Support your students

Note: This is the fifth post in a series based on the book Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robyn Jackson.

One of the hardest parts of being a high school math teacher from my perspective is not falling into what Robyn Jackson calls the "Curse of Knowledge" trap.

"Once we know something, it is hard to understand what it is like to not know it. Our knowledge makes it almost impossible for us to imagine what it is like to lack that knowledge." (p. 104)
Perhaps someone in your building is always ragging on students because they just don't "get it." Isn't that our help students go from "not getting it" to "getting it."?! If students came to me knowing everything there is to know about math, then...
  1. I would have a pretty boring job, and
  2. I would not have a job for very long.
When I begin teaching Geometry this August, I need to once again "recalibrate" my brain and think back to what it was like to know very little about naming angles, rays and line segments. I cannot assume that students know about Pythagorean's Theorem, let alone when (and when not to) use it. In my experiences, the difference between being merely a content expert and a master educator is the ability to comprehend and understand what it is like to "think like the students do."

The content expert says, "I know this and so should you."

The master teacher thinks, "What barriers exist between where my students probably are and where I would like them to be."

The realists in my readership are thinking right now, "How do go about doing this?" Robyn Jackson's fourth chapter and principle, "Support your students" suggests a few practical ways of getting past the curse of knowledge.
  • Use pre-assessments to identify common misconceptions ahead of time. In our current era of high-stakes testing and accountability, pre-tests have been given a bad rap. Through pre- and post-tests, teachers are quickly able to "show" they are doing their job. While that may be true, a well-designed pre-test can quickly tap the brains of a classroom of students and in turn reveal commonly held misconceptions which can be used to guide future instructional planning. A pre-assessment of this type does not have to be scored or entered into the gradebook. It can merely be used as a narrative or snapshot or where students currently stand in their understanding of upcoming concepts.
  • Focus on error analysis. What are your students currently struggling to understand and why are they doing so? Might I suggest my previously documented thoughts on debugging as a place to start your reading?
  • Show bad examples and common errors/misconceptions. Once you have identified the errors and misconceptions, use them as future teaching moments. Some of my most meaningful group and individual remediation has not revolved around a new lesson plan script, but rather pulling examples of incorrect student work and asking students questions about it. Questions such as "What were you thinking here?" or "What do you think Johnny did wrong at this step?" These types of prompts also model self-assessment, a skill I believe is necessary for truly developing "life long learners" as so many of our school mission statements propose.
In what ways have you found success in helping your education-minded colleagues get past the "curse of knowledge"? What types of tools/strategies do you use in your classroom to identify misconceptions? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Expect to get your students there

Note: This is the fourth post in a series based on the book Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robyn Jackson.

"If you want to raise your expectations of your students, you first have to raise your expectations of yourself. " (p. 85)
Of the principles I've blogged about so far, principle 3, "Expect to get your students there" is one in which the self-assessment indicates may be a current strength. Several of my colleagues (perhaps those among this blog's audience may even attest to this) often pass off comments such as, "Don't you ever go home?" or "It's Friday, time to leave school for a few days!" I do not mention these comments to give myself some sort of virtual "pat on the back," but rather to support my perceived strength and a point Jackson makes on p. 91.
"The more important you believe something is, the more time, attention, and effort you will put forth to make it happen."
I am not afraid to admit that I like my job as a high school math teacher. I enjoy the reverse commute from the "big city" to the "bedroom community" every morning and afternoon. In general, I truly look forward to the students and staff I interact with during the school year. I value my job as an ongoing opportunity for making a positive impact in the lives of the future generation. That's me. A worthwhile task that's a pleasure to take part in.

What about the students?

Is it fair to say that the students in your classroom and mine are frequently embarking in a "worthwhile task that's a pleasure to take part in"?

When I first started teaching, I thought my class was in good shape when they were all quietly working on a task I had assigned. Yikes, was I wrong! My value was on control rather than learning. Jackson makes another point that made much more sense to me recently,

"The consequence for not completing work or completing it well should be that students have to spend more time getting it done right." (p. 94)
This is why I, like others are suggesting, hope to implement a new "consequence" for not completing important tasks. The consequence is, "a new opportunity to learn it!"

This will not be an easy change to make in my classroom of high school students with jobs and extra-curricular activities. "Requiring" them to come in outside of class is not as easy as keeping an elementary student in from recess for remediation, but I think a few small changes can be made to better support this philosophy:
  1. Increase parent communication. Explain to parents early and often if/when their student is not "getting it" or "turning it in" and the value of coming in to "learn it."
  2. Look for the WHY. A question to be constantly reminded of is What can I do to help you, the student? Look for ways to figure out why a student is not turning in their assignment or what specific misconception he or she is struggling with.
In both of the changes suggested above, I believe I have been on the right track, but need to "up the ante" a bit. As classroom teachers, we all need to expect to get our students there.

What practical ways have you found to raise expectations of yourself and your students? Feel free to leave your comments below.
(On a related note, I want to welcome a new reader to MeTA musings, Robyn Jackson via Twitter!)

Know where your students are going

Note: This is the third post in a series based on the book Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robyn Jackson.

Do we really plan homework, tests, etc. around our learning objectives?
This is a question I grappled with last year as I transformed my grading practices to a more standards-based system. A hiccup I ran into was using assessments I had created the year before. With a renewed laser-like focus on learning targets, I slowly realized that my assessments did not always clearly align with my intended outcomes. To be brutally honest, "time" was a factor that often hindered me from creating assessments that explicitly measured my learning targets. My intentions were great through an improved reporting and grading system, but the assessments need to be tweaked.

Robyn Jackson says...
"Master teachers spend more time unpacking standards and objectives than they do planning learning activities because they understand that clear learning goals will drive everything else they do." (p. 58)
Several pages later, she alludes to an idea found in a book, Understanding by Design, written by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins. In my spring reading, I found this book to be very helpful in thinking about the order in which to design assessments and instruction. Jackson states it clearly...
"For each learning goal, decide how you will know when students have achieved that goal and how you will know when students are on the right track. Explain these indicators to students." (p. 63)
I think I have a pretty firm grasp on this concept of keeping the end in mind. I need to take a second look at the list of learning targets (objectives) for each course I teach and then ensure that I have formative assessment prompts ready to help students see when they are on the right track. Furthermore, explaining to students my philosophical difference between "grades" and "feedback" will be key. Initially, I anticipate students questioning my practice of not using traditional scores to mark up their formative assessments. My hope is that this will be a prime opportunity to show them the value of written and verbal feedback rather than a single score.
"To be effective, feedback needs to cause thinking. Grades don't do that. Scores don't do that. And comments like “Good job” don't do that either. What does cause thinking is a comment that addresses what the student needs to do to improve" - Nov. 2005 Ed. Leadership article.
A conversation might have look something like this last year before I implemented standards-based grading.
Me: You earned 10/16 points. Which ideas did you understand and which ones do you still need work on?
Student: Well, I missed one point on question #1 and five points on question #5. I think I need to better understand how to do #5. Can you tell me how to do it?
With standards-based grading in place, the conversations now look something more like this:

Me: How do you think you did on your quiz?
Student: I got 4/4 on learning targets 1-3, but 2/4 on learning targets 4 and 5. I really don't understand the ideas behind [insert learning target here]. Can you help me?
I need to take my "feedback" one step farther by not only giving students a score for each standard, but also a narrative outlining what the student needs to do to improve. I believe that this small tweak to my formative assessments will help students see not only how they've done (past tense), but also what they can do to improve (future tense) - the "thinking" Jackson mentions.

All of these ideas are all great, but my first order of business needs to be taking a solid look at my summative assessments. Jackson paraphrases the ideas of Wiggins and McTighe,
"It is not until you define your assessment instrument that you have clearly spelled out what your true objective is." (p. 66)"
Wouldn't it be nice if students no longer asked "what's going to be on the test?" What if the norm instead was students who knew exactly what to expect on the test and worked diligently to ensure that they understood those concepts and skills at a level in which they could articulate them not only on a "test," but also to their parents and peers? I think this is what the Iowa Core Curriculum is calling "Teaching for Understanding."

Personal action items from this principle are as follows:
  1. Take a detailed look at summative assessments for each course. If an assessment does not clearly match-up with its intended learning targets, modify to fit.
  2. Create a rubric or blank space on each formative assessment for detailed feedback. This will remind me and the students of the "feedback narrative" expecation mentioned above.
Through the implementation of these action items this summer, I hope to have a year similar to the master educator described on p. 76 of Jackson's book:
"Because I had invested the time up front to unpack my standards, define mastery and the steps toward mastery, and identify how I would determine whether my students had reached mastery, I had more time during the year to relax and teach."
Now is the time to plan with the "end" in mind and know where your students are going.

Start where your students are

This is the second post in a series based on the book Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching by Robyn Jackson.

Jackson's first principle of great teaching is "Start where your students are." As I stated in the initial post of this series,

"I need the most help in improving on principles 1 and 7."
When I first saw the topic of this principle/chapter of the book, I thought to myself, "here comes another rant about building upon students' pre-requisite knowledge." I was anticipating a lecture on using assessments to assess students' misconceptions before instruction or even some tips on how to better embrace the constructivist learning theory. I was familiar with the assertion that...
"When we encounter something new, we have to reconcile it with our previous ideas and experience, maybe changing what we believe, or maybe discarding the new information as irrelevant. In any case, we are active creators of our own knowledge." - Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning
I have my own philosophy of how this idea caters to some, but not all, aspects of math education, but those details are better described in a separate post. Wow, was I wrong about the direction the author was going with this principle. She touched on content and procedural knowledge and the need to
"ask students to explain how that concept might be relevant to their own lives." (p. 37)
but she also extended her thoughts to soft skills such as how to take notes, find information, study for tests and come in for extra help. A big "aha" I had from this chapter was how master teachers help students develop these "non-cognitive skills" as well. I was surprised to read example after example of teachers who did the "little things" to enable their students to experience success. The author makes it seem so simple to do...
"She didn't waste time trying to motivate her students to do well. Instead, she created a classroom culture around trying hard and working together to accomplish goals." (p. 46)
All of this "classroom culture" stuff makes sense to me, but implementing it is admittedly a challenge and something I need to think more about. Because this is an area of growth for me, I have decided to make a short list of measurable goals to address this principle as it relates to non-cognitive skills during the upcoming school year.
  1. Model four different test-preparation study strategies during the first nine weeks of school to my math students.
  2. Create a schedule so that each student comes in for "extra help" once during the first nine weeks of school. This goal will hopefully encourage students who wouldn't otherwise seek help outside of class to see the value of one-on-one instruction and remediation.
What strategies have you used in your classroom to help students develop "non-cognitive" skills?

It's what you do with your time that counts

Robyn Jackson says...

"Mastery teaching is not about the time you put in. It's what you do with your time that counts." - Never Work Harder Than Your Students & Other Principles of Great Teaching, p.2
I will be starting my sixth year of teaching high school math this fall. As I look back, a brief time line comes to mind illustrating some of the challenges of the profession and how I've attempted to tackle them.
  • Classroom management (years 1 & 2) was addressed through building a positive rapport with students. Reading The First Days of School and implementing a series of procedures helped immensely, too. I feel like I have a relatively good handle on this area right now.
  • Diversifying instructional strategies took some time as well. Questions such as "When should students work in collaborative groups?" and "When is direct instruction most appropriate?" were common thoughts in years 3 & 4. This is an area I hope to improve on this year. More in later posts.
  • Last year, I took a deep look at my assessment practices. Reflecting upon formative assessment and standards-based reporting were at the core of this blog. DuFour and his colleagues asked several questions that sum it up best
    1. Exactly what is it that we want all students to learn?
    2. How will we know when each student has acquired the essential knowledge and skills?
After talking with colleagues and sharing my success stories this past year (with the underlying hope that they, too, would "buy" into these changes), I realized procedures, instructional strategies and changes in assessment were not the true hurdles to be jumped. Each of these aspects of teaching and learning were related to my classroom culture. In an earlier post, I lamented on this very topic.
Emphasizing the importance of what we do and why we do it on a frequent basis is a first step...
As I begin to revise my assessments as well as classroom syllabus and communication blog, I realize that it's not about the time I or my students put in. It's what we do with this time that counts. How will I best use the first few weeks of the academic year to entrench in the minds of the students that in Mr. Townsley's class "it's about learning" above all else?

Robyn Jackson also said...
"...I believe you don't become a master teacher by simply doing what a master teacher does. You become a master teacher by thinking like a master teacher thinks." (p. xiv)
I believe I'm at that point in my teaching career where I want to start using my time to do more than check papers and create new homework assignments. Jackson suggests several principles to build upon this mindset. I plan to blog about each one individually over the next week or two to keep my mind focused on making the most of my preparation time for the rest of the summer. The principles are as follows:
  1. Start where your students are.
  2. Know where your students are going.
  3. Expect to get your students there.
  4. Support your students.
  5. Use effective feedback
  6. Focus on quality, not quantity
  7. Never work harder than your students
Based on the self-assessment provided at the beginning of the book, my strengths lie in principles 3, 4, and 6. I need the most help in improving on principles 1 and 7.

I hope you'll considering joining me on a quest towards better "thinking like a master teacher thinks."

He said it first...

"If you are not going to change pedagogy then technology use makes no signi´Čücant difference" - Punya Mishra
Several days ago, I wrote about the importance of pedagogy, but Punya said it first.
Dr. Punya Mishra's writing (credit to his colleague and often co-author, Matt Koehler as well) has inspired my philosophy of educational technology more than perhaps anyone else. In addition to co-authoring several articles on the increasingly popular TPACK framework, he regularly presents and blogs about his thoughts on all things related to technology, pedagogy and creativity.

Punya recently posted his slides from the 2009 Summer Institute for Superintendents in Michigan. I appreciate his boldness in proclaiming that increased technology use alone does not lead to improving student learning.

Finally, Punya could not have illustrated this point any better when considering both education's storied past and rapidly changing future. Good teaching, regardless of the "tool," involves thoughtful planning in all three areas: technology, pedagogy and content.

Image used with permission from Punya Mishra (pdf)

If you're not well versed in the TPACK framework yet, what are you waiting for?!

"Too Cool for School? No Way!" in the May 2009 edition of Leading and Learning with Technology is a great practitioner-friendly place to start.

XYZ Instructional Technology Recommendations

Note: This post is an excerpt I wrote for a leadership class taken during my graduate work in curriculum and instructional technology at Iowa State University. It is also is in response to Leadership Day 2009. XYZ is a fictitious school district with some, but not all attributes similar to my current school district. The opinions stated below are solely the opinions of the author and not of my employer.

How does instructional technology fit into the mission of XYZ school district? What opportunities do students currently have to use technology that enables them to fulfill this mission statement? What changes need to be made in order for the district to best serve the students and other stakeholders? The purpose of this paper is to layout a plan introducing new policies and practices to promote more effective technology integration in the XYZ school district. The following sections will identify the current state of instructional technology in XYZ; define effective use of technology by instructional staff; suggest a plan of action to be implemented over a finite amount of time; and designate the primary role of relevant stakeholders in order to ensure the sustainability of the changes

Aside from several early adopters, the diffusion of technology at XYZ has been a relatively slow process. In general, the majority of teachers are still at the awareness and how-to knowledge stage of the innovation-decision process (Rogers, 2003, p. 172) due to their ability to simply use Keynote, Power Point, and iMovie or require students to use them for producing projects. Teachers have effectively re-invented their previous projects using student-produced technology artifacts and according to Rogers (2003), this is a generally desirable and normal function (p. 185). Cuban (2001) also supports this idea that teachers typically “maintain rather than alter existing classroom practices” (p. 71) when using technology. What, then, is the solution? The seeds of the solution are contained within the explanation of the problem (Cuban, 2001, p. 136), so let us begin by establishing effective use of instructional technology by instructional staff.

A clear separation has to be made between using computers to prepare for instruction and actually using computers for instruction (Cuban, 2001, p. 126). Effective use of technology will “transform teaching and learning into an engaging and active process connected to real life” (Cuban, 2001, p. 14). This second goal of technology in schools suggested by Cuban is the premise upon which instructional technology should be built upon. It is also important to note that technology is not appropriate for all projects, because it depends on “what the teaching and learning goals are” (Cuban, 2001, p. 70). The use of computers and other technology should be so ubiquitous in the classroom that it is not seen as an add-on but rather as a means to reach a desired outcome. The key thought behind instructional technology use should be,

“am I using this technology tool as a means of automation/communication or as a means of transformation?”
Automation and communication examples include the use of PowerPoint slides to relay information or give immediate feedback to students’ response through multiple-choice skill-based websites. These ideas in isolation are not harmful, but should not be seen as a model to follow as Cuban (2001) suggests in his book. Transformation examples include the use of software and hardware to create an environment focused on the student. This deeper learning in the form of constructivist pedagogy (Fullan, 2007, p. 266) engages the students in their own learning by using data to alter the needs and interests of the individual (Fullan, 2007, p. 180). Finally, this technology transformation involves using contextual clues to help meet educational objectives. For each educational objective that is identified as appropriate to be taught using technology, the educator would have the time and resources available to him or her to teach and re-teach in a way that has deep meaning for the students. There is not a “one size fits all” recipe for doing this, so the need for an extended amount of time and a mentality of “continual learning” to develop such ideas is pertinent. Elmore clearly supports this idea when he states,
“Improvement is more a function of learning to do the right things in the settings where you work” (Fullan, 2007, p. 153).
In summary, instructional technology involves the transformation of teaching into a dynamic process through the use of technology fueled by the needs and interests of the individual student. It is contextual. In the following sections, I will describe the details needed to “flood” the diffusion network of XYZ district with this idea.
The heart of the diffusion process consists of interpersonal network exchanges and social modeling by those individuals who have already adopted an innovation to those individuals who are influential to follow their lead” (Rogers, 2003, p. 35).
As I described in the first section of this paper, the district staff is not at principles-knowledge when it comes to instructional technology. The changes I recommend aim to accelerate the bell or S-shaped curve innovations typically follow (Rogers, 2003, p. 272). While acknowledging that change takes time, the focus will be primarily on the use of interpersonal networks to create a critical mass of instructional technology adopters (Rogers, 2003, p. 300). In the following paragraphs I will describe a multi-year, systematic process of changing the culture of XYZ district to one that favors “change” and finally a “change” towards teachers’ increased and more effective instructional technology usage.

Year one in this action plan will be called the “Year of Culture.” The focus will be on building culture throughout the district and answering the following ongoing conversation questions:
  1. How do we feel students best learn?
  2. How will we ensure that students are getting the best possible learning experience each and every day?
A new position will be created in the district, “Director of Pedagogy and Culture,” DOPC for short. From the day this person is hired, his/her daily assignment will be to design activities to help the entire staff of approximately 85 educators answer the two questions above. The DOPC should be an identifiable champion, someone “who throws his or her weight behind an innovation, thus overcoming indifference or resistance that the new idea may provoke in an organization” (Rogers, 2003, p. 414). The DOPC will have excellent people skills and be generally homophilous with the rest of the staff. This position, and his/her additional staff as determined on a need-basis, will be funded by virtually eliminating technology budgets. In fact, the DOPC and other district leadership will advocate for primarily planning and communication use of technology in this “Year of Culture” so that educators can focus instead on this change of culture rather than technology integration. The DOPC will focus on the “specific displacement of existing norms, structures and processes” (Rogers, 2003, p. 55) so that old behaviors and beliefs are replaced. All other “add-ons” will be eliminated such as reading in the content area, 6+1 traits of writing, special education team teaching, and literacy initiatives unless mandated by state or federal law. In essence, the district will enact a one year moratorium on doing anything “extra” in order to focus on the “Year of Culture.”

On a district-wide level, the DOPC will formalize the use of case studies and small group discussions to answer the two key questions. The DOPC and his/her staff will continually encourage small group discussions to begin and end by also answering the question, “why are we doing this?” This will create an environment in which the staff begins to agree on
“what is worth achieving…and set in motion the internal processes by which people progressively learn how to do what they need to do in order to achieve what is worthwhile” (Fullan, 2007, p. 230).
Educators themselves will be asked in these small group discussions to answer the two key questions time and time again until shared meaning is established. Constant revisions of the responses to these questions will be made available to all staff until a consensus of no more than five bullets is agreed upon over the course of this first year. Release time will be given to staff identified as opinion leaders by the DOPC in order to keep minds fresh and morale at its peak. In the midst of the small group discussions, case studies of local teachers and their most effective lessons will be shared. Because “teaching decisions often are made on pragmatic trial-and-error grounds with little success for reflection or thinking through the rationale” (Fullan, 2007, p. 24), teachers will be encouraged and allowed to take half day “leaves of renewal” to reflect and plan for upcoming lessons based on their small group discussions. The premise that “meaning fuels motivation” (Fullan, 2007, p. 39) will be constantly on the mind of the DOPC and his/her staff. In summary, the “Year of Culture” will focus on the hiring of a new position whose focus is facilitating activities designed to help the district created a shared meaning answering two questions, “How do we feel students best learn?” and “How will we ensure that students are getting the best possible learning experience each and every day?” These prompts are designed to create a change in the beliefs and understanding of the district staff so that new teaching approaches and an alteration of beliefs are the foundation of this educational change (Fullan, 2007, p. 30).

The events described in the previous section are a pre-requisite for “year two” events. If necessary, the “Year of Culture” may be extended for an additional time period until its objectives have been met. Only after the “Year of Culture” should the “Year of Technology,” year two, begin. The focus of this year is on technology. The first goal of this year will be to re-evaluate year one. What worked? What did not work? John Kotter proclaims that
“The central issue is never strategy or structure…[It] is always about changing the behavior of people” (Fullan, 2007, p. 42).
In other words, unless a change in culture has taken place, the suggestions in this section will be virtually null and void. Without truly understanding the importance of changing the way we educate students, the district will continue to focus on the innovation, technology, rather than on how technology can affect or improve the way we teach students (Fullan, 2007, p. 111).
The small group discussions in this year will now focus on two new questions that are directly related to the first two.
  1. How does technology fit in with our view of educating students?
  2. How will we ensure that technology will not replace “old ideas” and instead create “new opportunities” for students to learn?
The DOPC’s new responsibilities will include identifying opinion leaders to give additional responsibilities and encouragement. The strategic selection of opinion leaders should include individuals who are not too innovative themselves (Rogers, 2003, p. 318), and have a high degree of interconnectedness with a small group of individuals within the district (Rogers, 2003, p. 327). The goal of the opinion leaders will be to spread the word about instructional technology as a means of teaching students in a more effective way. Through the use of several opinion leaders, the system will be able to avoid this change in culture as being an authority innovation-decision and rather a collective-innovation decision in which the group joins together to begin the process together (Rogers, 2003, p. 403).

The underlying theme of the “Year of Technology” is obviously on technology, but more specifically the use of technology to transform teaching and learning. Individual testimonials will be encouraged to model how technology can become as routine and necessary as a read-aloud, daily oral language or mental math were once seen in an elementary classroom. The purpose of these individual testimonials is to influence teachers’ beliefs and attitudes, keep the idea of culture change in mind, and begin the process of influencing individuals one by one to match technology tools with best practices in pedagogy for their classrooms. Educators should be encouraged to ask opinion leaders through small group discussions “how, under what conditions, and to what degree” should technology be used in the classroom (Cuban, 2001, p. 192). Finally, conversations will continually connect back to the “Year of Culture” by emphasizing,
“It is not about technology; it is about learning” (Cuban, 2001, p. 184).
Because access is not the sole problem (Cuban, 2001, p. 175) and more on-demand technical support is often needed in public education (Cuban, 2001, p. 180), new money the district receives will be split between technical support staff and new technology. New technology purchases will be based on teacher-initiated projects tied specifically to strategies designed to fuel the needs and interests of individual students. Hardware and software will no longer be purchased for the sake of spending the yearly budget on new machines and the usual maintenance, but rather as a solution to implement effective teaching and learning.

Following the “Year of Technology,” the process will not come to a screeching halt. The role of the opinion leaders and DOPC will be to energize others to make good decisions in the future (Fullan, 2007, p. 300). Previous years should be evaluated continuously. The focus will continue to be on changing the beliefs of individuals one by one. Fullan (2007) boldly states,
“When enough people start doing the right thing in the setting in which they work, they end up changing their very context” (p. 302).
Every effort should be made to continue small group discussions and to make the workplace professionally rewarding so that the district will continue to “attract and retain good people” (Fullan, 2007, p. 129). In today’s competitive market for teachers, XYZ has had the advantage of being a desirable district to teach in that is geographically located in Iowa's technology corridor allowing the recruitment of quality staff. This stigma may eventually run out someday so an increased emphasis on recruiting quality staff is needed. In addition, the student as a stakeholder in education should be carefully examined. When students know what is expected of them, receive quick feedback and guidance on improving, their learning will improve (Fullan, 2007, p. 176). This should not be overlooked throughout the process. Last, parents are important stakeholders, too. XYZ educators have traditionally held positive attitudes towards parent involvement in the district and this mentality should continue in order to secure external funding for future technology purchases and increased engagement with their students’ academics.

In conclusion, the XYZ District needs to spend a significant amount of time going through a process of changing the culture of its educators. Educators’ existing beliefs about the way(s) in which students best learn need to be replaced by an abbreviated list of no more than five brief ideas. This process will no doubt take an extended amount of time. I have suggested creating a new position in order to help facilitate this process. Through a year (or more) of small group conversations, it is my hope that the staff will begin to see a “need” for change. These groups may be seen as forms of what Fullan called professional learning communities because the primary goal of the conversations was to extend the district’s commitment to continuous improvement (Fullan, 2007, p. 151). Through these groups and the ensuing culture change, instructional technology as defined early in this paper will be introduced as a means for accomplishing this change. Technology purchases transitioned from budget and maintenance-minded to being based on individual teachers’ instructional needs. I hope to find my place in this recommended change process.
“The role of leadership…concerns ‘those behaviors that enabled others to take up their role in relation to the institution’s main and defined task’” (Fullan, 2007, p. 165).
It is my hope that this plan will enable me to begin the XYZ district’s search for a defined task through a change in culture and in turn enable others to take up their role as well. We all have a stake in the whole (Fullan, 2007, p. 303).

Works Cited

Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and underused: Computers in the classroom. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press.

Fullan, M. (2007). The new meaning of educational change (4th Ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Rogers, E.M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. (5th ed.).

Pedagogy is paramount

I was not able to attend the 2009 NECC conference, but am slowly working my way through several of the videos and much of the commentary now that it is over. One of the sessions I was particularly interested in was co-presented by Judi Harris and Mark Hofer from the College of William and Mary on the topic of TPACK and their research of pre- and in-service educators as it relates to this framework.

From the NECC program...

"Technology integration" too often emphasizes technology use over effective, learner-centered, content-based instruction....Our approach to helping teachers learn to plan technology-integrated learning activities focuses upon creating awareness of the range of possible learning activity types (e.g. simulation, developing a concept map, creating an exhibit) within their discipline, while helping teachers to know how to select and combine these to help students meet content and process standards in ways that are congruent with their differentiated learning needs and preferences.
The session video seen below gives a nice overview of the TPACK framework. Around the 23 minute mark, Mark lays out a fairly complex set of decisions an educator makes (or should make) when designing instruction. In case you don't have time to watch the 62 minute video I'll highlight a few of the key pedagogical decisions he suggests. Each is theoretically on a continuum rather than an "either/or" choice.
  • focus of interactions: student-centered vs. teacher centered
  • type of learning: universal vs. create own meaning
  • students' prior knowledge: a lot vs. not much
  • understanding: surface level vs. deep understanding
  • grouping: individual vs. small vs. large
The list I've mentioned is not word-for-word or all inclusive by any means, but should raise a red flag for all but the most seasoned educators. Putting all technology tools aside, how often do we think about these pedagogical decisions during the planning phase of our instruction? A paraphrase from the video went something like this:
"If we understand it is what we want students to be able to do...(and how to teach it)...the technology tool decisions become that much easier."
Pedagogy is paramount. Michael Kaechele said it well...
We are learning, not technology, experts
Stepping aside from the "technocentric planning" and back to pedagogical decisions is some sound advice for me as I look forward to the next academic year.

Have you found yourself overwhelmed with the latest and greatest 21st century tools this summer? What are some strategies you've found to plan instruction while keeping pedagogy, content and technology in mind?