Friday, October 27, 2017

Confronting the Myths and Fears of 21st Century Learning

School leaders are at an advantageous juncture in 21st Century Education. We are beginning to vault the obstacles that have blocked our attempts to bring new learning skills and styles needed to prepare our students for the "unknown" future. Unfortunately, there are still critics of this movement and many are parents who have been skeptical of the change, and government officials who mislead the public by racing to the top of testing rather than the future of the unknown.

In an excellent article by Anna Johannsen (2017) she attempts to "debunk" the myths that are offered by the raving critics of technology and learning in 21st Century Learning.  She outlines these points as follows:

1.     Social Limitations: The fear of technology stealing the potential of social interaction is a fear that critics voice regularly. The rationale that must be adopted is that depending on how the technology is used in the classroom environment the technology can have both a positive and negative effect on social interaction. But, technology can improve communication and enhance interactions in a positive and constructive manner if guided correctly.

2.     Distractions: The fear here is that technology will be a distraction to the educational process. Once again, this could be a reality if the classroom process is not constructive. But, as Johannsen points out: "Anyone who’s been in a classroom knows that anything is a potential distraction, whether it’s writing notes on a sheet or paper or sending a text message. Technology doesn’t make the classroom any more distracting than it already is."

3.     Stifling of cognitive development: The fear of being overly dependent on technology creates a deterioration of cognitive functioning is questionable. While attempts to research this idea are possible it clouds the reality that we live in a world where everything we interact with is influenced or originates with technology. To assume this is only a classroom issue is naive and learning to live with as opposed to avoiding it must be our role.

4.     Test score effects. From previous posts readers can identify of my disregard for standardized testing as it exists currently. If we allow testing to be the only evaluative measure that promotes learning then we are limiting what true future learning is all about. "Standardized tests don’t evaluate technological proficiency, nor can they accurately measure a child’s potential in different future career paths. Instead, they’re overly generalized, and schools with the highest test scores tend to be the ones focused exclusively on achieving those test scores (rather than preparing students for college, careers, or life in general)." (Johannsen, 2017)

5.     Technology is expensive: In promoting techology in a one-to-one program the reality of expense is quite real. But, innovative funding programs that place laptops or tablets in the hands of students becomes affordable more and more.

These fears are most important to deal with as 21st Century School Leaders. What is worth fighting for is what makes the battle worthwhile.

JOHANSSON, A. (2017, May 05). Debunked: 5 myths about classroom technology. Retrieved October 27, 2017, from

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Restarting 21st Century Learning

Hello again, I am back from my hiatus of writing weekly blogs. I took an extended vacation to reflect, relax, and consider the direction that education seems to be following. In recent weeks we are seeing the convocation of many candidates for the Presidency of the United States, none of whom have, as of yet, offered any inkling of the direction their education policies will follow. But, the sentiments of No Child Left Behind, as well as Race to the Top, and, of course, Common Core are still with us and will continue to be, as long as the theorists and politicians attempt to manipulate the educational programs of children for their own gain; whether to prove or advance a theory or win votes. 

I will continue to push forward on igniting a true 21st Century Learning Organization in our schools, because I feel that is the only true system that will prepare and make a considerable difference for children. But, in so doing, are we making the difference we seek in the goals and visions we bring to the table as educators?

In 1956 Benjamin Bloom wrote the Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, which was a six-level description of thinking that has been widely used and adapted in many different version of teaching and learning since. (1)  They are: 

These skills and keywords have designed numerous instructional objectives that
have guided learning for thousands of educators and students for sixty years. But, times have changed, the sooner we accept this and the concept of how children are learning today, the sooner we move our new generations into this thing called the 21st Century Learning Organization. Around 1999 Dr. Lorin Anderson, a former student of Benjamin Bloom created an updated and revised model of the taxonomy. “This revised taxonomy attempts to correct some of the problems with the original taxonomy. Unlike the 1956 version, the revised taxonomy differentiates between “knowing what,” the content of thinking, and “knowing how,” the procedures used in solving problems.” (2)

The revised Bloom’s Taxonomy is more learner centered, and learner focused. Here is an excellent graphic of the new version from the University of Arkansas. (3) As the website advises, "before you can understand a concept, you must remember it. To apply a concept you must first understand it. In order to evaluate a process, you must have analyzed it. To create an accurate conclusion, you must have completed a thorough evaluation."

No where in that model are teachers directed to lecture, test, assess, or even teach. Teachers become facilitators of learning, meant to provide the strategy and guidelines for students to find the path to learning. This becomes the first step in true 21st Century regeneration. 

(1) Designing Effective Projects: Thinking Skills Frameworks Bloom’s Taxonomy: A New Look at an Old Standby." Accessed August 20, 2015.

(2) ibid.

(3) Shabatura, Jessica. "Teaching Innovation & Pedagogical Support." Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Write Effective Learning Objectives. September 27, 2013. Accessed August 20, 2015.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Feedback as Professional Development for Teachers

September 21, 2014
“Students learn best when they are engaged in meaningful activities; when they collaborate and receive peer feedback; when they reflect critically on what they are doing; when they work on real-world, challenging, authentic activities; when their work is constantly evaluated; and when they are intrinsically motivated.” (Vrasidas & Glass, 2004)

Certain times of the year in a teacher’s life there are moments of anxiety and dread when the words “professional development” are whispered in the hallowed halls of their institutions. With the age of accountability upon us, and the level of anxiety rising in all areas of our schools, we need to recognize the problems inherent in providing relevant professional development that truly has an effect on improving instruction, and student achievement.

Unfortunately, most professional development is a waste if there is no connection to the real-world issues faced by the faculty on a daily basis. In fact, anyone that has ever taught in the schools knows that peer feedback is an essential part of the professional learning process, especially in the faculty room. There are a few successful models where professional development occurring on the school site, and woven in such a way as to encourage facilitative feedback and peer evaluation may be a more constructive and achievable process for creating significant change.

            Over recent years there has been an abundance of research created in the types of successful professional development that can nurture this desired outcome, but to what avail do we look for these opportunities? We cannot only evaluate teachers into oblivion, we must help them discover their potential, and their discoveries should be gathered in a collective, and constructive manner with the aim of improving teacher and student learning. If teaching is ever to rise to the level of a profession in the eyes of our critics, than this goal is a must in the lives of our teachers and our students.

            There are many successful models for professional development, but one, which I am quite impressed with, is the format that actively involves, and infuses collaboration and feedback into the process. “Feedback” is defined as ‘‘specific information comparing a student’s observed performance with an established standard or objective.  In a study by VandenBurgh, Ros, and Beijaard (2014), efforts were directed to improving teachers’ feedback behavior during active learning by implementing a specifically designed professional development program (PDP) measuring the extent teachers’ feedback occurred during active learning. The PDP outline for the study is outlined below.

1.        Informative meeting with team
2.        Videotaping an active learning lesson delivered by each teacher
3.        Selection of pertinent fragments from their own videotape by each teacher
4.        Video interaction training meeting in small groups and a facilitator/supervisor

The study was ongoing and proved that a long-term effort of PDP facilitated for active teacher involvement was much more successful in improving the teacher’s ability to change making constructive efforts to improving student learning and achievement.

            The opening quote presents a challenge to all 21st Century School Leaders to create and provide the opportunity and the process for constructive professional learning, whenever possible. Take up the challenge and create significant change for your schools this year. “Innovative professional development will involve opportunities for teachers to share their expertise, learn from peers, and collaborate on real-world projects.” (Vrasidas & Glass, 2004).

Vanden Bergh, Linda, Anje Ros, and Douwwe Beijaard. "Improving Teacher Feedback During Active Learning: Effects of a Professional Development Program." American Educational Research Journal 51, no. 4 (2014): 772-809.

Vrasidas, Charalambos, and Gene Glass. Online Professional Development for Teachers. IAP, 2004.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The District's Lesson Plan

September 18, 2014

In this heightened age of accountability, and core everything, planning and decision making are at a greater level of need, than ever before. Once again, taking our cues from the world of business, the strategic planning process for a school district is one of the most important steps school leaders can maneuver in working with the different socioeconomic groups and issues of the community that benefit from the work of your school district. According to Matthew Zajechowski (2014) "Strategic planning is a powerful process that your company can use to gain profound insights on its clients, target market and competitors for the sake of creating an unbeatable competitive edge." Substitute "school district" for "company" and "students and community" for "clients, target marketing and competitors".

Despite the article emanating from the world of business, it resonates for anyone truly passionate about school planning, and accountability from the community.

The Foundations of a Strategic Plan

"The foundational building blocks of strategic planning come together in asking yourself some probing questions that come to the core of what your [school district] and business are all about. Once these questions have been answered, you can then move onto even more specific competitive improvement strategies." (Zajechowski, 2014).

Five key questions you need to ask yourself about your school district consist of:

    • Where does your district currently stand with meeting the needs of students, families and community members?
    • What are some core goals your district wants to fulfill?
    • What is your picture of near perfect success and how might you reach it?
    • How could you plan your time, activities and resources for reaching your ideal image of success?
    • What steps in this direction have you taken so far and how are you measuring your advancements?

The Creation of your Consumer Information Roadmap

"The most absolutely vital part of your strategic planning process will be getting to know and understand your community at a deep level, as we’ve already mentioned in the last bullet point for your strategic planning checklist.

Getting to really know your students and the community means gathering together all the information you already have on your consumer base and adding to it as widely as possible on a regular basis, and then applying this information in planning meetings with the Board of Education and the faculty and staff." (Zajechowski,2014)

What are some key consumer information data points to continuously investigate?

    • The socioeconomic factors of the the community 
    • Browsing and ad view
    • How they’re finding your message and promotional material
    • How your message is being delivered to community members.
    • How they perceive your district's programs and policies
Remember, community members vote on your school budget. Meeting their needs garners support for your 21st century learning program

.Zajechowski, Matthew. " the Strategic Planning Process | Project Eve." Project Eve Navigating the Strategic Planning Process Comments. July 16, 2014. Accessed September 17, 2014.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The First Point of Contact

September 17, 2014

Communicating the vision of an organization, especially a school district, is a very important task for the school leader. Besides all of the issues and problems of school management that turn our schools into a "wack-a-mole" style of leadership, communicating a unifying mission and direction to teachers and staff, as well as students and the community at large is extremely important. 

For many years I have been intrigued how message is conveyed in not only schools but in organizations at large. In this case I came across a wonderful piece from Guy Kawasaki's column and I felt there was something inherently important for our 21st Century School Leaders.

The article, by Anna Guerrero on the Canva Blog (1) outlines the process of sending an impression or message to constituents via the medium of the album cover. She outlines a wonderful step-by-step process to engage an artist to create an impressive and captivating album cover that could convey a message, a theme, and a passion. 

Now, some of you might be saying the obvious, such as " What does this have to do about conveying a leader's message?" to which I would say, "What doesn't it do to teach leaders about conveying a mission?"

According to Guerrero, "Album covers are often the first point of contact between listeners and your music or audio." So, what is your "first point of contact" that parents and the community at large see or hear about your school? For some school facilities it is usually an ominous presence at the entrance of the school warning what will not be tolerated, or allowed, or used. Personally, not the most inviting experience some people have on their first contact with their child's school. I realize much of that kind of forewarning is necessary in this gun crazy culture, but think about the message it conveys to the parents when they bring their pride and joy into your facility for the most precious years of their lives. 

I would encourage school leaders to process the steps of the creation of the album cover and think about what their message and "first point of contact" should be with their teachers, staff, students and community. In fact, employ the 10-step process as a faculty meeting activity so teachers could do the same. 

Message and communicating it correctly are important tools in the repertoire of the passionate, and focused 21st Century School Leader.

(1) Guerrero, Anna. "10 Tips to Boost Your Reach With Album Cover Design." The Canva Blog. September 17, 2014. Accessed September 17, 2014.