How Staying Uncomfortable Is The Key To Success

This post first appeared on Edudemic

Memorial 5th graders at New England Student SHowcase.png
Burlington students presenting at the recent New England 1:1 Summit 

As we near the completion of our third year of being a 1:1 tablet school in Burlington, I continue to ponder what is the next step. Glancing in the rearview mirror, it is hard to believe that nearly three years have passed since we distributed mobile devices to over 1,000 high school students in a school that had previously policies in place against mobile phones and MP3 players just two years earlier. In fact, the integration of iPads into classrooms went so well that we expanded down to our middle school the following year and added in half of our elementary grades this year. While I am excited that Burlington Public Schools will have iPads for students in all grades at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, I am also anxious about our continued growth as learners. A few years ago we were looked at as a progressive school for our work in deploying mobile devices and allowing our school environment to look more like the real world where access to online resources is ubiquitous. However, just providing access was really the starting point, and as I see other schools still struggle just to get the infrastructure in place to provide the same access I worry about stagnation.

How can we continue to move forward?

Looking at some of the work of Amy Edmondson recently has helped me to frame my thinking a bit. Edmondson, a Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, has written a great deal about organizational change. She describes four zones for organizations involved in change initiatives in her article titled The Competitive Imperative of Learning:

  1. Apathy Zone
  2. Anxiety Zone
  3. Comfort Zone
  4. Learning Zone

Although my descriptions of the four zones are be a bit different than Edmondson’s, I think that these four zones can be repurposed rather nicely for schools making the move to 1:1 environments.

Apathy Zone

This is where our school was back in 2008-2009 when we did not allow students to bring their cell phones and other mobile devices into our classrooms. Living in the Apathy Zone, means that you give little or no credence to the fact that having students access web-enabled devices could add any value to learning.

Anxiety Zone

There was certainly a sense of accomplishment as we moved beyond our state of denial and embraced the reality that we would be better preparing our students for what they would be facing if we allowed access to mobile devices. However, this move also moved us into the Anxiety Zone, a place where educators run the gamut from the apoplectic few who are still shocked that we would put these gadgets in the hands of every student, to the app-addicted staff members who want to learn about every new app that hits the app store. Of course, our continuous focus on a Professional Development model which focuses on a few foundational web-based resources that can provide easy wins, along with regular time for colleagues to share best practice, provided an exit route from the Anxiety Zone.

Comfort Zone

But there was still trouble ahead because the next stop, the Comfort Zone, is one that can breed complacency and a false sense of security. This is the place where a great deal of reflection is needed to be sure that momentum is not halted. This is our current reality in year three of 1:1 in Burlington. We have a seen many more examples of students being empowered and following their passions to do things that we would not have seen prior to our 1:1 implementation. This was evidenced during the recent New England Student Showcase during the New England 1:1 Summit. However, we still have a lot of work to do in establishing the learner-led environment that will make these types of experiences the reality for all students.

Learning Zone

This transition would put us into the Learning Zone, a place where collaboration and creation is the norm for all learners (both staff and students). This is the place where we stop asking questions like “How often do you integrate technology in the classroom?” and start focusing on the tools of differentiation that can foster endless opportunities for students to show their learning in ways that best suit their learning styles. Of course, the challenge here is allowing staff the same opportunities in their Professional Development so that they can make the connections as learners that will allow them to seek these same options for their students. We can clearly see the Learning Zone on the horizon, our challenge is not to become satisfied with our arrival in the comfort zone.

Stay uncomfortable my friends!

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Top Post #5 – Who Cares About Devices!?

This post was written back in April and was cross-posted on EdTechTeacher

So I received the tweet below from a friend in Iowa this morning:

Being one of the first schools in our region to go all in on iPads at the high school level, I am always interested in reading the perspectives of others on this topic.  I think that there are a number of questions that need to be addressed for schools thinking about increasing the number of devices in their classrooms or moving towards a 1:1 program.  The post referenced in the tweet by my friend Jimmy, a high school Principal in Iowa, is worth a read for people looking at investing in iPads (or going 1:1 with any device).

The post, Why most K-12 schools aren’t ready for the iPad Revolution, cites four reasons that most schools are not prepared to purchase iPads for all students.  The four reasons cited by the author, Mike Reiners (CEO of Nomad), are as follows:

  1. Teaching requires planning.
  2. Consider where we’re spending our education dollars.
  3. The iPad is primarily a consumption device.
  4. Our students should be mobile multilingual.
Below are my thoughts on each of the points.

Teaching requires planning

Yes, I could not agree more. Our Superintendent is fond of saying, “Teaching is hard and Technology used to be hard. But even though the technology has gotten easier, the teaching is still hard and it will always be hard.”  Despite the fact that the technology is easier, the sheer number of resources available when you add web-enabled devices to the mix can be overwhelming.  I agree with Reiners point that thought and consideration and support are needed so that teachers have opportunities to prepare for this shift. In Burlington, we spend a year and a half before we had iPads teaching staff members about a variety of digital tools that they would be able to access and integrate into their curricular areas with any mobile device. We also focused on resources that we thought would save teachers time and could potentially increase student engagement.

Consider where we’re spending our education dollars

This consideration is one that we actually utilized to help us purchase our devices in Burlington. I am pretty sure that many schools do not spend enough time looking at what they are spending their money on now. What are some of the annually purchases that we make that we just don’t think about? (i.e. paper, printers, textbooks, computers, etc.) Our purchase of the iPads saved us in the vicinity of $100,000 due to the fact that we were looking at new options for a Foreign Language Lab and that does not take into consideration that most schools also add a para-professional to the mix to help maintain such a lab. We were also able to stop our annual expenditures on maintaining other labs in the building that were used primarily for word processing and research since the purchase of the devices allowed us to have this access in every classroom. Add in the fact, that we are no longer making large-scale textbook purchases for a course and we were well on our way to the amount needed to purchase our devices.


The iPad is primarily a consumption device

I’ve heard this one over and over, but I agree with the words of Scott Meech who hit on this topic a while back during the 2011 K-12 Online Conference in his session on “Purposeful Play:”

“Many argue that the iPad is the premiere consumption device at this time but it isn’t very good at creating. Is that accurate? I tend to believe that the iPad is an amazingly creative device and the user is the only limit for the device.”

Adam Webster also wrote a post on Edudemic a while back titled 5 Reasons The iPad Will Stay King Of The Classroom in which he stated:

“The iPad, its workflow and its apps, allow for real change and makes it easy. Your students will create work that not only wasn’t possible before their innovative use of the technology, but that you as their teacher had never even thought of.”

Our students should be mobile multilingual 

This definitely should be the goal for our students and I touched on this idea in a post back in January titled Is The iPad King? It Is For Us And That’s All That Matters (For Now). My concluding statement in the post was – “While I believe that we have made the best decision for our school today, things change quickly and we need to create organizational and individual flexibility to adapt to these changes when they occur.” 

Royan Lee wrote a wonderful post on this topic about a month ago on his blog titled “Why Mish-Mash Is Better Than 1:1.”  In the post he noted:

“I prefer teaching with the limitations of no class sets, because it means we’re constantly reflecting on the merits of each tool for the given purpose.”

The bottom line is that we need to make sure that the adults in the schools are modeling the flexibility and adaptability in their practice that our students are going to need to have to be successful. All of us who work in schools know that this is can be difficult since change is not something common in our traditional educational system and we have grown comfortable with many tools, workflows, and practices that are long outdated. 

In fact, the most important statement made in the post by Reiners is the one at the end which notes:

In summary, let’s think about what we’re doing. Blind, quick-trigger actions in education, especially expensive and invasive ones, have historically disastrous results.

I find this a bit ironic considering that some would say that we are exactly in this place with our mandated standardized testing and the development of the common core, two things that have certainly been expensive and invasive. While I could speculate on the results, that is probably best left for a future post.

The bottom line is that we don’t need any new devices in our schools, what we really need is new thinking in regards to our purpose for having schools. Any implementation of new gadgets and gizmos which strives to simply integrate them into our “traditional system” with teacher-focused learning environments instead of learner-centered environments is destined to have “disastrous results.”
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