Will Future Ready Make a Difference?

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on February 26, 2016

Future Ready logo with question mark overlaidMany superintendents of school districts in California have signed the Future Ready Pledge. Many of those districts have begun the process of evaluating the “readiness” of their districts for the future by using the great tools that Future Ready provides. They have developed plans to implement the suggestions generated from the surveys and tools. In some cases, districts have dedicated resources, including funds and people to implement and monitor their progress. However, even with doing all of this, I contend that it won’t be enough to make a significant difference for most school districts. Here is why.

There are still too many barriers to the implementation of an effective plan to be truly Future Ready. The first barrier is the existing employee contracts. Usually, most school districts have contracts that restrict and limit the process for staff development, as well as the evaluation process and the time that employees are in contact with students. The second barrier is the time constraints imposed by the transportation of students. This limits the options that are available for integrating training. The third barrier is the culture of autonomy that exists in most districts. Because most teachers still teach in isolation, they can ignore many of the requirements needed to have a 21st Century instructional program and no one will be either aware of it or able to do anything about it. The last barrier I will mention is the current tenure system. This system makes it very difficult to dismiss teachers who do not have the ability to implement an effective Future Ready program.

I recognize that there are a few districts that are making great strides, but the truth is most districts aren’t radically better than they were five years ago in terms of implementing a Future Ready program.  And I would submit that even in the case of districts that are doing well, the reasons why are tenuous and progress could end if a few things changed, such as the leadership of the district, the leadership of the associations, or the economy.

What do you think? Share your thoughts by clicking “Leave a comment” or by using the “Leave a Reply” form—you’ll see one or the other below this post.

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When Personalization Goes Bad

Posted by Michael Simkins on January 12, 2014

BubbleWe educators talk a lot about personalization.  My dear friend Barbara Bray is a tireless advocate for personalizing learning environments. Goodness knows we’re all very busy building and maintaining our personal learning networks.  In 1996, when I left my job as a principal to direct a federal technology project, a reporter interviewing me for the local newspaper asked me what I thought the value of technology was for education; I answered, “It’s going to enable us to personalize learning.”

As with many good things, though, there are malignant forms of personalization—insidious strains that surreptitiously undermine our ability to freely learn what we want to learn.   Barbara calls out “adaptive learning systems” as one example.  “The filter bubble,” as described by Eli Pariser, is another. A couple months ago I read his book of the same name.  Until then, I’d thought I was a pretty savvy guy about all things Internet, but Eli’s book poked a hole in my own naiveté bubble.

I consider myself to be a pretty damn good researcher.  Even before the Internet, I could walk into a library, pull out the card catalog or the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, and usually find out what I wanted to know. When the Internet came along, I mastered Boolean expressions and entered researchers’ paradise.  The only information I had trouble finding was information that hadn’t yet be digitized.

Then “smart” searching came along.  At first, this seemed great.  Start typing a couple words in the search box and voilà! Google or Bing or whatever tool you’re using just “knows” what you’re looking for. Over time, though, I found myself having trouble finding what I wanted.  I’d change my search terms all kinds of ways and I’d still get the same off-base results.  It’s like trying to explain something to someone who just doesn’t have the knowledge or context to “get it.” Like Big Brother or JIm Anderson, Algorithm knows best.  Ask for whatever you will, Knowledge Graph decides what you really need.  Not good.  In fact, creepy.

Watch this TED Talk.  Eli explains it better than I.

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iPads, and Netbooks, and Chromebooks! Oh My!

Posted by Will Kimbley on November 3, 2013

Netbook, iPad, and Chromebook

The times they are a-changin’. Previously, there have been haves and have-nots with regard to the presence of technology in education. Now, the demands of the Common Core, and their attendant Smarter Balanced assessments, dictate that schools provide technology tools for students.  In California, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s soon to be released ed-tech blueprint says the goal is 1:1 devices for everyone. So, how do we meet that goal? What devices do we purchase, and why?

We have seen a number of districts roll out one-size-fits-all solutions. It sounds a little like the Oprah show: “You’re getting an iPad, you’re getting an iPad!”  But is that the best decision? What are the key factors to consider?

One of the primary considerations is the Smarter Balanced assessments. There are requirements that whatever technology is purchased meets a set of minimum specifications, e.g. 10 inch screen, 1024 x 768 resolution, keyboard, as well as certain operating systems (click here for complete information).

Besides the new assessments, there are other considerations.  Cost, of course, is a big one. How much money do you have to make the purchase? What about sustainability? What is the life of the device? Which devices are easiest to manage? All of these are important, but they neglect one of the biggest factors that often gets overlooked: the classroom.

The decision-making process must include how the device will be used in the classroom. The mobility of tablets is great for science classrooms and allows students to do science.  What about a class where the primary use will be word processing? Then an iPad or Android tablet may not be the best solution. What about Chromebooks? They work great with Google Drive and web based applications and you can’t beat the price. You can get two Chromebooks for the price of one iPad, and you don’t have to purchase an additional keyboard. But if you need to install software, then you’ll need a different device. Netbooks are another possible solution, but they tend to have slower processors and have a difficult time running large operating systems such as Windows.

The reality is there is no single device solution that will cover all your needs. While a single device type may be easier to manage, you should consider a variety of devices. Talk to teachers who are already using devices in the classroom. Find out what devices they prefer. Pilot a variety of devices with teachers of various skill levels. Survey students to find out what they prefer to use. Weigh the pros and cons of the various devices and how they will be used. There is no perfect solution, and no way to make a good snap decision. Whichever devices you choose will require careful consideration and planning.

 

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The Debilitating Effects of Micromanagement

Posted by Bob Blackney on August 6, 2013

vision-control matrix with micromanager in bottom right

At some point in our careers, we get to work with a micromanager—the person who tries to control everything that happens in a school or office. Micromanagers pay excessive attention to details and avoid delegation of tasks and decisions to staff members. The parody of the micromanager is the leader who spends the better part of the day counting the office supplies used. While micromanagers may feel they are doing a great job and being very structured, the often are oblivious to the effects that they are having on the rest of the organization.

In the best situations, micromanagement is an impediment to progress and in extreme cases it can cause the organization to stagnate. Let’s look at the some of the effects that come with micromanagement.

Effects of Micromangement

Micromanagement prevents innovation. Employees can’t come up with new ideas and procedures on their own; they have to constantly check with the micromanager who is often unavailable. Workers become “drones” that wait to be told what to do rather than take risks that come with innovation. Employees with skills and knowledge will leave such situations and the organization is left with workers who are content to wait to follow instructions.

Micromanagement slows workflow, as all approvals have to go through the manager who will not give up control. It is not efficient for normal work to have to wait for approval from an overzealous manager. Delegation is an essential element in any organization and it is an essential skill for any manager.

Micromanagement prevents an organization from using the talents and skills of the staff. Employees are hired because they have the knowledge and ability to do a job. If they are constantly being hovered over by an oppressive manager, then they cannot do the jobs that they were hired to do.

Micromanagement creates a “wait to be told” culture. Why do work ahead of time if the micromanager will come by and change everything? Better for employees to just wait until the deadline approaches and then do the job. There will be far less time to have to make changes and have to re-do the work. Everyone in the organization learns to just wait until it has to be done and then do what they are told to do.

Micromanagement slows progress because meetings must include the micromanager. Workers learn that if the micromanager has not “signed off” on the project there is no use in moving forward unless it is done exactly the way the micromanager wants it to be done.

Micromanagement retards communication within a school or office and with the community. When someone asks a question, workers will often reply, “I’ll have to check with my manager.” Employees should be able to respond to coworkers and with the community without being held hostage. If the answer is not correct, then it can be corrected. The damage that is caused by inaccurate communications is not nearly as great as the damage that is caused by communicating in a timely manner.

Micromanagement discourages teamwork. Workers don’t work together; they just have to work with the micromanager. I have heard work groups say, “What’s the use of getting together to plan, we will just have to change it all.” This is not how an efficient organization runs. Managers should encourage everyone in the organization to constantly be innovating, communicating and improving and this cannot be done if the manager cannot delegate and respect the work of his or her employees.

In some situations, the micromanager will assign work and then micromanage the work to enable the oppressive manager to take credit for any positive results, and also to blame the employee for negative results. In this scenario the micromanager actually delegates the accountability for failure to the worker without giving them the ability to take initiative that might have made the project a success.

Are you a micromanager?

Might you be a micromanager and not know it? According to Alyssa Gregory, here are some telltale signs:

You have more work than you can handle because you can’t delegate effectively.

You frequently assign work, then take it back because it’s not getting done the way you want it done.

You tell your team exactly how you want things done and leave them no room for them to take initiative.

You continuously take on project manager roles, even when there already is a project manager.

You rarely complete projects on time because you can’t get past the details.

You need to know what everyone is doing, all the time.

Your team avoids you and all one-on-one conversations with you.

You don’t let any of your team members contribute ideas, communicate with clients or even talk to each other.

You become the bottleneck because everyone is always waiting for your approval on everything.

Your team has unreasonably high turnover.

You question the processes followed, work completed and proposed next steps at every status meeting.

You feel that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

 

Micromanagement disables a school or office in countless ways. All managers should be careful not to fall into the traps of over-managing. The damage that comes with micromanagement is not easily or quickly corrected.

 

 

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Principals in the Cross Hairs

Posted by Michael Simkins on March 6, 2013

crosshairs

  • Districts Tying Principal Reviews to Test Scores
  • Survey Finds Rising Job Frustration Among Principals

These two headlines, both from Education Week, crossed my desk today.  It was a poignant and instructive juxtaposition.  I spent years studying (and experiencing) teacher burnout.  I found that lack of control (perceived, anyway) was closely associated with burnout.  The current research cited lack or control as a key factor in principal frustration.

After 15 years as a teacher, I became a principal.  “Wow,” I thought, “now I’ve got the power to make things happen.”

No and yes.  I found that despite my new, elevated position, I had far less power than I thought I would have.   Principal’s can dictate, surely; that doesn’t mean anyone has to abide by the dictates.  A principal’s real power comes from sharing it, from persuasion, from setting an example, from inspiring people.

It doesn’t surprise me that today’s principals are feeling frustrated; given the context in which they work, why wouldn’t they be?

Assuming that it make sense to run education as though it were a business—a debatable assumption—then of course we need a metric for the bottom line.  Test scores alone, however, are a poor surrogate for net profit.

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