What is our first step?

If you read edublogs then you likely have read about EduCon. Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy, hosted the conference and some of the “big” edubloggers have been reflecting on their experiences for quite a while. Check out these posts for a sampling:

Good Teaching Trumps Everything

Educon 2.0 – What is Student Voice

Picking Up the Conversation Where We Left Off

Recently Will Richardson has some written some posts asking how other schools begin to do the work that SLA is doing. What steps need to be taken first?

His questions got me thinking a lot about the district I work in. When I read descriptions of SLA, and all the twitter posts and blog posts I’ve read since the EduCon event ended, it sounds somewhat familiar to me.

My district, Brighton Central Schools, has a culture of caring and connectedness to an unbelievably supportive community. We have a tradition of academic excellence. We have skilled practitioners. We are very student focused. We empower our students and give them great opportunities to learn and grow. All of this has been going on for decades without a reliance on technology.

In recent years the district has invested a great deal in bringing technology into the schools. We are in the process of rolling out or looking at several new technologies including: an intranet, a web-based professional development registration system, an interactive curriculum-mapping tool (our current tool one is read only), and digital student portfolios.

While we have a lot of technology in place and we are getting better at using it everyday, I don’t think we’ve reached the transformation stage district wide. There are pockets here and there of early adopters who are starting to use the technology in transformative ways, but as a whole, I believe we continue to operate in a paper and pencil paradigm.

We may be a victim of our own success. We are doing so well in many regards that it is sometimes hard to argue for the need to change. Brighton High School was recently recognized as a Top 100 school by US News and World Report. Its not always easy to argue that we need to change when we are doing so well in so many facets.

Unfortunately, we don’t have to look too far to see an example of the danger of falling in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” trap. Brighton is a suburb of Rochester, home of the global headquarters of Kodak. Kodak is a very real example of what can happen when we fail to keep up with the times and embrace new technology. Once the world’s leader in film processing and film based photography, Kodak didn’t react to the digital revolution quickly enough. The company took a huge hit—with dramatic impact on the local economy—and has been struggling to recover it’s preeminent status ever since.

One of the many reasons our district is so successful is the hard work and dedication of our teachers. I’m truly fortunate to work with such dedicated and caring colleagues. Although we are all working very hard, I’m not sure we are working and learning as efficiently as we might.

New ideas and methods are introduced here frequently, as I’m sure happens in school districts everywhere. When new initiatives or ideas are rolled out, recently some initiatives involving technology, I’ve heard variations of: “My plate is already full”, “You can’t put 15 gallons in a 10 gallon container”, or “I can’t do x on top of what I’m already doing.”

I think this is where the technology can really be helpful to us. I know the way I learn has been transformed since learning about Web 2.0 tools. I’ve broken out my local “echo chamber” and am challenged by educators from around the nation and world. I have daily access to new views, thoughts, and ideas that challenge me in ways that I could not have foreseen even a few short months ago. (Hence this blog and this post)

I think, as professionals, we can collaborate and learn from one another much better than we currently do. I don’t know if we can work harder, but I think we can work smarter. We need to work with the willing and model what we want them to do.

We need to show the teachers, in a very personal way, the strength of the collaborative tools that are out there. When our teachers see their colleagues using these amazing tools in their classes, they will begin to see how engaging and transformative they can be. I think they will be challenged and start to question if our current methods of communication and collaboration are really good enough.

Learning to work in this new environment isn’t always easy, but I think its necessary. As Antonio Perez, CEO of Kodak, says “You know what happens if you sit back and let history happen to you, so you’ve got to take a shot…”

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