Thursday, December 18, 2014

Leadership: half a year of reading, thinking, and sharing ideas

The final few blog posts I’m writing this year are reflecting on the “big thinking” I’ve done throughout 2014. My first "looking back" post was about coaching and my second post was about trends in the world that are likely to impact education. This is my third post and it’s about leadership.

This year I moved into a leadership position when I became Director of Educational Technology. Leadership is something that has fascinated me for a number of years, and when I first arrived at ASB I considered doing a Masters in Educational Leadership. Time and money (lack of both) eventually made me decide against this, but for the past 18 months or so a cohort of teachers at ASB has been going through this degree programme and this month they graduated. It has been interesting to listen to their observations about this programme.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m much more of a “Lonely Planet” type of learner than a “Club Med” package type. I like to pick and choose what I want to learn, and to get recommendations from others along the way. I like all the diversions and exploring things for their own sake, simply because they are interesting.  While I didn’t go through the Master’s programme, there were definitely some modules that seemed worthwhile to me. Luckily ASB gave me the opportunity to be involved in a PLC at school on leadership.

At our first meeting of our Leadership PLC we discussed the factors that influence a school going from good to great. We all agreed that it is important to find and nurture the right people (recruitment and retention) which brought us to a discussion about professional development. We also talked about how important it is to create opportunities for growth within a school - as great leadership most often comes from within. Another factor we considered was what makes us unique at ASB. Quite possibly it is our focus on personalized learning and the way our eyes are focused firmly on the future of education and how we can best prepare ourselves and our students for what is coming. Interestingly enough we have also started to talk about what we really need to stop doing - as well as what we need to start doing. This is hard in an education system that is very resistant to change.
Our next Leadership PLC meeting was about employing the right people who will build excellence for its own sake - those that are dynamic and adaptable - and the importance of a Level 5 leader that will provide the environment where great people will thrive. The idea behind this is that having a great vision, but not having the right people and the right leaders will get you nowhere. It’s also important for leaders to build other leaders so that there is a strong team of equal partners.

Another aspect of leadership is that of change. For a leader to be leading people somewhere, the implication is that things are going to change. I’ve been reading about that too, and how sometimes it is important to focus on changing behaviour, rather than trying to change beliefs. Reflecting on something new that you have done can be a powerful way of learning about what works.  My readings have shown that there are a lot of overlaps between Michael Fullan's work and that of Jim Collins.  Collins refers to Level 5 Leaders as having an unwavering resolve to do what needs to be done, Fullan calls this "resolute leadership" - focusing on a small number of key priorities and staying the course.  Fullan also argues that you also need to have "impressive empathy". There needs to be ownership of change on the part of the people who work in schools, and where there are deep divisions purpose and empathy must be combined to bring about true and lasting change.

Fullan writes that to be a successful change leader it's important to be able to motivate people.  The thing that most motivates people is experiencing success/improvement. Fullan argues that motivation doesn't come first followed by better implementation - it is the accomplishment that comes first that then causes motivation to increase. Fullan writes about something called "motion leadership" for change. In situations of change, motion leaders need first to establish the conditions where people become intrinsically motivated and collectively take ownership of the initiative so that they are committed to keeping it going. 

Our Leadership PLC then moved on to discuss the hedgehog concept. This comes from Jim Collins' book Good to Great where he writes about a hedgehog knowing one big thing, in contrast to a fox that knows many things and pursues many ends at the same time in a scattered or diffused way without a unifying vision. Central to the hedgehog concept is a deep understanding of 3 circles:
  • What you can be best in the world at
  • What drives your economic engine
  • What you are passionate about
While you need all 3 circles to be great, our challenging as a Leadership PLN was to add a 4th circle: what the world needs.  We talked about empathy, tolerance, understanding and compassion and that an education that develops these values, that promotes international mindedness, is what the world needs.

At our final Leadership PLC of 2015 we moved on from our previous discussion about Jim Collins' "hedgehog concept" and started to think about other writers and how their ideas connect to his. For example, in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers he writes about the 10,000 hours of practice that is needed to become an expert, about opportunities based on when and where you were born, what your parents did and the circumstances of your upbringing and educational experiences, and something he calls legacy which is a mixture of religion, culture, tradition and attitude. We then also talked about Daniel Pink's book Drive which describes the most important factors of motivation being autonomy, mastery and purpose. I tried to combine these ideas together in the following graphic:

We talked about what 10,000 hours looks like in teaching. For a subject teacher (let's say history) this devotion to one subject will give a very different sort of mastery than being an elementary teacher who teaches lots of different subjects. At what stage could we say a teacher has "completed" 10,000 hours of "practice". What about if the practice they were doing was "wrong" and teachers are simply practicing "bad" hours/habits? Who or what is making these 10,000 hours of practice valuable for the teachers?  As I began to dig a bit deeper after our meeting I discovered that Anders Ericsson, the psychologist at Florida State University who came up with the 10,000 hours theory, actually stated that you only get benefits by "adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal." Clearly it's the feedback that matters, not simply the hours of practice - and this brings me back to teaching again. Let's throw in the observations of another expert, Daniel Goleman, who states "The secret to smart practice boils down to focus on the particular feedback from a seasoned coach." You can imagine how pleased I was to read the work coach there, since coaching was on of the other big things I’ve focused on in 2014.

Photo Credit: subzi73 via Compfight cc

Distributed leadership

This week at school we've been talking about our new tech integration coaches model of professional learning.  We talked about how important it is that leadership is distributed.  Sharon Brown, the Director of Educational Technology on the secondary campus of ASB, shared with me a document by Kenneth Leithwood who studied teacher and distributed leadership in Ontario, Canada.

According to this report, distributed leadership enhances teachers' satisfaction with their work, increases teachers' sense of professionalism, stimulates organizational change, increases organizational efficiency and revitalizes teachers through increased interaction with their colleagues.  The report argues that teachers can be leaders, which according to their definition is "the exercise of influence over the beliefs, actions and values of others."  He writes that teacher leadership may be formal or informal.  Formally teachers can get  involved in decision making and in stimulating the professional growth of colleagues, for example inducting new teachers into the school, and influencing the willingness and capacity of other teachers to implement change.  Teachers can also exhibit informal leadership by sharing their expertise, volunteering for new projects, bringing new ideas to the school, helping colleagues to carry out classroom duties,  and by engaging their colleagues in experimentation and examination of more powerful instructional techniques.

Advantages seen as a result of more participation of teachers in decision making are making the school more democratic and increased professional learning for the teacher leader.  However there may be disadvantages too - time taken in leadership roles outside the classroom may interfere with time needed for students.  There is also the issue of a lack of time, training and funding for teachers taking on leadership roles.  In addition some teacher leaders may be frustrated by the lack of role definition and by the requirement to take on roles outside their area of expertise.

One interesting finding in the report is that "authority and influence are not necessarily allocated to those occupying formal administrative positions ... rather power is attributed to whomever is able to inspire their commitments to collective aspirations, and the desire for personal and collective mastery over the capabilities needed to accomplish such aspirations."  Research shows that transformational leadership in teachers can involve building school vision, establishing school goals, providing intellectual stimulation, offering individualized support, modelling best practices, demonstrating high performance expectations, creating a productive school culture and developing structures to foster participation in school decisions.

What do teachers see as being the most highly valued traits of teacher leaders?  High on this list are a commitment to the school and/or the profession, having a sense of humour, being a hard worker and possessing an appreciative orientation to others.  In terms of personality, teacher leaders are seen as being unselfish, intelligent, genuine, humble and energetic.  Having strong beliefs and being fair are also important, along with a good work ethic, being visionary, having high standards and being steady and dependable.  It's important for teacher leaders to work well with their colleagues, be able to motivate staff and to have skills in problem solving and moderating disagreements.  Leading by example is one of the most important ways of motivating both staff and students.

Do our new tech coaches exhibit these characteristics of teacher leaders?  Well after Christmas we will be starting to develop an evaluation system that will hopefully give us these answers.  As always, I'll be sharing my thoughts by blogging.

Photo Credit: ocd007 via Compfight cc

Ways technology will change education

At our last R&D team meeting we were in small groups discussing the following question:  Given all you know about the changes in the world, what should learning and  education look like in 2030?  

As I was thinking about this, a friend on Facebook shared an article by Terry Heick about different ways technology will change education by 2028.  I'm sharing some of my favourite points from this as I'm thinking about the question asked in the R&D meeting:

By 2018
  • Digital literacy begins to outpace academic literacy in some classrooms
  • Purely academic standards (such as Common Core) will start to decline.  Educators seek curriculum based not on content but on the ability to interact, self-direct and learn.  Institutionally-centred artifacts of old-age academia will lose credibility.
  • Visual data will replace numerical data as schools communicate learning to family and community.
By 2020
  • Cloud-based education will be the rule - with better aggregation of student metrics, more efficient data sharing and more visual assessment results.
  • Schools will function as think-tanks to address local and global challenges
  • Diverse learning forms begin to supplement school
  • Self-directed learning studios for families
By 2024
  • Learning simulations will begin to replace teaches in some eLearning environments
  • Personalized learning algorithms will be standard in schools that continue with a traditional academic learning approach.
  • Diverse learning forms begin to replace schools.
  • Schools we be outnumbered by eLearning, blended learning and self-directed learning as well as learning simulations in virtual worlds.
  • Newer certificates of achievement and performance that are social, portfolio-based and self-selected will begin to replace institutional certificates including college degrees.
In an educational system where many think not much has changed since the Industrial Age, it seems there are some very radical changes predicted for the coming 10 years.  What do you think?  Which ones do you agree with?  Which ones do you think are complete fantasies?

Photo Credit: morberg via Compfight cc

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Yesterday I posted my thinking about coaching and how it has developed over the past year. Today I’m going to write about another change that has happened at school this year - this time in R&D. I’m a member of ASB’s Research and Development core team. The members on this group have worked together over a number of years in small task forces looking at developments that will be coming up in education several years into the future, and prototyping and preparing the school for these. We have looked at various initiatives such as a new school calendar, mobile learning, PBL, gamification, intersessions and internships to name just a few. This year we have seen a change. As our current task force work has been coming to an end, we’ve started to look more towards the “far horizon” at the big trends that are happening in the world - and although on the face of it some of these have nothing to do with education, indirectly they are going to make a huge impact on it. This post is about these changes.

The first change I started to read and think about was population. This is a complex issue because some parts of the world are seeing an ageing population, while others are seeing an expanding youth. There are therefore likely to be 2 different impacts on education - a growing wave of retired “lifelong learners” in some areas of the world, where the challenge is going to be getting enough people into the workforce to support them, and a huge number of young people in other parts of the world who will need schools, universities and will possibly face the issue of youth unemployment. Another challenge is that today’s majorities will become tomorrow’s minorities. This could well impact education too - with more need to educate students for being sensitive to and tolerant of diversity in the world. Technology has a part to play here too - but sadly the very technologies that are being used to transfer information around the world are also being used to spread intolerance and hatred.

Population is going to have another impact on education too - simply because of the growth of population is going to lead to more pressure on food production, global warming, access to water, the spread of diseases and so on. Current trends show that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening, despite the fact that governments around the world have set the goal of reducing poverty. Poverty determines the number of children who do not attend school (because they are doing other things). The figures from the UN show that 10 years ago over 100 million children were not receiving even an elementary education - most of these were in Africa and south Asia and there was a much higher proportion of girls who did not attend school than boys. This is a vicious circle because without education there is little chance to breaking out of the cycle of poverty. Poverty limits education, and a lack of education leads to an increase in poverty, which in turn could lead to frustration, anger and instability. The generation of students in our schools today will be the ones making the decisions about destroying or saving our world - so it's important to consider what education they are getting to help them deal with these issues in the future, and to help the next generation of policy makers understand that both common threats and common opportunities can bring us together for a common purpose.

This brings me onto the next trend - the need to educate students to be creative and innovative, to be problem solvers and critical thinkers - yet are today’s education systems encouraging such thinkers? Although many in education call for more creativity and innovation, at the same time many schools are focusing on an increasingly narrow range of skills that can be tested. Conversely, in the international schools where I've taught, there has been a move away from summative assessment and towards formative assessment. Teachers are concerned about knowing what students are finding difficult as it helps to inform their practice and planning - there has been a shift from the assessment of learning to assessment for and assessment as learning and a movement towards giving students choices about the ways they show their understanding - away from a cookie cutter approach where all students are expected to do the same thing. More and more teachers are asking whether the move towards standardized tests prepares students for the future or simply freezes the students in the "traditional" status quo.

The ability of schools to attract outstanding educators is crucial to the future. Worldwide there is still a shortage of teachers and school administrators and one possible reason is that teaching salaries are not competitive with salaries of other professions that require the same level of academic preparation. So at the same time that more good teachers are needed, there is increasing competition for these people from other industries. How can we change this? Can we look at the big trends in the world and the needs they are creating, and help this to leverage governments to invest in a more professional teaching body? To me, thinking about these big global trends, it seems that education is the only thing that can turn today’s challenges into opportunities.

(A lot of the ideas contained in this blog post are the result of reading 2 books by Gary Marx this year:
21 Trends for the 21st Century
16 Trends:  their profound impact on our future)

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Coaching: a year of learning

There are a few times in my career in education that something has happened that has completely transformed the way I have been doing things. The first of these was attending the Harvard Project Zero summer school, and later getting involved in the Visible Thinking routines while I was working at the International School of Amsterdam. This year I have seen a similar transformation, as we’ve taken on coaching at ASB. 

We are now mid-way through our first year of introducing tech integration coach positions - we have 10 of these coaches from EC3 to Grade 12. For me it has been a completely new approach to tech integration and I’ve spent the year thinking about coaching as a form of professional learning, and about different models of coaching. I’ve blogged a huge amount about my thoughts on coaching, and decided that this would be a good opportunity to pull these thoughts together and reflect on the changes that have happened and the impact that coaching has made on both teacher and student learning at ASB.

Once we made the decision last year to move to a tech integration coaching model, I was keen to find out as much as I could about coaching and how it can drive changes in behaviour. I started doing a MOOC from Coursera in April, around the same time that we started our application process and interviews for those wanting to take on the new coaching roles. I already knew that research pointed to peer coaching by trusted colleagues as being an effective form of PD, and in fact many of those who applied to take on a tech integration coach role were those who and been coached themselves and who were keen to develop skills and confidence in using technology in others.

At the start of the process I needed to be very clear in my own mind about the difference between an instructor (a teacher who teaches you how to do something), a mentor (who passes on knowledge and advice) and a coach (who, through questioning, empowers others to maximize their own potential by looking for answers within). A coach basically believes that a teacher has the potential to improve and that it is the teacher’s own responsibility to do so. This can come about by encouraging the teacher to become more self-aware of what s/he is doing. The coach needs to be listening very carefully in order to formulate the best question for moving a teacher’s thinking forward - for a coach listening is much more important than talking!

Five years ago I started this blog and called it Tech Transformation because I've always liked the idea of transformation - the idea of something changing so much that you couldn't recognize it at all (for example a caterpillar turning into a butterfly) and I wanted the blog to reflect that way that technology can give us the power to do things that were previously unimaginable. Now I'm applying this same ideas to coaching. Can coaching bring about a transformation in the teaching of technology, in the ways students are using technology, and in what they are able to do as a result of this? This is the question that was uppermost in my mind all year.
Last year in our PD 3.0 R&D task force we studied coaching as one way of improving professional learning. We knew that teachers need to be improving their knowledge and skills all the time, and we also knew that it takes around 50 hours of PD to improve a teacher's skill so that it has an impact on student learning. We were sure that the traditional model of a few days of PD/orientation at the start of a school year, and a fews days of PD spread across the year in a sort of "spray and pray" model, would be unlikely to have much impactoin teaching practice. Coaching, however, offered an alternative that we thought could be effective in making that transformation. Lynn Barnes, an instructional coach, sums up this in the following quote:
Quick fixes never last and teachers resent them; they resent going to inservices where someone is going to tell them what to do but not help them follow up.  Teachers want someone that's going to be there, that's going to help them for the duration, not a fly-by-night program that's here today gone tomorrow.
Although I did a lot of reading about coaching last school year, the real transformation for me was attending Bill and Ochan Powell’s Cognitive Coaching training at the American School of London in June. It was clear that taking on the role of Director of Educational Technology and having a team of tech integration coaches this year would lead to a change of role for me. As I reflected back on the past 2 years as Tech Coordinator I felt my role had been a combination between collaboration and consulting. I used to attend the grade level PYP meetings so that I could understand the curriculum and the content that each grade was teaching, and I would also have tech meetings where I would be called upon to find new tools, share how to use these tools, discuss pedagogy, provide technical assistance and discuss both the NETS-S and NETS-T standards. I was also very much of a collaborator, co-planning and often co-teaching with the homeroom teachers. We discussed different ideas and approaches as we considered how technology could support student inquiry.

One concept that underlay much of what we did during the Cognitive Coaching course was the five states of mind. We found ourselves coming back to these over and over again and realized that we needed to be very conscious of all of these in our coachees, when we are taking on a coaching role. In the case of the 5 states of mind, this is what the coach hopes to enable:
  • Consciousness: a movement from a lack of awareness towards an awareness of self and others 
  • Craftsmanship: a movement from vagueness and imprecision towards specificity ad elegance 
  • Efficacy: a movement away from an external locus of control and towards an internal locus of control 
  • Flexibility: a movement away from narrow egocentric views towards broader and alternative perspectives 
  • Interdependence: a movement away from isolation and separateness towards connection to and concern for the community
I was excited to put my new learning into place on my return to ASB from the summer holidays. Cognitive Coaching added a new dimension to my changing role. It still allowed me to transform the effectiveness of what teachers were doing, but the learning they engaged in was now more self-directed. I have helped them to consider a range of options and think about which might be best as they move forward with integrating technology into their teaching. Cognitive coaching has been a way of empowering teachers to be self-directed as it gives teachers the skills to think of ways to solve problems and improve their craftsmanship.
At the start of the new school year we had several whole school meetings with our tech coaches where they were introduced to the planning conversation map. This was to help them with discussing goals for the year with their teachers. This map is made up of the following steps:
  • Clarify goals "Where do you want to go?" This is a backward design process so it's important that teachers know what they want to see at the end of the coaching. 
  • Specify success indicators "How will you know?" This also involves a plan for collecting evidence about what this will look like, for example what the students will be saying, doing or thinking. 
  • Anticipate approaches "How will it flow?" What strategies will the teacher use, what decisions will be taken, how will this be monitored? 
  • Establish personal learning "How will you grow?" It's important for teachers to also decide what they want to learn or take away as a result of coaching and what process will be in place for this self-assessment. 
  • Reflect on the coaching process "How has this conversation supported your thinking?" This involves metacognition - reflection allows the lessons learned to be carried forward to new situations.
In November I decided to update an earlier blog post. My post from 2013 entitled What is the role of a tech integration specialist? has been my 3rd most read blog post (coming only just behind the 2 posts about the SAMR model). However as we have moved away from a tech integration specialist and towards tech integration coaches I decided to write a new blog post about the role of a tech integration coach. November also saw Bill and Ochan Powell coming to ASB to train all our coaches, which allow allowed me to take Day 4 of the Cognitive Coaching course. This visit was very timely because our tech coaches had set goals at the start of the school year with their teachers, and now it was time to move onto reflecting conversations and to conducting class observations and giving feedback to support teachers as they work towards their goals. Day 4 of Cognitive Coaching discusses the role of data. The idea is that a teacher can use the data collected by the coach to draw his or her own conclusions about student learning. Data therefore plays an important role in the coaching cycle of planning, observing and reflecting, as long as the teacher being observed is the person who decides what data should be collected. Without this, it would be too easy for an observation to turn into an evaluation! It’s the coach’s job to ask the teacher what s/he wants to have observed, and then to communicate the data in a way that promotes the self-directedness of the teacher. Effective teachers are lifelong longers, so a coach can ask mediative questions to help a teacher analyze, interpret and draw conclusions based on the data, and to then explore ways teachers can use this new learning to work towards achieving their goals.
I am totally enthusiastic about the changes that Cognitive Coaching can bring about, in particular with our teachers who have been skeptical about using technology. Last week I was talking with a teacher who admitted she was a reluctant user of technology for many years. She talked about how empowered she feels now, how she is in turn empowering her students to choose when and how to use technology to support their own learning.
Here are some of the changes I have seen as a result of introducing a coaching model of tech integration:
  • Teachers are more reflective about their practice 
  • Coaching is an effective form of professional learning - implementation of new learning is high 
  • Coaching leads to greater efficacy among teachers 
  • Teachers are more satisfied with their work and feel they are benefiting both professionally and personally from the coaching
In my 25+ years of international teaching, a move to a tech integration coaching model has been one of the most important ways I’ve ever experienced of transforming the way technology is used. In fact it has transformed the learning of both the teachers and the students. My goal for 2015 is to complete days 5-8 of the Cognitive Coaching training (in March) and I hope to be able to do the Advanced trainer course in July. Next year I expect that I'll be blogging just as much about coaching as I have done this year, and sharing my learning, as I know many schools are considering this as a model for professional learning. I'm very excited that even just a few months into this new model, and even though neither myself or the tech integration coaches have yet completed our training, we are already reaping the benefits of introducing coaching into our professional learning at ASB.
Photo Credit: Marc Wathieu via Compfight cc

Monday, December 15, 2014

What I’ve been thinking about in 2014

It’s the last week of school in 2014.  At this time last year I remember looking back on the year and discovering that out of the 4 years that I had been blogging, 2013 was the year that I wrote the fewest blog posts (which was a surprise to me at the time).  In the previous years I’d written about 250 posts each year, however in 2013 I wrote only around 164, and as of now, in 2014 I’ve written 170.  There has definitely been a change in the way I blog since moving from Switzerland to India.  In Switzerland I blogged so much because I couldn’t share my ideas at school.  In India I’m sharing my ideas at school all the time, and then refining them, and then blogging, probably in a deeper way, about the resulting thoughts.

Yet this year has also been the year when I’ve had the most readers of my blog.  At this time last year, after 4 years of blogging, I’d just reached the half million reader mark.  Now I have almost 800,000 readers, which is a huge increase in a year.  The posts that are most popular continue to be those about the SAMR model - posts I wrote in 2010 and 2011 as I was exploring this new way of looking at tech integration.  Other popular posts include those about technology integration and the role of a tech integration specialist or coach.

Before last year I never blogged about coaching - yet last year has seen a huge number - over 70 - posts about coaching.  Other things I’ve blogged a lot about last year include global trends that will impact education, leadership and professional learning.  Over the next few days I’m going to review my thinking and reflect on my learning this year.  I’m looking forward to sharing these thoughts over the next few blog posts.

Photo Credit: Will Lion via Compfight cc

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Integration -v- implementation

I work at a school where there seems to be a good balance between integration and implementation of technology.  We have a Director of Technology Support and a Director of Educational Technology for each campus.  As I read through the IBO's pre-publication of The Role of Technology in the IB Programmes the section about integration and implementation rings very true.  This is how the IB defines it:
  • Technology integration concerns the role technology plays in learning as well as how we incorporate technology literacy concepts into teaching and learning.  Technology integration is part of the role of all educators, supported by our tech integration coaches and directors of ed tech.
  • Technology implementation is the process of acquiring and introducing devices and applications as well as managing systems that support technology use.  IT technicians and budget holders usually address implementation.  This is interesting to me too because again it is very typical of our structure at ASB with our directors of technology support, technicians and educational technology assistants.
There is a great diagram about these differences which I'm going to reproduce here.
I think the important thing here is that while both of these are very necessary, often these roles are confused or done by the same people wearing two hats.  It takes a lot of experience and training to distinguish between them and then to put integration first.  When I read that sentence for the first time it was like a blinding flash of light - all too often the people with the money, making the purchasing decisions and so on, are totally removed from the integration and so they put implementation first.  In almost every school I've been in that has been the case, and I have had to point out that the most important consideration in all of this is student learning.  The IBO publication points out that an approach that is dominated by implementation is device-driven.  It is focused on HOW to use the technology and not WHY to use it.  When administrators make statements about there being no evidence that technology improves learning I can guarantee they are coming from these schools - where the conversation is about devices ("We are going to put SMARTboards into every classroom", for example).  It is integration that makes the difference to student learning:  "pedagogy and instruction can and should be supported by devices, not the other way round ... technology integration requires a different kind of thinking, one that erases discussions of devices altogether, only reintroducing them after pedagogical aims have been addressed."  I couldn't agree more!

Photo Credit: Barrett.Discovery via Compfight cc