In returning from the Learning 2.008 Conference, I have had a lot on my mind.  The conference brought together educators new to all of this “shift happens” talk and those that were on board – our “converted” that echo in the blogosphere, sometimes too much.  And the conference continues to succeed in bringing an enthusiasm and energy to those new to these ideas – getting more people “on the bus”.  If that’s happening, then the conference is doing its job.

But I wonder where the rest of us are going.

Sifting through my RSS reader, reading through the blog posts of my Personal Learning Network, commenting and being commented upon, I find myself questionning where we stand.

How much change are we affecting?

How much “shift” is happening in our schools?

In isoloated projects or classrooms, some incredible stuff is happening.  Kids are collaborating.  They’re networked, wired, savvy, and being prepared to succeed.

But in those same schools and throughout education, we still that the majority are not on the bus – they didn’t even know that there was somewhere to go.

What is going to be the tipping point of this shift?

Will schools resist changing and render themselves obsolete? And at what stage does this become unethical to allow?

Real widespread change is going to have to come from administration.

In schools, we find ourselves clinging to proven pedagogy and content curriculum, because they have worked in the past and it’s what we know.

Now however, we also recognize that students need more different learning.  They’ve always needed the skills of communication, collaboration, and meta-cognition.  We’ve always valued Gardner’s disciplined and ethical minds (and other Five Minds).  But the context for which they need these skills and minds has changed, sped up, and arguably gained in importance.  As a result, students need different learning experiences to ensure their participation and success in a rapidly changing world.

So, here I go again, joining the echo chamber, preaching to the converted.  Where am I going with this?

Educators who get this idea, are on one side of a chasm from the rest of education still rooted in old practice (with best intentions).

In trying to lead change, educators are trying to manage this gap between what we’ve done and what we need to do.  It needs to be school administrators who lead this shift, by bridging the gap between the tried-and-true and the bold-and-new.

The edublogosphere made up of consultants and librarians, technology facilitators and teachers are doing their best and making headway, but the fog is still thick and they are navigating through it with a flashlight.

It will take school administrators who see the need for educational change (reform is too intimidating a word) to take isolated innovation and make it practice.

Truly make it the way we do business.

So, get to work on your administrators and get them on board.  Or better yet, become administrators yourselves.

Keep in mind that you lead a staff who are generally good teachers.  They have great intentions.  They care about student learning.  And all the good that they have done and can do is not yet obsolete (no matter how often we tell ourselves it is).

We find ourselves at a pivotal time, I believe, where a new wave of administrators could be coming through, grounded in traditional schooling, but also thriving in a wired world.  Educators who understand both sides of the gap.

It is these administrators who can bridge this gap.

You won’t find these educators satisfied getting on the bus – they’re ready to drive it.

Maybe one of these people
is you.

Or me.

Photo by tread
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License

11 Responses to “Bridging the Gap”
  1. Tracy Rosen says:

    I have no doubt, Dennis, one of those people will be you.

  2. Dennis Harter says:

    Thanks, Tracy.

    I hope so, because I think it’s what we need now – school leaders who are ready to push school thinking and change. Up to now we’ve pushed at the teacher level.

    (Sorry about the delay on the comments, somehow my moderation got turned on.)

  3. rubisr says:

    In many emerging civilizations, the clan leader was the biggest, the toughest, and the meanest SOB in the group – but (s)he always led the charge, and got the job done by example. In our overly complex modern world, leaders are too often relegated to “administrating”, delegating – and sometimes to obsfucating, the issues.

    You’ve described the ideal new/old leadership model. Go Get ‘em!

  4. rubisr says:

    …just like I just did with my creative spelling of “obfuscate”:)

  5. Fantastic post hitting home for many of us, I think. Let’s keep working the shift from both ends. Have those critical conversations with administrators about how we must do business in our schools while supporting and spreading the ideas of our constructivist, risk taking teachers. Let’s keep posting those innovative instructional and assessment strategies that give our practical minded teachers something to grasp on to. :)

  6. Dennis Harter says:

    @rubisr Thanks, Rob. Your analogy and description of the modern administrator strike me as reflecting the difference between a manager and a leader.

    Okay, that’s probably unfair, since there is certainly a need for both and the dichotomy is not so distinct.

    But for the sake of the point to be made: the manager gets caught keeping things from clogging up. The leader inspires followers.

    One description, “The only thing that defines a leader is having followers.”

    What do you think?

    @David thanks, for stopping by and offering feedback. You are right, the shift needs to happen in both directions. At times, I feel that no real progress is being made until it’s a school-wide shift, but that is unfair to the amazing progress that people are making in and out of their classrooms. If kids are benefiting then progress is being made!

    One other note, I appreciate that you write, “let’s keep posting those innovative instructional and assessment strategies”. It’s a good reminder that what we are sharing are not the cool tools, but rather the beneficial pedagogy (that sometimes involves tech…hey we are geeks after all!)

    Thanks to both of you for the positive feedback (and you too, Tracy, though I thanked you already.)

  7. Dennis,
    I have been thinking a lot about this myself lately. I am on-board, my tech teachers are on-board and the folks in my PLN are all talking the same language.

    So why is it so hard to change?

    My latest thought is that we need to focus on what we should stop doing. What are the crutches that teachers and administrators are resting on that allow them to keep doing what they have always done? Technology classes, tech teachers, a tech curriculum. Highlighting the technology keeps it out there, away from teachers, scary and threatening.

    We should throw it all out and start over. What is good teaching? What do our students need to learn? What skills do they need? What is the best way to learn those? Let’s do that.

    If we paint a new picture of what learning should look like, of what schools and classrooms should look like, of what a good teacher looks like, we will get where we should be. The tech will all be there too. It has to be. But it won’t be the focus. And it won’t be the scary, time-wasting tech that teachers avoid right now and that keeps them from embracing technology tools.

    There are so many factors of course. It is not so simple. There is no magic bullet. But, I do feel we need to do something radical to shake things up and stop doing some things that are getting in the way right now.


  8. Tracy Rosen says:

    @ Michael and others
    What if, instead of looking at practice that doesn’t work, we look at what is already happening that does make sense, that does work, and focus on creating more instances of that. In a sense, fanning the fires of change, forging the iron to build the bridge ;)

  9. Dennis Harter says:

    @michael and @tracy
    I actually don’t think that you two are speaking (writing) about different ideas. I think it’s simply not possible to abandon completely…too many people tied to ideas they know and are comfortable with, general unease with change, and overall seniority (they’ve been there longer than me and will be there longer still).

    Instead, like both of you say in different ways, we need to look at what does make sense, what is good teaching and good practice and showcase that. Celebrate it in such a way that real learning and BETTER learning is really happening. It is hard even for the biggest naysayers to refute that.

    Like the kid who comes in late to class…over-acknowledging the disruption, gives it more value than it deserves. Instead focus on our learners (our teachers on board) and get admin to be in that group however you can…training or become one of them. Then, as my colleague Justin loves to say, let’s do it!

  10. [...] wrote before about the need to get administrators on board with the necessary shift in education.  This is important to school-wide [...]

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