Saturday, December 12, 2009

Will Richardson: "You need to share more"

I'm still percolating thoughts from yesterday's session. Here are my biggest three.

We have a lot of enthusiasm from the represented districts about teaching in the 21st century. They want to gear instruction towards project-based learning. They want to embed technology. They want to prioritize creativity, innovation, and critical thinking. They want to connect with other schools. And, this enthusiasm--this willingness to try and risk failure--is absolutely critical for a district to be successful.

But, there is perhaps a perception of the districts that their involvement with a one-to-one means they are truly teaching in the 21st century. Will repeatedly mentioned purchasing the digital technology and using it is actually very easy. It is transforming the curriculum that is difficult. He asked where districts taught Wikipedia, or taught about sexting. He asked about authentic assessments and internships. And, the educators there realized, there is a way to go.

And this is a problem. When the Newell-Fonda's, Okoboji's, and Van Meter's of the state try new things, they don't have a model or blueprint to look at. They have to build the plane while flying it. And in addition, given their relative position to other districts, it does look like they are doing things very well.

These districts have to re-calibrate their understanding of effective teaching. No longer can they compare themselves to "business-as-usual" instruction that you might see in other Iowa districts... they have surpassed that. They now need to look at schools like the New Tech High school or Science Leadership Academy. They have to see how these schools go beyond having computers and using projects to fully improving instruction and assessment.

We have a lot of enthusiasm from the districts... much of the conversation was driven by them. But there wasn't much conversation from DE or AEA consultants (myself included). You could make too much of this, but the contrast with who was participating was striking.

My thought is this: Not every school has the leader who can vision schools functioning in the way Will Richardson talks about. We need statewide leadership to help promote one-to-one initiatives and not merely cheer lead. I'm not sure that has happened up until this point.

The biggest takeaway was Will's reflection, invaluable as an outside viewpoint looking in. He mentioned that the current work of the schools represented, and their leadership they are providing, is excellent. But, it is pockets of excellence at this point. Much as a district has an excellent teacher here and an excellent teacher there, if there are districts doing great things, it was apparent that they were in isolation from everyone else.

Will asked several superintendents how other people knew what they were doing, and the response was typically "Come visit us" or "Look at our website". Which isn't active sharing... it's passive sharing. A willingness to share doesn't mean anyone is going to do it. And this has been the downfall of our statewide efforts many times before.

Will mentioned Clay Shirky's analysis of what constitutes a community. Shirky writes that while networking and connecting is important, people mistake that for a community. True community starts with sharing, then moves to collaboration, then to collective action. Collective action is the place we want to be in Iowa, where we are moving forward all schools. How will we start the sharing?

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