What we need from "the district."

What we need from "the district."

The Principal of the Online School in my School District asked me a really interesting question regarding the growth of our vision within the district and the region. She asked, “What are the 2 or 3 big pieces that we need from the system/district?”

I was taken aback by this question. Is it possible that my district really wants that kind of input? Can I really influence the future just by asking for it?

This question begs us to examine what we want to ask of our institutions. Many times we just assume that our institutions are not interested in what we have to say or what we would like to create, but perhaps they just need to know what it is that we need. So, this is what I have been thinking about:

What are the 2 or 3 big pieces that I need from “the system” in order to create the Authentic Learning Environments I have been writing about, podcasting about, trying to create, and aching to find?

  • We need teachers who do not have to pile technology-rich learning experiences on top of their every day classrooms. We need teachers who are hired to simply do the work of creating a ripe environment for students online (or are at least shared with a brick and mortar in some kind of ratio that makes sense).
  • We need to be able to rewrite the rule book a little on what tools are okay to use in classes. It should not be a don’t ask, don’t tell policy. It should be a conversation about which technologies really do produce the most authentic learning for the most students.
  • Ideally, I want access to a learning spa, where teachers can come in and learn all that they can about teaching online without the fear of being rushed or having to regurgitate the information for students. I want a place that will create culture among students, a place to do projects with kids that will get them comfortable with the tools they will need in order to take courses online. I want a place where teachers are encouraged to create a community, to have a shared vision, to stay informed, and to create something new. It would be nice if that place existed as a brick-and-mortar entity and not just as a consistent webinar meeting.

What would you ask for if you knew your district was listening?

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  1. George Mayo

    I would ask for more computers! We have 2 labs for 800+ students in my school. 25% of the year those two labs are offline for standardized testing practice. What I need to improve student learning is simple, more computers. As a teacher who integrates technology into my classroom, the lack of real access to computers is very frustrating for me and my students. This isn’t something you hear about much in the edublog echo chamber. Many of us teachers out here on the front lines still do not have adequate, regular access to computers. It’s a real challenge.

  2. Ben Wilkoff

    Thanks for the comment. We don’t talk about access enough in the edublogosphere. How can we get this conversation going in a bigger way (outside of our echo chamber as well)?

  3. David Bill

    I agree with George. The ability to have access to computers is a vital part to changing the environment in a school or district. That being said, while the resources are an important part of the 2 to 3 pieces that a school will need, I believe that a faculty with a desire to begin to learn and incorporate those technologies are just as important as the technology itself. Are we really doing justice to the potential of technology in education if there are only one or maybe two teachers who push these ideas and include these resources? How can we get teachers to see the potential? How can we have them want to learn how to use technology to expand their classroom and improve student learning?

  4. Sohne

    My first thoughts…are around a technology infrastructure…a framework that is safe and secure while providing an environment where staff and students can collaborate, engage and develop using web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, instant messaging, social networking) weaving the act of learning into the daily experience called “life” – not some how separated into the entity we call “school”.

  5. “We need teachers who do not have to pile technology-rich learning experiences on top of their every day classrooms. We need teachers who are hired to simply do the work of creating a ripe environment for students online (or are at least shared with a brick and mortar in some kind of ratio that makes sense).” You said it perfectly! This is EXACTLY what I’m wanting in my district. There somehow needs to be funding for this, but the environment in my area just doesn’t seem to be friendly toward adding ANY teachers right now, much less specialized teachers. It’s an uphill battle just to get the technology, much less teachers who are passionate about using it. My idea of perfection: 1 technology specialist/integrationist for at LEAST every grade level at larger schools………

  6. Wow- I agree with your last paragraph just about as much as I agree with anything, ever. I teach HS online and know exactly where you are coming from. The first thing that comes to mind that I would add to your post is leadership. Our boss touts reform but hardly knows how to email, has never taught an online course, and suffers from a Pneumonic like symptom of constant withdrawal.

    My question for the powers that be, hm, hm, I mean, the district:…. ” If I could show you (or point you in the direction of some much brighter people… mrmoses.org) how to change the world of education as you know it, would you allow yourself to listen?

  7. Ben Wilkoff

    Thanks for the comment on my blog. I really enjoyed meeting Glen Moses at NACOL this past year. Were you there with him? I hope that your administration becomes a better listener than in the past, but I believe that if change is framed in the right way, everyone can potentially see the benefit. I feel like your question may assume too much that administrators, by nature, need something categorically different than what we all need: A reason to change. If we give that reason, people will respond.

  8. Cory

    Ben- I was with Glenn, we copresented at VSS. I didnt realize when I commented on your blog but I think we hung out one night in Louisville. I may be wrong.
    I think that the district machine that produces admins in our neck of the woods is training them in an old model. I dont think that many administrators here are looking to the future through the eyes of todays child. Their is a 36% dropout rate in our district, thats enough of a reason to change. They all have a reason, whether they know how or have the desire to adapt is questionable, especially when many are just products of an outdated system.

  9. Ben Wilkoff

    I believe that we did get together after the meet and greet. What I keep wondering is if they are part of an “older system” is there any way to create a transition. What is the incentive to change? I’m sure that they are trying to do something to help those kids, but I find that many are at a loss. What happens when we propose a change that is well designed and proven? How does someone say no to that? (I know that they can, but I try not to believe it.)

  10. Hilary

    Everything that has been said is right on the mark. Great conversation!

    I do know there are pockets of administrators with open minds. I speak from experience. However, they can be so enmeshed in another world of managment and personnel that they can’t see the forest through the trees. Moreoever, the gun-barrel focus of accountability is often THE focus for their meetings with district folks.

    Many admin are not simply closed minded but ignorant. They do not spend their days with students learning but with adults; many of whom are having a problem that can be far removed from the classroom. Help your admins understand what you are doing in your classrooms by having kids talk about their learning processes using web 2.0 tools. Invite your admins to student presentations. Talk about it openly with everyone! Help educate parents and others in your school understand the value of what your kids are doing. Time, money, and resources will follow as more school teacher /admin / parent leaders “get it”.

    Wished I had known about the saturday conference before now! I am new to this terrific site!!

  11. Ben,

    I love the new design, first off. But to get to the point, one thing missing from the conversation above is parent education. So much is said negatively by the media regarding social and collaborative technologies that parents are skittish when it comes to allowing their children to participate. While there has to be room for teacher collaboration, new practices in hiring and training of staff, and common areas dedicated to learning by teachers and students alike, parents need to be involved in this as well.

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