From Wednesday to Friday I attended, along with three other Westminster folks, the AASA Leadership Symposium in Boston, led by Alan November, and since we finished, I have been thinking about the cosmetic changes schools traditionally undertake versus the possibility of what November called process change. The conversation we had overlays my ongoing reflection on two questions: how do we create learning experiences where students are so engaged that learning is compelling and focus is easy? And how can we create a school with a curriculum and a schedule that allows our students to get to that place of deep engagement more often, for longer, and with greater focus on our mission, our vision, and our strategic plan? This is not to say that such experiences do not exist in schools–in fact, at Westminster I have seen myriad examples of teachers and students who get to this place often. I am saying, however, that I believe that we can do better and we can do more.
The educators at the AASA gathering focused attention on the role of technology as a requisite ingredient in finding answers to the sort of questions I have been asking about student engagement. Side by side with fascinating examples of technology use in student learning, November presents his message with a sobering counter-balance. I can summarize his thinking this way: unless there is Process Change in a school—a fundamental rethinking of how we do what we do, computers will deliver nothing to us but an expensive bill to pay.
Just as problematically, we should note that unless we combine thoughtfulness and boldness in our steps forward with technology in schools, we risk ceding necessary control to a tool rather than to the people using it. That is, technology may well provide us with the most powerful set of learning resources the world has known, but technology is not geared to be a surrogate for school administrative and faculty leadership. There is a risk that we will continue toward a sort of cultural Attention Deficit Disorder in which we can’t decide where to go next because we are so busy sampling different mechanisms, apps, and platforms. As I have argued before we need to create a Progress Culture in our schools–spinning our wheels will not do. The risk is that as the technology around us becomes smarter, faster, as well as more diffuse, we will become slower and less able to mobilize the tools under our direction toward the good work of helping students become lifelong learners and passionate, empathetic adults.
Nuanced by the specific technology focus of the conversation we had over the last three days, a different question is tugging at my sleeve: how can we teach skills today that will outlast changes in specific technology tools? By addressing and answering this question, we will position the dialogue where it needs to be. As of now too much of our teacher technology training is about the tools—how to use this or that rather than looking at what we want to do and how we want to help students become engaged in the learning we can offer them. Most importantly, we should look first and always to our core beliefs regarding our purpose in working with students. When we do this our use of technology will have necessary context, and we will be ready to take meaningful steps forward.
(I wrote the bulk of this blog and the blog to follow on the plane back from Boston on Friday. As I wrote I listened to Bonnie “Prince” Billy …his classic MASTER AND EVERYONE and the recent THE WONDER SHOW OF THE WORLD, a recent release, which is excellent. You should get both of them.)