Monday, December 22, 2014

Can We Change Ed Reform?

OK...School district leaders, government agencies, education we go...  
Social media has been a great place for me to learn and grow over the course of the last 2 years.  I have met some amazing people, connected with government entities, and cultivated resources that I hope have helped our school move forward.  However, there are times throughout the year that I think we as a connected group forget that though our group is growing, it still makes up a relatively small portion of educators working with kids on a regular basis.  We talk about change, the impact of being connected, and how ownership of learning is key to learning...but it is often in a tunnel of those we have chosen to connect with and who share similar views on what education should look like. There are people across the world doing amazing things.  Most of those who are connected are more than willing to share so our Fall Creek group can have the connections to get better in their space.  We have been able to bring in authors virtually, talk to local, state, and national leaders on a regular basis with the help of our social media presence, and distribute resources we have found by getting past the Google search.  That is awesome...but the perspective is still only reaching a small population.  The people we work with will not connect if they don’t see the value to their immediate space.  Example...I hate to exercise and eat well.  Hate it.  I know it is good for me and I know it would make me feel better.  My wife is the most beautiful thing that has ever landed on the planet and she is doing everything she can to provide great meals and encourage me to exercise, but when I see a place to get a pizza, I’m getting a pizza.  I haven’t seen the value because I have not been invested in it...and if she can’t convince me, no one will until I start to see the value for myself.  When I see personal success, clearly I will be encouraged to engage more.  Social media is the same thing...until educators see the value for their day to day interactions with kids, it will still be a place where a small percentage lives or what “those people do”.

Social Media is for other people
In the Superintendent position, the circle of those who I connect with on all social media platforms is the great state of Wisconsin I have a Twitter list of Superintendents that has under 100 names.  We have 425 districts in this state.  Even with the group on the list, I think there are about 20 who I connect with on a regular basis and share ideas.  I love their passion...but I KNOW about their passion because of the connection we have made on social media.  I’m sure there are a plethora of very high quality superintendents across our state and I feel bad that I haven’t been able to connect
with them...the impact we could have together is much better than what we have individually.  There are a number of very vocal and highly visible people on the speaking circuit who are extremely active on Twitter.  When I went to see speakers 5 years ago it seemed like they were talking about dreams rather than reality.  They stood on a stage, got people fired up about education, and then they left.  Now, we are able to connect with those people on a regular basis.  Every keynote speaker I have seen in the last 2 years has been accessible through Twitter.  I have reached out to most, and in almost every case I have been able to engage in a dialogue about how we could help our kids grow and succeed. Having said that...we need to help people connect so they can find their own way without making it feel like they are poor educators without it.  Help out at social media lounges at conferences, engage in conversations on twitter, and offer to help through Google Hangouts or Skype.  Helping others see the value means being there if they need the help, not just telling them they should do it.  We owe it to our staff to help connect and continue the conversations so they know how.

Social Media and technology does not fix bad teaching
Getting everyone ON Twitter is a great idea in theory, but ON Twitter does not always mean invested in the process.  Conversely, ON Twitter does not make you a great may give you more resources, but at the core of what you do should be the teaching and learning of the group you are assigned.  They only have a limited time with us and every effort should be made to ensure that the time they spend in our space is inspiring.  The use of social media and technology can clearly enhance the learning environment, but is not the answer if instruction does not change.  Bringing back the exercise example...I have the shoes, the Ipod, the quality ear buds, and like 5 mapping apps.  All of them were great for a week...then the allure of something new was gone and the $100 shoes I bought to take me to the next level stare begrudgingly at me every time I leave the house.  If the intent moves to more ownership of the process, everyone will be more invested.  We all want to own our growth.  The most productive Professional Development in our district over the last 2 years was clearly learning from peers and self directed.  Our teachers know that...and that knowledge helps us transfer the environment to our students.  Teachers don’t like to be talked at all day. Guess what, students don’t either.  Loved this post from Grant Wiggins on a teacher spending 2 days as a high school student.  We owe it to our kids to increase our ability to instruct and provide a place that is engaging for students.  Getting there means we need to empower our teachers to learn HOW to make that happen instead of walking in an expecting it to be the norm right away.

Waiting for the next
Social media aside...this is the biggest issue with education reform.  Initiatives have historically been attached to a person.  New administrators come into districts and have a perspective on how they think they can move the needle in a particular area.  They are well intended, and honestly, that is part of the reason they are there...but if initiatives are attached to a person, they leave when the person
moves on.  I know teachers and administrators who have not engaged in a new process because they know the person will be gone in a few years and they will have to start something new when a different leader chosen.  Who can blame them!?!!?  The minute they feel comfortable with the initiative, a new one comes along and they have to find a way to integrate what they have done, or scrap all of the work that went into it at that point.  We have all been there...change is necessary, but doesn’t need to be constant.

The point is reform will go nowhere if our staff does not feel a connection to where we are going.  If we want them to invest, we need to invest in them.  For those who are making decisions on a state and national level...ask our teachers what they need to be successful.  For those people in the connected community...extend the conversation beyond those on social media who already believe a new direction is needed.  Those of us who are connected have a responsibility to spread the word, do great things, and invest in people who are not connected so they can see the value without pontificating so we push them away.  We have a responsibility to get into universities and raise the expectation so we are hiring people who we want to be like, not who fit into who we are.  There are pockets where these things are happening...and pockets of excellence are a great start, as long as we encourage and empower everyone in our environment to do what is best for kids and those pockets grow over time.  Go Crickets.