Are You Listening?

During a recent presentation, I spoke about the many insights gained about learning, schooling, teaching, social networking, and technology from engaging our student groups and student body in critical discussions.  My heart broke though when the audience was asked “how many of your schools are engaging students in these types of conversation” and all of three people in a good size crowd raised their hands.

Why aren’t we engaging kids in these types of conversations? We make sweeping generalizations, we coin phrases about them, yet we don’t engage them in the very conversations in which we are putting them at center stage. Isn’t it time that we really put them center and bring them to the table?

Their voices are key; they are an essential stakeholder that we can no longer afford adults to speak on their behalf. They deserve to speak. They deserve to have a voice if we are going to continue saying it is about them.

In fact, here is my hard line: stop saying it is about the students if you haven’t asked the students what they need, what they want, and what is the reality of their world. Just say it is about you or the school and what you find relevant. If you are okay with that, great.

Personally, I’m not. The voices of change rest with the scholars in your building, every student that enters those doors each morning.

Are you listening? Are you bringing them to the table? Are you leveraging their insights with decisions being made in the school?

If you want real, lasting change, the answers can only be yes.

Image by apesara

[Tags] studentvoice, education, reform [/Tags]

The Challenge

This post is cross posted at LeaderTalk.

My office was literally covered in post-it notes as I sat staring in frustration over a challenge posed to me by a colleague, mentor, and inspirational leader: what is your top ten list of  tools for teachers?

For nearly a month, I wrestled with this question with NOTHING to show for it but a bunch of post-it notes with fragmented tools that meant little in terms of teaching and learning when shown in isolation. Then I realized why I was struggling; it went against everything I believed about instructional technology and education. So, I shifted the question and that is exactly the move my colleague expected and sought — pedagogy not tools is the focus!

What are ten methodologies and values all classrooms should exhibit?

This is a challenging yet vital question for all educators to negotiate as we continue to discuss what it means to be well-educated in the 21st Century and what that profile means for teaching and learning. While I am still painting this picture and it is collaborative painting, here is an initial list for discussion and debate:

  • Quality of Thought: Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, Interdisciplinary, Meta-Cognitive, Multi-Sensory, Knowledge Transfer, Community, Flexibility, Synergy, Design, Listening, Innovation, Risk-Taking, Independent
  • Participatory Learning: Play, Performance, Multi-tasking, Collective Intelligence, Judgment, Networking, Simulation, Appropriation, Distributed Cognition, Visualization, Negotiation, and Transliteracy
  • Inquiry-based Learning (problem/project): Research, Collaboration, Design, Present, Contribute, and Reflect
  • Connective Learning
  • Differentiated and Customized Learning
  • Cooperative and Collaborative Learning
  • Authentic
  • Transformative Assessment and Data Use
  • Brain-Based
  • Higher-Order Thinking and Questioning

Would this be the types of classrooms that would engage students? ignite their passions? build genius? create well-educated, global citizens capable of competing, connecting, and contributing in the 21st Century?

If not, what values, methodologies, and pedagogical practices should each classroom in your school should exhibit?

Start there and begin this conversation with your school today. After all, isn’t it time we begin shifting our organizational mindsets on teaching and learning?

Image by Peter Gerdes

Beyond the Web 2.0 Hype Opening

I recently had the honor of sitting on a panel at TechForum Midwest Chicago with Lucy Gray and Clarence Fisher addressing topics surrounding web 2.0 in education. Both of these fine educators I hold with the greatest respect and really enjoyed our exchanges and opportunities to work through issues together with the audience.

In the spirit of transparency and the fact that the session was not streamed, I thought I’d share my responses so here is my opening of the panel discussion.


This panel is exciting because it represents something greater than merely the next web 2.0 tool; it represents a discussion about various topics that schools are facing when trying to make the philosophy of web 2.0 a systemic reality. For me, this shift in education towards one that is participatory and connective needs to include a strong understanding of the social phenomenon that is the Internet.

This phenomenon is one in which we are seeing the blurring of spaces: physical and digital spaces, social and working spaces, formal and informal spaces, and so forth. In many ways, it is exhausting to think about a participatory society that is shaped by the ability to navigate and interact with hyper speed information flow, create and maintain networks, embrace the notion of sharing, engage in creation, live in a continuous state of partial attention, and actively socialize in various spaces across multiple identities.

However, it is clear that there is a tremendous gap between this social phenomenon and education, which is both disappointing and nerve-wracking. Society has gravitated towards this “different”, blended world yet too many in education have not.

Yes, teachers are using some of the tools or even a lot of the tools. While this is great and provides wonderful new contexts for students, I’m not convinced this will fundamentally shift education if we continue to retrofit these tools instead of embracing the philosophy of participatory and connective learning. In other words, it is time we start seeing these tools as the tip of the iceberg not the identifier of classrooms or schools that have become 21st Century, that have become participatory.

That is why…:

  1. We need to understand this social phenomenon and extract from it salient points that can help transform education to exciting, engaging, and inspirational hubs of learning
  2. We need to focus on teaching, learning, and leading for all NOT focus on tools for teachers
  3. We need to shift our organizational mindsets on teaching and learning using emerging technologies: rethink the notion of content as outcome; reallocate classroom time for collaboration, inquiry, and production; shift practices to participatory and connective learning; focus on quality of thought & action for a lifetime; create a multi-dimensional learning space; and revisit the values and methodologies all classroom should exhibit in the context of the 21st Century, new literacies, and the social phenomenon that is the Internet
  4. We need to empower students and teachers in this shift
  5. We need to understand that many students are “expert” at social networks but  are not “expert” at learning networks – we need to learn how to leverage both and understand both
  6. We need to triangulate our beliefs and practices with theory, research, and practitioner narratives
  7. We need to embrace change, innovation, and risk-taking as constants in education
  8. We need to begin seeing and shaping all students as scholars with qualities of genius
  9. We need to open the doors of our classrooms and schools
  10. We need to accept passion, play, professional learning, and professionalism as non-negotiable
[Tags] techforum, techforumch9, web 2.0, education, lucygray, clarencefisher [/Tags]

Student Online Intellectual Work

I’m struggling a bit with what use to seem so clear: how should students (focused on high school) digitally sign their intellectual work?

Up until the last few months, it was really “clear” to me. If students were sharing their work for class, they should sign it with their first name and last initial. But lately, it doesn’t seem so clear:

  1. If safety is the reason for not publishing their names, is this really a means of ensuring safety or is it a false front?
  2. If protection from public errors is the reason, are we really addressing the right question?
  3. If we are teaching digital citizenship, is an alias or partial disclosure the best approach?
  4. If we are helping students develop a strong, positive footprint, is it best to use their full names?
  5. How do we take into consideration professional publications treatment of students such as the athlete who has his/her full name printed next to their photo?

Bottom line, I’m questioning this long held belief (since 2001 when I first had students publishing on the web) and need the help of students, parents, and educators. Should high school students publish their intellectual work with their full name?

[Tags] education, participatorymedia, edupolicy, studentpublishing [/Tags]

Make the Simple Call

As leaders, we sometimes fail to make the simple call. Instead, we complicate and over think things when the choice is staring us right in the face:

Believe me, I’ve missed the doorbell a few times in my career.

Comic by xkcd

[Tags] xkcd, leadership [/Tags]

Recognize + Ignite = nclb

Of the 8.1 Million plus views*, I admit that I’ve watched the Susan Boyle video nearly ten times and have shown as many people as I can. It just speaks to a lesson we’ve all been taught since early elementary: never judge a book by its cover.

In fact, I had a hard time fighting back tears when I questioned how this wonderful talent could have gone unrecognized or untapped for so long. How many people laughed, snickered, and passed over this soul because of the way she looks and her eccentricity like the crowd seemingly did at the start? Obviously, I don’t know the reason but this moment struck a chord with me.

Today, I spent some time in a classroom with great students and another 30 minutes around our lobby today listening and talking to students. The whole time, I couldn’t help but hope that we continue recognizing the talents in all of our students and igniting their passions, hidden and known, for a lifetime of success.

Because to me, that is the essence of not leaving behind a child, that is the essence of education.

*as of April 15 at 7pm

What is Your Department Discussing and Doing

Cross Posted on Education Week Leader Talk.

While I often discuss systemic change and the need to break free from the complacency that is pockets of innovation, these talks perhaps fail to provide guidance on all levels instead usually focusing on the role of upper adminstration (oy! I dislike the sound of that). Thus, this is the first in a series of posts with secondary department heads/instructional supervisors/team leaders in mind.

Driving Questions

For the past two years, I’ve talked about the need to focus on the essential questions of what does it mean to be well-educated in the 21st Century and what does that mean for teaching and learning. While the discussions and ideas that come from these discussions provide a foundation and vision for schools, these broad items leave much room for interpretation.

In many ways, this is a great thing BUT departments must also engage in specific questions focused on their content:

  1. How do we best approach (content) in the 21st Century?
  2. How does our (content) curriculum align to create learning opportunities for the creating well-educated 21st Century citizens?
  3. How are our (content) instructional methodologies fostering the development of well-educated 21st Century citizens?
  4. What pedagogical shifts should be explored to best align with student learning and achievement in the 21st Century?
  5. What assessment strategies will best address the 21st Century student profile?


In much the same way that the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Apple Classroom of Tomorrow – Today, ISTE’s NETSKnowledge Works, Core Knowledge (a bit of balance), Horizon Report, National and State Standards, MIT New Media Literacies, Connectivism, School 2.0 and many others serve as foundational readings on the district and whole school level discussions, the national content association for teachers offer position statements that can serve to frame the discussion.

Here are the position statements released by some content areas:

National Council of Teachers of English

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

National Science Teachers Association

National Council of Social Studies

National Association for Sport and Physical Education

Begin. Focus. Develop. Act!

While I would argue that these conversations should be at the heart of departments all the time, the reality is that may be easier said than done. But, now is the time to begin: late arrivals, department meetings, team time, etc. But, focus these conversations on teaching and learning. Yes, debates are going to happen. Yes, not everyone will agree. The key is to honor all points as adding to the direction of the department.

However, discussion is not enough unless it leads to the development of an action plan. In fact, I would recommend that the discussion moves towards the creation of a department position statement using the aforementioned questions.  Regardless, strive to move the discussion towards action items not just academic exercises.

Most importantly, act! Don’t just create your action plan, position statement, and binder documents (love those! created those!) for dust gathering purposes. As you create action items, move on them.

Moments in Time well… stink

This isn’t something that can happen overnight nor is there a checklist or template to complete. It is actually time t0 engage and lead your tribe as an instructional leader. Remember, we must guide, listen, push/pull, adopt/adapt, and change. We must value creativity, innovation, play, risks, and disagreements. We must understand chaos, fear, and professionalism. We must see this as a start with no true end but a natural part of what we do – evolve!

Fear and Stupidity

I just finished Seth Godin’s Tribes and while there is a lot to discuss in terms of leadership and change, two ideas stuck with me upon closing the book: fear and stupidity.


For some reason, fear is ingrained in the culture of schools today: teachers, administrators, and students. Students have learned to play the academic game and fear taking academic risks. Teachers see status quo as a state of comfort and fear change. Administrators seek perfection at the expense of movement and fear what they don’t understand and can’t control.

Is it really any wonder why education is in its current state?

But that is just it. As Godin (2008) says, “the levers are here. The proof is here. The power is here. The only thing holding you back is your own fear. Not easy to admit, but essential to understand” (p. 44). And that is just it. We know what needs to happen. We have the research. We have the means. So, why aren’t we?


The why aren’t we is something I continue to struggle with as I read book after book, research report after research report on what needs to happen. If it is so clear and so obvious, I just struggle (and no, it isn’t my “it needs to happen yesterday personality”).

But I think Godin has painted a clear picture for me. Education is just stuck, stuck on stupid:

When the world changes, the rules change. And if you insist on playing today’s games by yesterday’s rules, you’re stuck. Stuck with a stupid strategy. Because the world has changed. Some organizations are stuck. Others move quickly. In a changing world, who’s having more fun? (p. 111)

While fun is great, let me alter this a bit: Some schools are stuck. Others are evolving. In the 21st Century, who is better preparing students for the world of today and tomorrow?

Better yet, which one is your school: stuck in stupid or rooted in innovation?


Godin, Seth. Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us. Ottawa: Portfolio Hardcover, 2008.

Image by daveelmore

[Tags] innovation, sethgodin, leadership, change, organizationaltheory [/Tags]

Total Cost of Ownership 2.0

Cross posted at Techlearning

You’ve reached a point where the web 2.0 tools are beginning to reach a systemic level in your school.  More and more teachers are shifting to technoconstructivists and have transformed their classes into student-centered learning communities that no longer function as one-room school houses. The school culture is becoming more collaborative and innovative.  There is great excitement at the possibilities but then the bottom falls out. One by one, the free web 2.0 tools that this entire movement is based upon start to charge and no one accounted for funding because web 2.0 equals free.

Okay, this is quite an exaggeration (on all levels) but free and web 2.0 may be heading down a path where they are no longer synonymous with each other as seen with the recent move by Gcast and the rumors of Twitter. For schools, it is causing us to really consider web 2.0 within the framework of Total Cost of Ownership, a vital part of fiscal management for schools in order to fully assess the full cost of an investment.

Total Cost of Ownership 2.0 Questions

  1. Is the tool valuable enough to student achievement to allocate funds to it?
  2. Is the tool valuable enough to adult learning to allocate funds to it
  3. If the tool is being promoted systemically, can your school secure funding for an annual subscription for the tool?
  4. Have you considered open source alternatives (ex. instead of Ning)?
  5. Depending on the companies contractual commitment to data storage and security, what in-house data storage and transfer plans are in place in case the company closes its doors?
  6. What funds are allocated for professional development given the possibility that a paid tool may mean less resources available online?

By no means is this meant to discourage the use of web 2.0 tools nor do I have any inside knowledge about specific companies and their tools. However, one needs only to look at the current economy combined with the business models driving many of these web 2.0 companies to see the potential for a perfect storm.

Because of that, the responsibility of sustained tech infusion is on those attempting to bring the philosophy and tools of web 2.0 to schools, which means it is time to link Total Cost of Ownership with our advancement of the philosophy and tools of Web 2.0.


For most of my youth, I heard about this annoying characteristic that I possessed: curiosity. When I was younger, it was “Ryan, curiosity killed the cat”. As I got older, it was “Ryan, I’m calling your parents” or “Ryan, go to the office”.

See, there was something about curiosity that didn’t sit well with classroom management plans and structured lesson plans.

I’m not special. This surely happened to many others and sadly happens today in schools around the globe. I was just lucky that I couldn’t focus long enough on their frustrations to change.

Today, this concerns me not only for students but adults, too. It concerns me on an organizational level.

How do schools view curiosity organizationally: a hindrance or an advantage? Do we become annoyed by those that seek new paths, show excitement with challenges, push others to explore, and cause immense chaos?

True leaders foster a culture that values natural curiosity because we understand that by openly embracing genius and curiosity, we’ll finds paths previously unseen and even imagined.

‘curiosity’ from Nic Askew on Vimeo.

Image by drp

[Tags] leadership, curiosity, chaos [/Tags]