Posted on behalf of Steven Gerhard – Director of Professional Development, Discovery Education.
“When will we learn this?” asked a group of teachers at the beginning of a professional development session as they pointed to the screens of their computers. The professional development facilitator for the session responded with a simple, “Yes that is part of our session today.” In this exchange, the question may seem normal and consistent with what we may experience from our students, teachers, and even ourselves. This idea that learning is bound to an intentionally timed linear sequence and designated place that is determined for us by someone else. However, we are 15 years in to this “21st Century” and I think we have all read well the promise that technology is supposed to hold for us as educators that now our learning and that of our students is anytime, anywhere. We just need to follow a few Twitter feeds or blog posts to learn all we need for the 10 steps to do this, the 6 strategies to that, and the 3 simple truths, so easy and profound, our schools and classrooms will finally realize this digital transformation. So with all of the incredible access to all the professional learning we need to transform our teaching and learning the natural answer to the initial question should be “whenever you want to”, right?
Is it really that simple? I trust we all know the answer to this rhetorical question. This change is too complex. Yes, we have seen how individual teachers and/or pockets of innovation may arise from access to new ideas and thinking but does it bring whole system transformation? Perhaps instead of focusing on when in terms of time, we must shift the question to examine whether the circumstances exist for all of our educators to engage in the professional learning necessary to make this transformation. More specifically, do the cultures in our schools create the circumstances for us as educators to engage in deep, safe, and meaningful learning? What is our reflection on the work we explicitly do as leaders to create a culture, for whether we do it intentionally or not, there is a culture.
I invite you to watch the short video segment below from Mr. Bill Ziegler, High School Principal and recently named by NASSP as Digital Principal of the Year, and as you watch consider the following questions.
- How are we building capacity in our schools by engaging and empowering teachers to learn, innovate, and create new possibilities for their classrooms that have implications for the whole school system?
- How are we engaging all, and I mean all, of the stakeholders in the conversations and the learning rather than just focusing on individuals or the pockets of innovation?
- How are we ensuring that in the integration of technology the focus always remains on instruction?
- How, as leaders, are we purposefully thinking and leading the work as system-wide?
As the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for lunch, or is it breakfast, or did Peter Drucker even say this?” Regardless, the point is that the power of culture in creating the circumstances for us as educators and the schools we lead to learn and make this complex change could be the single most important work we do. Just take a stroll among the best literature that exists on the subject or study the growing number of examples that currently demonstrate the success that comes from a strong culture. As we move to eliminate the “when” from our conversations both in terms of time and circumstance and replace it with a “whenever we want to”, can we measure this success as a result of our culture plan, not our strategic plan?
A little about Steve:
Steve Gerhard works for Discovery Education to partner with school districts and bring the very best professional development to its professional staff. Prior to joining Discovery, Steve served as an Assistant Superintendent for the Wilson School District where he proudly worked with an amazing staff of teachers and instructional leaders. Steve witnessed first hand what momentum for innovation can occur when you empower and engage teachers in creating new learning possibilities for our students. In addition to his experiences as an Assistant Superintendent, Steve also served as a High School Principal for the Twin Valley and Tulpehocken School Districts and began his teaching career as a Social Studies teacher with the Schuylkill Valley School District.