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Changing- Shifting a School Culture- Train of Thought

May 17, 2009 Education, Learning, Professional Development 8 Comments

Cross posted to TechLearning & Advisor blog

Lately my thoughts and efforts are shifting from figuring out how to get educators familiar and comfortable enough to use technology  as just another teaching tool to how to change or facilitate a shift of a school’s culture into a learning community.

I invite you to jump on and take a ride on my Train of Thought, which is defined on Wikipedia as:

The train of thought refers to the interconnection in the sequence of ideas expressed during a connected discourse or thought, as well as to the sequence itself, especially in discussion how this sequence leads from one idea to another.

I am hearing, reading and thinking more and more about the change (or shift) we so desperately are trying to inspire in our schools. That change does not seem to come from “whether we integrate technology or not”. It goes much deeper. Back in March, I cautiously wrote a post “Take the Technology out of the Equation“.

I know that I am NOT the only one, who is re-thinking and re-evaluating what we, as educators, who believe in the power of 21st century skills, literacies and web 2.0 tools, feel is the right path to bring CHANGE to our schools.  I am coming across more and more blog posts and tweets that are reinforcing my thoughts that we might have been approaching the evocation of change from a wrong angle.

Take a look at some of these blog posts that have the common thread “The change is not about Technology”:

Gable uses a powerful analogy when she compares playing basketball barefoot with teaching without technology. You COULD play without shoes, but why would you want to, when there is a tool that would allow you to grow, expand, soar higher and further than without it? The sport of Basketball is NOT about the shoes… Teaching and learning is not about technology!

image licensed under CC by

In her post Heidi writes:

Because a tool is there that helps them play better – shoes give them support, protect their feet, give them better grip, help them run faster. No one is saying it is not about the shoes, so we shouldn’t even TRY to wear shoes. [...]

AND computers can support learners, open doors to a world of possibilities and learning opportunities and global thinking. They can provide a chance for every child to learn their own way and construct their own knowledge.  They can facilitate conversations with other people and other children around the world. They can knock down the isolation of a classroom’s four walls and invite in the voices, experience and passion of the entire planet. They can engage a bored, disengaged student – whether because they’ve already learned the current topic and they can explore it to a deeper level, or because they don’t get it and they can find another perspective, application or explanation of that topic from another source.

For the past two year, I have been making available / showing/modeling/supporting/familiarizing faculty and administrators with/through technology :

  • Hardware such as  Smartboards, digital cameras, flip cameras, document cameras, AlphaSmart Neos, scanners, etc.
  • Software tools for productivity, digital storytelling, social networking and collaboration
  • tools that support multiple learning styles and reinforce skills taught in the classroom
  • planned with teachers to connect new ideas with THEIR existing curriculum
  • generated ideas and projects that engaged their students and exposed them to global awareness and different media
  • offered professional development in a small /large group, 1:1, just-in-time and just-in-case settings
  • made How-to guides available as a hard copy handout, in digital form, as visuals and in different media
  • supported and co-taught in a lab and classroom environment
  • took the groundwork and often tedious “tech part” such as editing, converting, uploading, digitizing, etc out of classroom projects for teachers
  • connected them to educators and experts from around the world

Did the approach/ effort pay off? Has the school culture changed? Are teachers less resistant, less “afraid” of technology, more convinced (understanding) that change in the educational system is not optional?

David Truss wrote two fascinating posts (Part I & Part 2) about “The Fourth Way of Change” an article written by Andrew Hargraves and Dennis Shirley.  According to the Forth Way of Change, there are:

  1. Pillars of Purpose
  2. Principle of Professionalism
  3. Catalysts of Coherence


David speaks about

Initially the visual pyramid on his post attracted me, but I quickly got excited with the rest of the the post, which in turn was just the beginning of following Truss’ train of thoughts that connected to several other links.

Maureen Dockendorf spoke of:

Not the Knowing, but the Process of Inquiry. Not covering the curriculum, but ‘uncovering’ the curriculum. A focus in innovation and creativity… how do we model this… every day?

David responds:

We model this by creating meaningful learning communities based on professional inquiry and by giving those learning communities the time and resources to make things happen.

Creating meaningful learning communities for teachers…mmmhhh…  so they can grow as professionals and in turn model being a learner and the creator of a learning community for their students….

Will Richardson is also reflecting along the same path on his post Wanted: School Chief Learning Officer. He highlights the importance of emphasizing the process of learning not the outcome.

I wondered how many schools could point to someone, anyone, who is in charge of learning. By that I mean someone who manages the culture of the school by focusing not on outcomes as much as how learning is writ large in the system. Someone who also understands the ways in which social Web technologies accentuate the need for the learning skills we’ve desired all along: creativity, critical thinking, independent thought, collaboration, etc.

So far, my train of thought has taken me by the following stations:

  1. It is not about Technology
  2. Professionalism
  3. Learning

What if we are dealings with the issue of learning that is two levels deep? Each level, of course, bringing their own sublevels and issues?

What if  there are two levels?

  1. Teachers need to shift to teach, so students are actually learning
    1. not to the test
    2. not to get a grade
    3. not to recite facts
    4. learning to learn
    5. higher level thinking skills
  2. Teachers need to shift and recognize that learning has changed
    1. changed from the way they have learned in the past
    2. the brain is wired differently for students of today
    3. the skills and demands of a future we don’t know how it will look like.

Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. Dave Bill says:

    Nice post. Before we can introduce the tools to our teachers that will impact the learning, we must help our teachers understand how to shift their approach to teaching. This will take some time and effort but we simply cannot use these tools and teach in a traditional manner. If we do, we are simply giving them a fancier chalkboard.

  2. David Truss says:

    Wow Silvia,
    This is more than just a ‘train of thought’, it is Synthesis and Evaluation, it is the combining of many ideas to Create something better, it is the kind of higher order thinking we want to see from our educators and our students!

    To reinforce the idea that it isn’t about the technology, I’m going to share Cindy Quach’s comment that she wrote on this wonderful post on collaboration tools: http://ahhhhsandahas.blogspot.com/2009/05/in-response-to-kim-mcgills-blog-re.html
    …when I first starting incorporating technology into my teaching repetoire, I must admit that it was the driving force of the lesson. In this way, I was trying to teach tech…which is not my area of expertise. However, when I finally figured out that I was not a tech teacher but rather someone who was using technology as a means to teach the skills and processes that have always been important to me…everything seemed so much more focussed and doable.
    A brilliant insight indeed!

    As Heidi suggests, we could teach without technology, but why would we want to?
    I’m going to share this post with many people, a post by a person I’ve never met, and may never meet, but is a valuable member of my professional learning network/learning community… I’m having a ‘learning conversation’ with her, and she was my teacher today. Without our blogs, without rss and a means to find out that my blog was linked to, without the technology as a means to share, collaborate and communicate, this learning would have stayed in a single school, or in the mind of a single person.

    No it is not about the technology, but I certainly don’t want to learn without it… and our students shouldn’t have to!

    Thanks to you Silvia

  3. I think most of us are trying to do the things you mention, showing/modeling/supporting, etc. The question you ask is extremely important. Has the school culture changed? For me personally the answer is a resounding NO and I’m sitting here, nearly in tears, wondering what else to do. There have been small victories and I don’t regret any of it, but the changes that have resulted are minimal. At first I thought it was just me but as I read more I see that my situation is not unique.

    Since I’m a librarian and not a classroom teacher I can only speak to how it LOOKS to me. It seems to me that teachers that I work with are being pulled away from project based learning in favor of strictly following a curriculum. There’s no room in the day for extras. Standardized tests are administered every quarter. Since the library is used for testing every quarter and since I have to be a proctor 2 of those quarters, my actual teaching time is diminished.

    Professional development is taken up with learning to teach the curriculum, even for someone like me who does not actually use the curriculum. This year has been a watershed year for me personally as I strike out in search of ideas for ways to use technology in my teaching. In the process I am finding an amazing group of people. I was very fortunate to be helped along this path with involvement in an E2T2 grant. However, most of this work is done at home on my own time. I will spend June 1 back at school for a professional development day. I’m not sure what will be happening on that day but I do know that there was no time for anything around technology.

    How can we change a culture like this? If showing/modeling/supporting is not working, what else can we do?

  4. [...] Langwitches » Changing- Shifting a School Culture- Train of Thought [...]

  5. [...] last is especially important: change grabs attention (13). Sylvia Tolisano writes about change in Langwitches (GREAT resource/blog!) that is well worth reading in considering technology integration in a [...]

  6. Sylvia, speaking for myself, I can undoubtedly say that yes, your effort paid off; yes, I am less resistant, less afraid of technology and yes, I do believe that a change will happen sooner or later, whether as a result of those “meaningful learning communities” or simply because it’s the next logical step in Education.
    Until it happens let’s keep on being like “The Potter” (http://www.the-potter.com/mediapage/) and teach our students how to build their own knowledge and then like Kerry Turner pointed out in her comment to Steve Wheeler’s post “Pushing at the boundaries” (http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.com/2009/05/pushing-at-boundaries.htm)let’s gather “evidence” of the changes that are already happening and let’s make those changes stand out even when we take the technology out of the equation.

  7. Matt T. says:

    “It’s about learning.” Technology is old. The tools we use today may or may not be new. Can learning take place with “old” tools? I think we’d both agree. Can learning NOT take place with “new” tools? You bet. I wrote a post along these lines a while back: http://bit.ly/a03RC

    The best ed. tech tool is the educator who knows how to match technology, pedagogy and content.

    Great post!

  8. [...] a previous post of mine, I documented my thoughts on Changing-Shifting a School Culture- Train of Thought. It took me to one of Will Richardson’s post Wanted: School Chief Learning Officer where he [...]

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