On Administrators' Choice to Do Nothing

In this year's Leadership Day post, Scott McLeod has raised a number of important issues.

There’s a concept in the law known as willful blindness. The idea is that one deliberately takes steps to avoid seeing what’s right in one’s face. To how many of our school principals and superintendents does this concept apply? What can we do to help (make) them SEE?

“Hi. I know the world has changed. There is compelling evidence staring me in the face as an administrator that business as usual just isn’t going to suffice in this new digital, global society. Not if we are to prepare students for the next half century rather than the last. But you know what? No thanks. I choose to do nothing.

Nope. I’ll probably never understand that one…
I can definitely see where Scott is coming from and empathize with his frustration with many educator's rate of change. However, I'm not convinced the situation hinges solely on administrator choice. Education is complex and requires answers far more intricate that a mere change of administrator will. In explaining my point of view, I think the comments of Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach are important and deserve repeating. I agree with both, and feel that each lies near the heart of the matter.

From Will (emphasis mine):
...The other reality is that many of them don’t want to hear this conversation because, if we’re doing our jobs well, we’re asking them to radically change their views of schooling and learning. And finally, while they might “see” these changes in their students and in society, most of them are not willing to risk under achieving on the traditional measures for the sake of adding networked learning into their curricula.
From Sheryl (emphasis mine):
...while they understand the need for change, [many administrators] are clueless as to what to do. None of them were given reculturing 101 in their leadership courses.

...I agree, most do get why. It is the “how” they need–we all need.

...We all start at ground zero when learning something new. Leaders have to go through Piaget’s stages of assimilation and accommodation just like students do.
In the end, I think that behind the "I choose to do nothing" facade lies a complex combination of a number of contributing factors. Key players include the fact that:
  • Most school administrators are not willing to risk under achieving on the traditional measures for the sake of adding networked learning into their curricula.
  • Few school administrators were given Reculturing 101 in their leadership courses or in their formal professional development since.
  • Education is riddled by powerful (and often invisible) political forces at work that neither we nor the greatest school administrators will ever be able to break. With so many hands in the pot, significant change often comes at great costs.
  • As horrible as this might sound, because schools have become traditional public centers of cultural activity, it's easy (for administrators and others) to forget the purpose of schooling. Is it athletics? Is it public performance? Is it to fashion identity? Is it to mold a citizenry? Is it to learn? Yes.
My two cents, for what it's worth.


Image source: Scott McLeod. If you're a school administrator and interested it taking steps toward better addressing the learning needs of your students, I highly recommend a careful perusal of the resources Dr. McLeod has recently shared with other leaders like you at this year's Leadership Boot Camp. Well worth your time.

A Dropout Epidemic

If I'm reading this right, then it looks like you get what you pay for.

Cross-posted on Thinking Out Loud... Let's learn together.

EduBloggerWorld, Helping Others, and the Business of Education

EduBloggerWorld (EBW) is dying.

With Ning's announcement several weeks ago that they would be moving toward a pricing structure that doesn't provide free services to networks with more than 150 members, we're not sure how we won't be forced to close the doors and gently nudge EBW's members to another network. What's worse, it feels like it's the network that's really tying all of EBW's 1,600+ members together, given such a wide distribution of varying national representation. I would estimate that less than 5% of EBW's members have ever met face to face.

As a result, I'm doubtful that large pockets of members will shift spaces together and sadly suspect that closing the doors to EBW will mean the end of many meaningful relationships forged on the site. Sure, there's Twitter, Facebook, Classroom 2.0, and the blogosphere itself, but the membership of EBW seems to occupy a niche of international flavor not openly expressed, emphasized, nor embraced in other spaces.

Honestly, I'm torn by many things related to this turn of events. First, I'm frustrated by Ning, Pearson, and the commercialization of education. One walk through the vendor floor at any major conference and you can tell that education now means big bucks. If we truly believe that education is for the benefit of greater society, then why don't more companies give more for our future? I think Wikispaces, for example, has set a very good example along these lines - as Ning once did. But Ning's sell-out to Pearson frustrates and saddens me, all at the same time.

The big business of education, clearly evident at ISTE.

A second area of trouble for me in this regard is that of focus. While my job now consumes much of my time and requires me to focus sharply on the needs of teachers and students in my District (and rightly so), I still feel strongly that the key to our future success depends greatly on how much we're willing and how well we're able to help and work with others outside our immediate sphere. Honestly, I think the answer to the question I posed during Richard's ISTE keynote (shared below) is a resounding "YES!"

If those of us living in favorable circumstances don't take the time to make the effort to help those less fortunate, then how can we say, at the end of the day, that the sum of our efforts has been a success?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how we might save EBW or your predictions on what will happen to the communities formed in the network after its demise.

On Empathy, Culture, and Barriers to Making Technology Integral to Teaching

When Alan November taught his ISTE audience about empathy, making a strong case for its placement at the top of the list of critical 21st Century skills, he helped me understand why it's still still difficult to persuade so many in education that the global, technologically-driven approach to learning really can be the better way. At this moment in time, I'm no longer convinced that it’s the technology alone that so many fear. Sure, technology can be intimidating in and of itself; but quite often, I think that it's what people might find on the other side of that technology that likely seems so scary. When technology means communication and collaboration with others outside of our comfortable sphere, then barriers of security quite naturally arise.

Nevertheless, these aren't new fears, far from it. In fact, these are the same feelings of fright and apprehension we've been fighting as a planet for millennia.

With the push in recent decades toward an increased use of technology in education, scholars have been busy researching and documenting its successes and failures, as well as the factors inhibiting technology’s use as a pedagogical tool. Peggy A. Ertmer, for example, has done substantial work in this area. Following Brickner’s (1995) lead, Ertmer has described barriers to technology integration in schools as being either first- or second-order. This is important.

Thus, first-order barriers to technology integration are described as being extrinsic to teachers and include lack of access to computers and software, insufficient time to plan instruction, and inadequate technical and administrative support. In contrast, second-order barriers are intrinsic to teachers and include beliefs about teaching, beliefs about computers, established classroom practices, and unwillingness to change. While many first-order barriers may be eliminated by securing additional resources and providing computer-skills training, confronting second-order barriers requires challenging one's belief systems and the institutionalized routines of one's practice. Thus, in terms of technology integration, this may require reformulating basic school culture notions regarding what constitutes content and content coverage, what comprises learning and engaged time, and even, what behaviors define “teaching”. (Ertmer, 1999, p. 48; see also Ertmer, 2005)

At this point in the evolution of our field, I think there are many teachers for which technology has become integral to nearly every aspect of their job. However, for those still striving to integrate – or worse, for those still hesitant resistant to integrate – I think that an additional second-order barrier lies in the cultural differences that exist between teachers on opposite ends of any collaboration that might take place.

"What will I find on the other side? What if they're different? Can they be trusted? I think I'm scared. Why should I care?"

Furthermore, until collaboration is a behavior naturally included in every educator’s definition of teaching, then many of the contemporary promotions of technology in education will continue to be little more than spit in the wind.

To illustrate, take Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay as perfect examples. I remember reading about their first Flat Classroom Project together back in 2006. In that and subsequent Flat Classroom Projects, students from different countries and backgrounds work together to research, discuss, and envision the education and society of the future, basing hypotheses on trends outlined in each year’s Horizon Report (click here to see K12 edition of the report for this year). Because the students and teachers that participate in these projects come from different countries – Bangladesh, Australia, Austria, China, and the United States in 2006 – strong cultural differences become evident as they learn to collaborate and work together to create successful products. As a result, these projects can be exhilarating, to be sure; nevertheless, they can also be challenging as the meshing of cultures is rarely easily accomplished.

In surveying the sessions that were offered at this year’s ISTE conference, it becomes clear that collaboration and global participation has been a common theme. Every ISTE keynote focused on the importance of global collaboration and working together as equal partners to solve the problems that plague our world. As teachers from the East collaborate with students from the West, each brings to the table the sum of their life experiences – culminating in an exciting cornucopia of religious, ethnic, and lifestyle differences.

My experiences at ISTE this year taught me that technology now serves as a critical thread that ties many of us together in learning. That, to me, is exciting, fascinating, and scary: all at the same time. I’m happy to see so many embrace the diversity that can and will exist in our field – and hopeful that others more apprehensive will learn to overcome their fears in realization that the global, technologically-driven approach to learning really can be the better way.


Original image source: Flickr user bench_30.

  • Brickner, D. (1995). The effects of first and second order barriers to change on the degree and nature of computer usage of secondary mathematics teachers: A case study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.
  • Ertmer, P. (1999). Addressing first- and second-order barriers to change: strategies for technology integration. Educational Technology Research and Development, 47(4), 47-61.
  • Ertmer, P. (2005). Teacher pedagogical beliefs: the final frontier in our quest for technology integration. Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 25-39.

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