Comment to eschool news article: Maine laptop program offers lessons in ed-tech implementation

Please go to for a very interesting article on the progress of the 1:1 implementation in the state of Maine.  One of my colleagues pointed the article out to me and I was compelled to respond.

My response as I commented at the site is:

This is an interesting take on the progress of the Maine project, of which I have followed now for several years. As an International school leader in Shanghai, China we watched the early years of the implementation in Maine as we prepared for our roll out of 1:1 which occurred in 2008. I agree with Mr. Mao when he states that success needs to be clearly defined, and I would like to refer your readers to a very interesting journal article that summarizes the critiques of 1:1 programs.

The article titled “The End of Techno-Critique: The Naked Truth about 1:1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change by Mark Weston and Alan Bain in the Journal of Technology, Learning Assessment ( lays out 6 keys to realizing the benefits of 1:1– or as they refer to it, “cognitive tools”.

They are:
1. An explicit set of simple rules that define what the community believes.

2. Systematic and deliberate process for embedding the rules into the “big ideas, values, aspirations and commitments in day-to-day actions and processes. They note that by embedding these into the design of the work done at a school the results yield a big picture result.

3. ALL members of the school community are fully engaged in sustaining the design. Read COLLABORATION here!

4. The design creates a clear pathway of feedback from all members in “real-time”- all of the time. As we all know feedback, when accurate and consistent begets real change.

5. The feedback and interplay of the rules, the design,and the collaboration make it possible for the school to explicitly develop a framework that will define further practice. This “schema” will require the school to work holistically instead of with individuals repeating the same activities in isolation over and over again.

6. Guided by the schema, the community begins to DEMAND systemic and ubiquitous use of technology as opposed to the isolated and sporadic use that so typical in early adoptions.

Weston and Bain note that “In a self-organized school, if the community members want it, all students can have a differentiated learning experience that produces measurable, substantial academic social effects”. When the above mentioned 6 components are put in place the community will demand such change and each will bring their unique skills and talents to the table creating an atmosphere where teaching, learning, creating and communicating are the norm and the line between those activities and “technology” are blurred.

This certainly is a different result from what many of us thought we were after when we began our 1:1 programs, but one cannot argue that the effects are positive and will create great amounts of positive energy for teaching and learning in our classrooms.

The article is certainly worth the read and reinforces what is happening in Maine and also at our school.

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Book Review: Mind Set! By John Naisbitt

Mind Set!“Most change is not in what we do, but how we do it. Within all the hype, the more we are able to differentiate between constants and change the more effectively we will be able to react to new markets and profit from change” states John Naisbitt early in his book Mind Set! (p. 5). Mr. Naisbitt has had a unique and diverse career that spanned work in the corporate setting, within the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, as a entrepreneur and most recently he has regularly worked as a speaker and visiting professor. He may be best known as the author of the New York Times best seller Megatrends.

The first part of the book sets the foundation through which Naisbitt outlines a set of eleven mind sets that can help the futurists among us understand, perceive and react to the events in our future. He then puts his futurist experience to work describing the future that he sees developing, applying along the way the mind sets he set forth in part one of the book. Part two of the book, titled “Pictures of the Future” focus on changes set to take place in culture, economics, China and Europe. He closes with a very engaging summary chapter focusing on what he describes at the “evolutionary era”. Each chapter of the book is summarized with direct application of the mindsets listed in part one.

The book builds upon much of the work done in Megatrends with down to earth specific anecdotes and examples that lay the groundwork for an understanding of the issues surrounding globalization, cultural fads and trends, and the role of Mainland China and the European Union in global economics and politics. No surprise to me was China’s role as an expanding world economic leader. China has certainly developed over the past several decades as the manufacturing center for the world. With a large labor surplus, and an eager and increasingly open government approach to outside investment, the manufacturing diversification taking place within the country seems unstoppable. In the context of the global economic picture the Chinese had a long ways to catch up at the time of the writing of this book. The problem being that clearly the Chinese themselves may not have a clear idea of how big their economy really is nor how fast it is expanding. The author notes a variety of figures that vary from source to source. This describes China in a nutshell, as the outside view of China, or as Naisbitt refers to it, “the periphery”, is indeed the driving force of this nation.

Just as China is expanding, Europe’s role as a world economic and political leader of some power will be diminishing over time. While this again is no surprise, the manner in which this argument is framed by Naisbitt is unique and brings clarity to the idea that certain mindsets can set people, businesses, governments, economies and cultures free to change and expand. In the case of Europe it is not a singular mindset, but as he puts it, 25 different mindsets that will drive changes, or the lack of change and progress in the European Union. The author predicts that Europe is on track to be just a “historic theme part of well off American’s and Asians” (p. 213).

This stinging summary along with a unique overview of the current state of our increasing visual oriented culture and globalized economy makes this book an engaging and unique read, allowing the reader to put together a picture of a world that is both changing and so many ways doing the same things but in different ways.

Naisbitt, J. (2006). Mind Set! New York, New York, USA: Harper Collins.


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Dispatch from the Road: Back in the Saddle Again….

Gene Autry sang it so well…. and yes… I am back in the saddle again as well. 47 years old, back in graduate school. This last 4 days have been the first of only a few face to face sessions in my journey to a Doctorate in Education.

My post secondary education started slowly (as I do sometimes– mostly in the morning). First a community college and then a small public college nestled in the midst of the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon. Remoteness is what that little town of LaGrande seems to me now living in this metropolis of Shanghai. From 15 thousand to 25 million in a journey of 25 years since I completed that degree and creeping up on 30 years since I graduated from high school.

Now I am back in school after a hiatus of 10 years. This past weekend we were re-taught how to play the school game. We learned about formatting. We learned about citing sources. We learned that working in teams. We learned that task completion in a timely manner will be counted and finishing on time means something. There was no discussion. There was no arguing. There was only yes. If you don’t you fail.

I am operating on the assumption that this blog will serve me well through this process.  Content creation will be certainly be ramped up, and a few more reasons to reflect on my learning processes will emerge as well.  I would hope I might have some new ideas to share as well.

Back in the saddle again.

Wish me luck.



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What Administrators Need? I Need Teachers Who Think like Distance Runners

One of my administrative colleagues at my school here in Shanghai is a marathon runner.

I am not.

The mere thought of running for more than my personal requirement of 30 minutes three times a week makes me want to loose more than just a few pounds (if you know what I mean!).

He on the other hand finds great joy in the planning for a marathon. The event itself is a test of a solid training plan and commitment to a goal.

His words to me still ring in my ears; “Andy, marathons are one of the very few things in this world that you cannot fake. If you don’t plan, commit and train, you throw up in front of the world”.


That is not something I want to do for sure!

I need teachers to take on the same mindset and apply it to their teaching and their careers. It comes down to planning, stretching for strength, minding the pace, working as a team member, and listening to a trusted coach.

I am not talking about lesson planning here. I am talking about life planning.

Like a long distance runner preparing for a race I expect a teacher to plan their career in the same way. I need teachers who can see past the next vacation or school year and consider what they need to do continue to improve, to learn and to reach their ultimate potential throughout the entirety of their career. As new employees come to our school we have a long conversation within the interview process about career goals. Professional stagnation is not an alternative at our school. We ask that people take their goals seriously. We ask that they stay professionally current and focused on goals that can be supported not only by the teacher but also by the organization.

Like a race, a career can only go two ways, forward or backward. There is no standing still. Without some plan, a career and thus teaching skill goes backward.

Stretch for Strength
Like a runner, a good stretch outside of one’s own comfort zone keeps a teacher professionally limber. We all know the person who strives to stay in their comfort zone, They never take risks. Their constant focus is to remain in the middle part of the pack (or the back) but not stand out in last pace. Mediocrity is their norm.

Instead, a quality professional, and great long distance runner knows that they must stretch themselves. Before the race (or the work) they prepare with warm-ups, stretches and deliberate steps. Teachers take care of their professional health by continuation of their learning. They take on new things, learn new skills, and assume new responsibilities. Teachers I want stretch themselves in new areas and new ways. A few years back I was asked to serve on a committee studying instrumental music in our elementary schools. I don’t play an instrument and have no background in music, yet I eagerly accepted the appointment, learned as much as I could about the subject and I believe I learned and contributed to the committee simultaneously. It made me a better principal too!

Mind the Pace
I need teachers to take care of themselves and find balance in their lives. Like a marathon runner, we have to realize that we cannot win the race in the first months of school or even the first years of our career. We must take on things carefully, with intention and with understanding that a stressed and overwhelmed teacher cannot be a good instructor or leader. In those times when the hill is in front of the runner or the inevitable “wall” is hit, a runner will become even more deliberate with their steps, carefully plodding through till the hill is gone or the wall is diminished. The runner will recognize that there may be some discomfort,- even pain- but it will not last forever and such events should not stand in front of our goals. Teachers I want to work with will also power through challenges or hills taking care of themselves and recognizing that the end will be justified by challenges they face as long as their pace is managed.

Working as a team member
Running, like teaching, is a team sport embedded in an individual activity. Administrators for years have been asking teachers to collaborate and then assigning them to separate classrooms, buildings and schedules. As much as we all hate it, there are realities we have to deal with in the daily operations of a school, but with all that being said, I still want to make sure that the teachers I work with see themselves as part of a larger team and they know that their roles will vary and depend on the topic, timing and situation. Teachers, like long distance runners must see themselves as members of a team. Some runners will be the rabbits; running ahead with a quick pace hoping to lead the way. Others will be the pacer; keeping the team at a decent speed, and minding the time. Yet another may be a leader, guiding and facilitating a good race result. These roles are fluid and changed frequently through a race, just like I would expect my teachers to take on different roles in a school setting.

Listening to a Trusted Coach
I grew up in Oregon. The name Prefontaine was burned into our brains as children there, as our bad boy running star from Coos Bay and the University of Oregon gained great status as he won race after race and whose life came tragically to an early end. Pre was a great talent, with amazing heart and a competitive edge. Most students of the sport would tell you that Pre would not have been a great runner without the guidance of Bill Bowerman. Bowerman recruited and guided this amazing talent, helping him become a world class runner. Prefontaine learned to listen to this coach, and was open to listening to and learning from him. I want teachers who seek mentors and is willing to learn from them. A mentor, by the way, is not necessarily an administrator. By no means is a mentor necessarily an older, wiser colleague or college professor. A mentor is someone who can guide learning and provide advice and support. These mentors come to us in many ways, but at the end of the day, they are there to make sure you make it to the end of the race with success and satisfaction. The teachers I want to work with seek out this deeper level of collaboration and gain great knowledge from that relationship.

Teaching, like long distance running cannot be faked. Oh sure, one can look like a long distance runner for a few minutes on a treadmill. 30 minutes three times a week can build running muscles and a guy can even peel off a few pounds, but put that same runner on a track or in a race and by the midpoint that runner (and thus that teacher) will lose their edge and it is SO OBVIOUS that they cannot continue. Sadly, I believe many schools allow the teacher who is not conditioned to continue in their work- allowing mediocre education to continue instead of allowing them to step off the track and get back into professional shape.

I need teachers who plan their professional track, stretch themselves for professional strength, mind their pace of their work and career and listen to a trusted mentor.

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Taking on the New Mindset List for 2010

This article was published in the September 9, 2010 edition of The Eagle.

Students continue to teach me and despite my role now working primarily with the teachers and administrators at SAS, I still slide out into the hallways and classrooms to interface with the students a couple of times a week and it is a rare day when I don’t hear, see or do something new and interesting during those times.Recently I was drawn to the annual report published by Beloit College called “The Mindset List.” Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released a list of topics and events that provide a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college that particular fall. The creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities, Tom McBride, and former Public Affairs Director, Ron Nief, it was originally created as a reminder to faculty at Beloit to be aware of dated references, but it quickly became a catalog of the rapidly changing worldview of each new generation. This list, of course can be applied to our students as well, and in my opinion crosses national and cultural divides to give us all some perspective on what we as adults can learn from the students- our children.

I won’t reproduce the entire list here, but I have picked a few interesting markers that our children’s worldview is different from the generations before them. For example, No. 7—“Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo” for our students. Noting the number of students in Starbucks as I stop for my traditional coffee as I arrive at the Puxi campus during my trips over to west side of the city, I suspect this lingo has firmly arrived in Shanghai, as it has in my hometown of Portland, Oregon.

Our students have grown up in a world in which DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed (No. 20) while Czechoslovakia has never existed (No. 32). No. 3 which urges America’s youth to “Go West, Young College Grad” has always implied “and don’t stop until you get to Asia … and learn Chinese along the way!” No. 41: For our kids, “American companies have always done business in Vietnam.”

Finally on the health and wellness front No. 33 reminds us that “Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen” for these students.

Yes, it does seem the world has truly changed while we, the adults, have been minding our own business with our jobs and careers. We have been working, toiling and making money for our families and that occasional vacation and trip to an exotic place on the globe or just around the corner. The point of all this is that the kids in our classroom now are in some small part reminding me that the world, while so different is still very much the same. We have children who still need some reminders on the important perspectives of life and the unique challenges that we as adults and leaders of the world have created for them to learn through and with. Guidance, thoughtful engagement and critical thinking are not just alternative learning activities for the students of today. It is now a critical life long set of skills that will continue to morph and change.

Nief and McBride remind us that this generation of learners has always been “digital” and has always had cell phones to tell them the time; thus there is no need for a wristwatch. The America they know is one of soaring trade and budget deficits; Russia has presumably never aimed nukes at the United States and China has always posed an economic threat. The authors of the list remind us that our kids “come to school armed with Smartphones, on which making a phone call will be only one of many, many functions they will perform. They have been awash with a computerized technology that will not distinguish information and knowledge.” Thus, the authors urge that it will be up to their professors or teachers to help them.

One of the concerns brought up by some people about the technology initiatives that SAS has moved forward in recent years is that we give the kids too much access. I contend that when teaching a generation of students who are accustomed to instant access, learning to deal with this massive amount of information will be required course content; and that this generation of students will (in the words of Nief and McBride) “need to acquire the patience of scholarship.”

Our students will need to learn that on-line resources are just one place to learn. They will need to be taught (as they have for generations) that books and journals and magazines and newspapers will forever be rich sources of academic content. To ignore the paper-based resources is just as foolish and misguided as it is to ignore the digital resources. This generation of students will need to be taught that only the best and brightest of scholars use a balance of content for a balance of learning, and like the rest of their lives, a digital interface is no replacement for human contact and “real” human relationships and the application of innovative, creative collaboration.

Back in 1986, I worked very hard to get to know the 32 fifth graders in my first teaching job. In 2010, I see our teachers working very hard to get to know their students as well, using technology to enhance learning and communications; requiring a balanced approach to research, communications, collaboration; and thinking critically to gain that deep level of engagement in every lesson, every day.

If you are interested in the full Beloit list you can find it at:

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Leadership Style? Good Question!

Lately I have been asked more than once the million dollar question: What is your leadership style?

I find the question a bit loaded.

It is loaded with possibilities, opportunities and HUGE potholes.

The answer can be simple or complex.

My advice to those who are asked the question is to stage your answer carefully and place it in the context of your passion for learning and for leading.

For me, leadership is about connecting at a human level to the people that you are leading. Being seen as available, open to new ideas and a flexible thinker willing to consider alternatives while keeping your eye on the ultimate goal.  Leaders must model resiliency. Leaders must have a vision for the future, but must be willing to creatively and pragmatically adjust and then deliver “the goods” for the organization.  In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin talks about “shipping” being the act of meeting a deadline and/or a set of expectations. Leaders in the educational context “ship” the completed task or the “art” of educational wizardry. They “ship” the implementation of a program. They “ship” the staffing model to the students.  Shipping, in educational terms, means bringing the organization to the next step or the next level.

In thinking about my leadership style and the style of those are leaders around me has forced me to consider my way of thinking and acting on the opportunities and challenges that face me in my work. Peter Drucker in his book about effective executives (strong leaders as I see them) has guided my thinking on this by helping me segment my actions into three catagories.

The first action is “data gathering”.
This always gets the real numbers people excited as they see an opportunity to sharpen the pencils or get the spreadsheet program revved up.  In my case this activity does not necessarily mean building a gant chart or a data table, but instead asking the important questions, becoming familiar with the issues and getting to know the people.  After it is all said and done, this data gathering process gives me more information and access to the people in the organization. This is information and access that I need to move ideas forward or to address opportunities and challenges. In this process I ask myself after each conversation, 1)“What needs to be done?” and 2)“What is right for the school?”

In the second segment of decision making I look for ways to convert this information into actions.
I believe this is where many leaders become hamstrung.  It is the inability of the individual to take the next “informed” steps that make them ineffective leaders.  Drucker suggests that effective “executives”…

  • develop action plans
  • take responsibility for decisions
  • take responsibility for communicating and
  • focus on opportunities rather than on problems.

Finally, the third segemnet of my decision making process closes the deal to full implementation.
Ultimately, the strongest, most effective leaders ensured that the whole of the organization felt responsible and accountable to a decision, a vision or a direction.  I am sure you can quickly recall where this has and has not happened in your school, and what the results were on both accounts.  Effective leaders create this dynamic by running and facilitating (two different things) productive, insightful and interactive meetings. Meetings where participants gained insight, had input and were able to buy into a decision for the good of the organization.  Effective leaders acted in thought, word and deed with the “we” in mind, instead the word “I”.  There is no room for the lone individual acting for only himself.  Success is built on the success of the whole organization and is only as strong as its weakest part, thus “we” thinking is imperative for strong leadership.

Taken one by one, each segment of this construct would mean a lot to a school.

Taken as a whole would means that the organization will move forward and will make difference in the lives of the children and adults who work and learn in our schools.

One useful tool for looking at your own leadership style is the Leadership Resilience inventory from The Resilience Initiative. This seventy-three line inventory tool from the University of Alabama-Birmingham allows the survey taker to…

“reflect on your own leadership behavior in the face of adversity. All of the items contain statements that most leaders would find desirable, but we want you to answer only in terms of what your leadership behavior is actually like.

I encourage you to try it and think about your own leadership style and your “resilience”.

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Anyway… Keeping sight of the Reasons We Come to Work

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Sometimes work gets tough.

We have tough days, tough hours, tough meetings and tough conversations.

It ain’t fun.

Nobody likes conflict and sometimes things happen that make you wonder if it is really worth getting up and putting on that nice Dolche and Gabana tie and pretty pinstripe suit to get insulted, slammed and put down.

Yes… sometimes that is exactly what happens and we all hate it.

A few years back I stumbled upon a book in an airport that caught my eye.  The book titled “Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments, Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World” soon caught my imagination and a bit of my heart.  The author Kent Keith outlines the 10 Paradoxical Commandments in a clear, easy to read document that made me really dig down and think about my work, my life and my approach to challenges. You can see the commandments at the bottom of this post.

But, this is not why I am writing tonight. Tonight I am writing about the real challenge we have in schools.  The real challenge is facing the facts that schools, private, public and charter face an identity crisis of sorts.  We are struggling like adolescent kids trying to figure out what we are and we have so many people telling us we should be this, that or the other.

The fact is though that we have a set of clients that don’t really care what we are. To them we are THEIR school.

We are required to deliver the best to them that we can offer and no matter what people say. What board members, politicians, other administrators do, we must do the best for those kids in the rooms waiting with hope and fear and excitement and boredom and interest and… (well you get the point)… we must do the best for them despite the issues.  No matter what happens they deserve the best education we can provide ANYWAY.

I want to thank my colleague Alan Knobloch for the inspiration to this blog post.  Today we were venting and complaining and he piped into the conversation and reminded us all that tomorrow the kids come back to school and they deserve the best education we can provide. It does not matter what the adults do or say or vote. They deserve the best anyway. Thanks Alan.

Now… introducing the The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent M. Keith.

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

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1:1- Resources, Teachers, Committed Leaders, Student Centered Approaches and PD!- It is Common Sense!

Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking at the lighting...

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I don’t often get a chance to quote Arnold Schwarzenegger but I will today. This from an article:

“How can kids compete in the global economy when the information the schools feed them is stale and is outdated and is old?

Then, while minding my own business at home on a lovely Saturday in Shanghai, one of the teachers at our school sent me this link to an article stating that 1:1 programs are only as good as their teachers. The article titled, “One to One computing programs only as effective as their teacher” by Meris Stansbury states that:

Not surprisingly, the researchers say the most important factor of all is the teaching practices of instructors—suggesting school laptop programs are only as effective as the teachers who apply them.

Let’s apply some common sense here:

1.  Students need up to date resources.  Not “stale” or “outdated” ones.
2.  Students need effective teachers with effective teaching practices.

A teacher writing on a blackboard.

Image via Wikipedia

Again, not surprisingly The authors of the Texas study conclude:

“Respondents at higher implementing schools reported that committed leaders, thorough planning, teacher buy-in, preliminary professional development for teachers, and a commitment to the transformation of student learning were keys to their successful implementation” of the state’s Technology Immersion Project.

Let’s add another layer of common sense:

1.  Students need up to date resources.  Not “stale” or “outdated” ones.
2.  Students need effective teachers with effective teaching practices.

Another educator listed in the same article states:

“In our 1-to-1 program … we put a big emphasis on project-based learning; otherwise, the laptop is no more than an expensive notepad. … Research needs to show the effects of this different style of teaching in terms of student engagement, motivation, and so-called 21st-century skills. The subject matters themselves don’t have as much room for improvement,”

Ok…once again,some common sense here:

1.  Students need up to date resources.  Not “stale” or “outdated” ones.
2.  Students need effective teachers with effective teaching practices.
4.  STUDENT CENTERED learning approaches.

Then they state in the article:

Given the importance of teachers in the success of school laptop initiatives, it’s no surprise that “teacher preparation through [ongoing professional development] was important for successful implementation,” write Bebell and O’Dwyer. “As 1-to-1 programs become more popular, the quality and depth of preparation that teachers receive for implementation will become a central predictor of program success.”

They go on to say:

“Buying laptops is the easiest part of the process, but too often school districts neglect such fundamental items as providing initial and ongoing professional development for the teachers and providing sufficient tech support,” Thompson said. “Taking a true TCO [total cost of ownership] approach would avoid many of the mistakes, as schools often do not have a good grasp of the real costs of starting and continuing a 1-to-1 program. And part of the TCO approach should be setting measurable program objectives and then doing formative and summative program evaluations, whose results are made known to everyone to provide a feedback loop in the continuous planning and re-planning that characterizes successful programs.”

I probably will have to stop here but… some more common sense:

1.  Students need up to date resources.  Not “stale” or “outdated” ones.
2.  Students need effective teachers with effective teaching practices.
4.  STUDENT CENTERED learning approaches.
5. ONGOING Professional Development!

Schools moving to a 1:1 program needs to read this article. It is a great summary of issues. I believe I have only scratched the surface.

In closing, I draw your attention to a quote from Tammy Stephens, CEO of the Stephens Group LLC, a private investment firm, is working on a dissertation that focuses on the evolution of transformational communication patterns in 1-to-1 computing environments. She has been evaluating a 1-to-1 program in the Milwaukee Public Schools for the past three years.

According to Stephens, changing teaching practices to incorporate 21st-century skills with laptops “is definitely an evolution, and it takes time for teacher practices to evolve.”

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Operating a Web 2.0 School in a Internet Blocked Country

Having worked in two schools in the past 9 years that are behind significant firewalls run by the government, I feel I have enough experience to write this blog post…. at least from the educational leadership side of the conversation.  In surveying the countries around the world that filter and block the internet, Saudia Arabia and my current location here in Shanghai are near the top.  In Saudi it was a bit easier to operate as we were able to get some satellite systems put in place to speed our upload and download speeds, and provide our students with access to the information systems that were blocked. A well placed dish behind the A/C systems allowed us just the right amount of access for our little school. There is a different access issue in my current country.  But, no matter where you are and what the mission and vision of your school is, there is ways to give your students access to Web 2.0 tools that are now present on the read/write web.  Now that g0-0g-le has left the country of my residence, I am getting more and more questions about how we run our student services.

To me it is like playing on the beach with all of that sand, or in your own sandbox. The sandbox, while a bit confined, allows you to build castles, dig holes and feel the grit in your hands just like you do at the beach. That sand is just like that at the beach and people on the outside of the box can reach in and touch the sand too, but whatever is inside that sandbox cannot be blocked by those problematic firewalls. When I have spoken to my community about dealing with the firewall and access issues, I always say, “We are just going to build our own virtual web 2.0 sandbox and give our kids access to similar tools, and access to a global audience.

Thus we have done or are in the process of doing the the following:

  • Student email: We established our own domain name which allows us to monitor, administer and maintain a email webpresence. The key is the domain name which, if monitored carefully will not be a problem for the firewall.
  • A blog installation at a local level.  We currently use WordPressMU and have found great success with the installation. Our school built this from the beginning and now has hundreds of students and teachers blogging as a part of the educational process.
  • Web publishing space for teachers and students will soon be the norm. As a Mac school, the students and teachers will begin using iWeb to create their own sites.  It is easy, fast and allows for a global audience.
  • In place of Flickr and YouTube we have established our own installation to serve and share our own videos and photos. This customize installation was based on some opensource software.  The key here is having strong technical support.
  • Moodle– by serving this installation on-site with strong technical and educational support has helped launch many classroom programs toward a blended learning environment.
  • Social networking alternatives such as Elgg can provide schools with that all important methodology that engage students in an online social environment.
  • Up next—our own wiki installation.  There a many alternatives out there, but this is something that you will likely want to spend somemoney on to make work well.
  • Locally hosted academic databases are the norm, not the exception. This gives the student access to online data but without the challenge of slow or filtered access.
  • Locally hosted student information systems and parent communications systems, we use PowerSchool, but there are many alternatives. With the exception of our school’s webpage, everything is hosted locally so we don’t deal with the issues of access and internet reliability. If there is a problem, generally we have only ourselves to blame.
  • Calendar servers and internal email systems with more than ample storage. Again, strong technical support is important, but even more important is a vision based committment to providing resources to the professionals in the school.
  • Off-site backup and mirroring setup. This seems so natural and important, but interestingly enough this sort of setup is not considered essential.

The key to the list above is targeted staff development with an adopted set of tools. With a variety of tools like you see above, it is about choices, continual support and technical expertise. Living in a firewalled country is a challenge, but I also feel like our students are getting a great educational experience that allows them to learn the skills of web use and practice digital citizenship in our sandbox of tools without the intervention of a government entity.

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Appreciating the Road Ahead instead of the Road Behind

I finally got around to reading Scott McCleod’s blog post “Notes from India – I’m not sure you appreciate…” which he wrote on the 18th of March. As an non-international educator, poor Scott sometimes gets the usual push back from my colleagues and peers working in international schools around the world. His time at the American School of Bombay, it seems, is no different that most.  Many of the international school educators think we are ahead of the stateside schools or national schools from where we come from, and our friend and colleague Scott points out in his own way that it is really not about being ahead of the pack, but instead it is about where you are going. In his blog post he paraphrases his statement in his 3 minute wrap up presentation:

One of the participants in my morning session said that I didn’t appreciate how far along you all are and that you are way above average when it comes to integrating technology into your instruction. And yet, from my conversations with many of you over the past few days, it’s very clear to me that there still are many things you’re not doing. For example, most of you have yet to put a computer in every kid’s hands; that’s why you’re here at this 1:1 conference. Most of you have yet to incorporate online courses into your curricula in any kind of substantive way. Few of you are teaching students to be empowered – not just responsible – digital citizens in our new information landscape. Few of you have a staff full of educators that are modeling active participation in that landscape. As far as I can tell, none of you has robust student assessments at every grade level that target higher-level, more cognitively-complex thinking and doing and being. None of you has moved to a truly personalized learning environment for every student, one in which students’ progress is facilitated and perhaps assessed by technology and is organized around student competence and completion rather than age and grade level. So some of you are sitting there in the audience feeling pretty good about yourselves. And you should. You’re blessed with wonderful financial resources, fantastic facilities, and amazing faculty. But for those of you who think I don’t appreciate how far along you are, all I can say is that I’m not sure you appreciate how far you still have to go.

Good, strong, progressive leadership requires that we keep our eye ahead, with our mind filled with the lessons of the past.  To pause, revel or rest on our successes will send a clear message to our communities that there is an end to this educational journey, and once arrived, the work will be done. Those of you will a full ounce of common sense will know at a gut level that there is no end, only another step to further challenge ourselves and our students to learn, grow and engage in an ever changing landscape for learning.Thanks Scott for holding us accountable and providing us some thinking points for our road ahead. Here is Scott’s TedxASB speech. A good one if you ask me!

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