I attended the AASA Conference last week in Los Angeles and it reminded me of several points I would like to stress not only for new superintendents but for veteran superintendents as well. Early in my superintendent career I was hesitant to attend any conferences, especially out-of-state conferences. Most of my professional development at this time came from fellow superintendents. Superintendents in East Central Illinois used to meet once per month at Sullivan County Club. There were two rules for this meeting: first, that you had to be currently employed as a superintendent, and second, anything said during the meeting was confidential.
The Sullivan School District superintendent was the host for the monthly event and emceed the discussion. Those of us who were new to the superintendency sat quietly and just listened to the conversation. We gained very valuable knowledge from the discussions led by the veteran superintendents.
The problem is that the year is now 2019 and these informational monthly meetings occurred in the 1990's. Much has changed in 30 years, including the rapid rate of knowledge turnover in all fields. We still need to learn from our colleagues, but we also need to learn from national and even international experts about our field.
At the AASA conference I attended five sessions on the topic of "Personalized Education." I listened and took extensive notes on how personalized learning is transforming student growth and student achievement in many school districts throughout the country. The one common factor I discovered is that all of these districts first learned about personalized learning by attending a previous AASA conference. These educators then joined a cohort sponsored by AASA on this topic, attended additional conferences and workshops and, probably most importantly, visited schools around the country that had successfully implemented personalized education.
The common theme is that they traveled away from their home school districts and learned about this topic from experts in the field. They then joined common cohorts and visited successful schools. They brought these ideas back to their school districts and implemented strategic planning and involved their own school district educators to implement these concepts in their districts. They probably would never have changed the work in their schools if they had not reached out to others on a national basis.
The lesson to be learned here is the need to attend state and national education conferences to find out what others are doing to improve their schools. You will never be an innovative change leader by staying in your local school district. I encourage you to attend these state and local conferences and also for you to send central office administrators, building level administrators, school board members and teachers to these types of conferences as well. Don't think you cannot afford to do these kinds of things; you cannot afford not to do this!
Student Use of Personal Technology
Some districts and schools allow students to use their own devices in school and some do not. Many districts now have 1:1 technology paid for and serviced by the school districts. Most Illinois school districts have robust Internet connectivity, but Illinois still has many rural communities without high-speed Internet access.
The reason I am writing about this is because many educators believe that student use of technology is interfering with the daily business of school. Students become distracted easily, students visit sites not related to the content being taught in the classroom, and student-to-student digital communication is often negative, with bullying and other issues causing trouble for students in school.
Others believe that student technology use is important for students to be engaged in their own learning. Students, like adults, quickly can Google for information related to the content being taught in school. Almost everybody would agree that returning to a world without technology would be impossible.
The use of student personal technology is problematic. In schools that do not provide technology for students, this is the sole method of digital connectivity. Schools that provide 1:1 devices also find issues with student personal technology use.
As I have visited hundreds of classrooms over the past several years, I have discovered that the role of the teacher in the classroom is critical to the proper use of technology. The school can draw up all kinds of rules and regulations concerning the personal use of technology, but students always find a work-around. In classrooms taught by respected, caring and engaging teachers, I never observe problems with student misuse of technology. It seems to be the solution for student proper use of technology is the same solution for almost all of our education problems. If we have respected, caring and engaging educators, our students will behave appropriately.
Tip of the Week
I believe education is on the cusp of major change. Many have said for years that a public-school classroom will look the same today as it did 100 years ago, with students sitting in desks in rows and columns with the teacher lecturing. I believe the successful schools of today and tomorrow will not look like this at all. For example, the curriculum at "High Tech High School" includes the last several weeks of the senior year with students preparing project-based learning dissertations that students submit to a team of teachers. When traditional high school seniors are skating through their last several weeks of high school these students are actively preparing their personal project for scoring. The student only graduates if the project meets the school's criteria for success. These projects are authentic and reflect the interests, knowledge and desires of the individual student. Is this what your high schools look like in the last few weeks of school?