Sunday, September 11, 2011

Culture of Instructional Improvement: A Culture for Change

The goal of every school must be to create and maintain a true culture for growth and instructional improvement. A culture of growth and instructional improvement has its foundations in a "culture for change." A definition for  a culture of change permeates within an environment where individuals throughout the system contribute to a plan designed to improve student learning. The plan is flexible and has room to evolve, as determined by student needs. In order to meet the challenge of a culture for change, the teachers, administration and support staff must adapt decisions and behaviors with one question in mind: What will best fit the needs of students? This takes a commitment to all areas of school improvement, ranging from professional development and curriculum to discipline and agreed-upon values. It, most importantly, requires a plan, as well as a leader willing to take the first step towards developing a culture for change. People will be involved in the school’s progress at different levels and in different ways, but everyone will contribute to the process. A culture of changes will come to the school as learning goals are met by individuals, groups and by the system as whole.

The plan, however, is useless unless all staff members believe it is important to support and to contribute to the changing culture.  A true culture for change allows its stakeholders to contribute to the process, as well as to the school’s vision. Essentially, the teachers “own” the culture of change, and therefore make a commitment to its every-changing improvement. The principal must make a conscience effort to foster this environment of ownership, pride and unity. In any school across America, one would find a staff comprised of individuals with different beliefs, values, education levels and talents. The individual teachers have developed their own classroom and teaching philosophies, whether on their own or through the help of another educator or mentor. In a culture where growth is continuous , the teachers support and compliment one another’s efforts –despite their diverse personal and professional philosophies. They overcome their differences through trust and communication, as well as through their unified commitment to their students. Throughout the school year, the teachers, together, will tackle common – and uncommon – student and curriculum issues. When situations or outcomes require changes, the staff – as well as their plan – must be flexible. Schools, and their staff members, must be willing to be progressive and anticipate needed changes. A culture of change is proactive in every aspect of school life, especially curriculum. A learning school strives to never be reactive and very much favors a site-based management plan.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Planning for the Future

Designing highly engaging digital lessons can be the catalyst for enhancing a school’s vision for the future,  strengthening its learning goals, and helping it to realize its mission. To be deemed successful, digital lesson design itself must weigh the relationship between technology investments and student growth. Technology integration  requires that teachers be willing to make substantial investments in time, resources, and support. Incorporating technology into the classroom effectively, teachers must use those strategies that are directly aligned to practices that engage students in higher levels of direct learning and the development of critical thinking skills. Technology tools by themselves will not reform the learning environment. It is with the blending of effective instructional practices that fit within a lesson design where technology integration merges with 21st Century teaching.

Viewing technology lesson design as a process instead of an event requires two paradigm shifts in thinking and development. The first paradigm shift occurs when the stakeholders of the district realize the design process will result in more than simply purchasing technology. Ten years ago, technology investment focused primarily on acquiring computers and was simply a process of deciding what type of computers to purchase, how many, and where to place them. Today, new technology opportunities require technology designers to rethink the plausibility of technology in the classroom. The design process must address how technology will be used by students and staff, not just what equipment it will involve.

The second paradigm shift occurs when the technology design process integrates the technology into the curriculum. This paradigm shift allows the designing process to have an impact on student learning. For the technology planning efforts to have maximum effect on student learning, the process must be coupled with curriculum development and instructional lesson design. Since the goal of technology design should be improved student learning, this process begets questions that only classroom teachers can answer. Therefore, a collaborative effort between technology professionals and teachers will produce the most comprehensive and successful technology integration plan. Without this investment of time and effort, designing for technology will have little or no impact on school improvement.

Finally, the key to increasing student performance begins by providing formal teacher training. Through professional development, teachers will better understand the design for technology integration and realize ways to apply the essential strategies to instruction. When teachers understand the criteria by which technology integration will occur, the approach to the school improvement process in regards to web 2.0 literacy learning will become more effective.

The shape of the school of the future is amorphous, but most educators and observers agree that the future school will go interactive. The emphasis will be on becoming adept at the learning tools, on mastering concepts quickly, on thinking critically, on expressing oneself effectively and preparing the student for lifelong independent learning. This century will produce schools that will transform electronic information into inquiry-based methods that will change traditional approaches of educating the individual. Integrated technology linking the highways of knowledge will become essential for effective schools of the future.

In closing, whether or not we are ready for the paradigm shift that adopts technology into the curriculum of the future will most assuredly precipitate, the societal forces for integrating technology learning into the schools and global marketplace are upon us. It is up to the educators of the future to bring together the interaction of the traditional classrooms of today. These are the classrooms that lay so far apart but so close together so that when bridged with technology the effect will be greater than the sum of their individual effects. Between the present and the near future, technology resources stand to foster students’ development of both traditional and digital learning; however, schools of the future have many questions to answer and many cautions to consider as educators formulate a vision for best practices. To accomplish true synergy of the emergence of technology into the traditional classroom settings educators must understand the elements of adopting technology resources within the dynamics of the educational setting and become pivotal forces in affecting the learning outcomes of the school.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Schools are complex organizations that must be lead effectively in order to produce results. However, after many years of research and literature regarding the school leaders role, many administrators still believe that leadership is the art of standardization. Leadership as the art of standardization is a way to control how individuals behave, think, and act indirectly by standardizing the work they do. Those who practice the art of standardization rely on their ability to be direct supervisors, although in many schools this is not possible.

This type of leadership has its basis from the old school of Fredric Taylor. If one applies Taylor's management theories, decisions about school effectiveness are based on standardizing all teaching, learning, curriculum, assessment, and management. The art of standardization, or the "assembly line" approach, encourages the development of instructional expectations with measurable outcomes that are identified and tightly aligned to a set curriculum and to specific methods of teaching. Once instructional delivery systems are in place, teachers are closely supervised to ensure that the mandated curriculum and methods of teaching are being implemented. Students are tested to ensure that the approved outcomes are achieved. However, the "assembly line" theory works clumsily at best. To offset the art of standardization, school leaders need to change their belief systems, moving away from the antiquated roles once practiced in the old school of leadership.

Leadership is about vision and the development of a vision is a process that requires collaboration and the development of trust. Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for schools to work. Trust implies accountability, predictability, and reliability. It is what keeps schools humming—the glue that maintains educational integrity. In traditional settings of school reform, educational leaders do not take time to assess their position on reform issues even when these issues are mandated through state or federal laws. The typical response from educational leaders when asked why they must make these changes is, “It is out of our control” or “This is what the law requires of us.” A second type of response to the question of why we have to change is to use new mandates as an excuse for developing policies that fit self-centered ideas on school reform. In each case, the educational leaders did not assess their position about why the school should change. 

This traditional approach to positioning limits the ability of others to participate and sets up boundaries that restrict the development of a learning school. The restrictive leadership approach leaves the stakeholders with the feeling that they should stay away from making decisions on their own, and it probably also inhibits them from acting on their own. Using the traditional approach, assessing a position would be that the leaders decide what needs to be done to improve the school and expect the stakeholders to be loyal to their requests. Unfortunately, the results of this position are low trust, negative feelings and comments about school reform, and lack of commitment to school improvement. 

This example reiterates two very important reasons for stressing trust through positioning. The first has to do with educational integrity. A learning school can be compared to healthy individuals; in fact, it is analogous to a healthy identity. A school possesses a healthy structure when it has a clear sense of what it is and what it is to do. Therefore, educational integrity involves choosing a direction and staying with it. However, in order for a school to have integrity, it must have an identity, that is, a sense of what it is and what it is to do. The second reason behind the significance of positioning has to do with staying the course, that is, constancy. Effective leadership takes risks; it innovates, challenges, and changes the school’s culture. Innovation—any new idea—will most likely not be accepted at first, no matter how wonderful the idea may be. If everyone embraced the innovation, it might not be a true innovation. Innovation causes resistance to stiffen, defense to set in, opposition to form. It takes repeated attempts and endless demonstrations before innovation can be accepted and internalized by any school.

Literacy 2.0 Articulating the Future

To succeed in Literacy 2.0 reform, schools must be driven by forward-thinking, technology-attuned visionaries who can articulate the optimal characteristics needed for technology-supported education reform.  Focused on preparing students to live, learn, and work in the 21st Century, the visionaries of Literacy 2.0 learning must cultivate enriched technological environments for learning, environments where teachers give students more opportunities to work together, so as to establish the confidence, support, and trust needed for desired change.

A Literacy 2.0 school cannot exist without a shared vision. Without a focus on and commitment to a vision/goal that the stakeholders themselves truly want to achieve, the forces protecting the status quo can and usually do overwhelm the forces supporting meaningful change. With shared vision, the stakeholders are more likely to expose their accustomed ways of thinking and redefine them in more coopera­tive and constructive terms, thereby identifying personal and organizational short­comings. Thus, developing a collective vision for the future of the Literacy 2.0 school is the first strategy to a systematic design for a successful paradigm shift into the future. At its simplest level, a shared vision is the answer to the question, "What do we want to create?" and when that question is answered by the stakeholders, a sense of community will permeate the school and give purpose and meaning to diverse activities. Shared vision is vital for the Literacy 2.0 school because it provides the focus and energy for learning. However, educational visionaries must first understand the strategies involved in enabling stakeholders to gain confidence in the technological advances to virtual learning.   

To meet the challenge of mandated education reform issues, schools will need to realign their present visions by establishing new priorities linked to the new standards. This does not mean that schools must change their beliefs; instead, they must examine how their present beliefs support the challenges of required change. If schools are to be viewed as Literacy 2.0 learning schools, then they must engage in strategic exploration so that the school’s stakeholders will be provided the opportunity to formulate a common vision for the future that will then guide them on their journey. To accomplish this new venture of reconstruction, schools will need to begin exploring a new reference guide for the development of right brain activities through;
1.      the design of digital lessons,
2.      allowing students to create digital stories,
3.   provide time for students to synthesize concepts by comparing strands of ideas and to create new elements of thought,
4.      provide meaning to educational opportunities by allowing students to learn collaboratively,
5.      Play through creativity;
6.    and understanding the importance of ethics and empathy when learning in a literacy 2.0 environment.

Without these six essential elements in place we give students a lesser opportunity for survival, security, belonging, ego, and a driving spirit for being competitive in their future world, "The Conceptual Age" . According to Pink, “Artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big-picture thinkers – will reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys”.2

Making the Paradigm Shift

Making this paradigm shift from the Industrial Age to the Information Age during a time of uncertainty finds many a scholar not sure just how collaborative 2.0 literacy will serve in the improvement of teaching and learning. For more than two centuries, schools have used printed paper materials, such as textbooks, to educate students. With the development of new Web 2.0 technologies, open source collaborative learning resources seem limitless. Wikipedia encyclopedias, open source dictionaries and collaborative reference guides can be created instantaneously and grow in immensity over just a short period of time. To ascertain this notion of collaborative networks outsourcing knowledge at a faster rate by Web 2.0 enthusiasts over a major cooperation can be only reflected in the recent encyclopedia showdown between Microsoft and Wikipedia. A triumph in the making leaving Wikipedia the most powerful open source software business model of the 21st Century and Microsoft abstaining its position as a corporate competitor in encyclopedia business giving way to a work force of unpaid labors.1

Using interactive Web 2.0 Literacy educational practices is not a means but a reality allowing students to benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community, creative expansion for new means of economic perpetuation within the formulation of an evolving society.   Web 2.0 Literacy educational practices, will allow students to construct spheres of knowledge that bear the same type of relationships as to how the minds develops and the ways that Literacy 2.0 brains grow and develop in different settings. Through these practices students and educators will explore methodologies on how the human mind deals with interdisciplinary collaborative studies and how these Literacy 2.0 cognitive activities develop the full potentials of the mind.  In these collaborative exercises of learning students will visit historic museums from across the globe, interact with experts in the field, design virtual projects that give additional in depth support to new knowledge, without ever leaving their classrooms. They can position observatory telescopes to view a distant star or collaboratively visit other classrooms within their school, state, country, or world. Literacy 2.0 learning will virtually open new doors for teaching as well as learning.

In the near future, every child should be exposed to instructional setting that will have a digitally produced “Personal Learning Partners” designed to respond to the knowledge expansion needs of an individual student. Entire instructional rooms will be intelligent, in the sense that they will be equipped with a multiplicity of intuitive, interfaced Web 2.0 technologies that are responsive to student's gestures, touches, and voices.

Readily available open source software resources will recognize and transform spoken words into any multiple languages for cultural diversity giving the communicator the ability to explain and illustrate ideas/concepts.  Examples of these types of open source software application exist today as free text to speech programs. With these applications students can listen to word documents, homework, PowerPoint presentations, emails, RSS feeds, blogs and novels while they multi-task in other forms of activities like relaxing, commute or exercise. Students will be involved in essential skills development like proofreading, learning a new language, and for entertainment. These open source programs have the capability of speaking multiple languages (English, Spanish, French, German, ...) with both male and female voices using the world's best text to speech (TTS) synthesis technologies.

For instance, the geography teacher will never need another pull-down map, since the internet can access real-time satellite pictures from across the globe through another type of open source software entitled Google Earth. Through Google Earth students can learn how to create narratives, and embed video hyperlinks within a place mark window as well as create a virtual trip. Additionally students can active participant in learning how to navigate, measure, search, set layers, create scripts with hyperlinks, save a tour as a reference file, resize overlays with links, and embed files into a presentation.

All teachers will have the tools necessary to develop online collaborative learning units to promote improved student learning. Whatever the need, Web 2.0 learning provides a plethora of new teaching opportunities for educators: multi-media presentations, computers, telecommunication resources, and web-based lessons and units. The student skills needed in today’s virtual learning classroom are the very same skills students need in order to access, manage, apply, and evaluate the ever-growing magnitude of information in today’s world. Schools that are not presently tapping into these resources soon will find themselves left behind in the quest to improve the learning curve.  

In order for schools to reach their vision for implementing school-based, technology learning programs, education stakeholders must be empowered to design the pathways whereby they travel purposely from the present into the future. In many school organizations, intoxicating rhetoric about visions and noble intentions usually abounds, but without a strategy for assessing real-time information, nothing will be realized. Achieving success will require more than rhetoric; it will require the capacity to see through the portals of information and find a focus, a compelling image of a desired state of affairs - the kind of image that meets the needs of individual learners and induces a commitment to their education.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Instructional Leader

Learning to become an instructional leader is a complex, multidimensional task. If principals believe that growth in student learning is the primary goal of schooling, then it is a task worth learning. In today's rapidly changing world that means becoming a leader of leaders by learning and working with teachers, students, and parents to improve instructional quality. Goal setting and problem solving become site-based, collective collaborative activities. The leadership of the principal is pivotal in ensuring that the process is informed of all school issues, especially those that relate to student instruction.

There are three major areas where learning is required if a principal is to become an instructional leader: (1) a knowledge base, (2) task understandings, and (3) appropriate skills. The knowledge base includes the research on effective schools and teaching, on instructional administration, and familiarity with the processes of change. Also, one should understand educational philosophies and beliefs and, ultimately, be able to determine the strengths and weaknesses of one's own philosophy. Instructional leadership tasks relate to the knowledge base and are varied. They include supervision and evaluation of instruction, staff development activities, curriculum development knowledge and activities, group development knowledge and activities, action research, development of a positive school climate, and the creation of links between school and community.

To carry out these tasks, the principal must possess critical interpersonal, time management, and technical skills. Interpersonal skills include those of communication, motivation, decision making, problem solving, and conflict management. Time management skills include ways to approach short- and long-term goal setting, including its related planning and assessment. Technical skills include instructional observation (to provide feedback to teachers) and research and evaluation for needed projects. 

If a principal possesses this background, he or she will likely become an effective leader of leaders-sharing, facilitating, and guiding decisions about instructional improvement for the betterment of children's education. Instructional improvement is an important goal, a goal worth seeking, and a goal, when implemented, that allows both students and teachers to control their own destiny in making a more meaningful learning environment.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Question Four

4. Finally, what might be some of the implications for leadership at your particular level to solve this problem? What might you, as a leader or group of leaders, have to do differently?