Sunday, October 28, 2007

Constancy and Change

I think educational leaders should approach rapid change from the inner strength that comes from their "universal bones." For instance, those who think change should drive a new understanding of ethics or democracy should instead, let their understanding of ethics and democracy drive their approach to new technologies. I can think of no better example than the confrontation last year between Elliot Schrage, of Google, and a group of congressmen over his defense of Google's practice of helping the Chinese government to oppress its people.
Schrage is a "Corporate ethicist," a lawyer and consultant with a huge resume (and real achievements) on issues where human rights and global commerce meet. With a very agile mind, he attempts to defend Google's actions as working toward the greater good in a complex world. The congressmen had a simpler understanding, and typically expressed outrage at what Google was doing. They were informed not by the "new technological landscape," but by their own sense of democracy and right and wrong. I am saying they were on firmer ground, and Schrage, in this case, was wrong. No matter what the "greater good," it was wrong to participate in oppressing China's people, regardless of whether this was legal in China. I think as teachers we are stronger when we rely on an armature of truths about democracy, morality, human rights, etc., and I am not comfortable with the relativism so many pundits seem to be expressing. Rapid technological change is here, yes. It needs educational leaders with backbone and purpose!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Standards in Chugach

I am always looking for working examples of a standards-based K-12 educational system. For me, this means getting away from the traditional “time-in-grade” system, where time is fixed by semesters, grading periods, etc. according to a group pace for learning. In a real standards-based system, time becomes the variable. You only pass when you complete the work. A “course” is determined by a body of work or a set of “performances” that demonstrate the skills or knowledge needed to pass. You don’t pass or fail when the course is over. Instead, the course is over for you when you complete the work. To me this is common sense. I am sure it would be for anyone who, like me, did not connect well with school. But each day I work with educators who loved school, who loved the way it worked for them, and who think of every change as another hula hoop. Most principals I know also don’t really have a practical understanding of (or frankly much interest in) changing the system. That’s why I think places like Chugach, Alaska, are important:
Read this series of articles and tell me again why standards can’t work.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Leadership is still a barrier to "Integration."

I believe the biggest barrier to teachers' use of technology is not their oft' bemoaned inability or unwillingness.

I think it is the inability of the leadership, to:
1. Provide solid, reliable, technology with support levels that don't leave teachers hanging for days with a problem.
2. Show the teachers clearly what they are expected to do with the technology provided.
3. Have an accountability structure, to make sure they do it.

I believe it's fundamentally a challenge for leadership. This includes state agencies, superintendents, principals, school boards, politicians, etc. We should stop blaming "reluctant teachers." Where are their supervisors? Step #1 above is not cheap, and most leaders would say we are already spending sufficient funds. We aren't. Also, many school leaders would say the technology works, yet they almost never assess whether it works. Is 90% up time OK? Many public schools don't even have that. Most schools lack support levels that industry takes for granted. There aren't many Bartlebies at L.L. Bean who "prefer not to" use the technology. Industry gets tech done (at a much higher cost than K-12) or fails. We have trouble getting it done, because if we don't, everyone keeps showing up and paying for it. At least for now.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Boomers multi-tasking for mental health

I am at David Warlick’s Web 2.0 session in Castine, Maine today. A lot of interesting things are being said. Everyone has a laptop open, and David has invited us to chat during the presentation. Comments are quite relevant to the discussion, but some… well. One participant polled the group on how many windows (separate tasks) each person had open. Some had more than 10. (Not a surprise, I know.) Most were doing their email, and several were watching the baseball game. Cut to the classroom of today. “OK, kids, I want you all to start multi-tasking and we’ll see how we can keep this learning thread together!” Besides the pedagogical concerns, it raises another question for me. Does this help stretch the baby boomers’ brains and keep off senility, or is the pressure to keep up leaving us exhausted? I think it's time for another technology maxim, and I'll borrow it from a meditation instructor I heard on TV last night. The secret to productivity is: "Do one thing at a time."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bill Gates' "Rules of Life:" some clarifications...

For years I’ve listened with trepidation as lazy guest speakers grabbed this off the Internet and used it to insult the morals and motives of educators and the young. My New Year’s resolution is to do something positive about everything I complain about. Here’s the first shot...

By now everyone has heard of “Bill Gates’ Rules for Life” in some form. Gates’ attribution is an urban legend. The source is an editorial by a conservative columnist, Charles J. Sykes, in San Diego Union Tribune, September 19, 1996. Sykes may be misquoted here, as these have become “urban maxims.” Anyway, I felt like some of them needed comments or clarification…

“Rule No. 1: Life is not fair. Get used to it.”

Clarification: Our sense of fairness underpins the concept of justice that our laws and our society are built on. Justice is an ideal, but one worth dying for. Many have. You should believe in fairness, even when it is not evident. Your struggle for fairness makes a better world.

“Rule No. 2: The real world won't care as much about your self-esteem as much as your school does. It'll expect you to accomplish something before you feel good about yourself. “

Clarification: The real world is in many cases much kinder than school. Most people in the real world have something to do, and won’t torment you for amusement. At work, they often train you for something you’ll use right away, instead of spraying information at you like fertilizer. If you don’t like your company or your boss, you can try to change jobs. Real life has pain and suffering, but most people prefer it to high school. If you’re like me, you’ll find it much more rewarding of your efforts, and that's better for your self esteem.

“Rule No. 3: Sorry, you won't make $40,000 a year right out of high school.”

Clarification: What he's saying is... you should go to college or a technical institute after high school. He's right. It’s usually the surest way to increase your income. But remember the big picture, too. Satisfaction comes from working hard and getting good at something you like. It’s not a dollar figure. And your income is nobody's business, as long as you are not a burden on the state or your relatives. :)

“Rule No. 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity.”
Comment: Did you think it was? He must know some really spoiled kids.

“Rule No. 6: It's not your parents' fault. If you screw up, you are responsible.”

Clarification: When (not if) you screw up, you'll have to forgive yourself before you can move on. It isn’t easy. If it’s something really bad, it’s OK to get help. There's a saying: “The only way out… is through.”

“Rule No. 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way paying your bills, cleaning up your room and listening to you tell them how idealistic you are.”

Clarification: This was directed at me, (born 1952) not at you. (It’s pretty heavy, man, but I deserve it. I’ll take the heat.)

“Rule No. 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers. Life hasn't…”

Clarification: A lot of life’s winners were losers in school. They weren’t really losers, but the school system made them feel that way. Don’t look at every improvement in schools as a fad. School doesn’t have to be the same as it used to be.

“Rule No. 9: Life is not divided into semesters, and you don't get summers off. Not even Easter break. They expect you to show up every day. For eight hours. And you don't get a new life every 10 weeks. It just goes on and on.”

Clarification: In real life, there are changes all the time. You can initiate them, and sometimes they happen to you, and sometimes it’s really awful, but it’s not boring. For most people, it’s way better than high school (as long as you've got your diploma. Without that, Sykes' rule #9 could be spot on.)

“Rule No. 10: Television is not real life. Your life is not a sitcom. Your
problems will not all be solved in 30 minutes, minus time for commercials.
In real life, people actually have to leave the coffee shop to go to jobs…”

Comment: Duh.

“Rule No. 11: Be nice to nerds. You may end up working for one”

Clarification: Everyone is a nerd. Everyone is a potential ally. Just be nice. Radiate it… like the sun.

And here's a maxim of my own:
“If you have kids, you’ll need quite a bit more money.”