Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Big Switch

In Trouble
We are nearing the end of our second year with Google Apps in my district and this summer we will be moving our adult users from Outlook to Gmail. I have been teaching classes for the past few weeks now, preparing users for the "big e-mail switch" and doing my best to make the transition as easy as possible for everyone. We are no different than any other school district, most users are open to the change, some a little nervous and a small percentage thinking that a natural disaster is sure to follow. What was interesting in a class of about 25 teachers last week, I asked how many of you already use Gmail for personal e-mail at home. About 15 people raised their hands and at that point, I figured I was in trouble as collectively, this group knows way more about this program than I do.

The Power
The class went on to be a great experience and I learned from them as much as I was able to share with them. The power in the room that day was the contributions and support from each individual. If there was a question asked, someone in the room already had an answer from previous Gmail experience or together, they quickly found the answer. Think how powerful groups of administrators, teachers, and departments could be if they shared their knowledge and strengths with one another. Collaboration is something that seems difficult for adults to do, stepping outside the walls of offices and classrooms to truly share expertise can be a challenge.

Support Change
Back to switching e-mail clients, which may seem tough for some, is nothing when compared to adding disruptive technology into an environment and changing the cultural of a school. Great leadership, supportive atmosphere, think professional learning communities with collaboration coaches, and the willingness to open the classroom doors, is part of the recipe for systematic change.

I am curious to what others have done to support change at their schools/district. If you have a story, please share with a comment. Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why Technology

Relevant, disruptive, engaging, efficient, changing....the list could go on. I very much stumbled into technology as a career path after creating a web page for Gold Canyon Elementary during my third year of teaching. It has been fascinating watching how quickly the world has changed and become a smaller place and how every day life is influenced by technology since then. The rate at which things change is what makes coming to work each and every day so exciting. It also makes for a challenging environment that traditionally is slower to accept change. I recently read a post on Tracy Watanabe's blog about the power of vision and she pointed out that cultural change starts with vision. I agree with her statement and would take that one step further and emphasize the need for strong leaders that can communicate the vision to their staff. A strong vision is just words on paper if not transformed into reality.

I want to thank Tracy Watanabe for her blog post "Power of Vision", and support of integrating technology in AJUSD.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Academic Calendar

Arizona State University announced sometime in January 2011, that they will be offering six learning blocks next Fall. Their academic calendars will allow students to take two sessions that are 7.5 weeks in length, as an alternative to the traditional 15-week semester. The summer schedule will offer students two 6-week sessions as an alternative to the full 8-week session. For a traditional college campus to offer this choice is a big shift, and places ASU among a small percentage of schools offering this type of academic calendar. I am certain there will be continued studies that speak to class length and the regularity in which they meet, but I am not sure that it will matter either way, as students want choice.

So how long will it take a non-traditional academic calendar to reach our K-12 schools? I think that is a difficult question to answer, but again, student choice will eventually demand the option. When we talk about choice, it seems like that has already arrived to an extent, public, charter, online, and now the "blended learning" environment. Of all the above choices, the blended learning environment will alter the traditional bell schedule the most. Blended learning can be defined in a number of ways, but simply put, it combines the mashing of different learning environments, with an online component being a key element. What the online piece will do is allow that portion of learning to be done at home, school, library, or any place with internet access. Kind of makes a traditional bell schedule and academic calendar feel a bit restrictive to the individual. As I mentioned before, there are different blended learning environments starting to show up, Carpe Diem in Yuma AZ, San Francisco Flex Academy, each have their own idea of a blended learning environment, and that is a positive piece that promotes innovation and change. I am not sure just yet what the ultimate blended learning environment would look like, but the days of a one size fits all system is drawing to a close in my opinion and personalizing an educational plan is going to be the norm.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wall of Change

How many times have you read the quote from Ronald Reagan's famous speech at the Berlin Wall in 1987, "tear down this wall," used as the lead in to a talk, article, or a number of blog posts? Probably a bunch, but it is affective for engaging audiences as it was a moment in history that brought change and freedom many thought was impossible. It also brought David Hasselhoff, in a flashing leather jacket, singing about freedom a couple years later while standing on top of the wall, but that is a separate issue. There are a number of historical events that led up to the fall of the wall and the end of the Soviet Union, but many will credit those famous words as the point of change. The question I have today is when are we going to hear another speech that will go down in history as the one that changed the face of education in the United States. The speech that defines the turning point to a system that has remained relatively unchanged for over 100 years.

I recently attended the Education Innovation Summit at ASU Sky Song. Twice in one day the question was asked when would we see real reform in public education and twice the answer was something to the affect of when schools financially hit rock bottom, then K-12 will be forced to change the current structure. There are many more opinions on education reform and what or when it will happen, but it causes me concern to think it will take a financial crisis to make meaningful change. One thing I do believe we can count on is that technology will play a key role in the transformation of schools, it will not be a silver bullet, but it will allow the environment to look different and cause disruption that will lead to change.