this principal and superintendent provided support, encouragement, and interest.

While I would (and have often) recommended that people read Will’s book to get a sense of the possibilities at stake here, I believe that perhaps educational leadership in technology is not all that different from leadership in other areas. Both of these effective leaders were open and aware enough to see what would make a difference to our students and then to support implementation of their use.

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What does Ed-Tech really do?

eSchool News online – States: Ed tech is raising student achievement

This article is a preliminary report on a large-ish set of studies which investigate the benefits of technology in education, especially in K-12 schools.

Here is a summary:

In comparing the results from demographically similar control and experimental schools, Wolf said, state researchers have found some significant differences in areas such as student engagement, achievement, and discipline.

These differences are especially pronounced when certain factors are in place, she added, such as high-quality, ongoing professional development in the use of technology to support learning; effective school leadership; and a curriculum that personalizes instruction. eSchool News online – States: Ed tech is raising student achievement

 This article does a pretty good job defining some terms and situations and some key areas of controversy.

I think there should be much discussion of the issue wherever we fall in using technology in our classrooms/schools/districts.

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A Month in the Life

Teacher Magazine: Adventures of a School Tech Specialist

This is a commentary from a school technology specialist outlining “168 hours in June.”

I really liked the “in the chair” quality of the report, along with the tools that this professional was using. Some of which, like Microsoft’s Photostory, were new to me.

I recommend you check out the list of projects that STUDENTS are doing: slideshows, podcasts, photography. In addition to the students being authors of most of these projects (as it should be), their audience seems to be primarily other students as well.

School 2.0?

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Being Present 2.0

In the Classroom, a New Focus on Quieting the Mind – New York Times

This article in today’s New York Times discusses teaching students “mindfulness:”

Mindfulness, while common in hospitals, corporations, professional
sports and even prisons, is relatively new in the education of
squirming children. But a small but growing number of schools in places
like Oakland and Lancaster, Pa., are slowly embracing the concept — as
they did yoga five years ago — and institutions, like the psychology
department at Stanford University and the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, are trying to measure the effects.

During
a five-week pilot program at Piedmont Avenue Elementary, Miss Megan,
the “mindful” coach, visited every classroom twice a week, leading 15
minute sessions on how to have “gentle breaths and still bodies.” The
sound of the Tibetan bowl reverberated at the start and finish of each
lesson.

The techniques, among them focused breathing and
concentrating on a single object, are loosely adapted from the work of
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the molecular biologist who pioneered the secular use
of mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts in 1979 to help medical patients cope with chronic pain, anxiety and depression.
Susan Kaiser Greenland, the founder of the InnerKids Foundation, which
trains schoolchildren and teachers in the Los Angeles area, calls
mindfulness “the new ABC’s — learning and leading a balanced life.”

I am interested to see what results are accomplished in the (probably large) number of research studies that are tracking effects.

I am also interested in the combination of the quiet of this practice and the collaborative nature of the Read/Write web tools that I believe are so important to our students’ learning.

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A New View on Homework

Schools consider eliminating homework grades

This article reports on an initiative in Middletown Ohio to revise their policy on homework. According to the article:

Under the proposed policy, homework would no longer be graded toward a
report card grade and is clearly defined as specific tasks to be
completed outside of school hours. The proposal also includes a
stipulation that homework not be assigned with the assumption that
parents or guardians will provide students with supplemental materials
or assistance.

One of their basic ideas is to refocus the homework on self-assessment and reflection. Interesting, these are the types of assignments that I have found most effective on my class blog. Another key idea is to achieve parity. Since parents often help with homework and not all students have access to this type of help at home, changing the emphasis of homework tries to level the playing field.

Check here too for some commendary from Education Week magazine, along with a video of part of the Board discussion.

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1st Graders Blogging

Blogging 101 motivates students

This article talks about a first grade teacher who is using blogging as an instruction tool with her students.

I really loved this quote:

Yet Cassidy (the teacher) never intended to take classroom technology so far. She
has been teaching for more than 20 years and struggles to even work a
VCR.

However, when the classroom received five new computers in 2000,
Cassidy wanted the machines put to use. She learned how to create a
class Web site with lessons and education games, but soon wanted more.

In 2005, Cassidy launched the blogging program. The hope, she said, was to inspire and challenge her students.

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More changes

I reported earlier about working I had been doing to help other teachers set up blogs to use with their students.

For the last week or two, this work has taken up an increasingly large part of my time. And it’s been great.

Here’s a snapshot:

  • A 6th grade humanities teacher will be using a class blog to have her bookclubs be in communication with her and one another.

  • A 7th grade english teacher is using her class blog to have her students post (and later respond to) their essay projects.
  • A 7th and 8th grade foreign language teacher is using a blog to do some work with her students and has set up podcasts featuring (for now) visiting foreign students performing dialogues. Next, she will have her students write and record their own dialogue podcasts in order to prepare for a proficiency exam.

The most exciting part for me is seeing how they can use these tools. I have learned so much from working with them.

Who we are as teachers

I was fortunate enough to give a presentation to some education graduate students last week about my work with blogs and wikis and podcasts.

After the presentation, I received a great email from the professor. In it, she offered a great definition of teachers:

I believe that great teachers imagine and create possibilities for students to become both the critics of and producers of new knowledge where students actively use knowledge they’ve learned to create, build,
design, express, etc. In so doing, they create new forms of expression and interaction.