If you’re going to do this 21st century thing . . .

Here’s my advice.

Get your leadership on board with the same vision of what this looks like. That doesn’t mean “Yeah, P21 sounds good.” or “I like ISTE’s version.” If your administration is going to push this as something that needs to be done, they actually have to know what they’re talking about in detail. General comments about doing things 21st century style won’t cut it. The vision has to come from the top and it has to be focused on your county/school. Even if you could just apply some framework out of the box you’d lose quite a lot of value.

So now you’ve got your vision.

You’re going need to have some way to assess where you are now, otherwise there’s no way to see if you’re getting better or where you need to focus specifically. If you really think about you can make a tool that will perform a variety of functions with only minor alterations. This is a good idea for all kinds of reasons- for instance you won’t have to spend enormous amounts of time making brand new tools all the time and the commonalities will make the data more comparable and consistent. Think about observations, quick walk throughs . . .

Now you’re going to need to norm the observation tool. If not, you might as well not make one at all. As a group, each leadership member has to be able to individually look at a variety of lessons and agree on the key components that make the lesson 21st century as well as how those components rate using the tool. This is actually a really powerful and useful conversation. It’s also a great way to really test your tool before releasing it into the wild. I found it useful to hand pick lessons that illustrate issues that came up during the design of the tool. Have some best practice to evaluate but make sure you put in some examples that are contentious and that people will argue about. You might not have a lot of video lying around for people to analyze so you might browse

You are also going to want to think hard about how you’re going to deliver this to your staff. You probably want a little sell on this, not a “Did You Know?” try to find, or make, something better and more focused on why teachers would want to change. I’d recommend doing a similar norming exercise. Get people talking and discussing what this is, how the tool works etc.

A few questions that came up for us.

  • Is technology a necessary component?1
  • What is the difference between innovation and creativity?2
  • How do you assess creativity/innovation?3

There’s a lot more to do but that’s not a bad start. Things get interesting when you’re assessing the data and using it to determine professional development and then how you start publicizing best practice.


1 It seems strange but you’ll see great lessons that have all the thinking involved but don’t use any technology. Does that matter to your group? Maybe it doesn’t but it’s best to figure this stuff out.

2 We had a rough time even defining innovation.

3 Is it relative to the individual? Is it by the class average? I still don’t know how you look at this except by individuals. Not that I really care because I don’t think that much of the grading aspect of things but grading always comes up.

Comments on this post

  1. Mike said on April 13, 2010 at 9:54 am

    Gold, Jerry, Gold!

    Seriously, thanks for sharing this. The HE context is different in terms of the levers available, but seeng stuff like this helps me think our own situation through.

    The big difference, of course, is in HE we have no way to see into classrooms and find out what is going on. So it’s difficult to get a sense of where we are, even in aggregate. On top of that, it’s unclear through what mechanisms an administration might dictate or even encourage these practices. I’m not even talking incentives, but even just verbal support from administration.

    Still — I think your point about defining terms at the outset and building understanding around those terms is spot on. If you don’t do that, the term just becomes a sponge for what people want to do, or worse, a pot of money for people willing to talk in those terms. And ultimately, that makes no one happy, because everyone can see it’s just a layer of jargon on top of what you already had.

    This sort of problem is not specific to education, but is a general problem organizations face — if things are not clearly defined, the money, effort, and will ends up going to extant but unrelated initiatives.

  2. Tom said on April 16, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    Mike-

    When I was at UR, I tried to push for us looking at SACS accreditation and using it as a way to get into more classrooms but no one seemed interested in that idea. It seems like it’s a natural way to get into some interesting conversations.

    I know culturally that no one in HE ever goes into another person’s classroom but it seems like if it’s voluntary you could set up some peer classroom observations even if it’s cross subject. Just having people watch other people teach is powerful. Even watching videos that random professors put online would have value if it gets people talking and reflecting.

    Another thing I never understood was the reluctance of HE administration to say what good teaching is. HE is the home of research. It seems like it’d be the place to say “Research says the following on good teaching practices. . . ” I’m not even saying they have to do try to make people follow the practices. I can’t see that infringing on academic freedom. But I also won’t hold my breath waiting for someone to do it.

    It seems to me as competition increases and marketing has to ratchet up to bring in students, Universities will have to pay more and more attention to what is going on in their classrooms. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.

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