"Let us move forward with boldness and not retreat back into the comforts of the past." - David March
Part 2 of 7
Read Part 1 here
We started our adventures on the 7 C's of education talking about the importance of embracing change. In education and the world, technology has dramatically increased the speed of changes that can be made. This week we will look at communication. When you think about communication in your classroom, how are you building the communication skills of your students? We are going to look at two important sources to discuss the importance of incorporating skilled communication in lessons.
Tony Wagner, a world renowned education reform expert, discusses what he refers to as the 7 Survival Skills for students in the 21st Century. Wagner spent time with business leaders and education leaders from across the globe as he developed his 7 skills. His focus is on the need for effective communication skills in both oral and written formats.
“The biggest skill people are missing is the ability to communicate: both written and oral presentations. It’s a huge problem for us.”
Wagner's work centers around the need for students to be able to effectively communicate in multiple formats, but its more than just organizing a thought and presenting that thought. He discusses the need to be able to use skillful communications to accomplish something. It is one important piece of the bigger picture. And he points out that this communication must be multi-modal, as students who are able to use various formats will be better able to adapt to the needs and opportunities they will face in work and personal situations.
Are students required to communicate their own ideas regarding a concept or issue? Must their communication be supported with evidence and designed with a particular audience in mind?
Microsoft's 21st Century Learning Design based on the International Teaching and Learning research, provides a rubric that allows teachers to evaluate lessons. "This rubric examines whether students are asked to produce extended or multi-modal communication, and whether the communication must be substantiated, with a logical explanation or examples or evidence that supports a central thesis. At higher levels of the rubric, students must craft their communication for a particular audience."
Both of these tools challenge educators to look deeply at how they incorporate activities that touch on developing communication skills of students. If you are looking at ways to evaluate how 21st Century ready your lessons are both of these resources merit further reading. The best part of it is that you can use the evaluation rubric to quickly address areas that would allow you to ramp up a lesson
All right stop, Collaborate and listen. Ice is back with my brand new invention.
Yep, I am going there! I can stop, I can collaborate, but the thing I am not very good at is truly listening. I know this is a flaw of mine, and it has been for a very long time. I think it is important to really look at what is going on when things are not going the way you think they should. It is easier to blame what everyone else is doing, but it seems that more often than not, when you really look at things, the problems can easily be corrected by fixing yourself.
Something grabs a hold of me tightly
Most people who know me professionally know that I can get very passionate about what I believe. I do think this is a strength, but like anything too much of something can be bad. Nearly two years ago I took over the role of Instructional Technology Coordinator for my school district. Mostly this was due to being in the right place at the right time. I had a passion for technology and my district was growing a 1:1 program. It just made sense for several reasons including my math background.
To start with, I always thought of Instructional Technology as a trainer position that would simply show teachers how to use different tools. I loved tech, I loved to figure stuff out, so even though I don't know how to use everything we have, I am one of the people in my district that will spend hours figuring stuff out. So yeah, I can say I was qualified to help teachers in this way. My problem is I have this other passion, and that is learning, and researching. I blame my professor, Dr. Richard Rose from West Texas A&M for this. During my time in his Instructional Design and Technology program he lit a fire in me that I didn't know existed. So why is this a problem?
Sometimes blind ambition leads you astray despite good intentions. I have been fortunate to speak to some very strong leaders in the world of Ed Tech and Innovative education. David Jakes tried to clue me into my problem a little over two months when he said what I was wanting to do was above my title or pay grade. Of course at the time, I said, YES that is correct I shouldn't have to do this or that, but I do because nobody else is doing it. You see my problem was still there, it was ME. It was the fact that despite good intentions, I was missing the boat.
To the extreme I rock a mic like a vandal
You see, the "chump" in the room was me. As I was figuring out my role, I was constantly trying to make sure that what we did with Ed Tech would match our Curriculum vision. I bugged people in the dept that we had to come up with a common theme of vision. Really to the point of being annoying (those that know me would be shocked I'm sure).
The mission of the Sulphur Springs Independent School District is to provide students with the skills that will prepare them to adapt and excel in a fast-changing world, enabling them to lead productive lives. The district shares with parents and the community the responsibility of promoting high standards and expectations as we provide opportunities for all students within our diverse community to attain personal growth and to become lifelong learners.
So above is our District mission statement. It has been the same since before I even came to the district, and finally one day I re-read it and decided yes, that is great (especially the underlined words) and so I set out to make sure that what we do with Instructional tech ties back into our mission statement. Sound logical thinking, right? Well my problem is that I let myself go astray again by essentially creating my own mission or "agenda." It wasn't a bad thing, not a personal agenda to go against others, or to improve myself over others, but it has altered a lot of my thinking.
If there was a problem, yo, I'll solve it
For me, I had to solve the problem of ensuring that our classrooms were innovative, and our teachers were all embracing all of the stuff that I believe to be important in that regard. I spend a ridiculous amount of time researching and reading and trying to make sure that we are doing things that are sound. And in so many ways what we do is really good. But it doesn't match everything that we should be all about. Again the elephant in the room is the fact that what I think we should be all about doesn't mean squat. My job is to carry out the vision and mission of my superiors. There are many things that they would like to accomplish right now also, but they know that we cannot throw everything out at once or our people will flounder miserably.
You see there is a fine line between leading and pushing. I tend to be a pusher, despite wanting to be a leader. I have really been working hard at trying to step back and help serve people rather than try to get them to all think like me. I have felt like I was making great strides, but last night it hit me. I sat with our Superintendent and said our common vision stinks. He graciously let me state my opinion, and didn't fire me, which I appreciate. He then followed it up with a well directed statement that was the nicest way he could have said to me that my mission wasn't a common one. It wasn't in those exact words, and I am not sure he even knows the exact statement that I am referring to directly. But the reality is it finally sank in, NO we do not have a common vision for what I personally think is best, but please note that I agree with things we are doing. That is true, but it is also because my vision or mission is NOT what the district mission or vision is, because it is not where the district is at this point in time, which I must recognize.
Yes I see eye to eye on a lot of things, but where my passion lies, is not where our district needs to be right now. My superiors have a common vision. They meet and they are on the same page and have their goals. I go back to David Jakes and his kick in the pants to me. It is not MY role to come up with what our common vision should be. It is my role to make sure our district vision is met. Take initiative for things that are in my wheel house, and give input when appropriate. There are a lot of "problems" that are not mine to solve. When they are not your problems, it doesn't mean that you don't stay proactive in addressing them when found, but remember that someone else with much more information is already working on those problems. It was said to me multiple times in multiple ways and I did "get it" at the time it was said, but I really didn't listen absorb it the way I should.
It is amazing how well I can hear that music the DJ is revolving, when I just get out of my own way. While my particular story may not relate to you, I do challenge you to really look at how you handle situations and determine if you are part of the problem as well. I think when we really look at things, we will see that before we complain, we need to make sure we have our house in order first.
Part 1 in a 7 part series on navigating the 7 C's of education.
In the Knowledge Age there is one constant. Educators must embrace this constant to ensure student learning needs are met. That constant is Change.
Consider for a minute how much has changed in society since Social Media became popular.
Take a moment to wrap your mind around those facts. Before the mid 2000's nobody could have understood the impact Social Media would play on society today.
If we stop to take a moment to think about how social media has changed the news media landscape the same reality sets in. For most of our lives we relied on news media outlets to provide information about the world. Today, we can live stream with someone in a war torn country, or watch just about anything from anywhere in real time, even sitting in our car while in traffic. The news from around the world is now at our fingertips and more mobile than ever before. For our students in school today, this is the world they know. This is the world they live in. This is just one of many examples of what we need to be evaluating in regard to student learning. We must recognize where our "audience" is or we will become obsolete.
Education reforms and ideas come and go. Often times the joke is that if you wait long enough the new buzzword or trend will be replaced with another soon, and what you are being asked to do today will be forgotten. One could say that change has always been the constant in education. In many cases when you look at what students are asked to do, significant changes are incredibly slow in reality. The problem lies with the fact that in the Knowledge Era the world is changing at a faster rate than ever before. Technology has been the accelerator for these changes and graduating students today must be equipped to deal with the world they face. A world that embraces CHANGE like never before.
Once we have accepted the fact that change is our new reality, we can begin to move forward with finding the best ways to reach students, and impact learning. The importance of relationships in the learning process will remain important. These relationships will allow us to truly understand our learners' needs. What are we doing currently to ensure that we understand our audience? Are we actively engaging our students, parents, and community in setting goals for what our schools are offering? Are we doing all we can to create an environment for learning, that prepares students to learn how to deal with change?
Finally, if we recognize this need, are we doing all we can as educators to model how this looks? I often fight with myself on where and how to push people to look at new things, especially in technology. One argument is often made that there is not enough time to teach the "lesson" and still deal with all the tech issues that might come up. I fully understand this argument, but in reality what we are doing by giving up right away is showing our students that it is ok to stick with what is comfortable or safe. In turn if we can model how to work through challenges and face them head on, we are serving as an example of perhaps the greatest life skill. The skill of being able to adapt to change. Sure our content is what we get measured by on paper and must be considered. I believe strongly that students who understand how to adapt to new challenges will be absorbing enough of the content in your lessons that they will fair well on a test.
As we navigate the new 7 C's of education, each week we will look at why each is important. I hope that as educators we embrace the importance of helping our students prepare for and react to change. This life skill will serve them in many more ways than the Pythagorean Theorem. This life skill is most easily taught by modeling the behavior in our own professional learning. Are you ready to embrace change, and look to discover the buried treasures that follow? It starts with one small step, simply read this series of blog posts as you begin your journey.