Recognizing the Moment: A “Mailroom” Shift

Recognizing the Moment: A “Mailroom” Shift

We’ve been on Google Apps for Education for three years with the exception of Gmail. This past week, this final piece was added. The point of this isn’t so much about Gmail but about recognizing the moment.

It is easy to move through these changes focused only on deployment checklist. While critical, it’s important to recognize the day is different and to act upon this different even if small.

Beyond the PR-esq. strategies we take, we always try to do something to the physical space to acknowledge that “this is a different day, a new day”. This builds connections, community, and energy. This says we care and are proud of our school for “bounding“.

Our Gmail Example

We went over many ways we could do this with our Gmail launch. It provided us with a new challenge because we had already done our GBN Goes Google campaign three years ago. After going through a design-ish process, one of the ideas that kept popping up was this notion of the concerns that remains even today with email and other social communication: the loss of that face to face.

One of the most symbolic locations in our school that honors and fosters the face to face is the mailroom. This is why we said let’s bring those two worlds together. Let’s honor what we value and highlight how this change recognizes who we are while also energizing what we will be.

So we did a few things:

    1. We covered the mailroom door to the Google colors and symbolically placed a large Gmail logo on it.
    2. We spent time in the mailroom in the morning saying “Welcome to Gmail”.
    3. We placed an invite and welcome “letter/email” on the outside of each faculty and staff members physical box. This “letter/email” provided them with all the resources they needed to get started with Gmail.

Mailroom Entrance Goes GoogleFace to Face Email

These steps were small and subtle, but they are important to organizational change. Sometimes we forget to recognize the moment and we lose an excellent opportunity to take risks, have fun, and come together.

Pin the Tail on the Donkey: How Aware is Your Community?

It feels too often we are playing pin the tail on the donkey — spin around recycling what we’ve always done and stumble towards a target that we can’t see nor understand.


And, this lack of awareness is significantly restricting the depth and expansion of our conversations towards meaningful change.

Just consider the following: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC)Stanford’s online courses, and now Massachusetts Institute of Technology X (MITx). This list continues to grow and lay a foundation beyond mere experimentation.

How aware are those in your buildings about these? How are these being used within your educational conversations? How are these being monitored for their potential influence? What do these mean for learning and teaching? for curriculum, instruction, assessment, and spaces?

It isn’t just these items. How aware are they about all that is happening globally in education? I don’t mean federal and state initiatives. I mean social phenomena challenging the status quo governing much of education.

Through blogs and tweets, chats and casts, the “edtech” community debates and engages in rich discourse over what an array of trends and happenings mean for education. 24/7 a small (?) percentage of educators are deepening and broadening their awareness in order to make the best decisions for learning and learners.

But what about our local communities? There seems to be a lack of awareness when discussing education.

  • When discussing professional development, is everyone aware of the the possibilities of a PLN?
  • When discussing course offerings, is everyone aware of  the open course movement online?
  • When discussing curriculum, is everyone aware of online learning objects as the foundation?
  • When discussing instruction, is everyone aware of the potential of the Internet for personalized learning?
  • When discussing literacy, is everyone of aware of transliteracy?
  • When discussing student outcomes, is everyone aware of the needed skills beyond the common Cs?
  • When discussing the future, is everyone aware of the present?
  • When discussing ___________, is everyone aware of _________________?

What else are we discussing in schools without an awareness of what is actually taking place in the world? How can we begin to shift education if our awareness for what is happening socially is surface level at best?

It is time to take off the blind fold and stop the spinning. Let’s pledge an awareness campaign this year that helps us rethink our cyclical movements that lead us to similar if not the same results in education.

(Image: 091010-205, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) image from iamian_’s photostream)

Education STILL needs a Digital Upgrade

A recent article from the NYTimes, “Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade“, takes on the notion of today’s learning environments and drives home a point I’m not sure schools are addressing with the level of urgency needed:

Simply put, we can’t keep preparing students for a world that doesn’t exist. We can’t keep ignoring the formidable cognitive skills they’re developing on their own. And above all, we must stop disparaging digital prowess just because some of us over 40 don’t happen to possess it. An institutional grudge match with the young can sabotage an entire culture” (Heffernan).

I am also not sure that schools are having those conversations about moving their learners with <gasp> fidelity towards these types of learning environments:

“A classroom suited to today’s students should deemphasize solitary piecework. It should facilitate the kind of collaboration that helps individuals compensate for their blindnesses, instead of cultivating them. That classroom needs new ways of measuring progress, tailored to digital times — rather than to the industrial age or to some artsy utopia where everyone gets an Awesome for effort. The new classroom should teach the huge array of complex skills that come under the heading of digital literacy. And it should make students accountable on the Web…” (Heffernan)

Heffernan even argues against the sacred cow in most secondary and collegiate classrooms. Leveraging Cathy Davidson, she advocates for looking at writing and writing to learn from a broader, digital lens than the traditional approach seen in most schools. Are we having these conversations? Is this a transition happening in classrooms, curriculum development, instructional practices, and everyday thinking in our schools? Are leaders fostering these shifts and embedding these within all facets? Is transliteracy, digital literacy, new media literacies or whatever you want to call it becoming the norm?

Important to this argument is the way students react:

“even academically reticent students publish work prolifically, subject it to critique and improve it on the Internet. This goes for everything from political commentary to still photography to satirical videos — all the stuff that parents and teachers habitually read as distraction.” (Heffernan)

The article drives home many of the arguments that those of us that embraced CyberEnglish years ago long advocated for pre- terms like social media, web 2.0, blogs, and wikis.

And that is the concern that I still have about all of this: we STILL need a digital upgrade so what are we doing about it?!

Old Car

These aren’t new and radical ideas! Yes, more people are talking about it now. Yes, more technologies are making the entry points easier. Yet, here we sit and I have to wonder: where are we placing these types of shifts in the grand scheme of what we are trying to do in our schools?

I’m not talking about on paper or the random focus at a faculty meeting or in-service. I’m talking about a core shift that places this shift as a foundational component of all conversations in the school from curriculum redesign to instructional approaches to space design?

You see, it isn’t going to happen when it is a fluffy, feel good piece that lies off to the side only to be called upon randomly. Those days are gone for schools that really want to embrace this shift. And maybe that is the question, Do We REALLY Want to Embrace and Progress Forward with this Change in Schools?

(Image: Old Car, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from bogdansuditu’s photostream)

On Better Schools: Panel Question Two

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. In continuing with posts for each question, I bring you my thoughts on the second question.


Discuss this comment by Paul Houston via David Warlick’s Tweet:  “People want schools to be better, but not different.”  Do you believe this to be true?  How exactly does Web 2.0 make schools better?

My Thoughts (not answer):

I really struggled with this question simply because I continued to return to the research that shows many people feel that education needs reform but few see issues with the school(s) in their area — this simply doesn’t make mathematical sense but it does explain why we don’t see the change. For these people, they want schools to be better when discussing education as a whole but locally they feel things are just fine making change quite difficult when there is a general sense that everything is just fine.

In a way, there is comfort knowing and understanding education from the context of how one experienced it that is passed on from generation to generation as the expected or some times even the “it was good enough for me” mentality. This perpetuates educational mythology and exposing the myths associated with schooling is of vital importance if change is to happen.

At the same time, I also believe that educators want things to be better but struggle with a variety of issues facing the change.

First, there is a genuine fear of the flavor of the months that rear their ugly heads. While innovation is important, the most successful schools are not the ones innovating the most or at least focused on the the quantity of innovations. Instead, it is time to be methodical in our approaches and seek quality.

Second, change that seems like a foreign substance randomly popping up in a culture that is typically stagnant promotes fear at its highest level. The most important change schools could invest in is one that recultures a school as a place of change, innovation, learning, and community. Easier said than done obviously but this builds a foundation that makes future changes easier to manage.

Finally, I am a big believer in being methodically and systematic in approaching change. All too often, the various factors of change are not taken into consideration. For example, the chart on the left breaks down what happens when a step in the change process is missing: without Vision, there is confusion; without skills, there is anxiety; and so on.

There are clear examples surrounding all of us where these breakdowns occur. One that is often missing is a vision held by the community. Yes, there might be a vision but is the vision that of the whole or the self? This is where being a transparent leader becomes vital to organizational health and success.

I simply don’t believe that it is the masses of teachers that hold organizations back. When I listen to those that are or labeled as resistance, it is easy to see where the breakdowns are occurring. At that point, leaders can throw up their hands complaining about teachers inability to change or one can analyze where the breakdown in leadership and communication have occurred. Great organizations, great leaders strive to find those breakdowns and fill in the cracks NOT blame.

A Difference?

As for whether or not web 2.0 makes a difference in schools and learning, I am not BUT it is forcing conversations about teaching, learning and leading.

  • I believe these conversations could begin the reculturing process of how we teach and learn. In fact, we are starting to see this in pockets where communication, collaboration, connections, and creating are evolving in ways that are engaging more students in richer learning opportunities
  • I believe these conversation will fundamentally alter our conceptual understanding of a learning space from something grounded in a specific time, physical location, and within a specific formal organization to one that is no longer dependent on any specific time, space, or place
  • I believe these conversations will lead to an understanding of what it means to be well-educated in the 21st Century
  • I believe these conversations will force us to discuss one-room schoolhouses that dominate our school systems and force us to reculture schools as learning communities
  • I believe these conversations will change the concept of adult learning
[Tags] change, web2.0, learningcommunity, leadership, administration, adulteducation [/Tags]