Sunday, October 18, 2015

As The Edu Worlds Collide, It's Compliance/Control vs. Creativity/Innovation

The worlds are colliding. It’s more than old vs. new or low tech vs. high tech. It’s the clash of the mindsets, pedagogies, philosophies, systems, approaches, protocols and operations. I simply like to call it clash of the ATTITUDES.

That’s right. In the end, we do or don’t do something based on our attitudes. They come from a variety of places. But our general attitude towards how we approach the world or solve problems will dictate everything.
When it comes to education, I think the divide can be seen on two simple sides. There is Compliance & Control on one side and Creativity & Innovation on the other. These are at odds.

Indeed, Harvard Professor Tony Wagner has said, “The culture of school is radically at odds with the culture of learning necessary for innovation.

We have to decide what we want. And as usual, we can’t have it all. We all have to decide which side you want to live on and error on. For me, it’s simple. All good things that have happened to me in my life, especially in education, have happened because I landed on the creativity and innovation side every time. I figured out how to work through the compliance and control vs. starting there.
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Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we don’t need any rules, guidelines, expectations or a moral compass to guide us in our decision-making. But what I am saying is that when we are posed with a question, challenge, problem, issue or need, where do we start? Do we come from a place or compliance or control or from a place of creativity and innovation? In other words, do we come from a place of “no” or a place of “yes”?
Again, I’m not saying that one can never say no or always has to say yes. But what I am saying is that you only say ‘no’, or resort to compliance and control, when you absolutely have to (and that is not as often as one would think beyond the tradition or the mindset - the ATTITUDE).
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This dilemma between the two sides and how to resolve our educational crisis has really been bothering me. I see some great things going on in education. But the folks that are aiming for creativity and innovation are constantly at odds with the systems and operations firmly rooted in compliance and control.

Here are a couple of recent scenarios:

  1. I recently talked to a high school teacher who was doing a project that required an audio recording from his students. In order to execute this, students were recording their projects in various locations in and near his classroom (outside in the hall, outside on the grass, in an empty room next door and more). Meanwhile, his site leader noticed this and told the teacher that he could not have his students working in multiple or different locations where they were not being continuously supervised by him. When I became a high school teacher, I remember this being a mindset or expectation of many. However, as a former media teacher and leadership advisor, I always had students leaving our classroom in order to execute or perform their work. I had to trust them, believe in them and allow them both the responsibility and freedom. If individuals could not or did not respect that freedom and responsibility, then that was a different story. But my students needed to work like this in order to complete their projects. So, as we continue to evolve and expect students to do public, relevant and professional work, which ATTITUDE will prevail? The one that says a teacher has to supervise their students continuously or the one that focused on entrusting them to do what is necessary to complete their work in a professional and timely manner? Again, we can’t have both. We can’t have supervision and limited work space, while hoping for creativity and innovation. To me, it’s simple. The idea of having to see your kids all the time in your class is at odds with what students truly need to be doing.

  1. An educator colleague of mine at another high school was recently approached by a local filmmaker, who has produced several feature films, to use a classroom at his school site for a scene in their current project - a horror film. This educator happens to have a film and media program at his school site as well. When he approached his district office to formally request the use of the classroom facility, they declined the request because they didn’t want the district to be associated with a horror film. There are many questions or challenges here. First, the film did not have to or was not going to include the name of the school or district in the film. Second, the classroom alone was just a generic classroom space and would not have been associated by sight with the school site or district. But way beyond these somewhat trivial points, there are greater ones. For a school that has a film program, one might dream of being approached by a professional partner. After all, after allowing them to use your classroom for a shoot location, the school could approach the film company for a variety of collaborations including but not limited to the following: (a) having students work or intern on that film or other future projects, (b) technical advice from the professionals to teachers and students on their film projects, (c) use of equipment and resources for future student film projects and undoubtedly others. Again, the divide takes place on whether we approach these types of challenges from a place of compliance/control vs. one of creativity/innovation.

Most of us could probably share similar scenarios that would illustrate these types of challenges and how they are ultimately executed.  

If we truly want to have our students, teachers, classrooms and schools be 21st century entities embracing creativity and innovation, our leaders will have to have the vision and strength to see beyond compliance and control. They will have to have the vision to find a way to say ‘yes’ vs. retreating to the default position of ‘no.’

We all have to decide. There are two clear camps here. They are distinctly different. As an educator and leader, which side do you live on and which side will benefit our students and teachers more?

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(images courtesy of Foter, Pinterest)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Evolutionary Education - 5 Things That Could Be Extinct Soon

It has often been uttered, that “only the fittest survive.” But when it comes to education, it seems things that might not even be that fit have continued to survive. However, just like in living species through time - dinosaurs, sabre tooth tigers and the wooly mammoth just to name a few - even things that have lived on for a long time eventually go extinct. So, with that in mind, it seems educational evolution is occurring too and extinction might be inevitable for a variety of standard educational pedagogy, tools and practices.
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  1. Textbooks/Single Source Curriculum: (this includes ebook textbooks too). Regardless of whether they are digital or not, depending on and surviving on one text as the foundational source of information and context - regardless of course, age group and purpose - seems almost prehistoric at this point. Information changes daily and resources are born every minute on line. Anyone doing serious academic work cannot depend on one source for all of their information. Indeed, high quality information is already, and should be, free. It would be a crime to model anything else for students other than searching for, combing through and then using the most appropriate and relevant sources/information for their respective project and learning. Naturally, this is already having serious implications on those who like to sell textbooks and curriculum. Again, high quality and diverse information is already free, so they will have to sell something else or go extinct as well (The Death of Textbooks?).
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  1. Top Down Leadership: Even mainstream publications like EdWeek have declared this dead( What's The Opposite of  Top Down Leadership?). If you want an organization to be truly collaborative, creative, personalized, customer-oriented and more, they will have to be trusted. One cannot create a policy or procedure for everything. Passion and enthusiasm have to be cultured, fostered and modeled. And then, leaders will have to allow team members to be their own leaders, to make their own decisions and to pursue the organization’s goals with their own individual vigor, rigor and focus. This is one that will sound good to most, but be hard to model and live by for many.
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  1. Compliance for Compliance-Sake: Stemming from down leadership, organizations have created dozens, if not hundreds, of policies, procedures and even practices that are simply about compliance. In the classroom, we see this in homework, syllabus signatures and so much more. In ed. organizations, we see this in things like submitting lesson plans weekly, posting the standards/objectives on the board. And in all cases, folks are spending more time complying vs. doing the real work. These compliance checks were created and evolved for all in leadership positions - whether a teacher in a classroom, a site leader or even superintendent - to do low level and cursory checks on people. These are not about real work, but about following directions and exerting authority. And because of that, they have little impact on real learning or progress. Again, whether they be students or teachers or administrators, they will have to presented with relevant, engaging and empowering challenges and then be trusted to get there. Compliance will only get you one so far, but trust with support will go far beyond.
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  1. One Size Fits All: Customization and individualization are the international pedagogy of the free world. We can pretend or deny it, but it’s futile. If you want people to buy-in and perform - again whether they are students, teachers or administrators - one will need to offer them choices on how, when, where, etc. Choice creates personal connection and empowerment. The choices need to be legitimate and even sometimes narrowed, but they need to be there. High-level learning and high-level ownership of that learning can only come from individual buy-in and pursuit with passion. This will foster creativity and further thinking. If you want to advance beyond compliance, you have to create choices, options and ways for the individual to emerge in the group or team efforts. For students, this will be about what projects and how they are executed. For teachers, this will be what professional growth goals and how they pursue them. For leaders, this will be about having freedom and autonomy to change practices in order to achieve newer and higher goals/results (Mass Customized Learning They Key To Real Education Reform).
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  1. Depending on Delivered Professional Development & Learning: Traditionally, just like classroom learning for students, educators have learned to depend on other educators leading them through various professional development. Don’t get me wrong, spending quality time with people that have unique perspectives, experiences and insights will never go away or not be potentially productive. Attending professional events like conferences and other gatherings will always have their place, but professional development has now gone grass roots and organic with educators, and other professionals, connecting, sharing and learning from one another through Twitter and other social media networks (Twitter for Professional Development, Social Media Transforms Professional Development). But even beyond all of the free and varied online means for educators to connect to educators and determine their own professional growth journey, we really have a departure going on  in the world of learning and professional development. Even face-to-face gatherings have gone beyond the traditional conference and moved towards the unconference model or Edcamps (Insider's Guide To Edcamps, What Makes Edcamps So Popular With Teachers?). The point is that adult learners or professionals(again just like our students), have the desire, and now the power or potential, to guide their own development. They need time, connections to various networks of like-minded professionals and professional passions to pursue. Their professional development experiences will not have to be purchased, packaged or presented.

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(images courtesy of Pinterest and Foter)