Own It

I remember vividly my “vacations” with my dad when I was a wee lad. These “business” trips for him often led to informal conversations around the pool with newly formed partnerships. As I swam around in the pool, I’d work myself as close to his space as possible to hear the verbal volleys and rhetorical duels.

These exchanges fascinated me.

Most interesting were the ones that ended with “I’ll have one of my people call you”. The look on the other person’s face was always one of disappointment, a slaying that saw a slow departure for one and a return by my father to something quite distant from the conversation.

I struggled to understand why the person looked defeated.

Nearly three decades later, I’ve come to understand that look of disappointment: my dad was passing ideas off to someone else because he wasn’t fully vested himself; he wanted no ownership of the possibilities.

More times than not, this meant the idea would struggle to gain traction in critical areas because the leader was not leading the effort.

Today, I often have that same look of disappointment when speaking with superintendents and principals about “21st Century” learning ecosystem. Despite excitement and energy, these key leaders that need to own and guide the process end up passing it off to their directors of technology.

Technology Directors should not own, guide, or direct the vision of a 21st Century learning ecosystem. We wouldn’t pass the curriculum off to them. We wouldn’t pass the district professional development approach off to them. We wouldn’t pass the instructional environment off to them.

When we are talking about the 21st Century learning environment, we are talking about exactly those things: curriculum, instruction, assessment, professional development, space design, and more. We are talking about learners and learning.

If we are going to change, we shouldn’t hear from superintendents and principals that “I’ll have my tech director contact you” if we really believe in a 21st Century learning ecosystem. We need to start hearing from them that “I’ll be in touch with you soon along with my teaching and learning team”.

We need to see you owning it!

It is only in this ownership, this commitment, from superintendents and principals that we will begin to see fundamental shifts in education.

Lots of (missing?) Skills

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been inundated with the “skills” we need to teach systemically, vertically and horizontally with great depth and breadth.

WIRED recently published a most interesting list of 7 essential skills people didn’t learn in college. For them, they propose a new core curriculum:

It’s the 21st century. Knowing how to read a novel, craft an essay, and derive the slope of a tangent isn’t enough anymore. You need to know how to swim through the data deluge, optimize your prose for Twitter, and expose statistics that lie. In the following pages, you’ll find our updated core curriculum, which fills in the gaps of your 20th-century education with the tools you need now. Call it the neoliberal arts: higher learning for highly evolved humans

Take that paragraph to your next administrative meeting, staff development meeting, student advisory, or curriculum meeting. Read the paragraph and have them create a list defining “neoliberal arts” education at your school. Then, compare their list with the one Wired uses to define their new core:

  1. Statistical Literacy
  2. Post-State Diplomacy
  3. Remix Culture
  4. Applied Cognition
  5. Writing for New Forms
  6. Waste Studies
  7. Domestic Tech

Chances are, the list your school builds will be more aligned with what I experienced recently at the Solution Tree’s 21st Century Learning Summit. Here, Ken Kay pushed for the 4Cs blended with the 3Rs. Douglas Reeves pushed for “focus” as the key 21st Century skill. While still others pushed for the 21st Century skills within the contexts surrounding the ever popular new society that is flat, global, and hyper-competitive.

We also have Alan November speaking on Empathy as a critical 21st Century skill at the recent Global Symposium conference not to mention the 7 skills from Tony Wagner that I was reminded of based upon his BOCES Tech Summit presentation:

  1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  2. Collaboration
  3. Agility and Adaptability
  4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  5. Oral and Written Communication
  6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
  7. Curiosity and Imagination

Bottom line: publications, speakers, and organizations continue to produce list after list for schools to use as the “must have” skills. And, the reality is that most make a lot of sense at face value but what do this mean for schools? How can these be leveraged as discussion starters that go beyond just talk? This leads to two questions on my mind regarding all these lists:

What are organizations doing about this?

Lists like these scare me because they are easy targets for storage material. You know, all those great binders gathering dust on shelves that lay out the curriculum, detail professional development of years gone by, etc.

But, what are organizations doing with these lists? Are they informing the creation of a grad at grad profile that creates a foundation for skills, habits, experiences, and dispositions (SHED) throughout all academics, activities, and athletics? Has curriculum been revisited to leverage the content knowledge to deepen and broaden the SHED? Are we exploring learner characteristics and learning theory, motivation and engagement, and assessment when looking at these skills and pedagogical mindset shifts?

I ask these questions because I really am tired of “we do these”. Over and over again, these lists get snickered at because “we’ve always done that”.

But, have we? How intentional and direct? How systemic? How much ownership and responsibility have we taken in assuring that our locally created grad at grad profile is embedded and infused within all facets of the learning environment? How have we consistently and with open-mindedness revisited this profile from a modern and even futurist perspective?

This leads to…

What are we really saying?

When the “we do these” frustrations spawn, I immediately want to engage in discussions focusing on 1.) what does it mean when you say that skill (disposition or habit) and 2.) what does it mean from a lens that is culturally and socially relevant?

For example, what exactly is Critical Thinking? It is a common skill tossed around and held upon high but what does that exactly mean and look like in the context of the learning environment? Consider this: a review of seven sources on Critical Thinking yields over 50 attributes & few cross-overs! When someone says we are doing the 4Cs, are we really going deeply and broadly with each of those given just one yields 50 attributes to explore?

My point? Leaders need to work to define, explain, and elaborate on these skills within a modern context NOT simply place these within a document that says “this is what we do and what our students will look like when they leave us”. Go Deeper! Go Broader! Come together as a community!

We Talk Too Much

Will there be difficult discussions, differences in opinions, and challenges to the norm? Yes! Imagine Wired, Reeves, Kay, Wagner, and November in a room trying to develop a student learning profile. But, when we see beyond this as a moment and see it as an ongoing opportunity for discussion and action, we can come to embrace what initially is uncomfortable. We can grow a meaningful, sustained, and ongoing professional development approach. We can bring direction organizationally, departmentally, and individually in a way that is celebrated not condoned.

Don’t let a list being handed to you. There is a lot of talking and distributing of lists. Where is the action? Where is the local movement? Let these lists inform not drive!!!  Locally, it is time for you to not only craft the SHED that guides action and decision making but to infuse and embed these within the daily practices of the learning environment.

So, let’s create a To Do List (non-linear):

  1. Gather all these “lists” and leverage these along with practitioner narrative to guide the creation of a learning profile SHED
  2. Make the SHED practical, understandable, clear, and useable
  3. Develop professional development around the SHED
  4. Embed and infuse the SHED into all facets of the learning environment: curriculum, instruction, assessment, decision-making, administration, budget, professional development, athletics, activities, etc.
  5. Create and embrace a constant state of revision: review and revise the SHED from a culturally and socially relevant context, practitioner narrative, and stakeholder feedback
  6. What else? There are holes everywhere in this brain dump


cc licensed flickr photo by Toni Kaarttinen: http://flickr.com/photos/tonikaarttinen/4261793537/

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!

Writing in the Digital Age

With the digital age upon us, participatory media shifts traditionally held concepts of communication and collaboration. Today, publishing is ubiquitous, but when should writing become public? When should it be exposed to engagement, critique, and connections? The very notion of writing needs to expand to include digital, connective experiences that evoke 21st Century Literacies in ways not possible with traditional means of writing. As well, writing needs to be collaborative and independent of time, space, and place.

When washing your car, there is a need to evaluate current practices to determine what remains, what evolves, and what is removed. This is especially true if the notion of connectivism is to be deemed a legitimate learning theory whereby networking is not only encouraged but fostered. What does this do to writers when their networks continue to expand and diversify in depth and breadth? How does convergent media and connective technologies challenge the notion of what it means to be a writer and the notion of writing as a secular act for amateur writers?

The notion of writing is at a tipping point. In fact, just this past week, NCTE released a Call to Support 21st Century Writing stating “this is a call to action, a call to research and articulate new composition, a call to help our students compose often, compose, well, and through these composings, become the citizen writers of our country, the citizen writers of the world”. This represents a new day in the world of writing making conversations surrounding writing even more intriguing. How will we evolve? How will we accept or reject NCTE’s position?

Bud Hunt
says, “Writing in a technological world means that we, as writers and teachers of writing, need to be aware of these choices and how we can best utilize them to have the intended effect on our various audiences”.

But is awareness enough?

NCTE says, “It’s time for us to join the future and support all forms of 21st Century Literacies, inside school and outside school” and that is the direction all teachers of writing need to begin taking today.

[Tags] writing, participatorymedia, web2.0 [/Tags]

On Literacy: Panel Question One

On October 24th, I had the pleasure of joining Patrick Higgins and David Warlick on a panel at TechForum NorthEast that was charged to get Beyond the Web 2.0 Hype. It was an intriguing discussion that I really enjoyed especially given the audience involvement.  Since then, I’ve been telling myself that I would write brief posts on my thoughts to the questions posed to us so here we go with the first.


Are there new literacies that connective technologies create?  ..or do these tools afford the attainment of a literacy in a different way?

My Thoughts (not answer):

While an important point of discussion, there is much that frustrates me about this question. We go round and round about (blank) literacy: media literacy (pdf), information literacy, visual literacy, digital literacy, technology literacy, learning literacy, and more “new” literacies. My frustration with this form of questioning is that whether there are new literacies or not is obviously debatable and does little more than create a semantic battle. This semantic focus draws away from what I believe to be clearly evident and a critical discussion:  Connective Technologies are forcing us to reconsider what it means to be a well-educated person, what it mean to be literate.

Embedded within this discussion is a look at the social and cultural landscape because what it means to be well-educated and literate is fluid and situational:

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. (National Council of Teachers of English)

Today, our (US) culture is information-rich and highly visual with an ever growing focus on connective technologies that allow for enhanced and easier means of communicating, creating, connecting, and contributing. This social and cultural phenomenon seemingly forces us to discuss what is means to be well-educated and literate including an evolving skill and knowledge set.

Thus, schools must begin to have the discussion about what it means to be well-educated, to be literate, in the 21st Century. This inevitably leads to the most important question for schools: given what it means to be well-educated, how are we to educate so that our students become well-educated, literate citizens?

That is the discussion I hope ALL schools are engaging in right now. That is the discussion I would enjoy having with others from around the globe.

[Tags] literacy, 21stcenturyskills, education, techforumne08, techforum, reform [/Tags]