Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seeds of Hope

On this last Friday as Minnesotans struggled to convince spring to stay and warm the earth enough to encourage the emerging plants brave enough make an appearance in April, I had the delightful opportunity to attend a panel discussion featuring six leaders in the Minnesota educational technology community. The Northeast Metro Educators' Network, a partnership of district staff development coordinators from thirteen school districts and Hamline University, sponsored the event and it was hosted by the E2T2 cohort of which my colleague Debra Watson and two other teachers in our district are members. The invited audience included administrators and technology coordinators from all the buildings represented by the cohort participants. The panel members were all thoughtful, articulate and passionate. Each speaker demonstrated hopeful exuberance and resolve to challenge the status quo and change the way Minnesota children get their education. But the really exciting aspect of this day occurred during the catered lunch, which was excellent, by the way D'Amico and Sons, not a boxed sandwich! I can hardly wait to tell you about it, but first let me share my notes from the panel discussion.

The guest panelists were: Mike Burke, Director of Media & Technology Services, Edina Schools; Jay Haugen, Superintendent, District 197 (West St Paul, Mendota Heights, Eagan); Marla Davenport, Executive Director, TIES; Karen Johnson, Online Learning Coordinator, MN Dept of Ed; Doug Thomas, Executive Director, EdVisions Schools; Paul Wasko, eFolio Program Director, MnSCU.

Each panelist was asked to introduce themselves and answer the question, "What have you had to unlearn?" Here is what I heard them say:

Mike Burke--
  • Mike believes in terms of the adoption of technology in education the principal is key. Principals lead by example and encouraging early adopters.
  • Budget crunch time is a good time for change.
  • Learning must be student-centered rather than teacher-centered.

Jay Haugen--

  • Jay is passionate about his current beliefs because he used to believe the opposite.
  • The greatest areas for growth are in the things we (as a country) are good at. "We're not that good at tests." We are good at imagination and creativity, these are the "things we can build a life on."

Marla Davenport--

  • Marla found she needed to "unlearn I have to know more than the people I am working with."
  • She has learned to relinquish control to the group.

Karen Johnson--

  • Karen has reexamined her definition of "smart." She has challenged herself to be open and avoid profiling, to look for and encourage "persistence" rather than brilliance. Persistence, she says, is the key to success in an online classroom.
  • She believes myths are perpetuated in education and the effect is to protect the status quo.

Doug Thomas--

  • Doug has unlearned a statement he was told be a teacher, that there is a right way to do everything.
  • He has learned to "challenge to just about everything...that looks like regular school."

Paul Wasko--

  • Paul reminded us magic doesn't just happen. It takes a lot of work.
  • He says our job is to move "best practices" to "required practices" and
  • Colleges of education must model for new teachers what is expected.
Following the introductions the panelists took questions from the audience and many answers drew on references to Clayton Christensen's books, Disruptive Class and The Innovator's Dilemma. Here are snippets from their answers:
  • If education does not change, it will be replaced.
  • We must figure out ways to effectively integrate technology, not just drop it in.
  • Never ask if you CAN do something; ask HOW you can get it done.
  • Use times of tight resources to look at things in a new way-readjust, redesign-what do we really need to do and what do we want to do and how can we do it smarter?
  • And whatever you decide to do, COMMUNICATE AND PLAN AHEAD.
  • "Change is not a choice we have. Change helps all students." -Jay Haugen

After the moderated discussion we broke for lunch and were instructed to sit with our colleagues from our respective districts. Lunch was salad, lasagna (sadly no vegetarian option,) bread and ginormous cookies in a variety of tasty-looking flavors. I chose the ginger. However, the most delicious course at the table was the discussion. We were given some guiding questions; I don't remember what they were. I do remember lively constructive discussion with my principal, the district curriculum director, and the teachers around what technologies we were using, Delicious, Twitter, blogs, wikis, Skype, etc., how we were using them for professional development and what we need to take them into our classrooms. It was exciting to have for the first time such candid dialog with administrators and see them listen and suggest their willness to explore more ways to support true technology use and integration within our district learning system.

The conversation has given me hope we will move forward and begin to make the changes necessary to support our students and teachers in using today's tools to learn the critical skills they need to succeed. The seeds have been planted. Next week the district technology planning committee will meet to begin the next technology plan cycle. My hope is for the fertile soil of open minds and favorable growing conditions of creative thinking.

1 comment:

  1. That really was a wonderful discussion, both from the panel and the lunch table. The E2T2 class has changed the way I teach and the way I learn. Our students will benefit from our learning and our discussions. Very exciting stuff!