Friday, August 2, 2013

Creativity, Leadership and Deschooling 21st Century Education

In any reading which one undertakes, there are certain understandings or beliefs that create the foundation for the interpretation of what it is on a page.  As a librarian, this is fascinating because different editions of books have a particular slant dependent upon the editors and the social beliefs of the time published.  Thus, the marriage of beliefs of an individual at different times in which they are writing and the bias with which one reads a paper, both play a part in the analysis of what is stated.  In reading two works by the same author, I took away very different messages, although the topic area was similar.

In Creativity, Leadership and a Challenge for East Asian Education, Roger Shouse argues that creativity should be embraced and leadership, whether formal or informal, should encourage creative measures in expanding the learning of students.  He encourages teachers’ notions that it is not only important to study the great works of leaders and innovators, but wants students to become these things within their classroom.  In order to do this, leadership must embrace the notion of creativity, allow it to happen in the classroom, and model it themselves to incite change within the school environment.

In opposition to this, Shouse calls for a complete dismantling of schools in their current state in Deschooling Twenty-first Century Education arguing that the public school should not be used as the band aid to fix societal and economic problems through a controlled and malleable environment.   Instead, he calls for a clear observation of what it means to learn and ways a society can make this experience available to individuals.  By decentralizing control of education, students and parents will be given a much broader educational plate from which to choose.  Schools will no longer exist to indoctrinate youth into the socially acceptable understandings that are dictated by a central elite,  but instead will be able to tailor their learning to interest and desires that drive them.

Because politics and money are involved with schooling, there will ever be a complete divorce of education from centralized control.  The easiest metric by which to gauge successful implementation of “school” is through the use of statistics to measure student learning.  This tool is then used to judge the quality of an education, and tied to money and power.  The adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) shows this by offering a perceived fix on the problem of education in the United States, and the tying of money to the adoption of the standards.

However, if one takes the two offerings from Shouse, and adds them to understanding that there will always be central control over schools, there is a hope for reform that can strengthen the learning environment for students.  Creativity holds the key to making this happen, and deschooling offers the roadmap on how to do it.  If teachers use CCSS not as end point, but the jumping off point for learning, the deschooling model can begin to develop.  By teaching past the test, as opposed to the test, teachers can create a constructivist learning environment with a CCSS scaffold.  By loosening the physical constraints, such as seat time in class, physical attendance, and teacher-led instruction, leaders within a building can allow teachers the room for creativity needed to turn schooling into learning.  Pathways to graduation, including badges and internships, will engage students, and true dedication to music, theater, physical activity and the arts will allow student to learn not only what they need to live, but also the reasons why they should want to live.  This will develop passion in both the learner and teacher, as educators become student’s guides in their learning.

Although Shouse offers a key and guide to how schools can move beyond schooling to offering learning opportunities, it will ultimately fall on the shoulders of leadership to make this happen within buildings.  A willingness to let go of traditional notions of what school should look like and embrace new concepts and ideas that truly prepare students for their life after school will be the key to success.  Even with federally mandated curriculum, schools will have the ability to make these changes.  As leaders embrace learning models that expand student choice, students will engage in their learning, and the shape of that learning will be more organic, in direct contrast to the prepackaged education program that currently dominate the educational landscape.

In conclusion, the ideas of Shouse and the current push for centralized control of curriculum can work in tandem to create a learning environment that truly engages students.  If leaders embrace the creative idea that education is messy, failure is a step in success and that learning no longer resembles what was seen in 1950, true progress can be made toward deschooling twenty-first century education.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Oh Captain, My Captain - Mentoring a Leader

With fourteen years of experience, I am a very confident librarian. I understand my role; I have a vision and am prepared for any challenge with which I am met. Perhaps that is why I've decided to enter leadership - I need a new challenge. There is something about change which excites me, and requires that I strive to achieve beyond what I know to grow past who I am today. It is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night, and makes me yearn to learn more each day.

How does one become a leader?

Schooling is obviously important. It offers the foundation upon which to base your learning; however the most valuable experience that I have had while studying to become an administrator is working with a mentor.

How do you find a mentor?

In some cases, the mentor finds you. I've worked with not one, but many individuals who have shaped my understanding of what it means to be a leader. My first true mentor found me. He saw in me the ability to be a leader, and took his time cultivating that talent - letting me gain experience while he molded my understanding of what it meant to lead others. He allowed me to find success in a safe setting while sculpting and building my confidence. Then, he left to follow his own dreams… The year I spent in flux after he left taught me two important things:

1. The only given in a mentor/mentee relationship is that it must end for the mentee to reach full potential

2. You must develop an understanding of your own needs to cultivate a group of mentors to shape and influence your growth into a leader

It was in losing my first mentor to his own need for growth that I understood what I needed to do in order to develop my own path into leadership. There are three distinct mentors you must find and relationships you must cultivate in order to continue your growth into leadership:

1. The inspiration - this mentor has a vision that reaches beyond that which anyone with whom you work is doing. You can find these thought leaders through professional organizations such as ASCD, in the current published literature working for institutions of higher education or, as I have, through social networking using resources such as Twitter to follow the most current conversations in your interest area. This mentor will excite your mind and inspire you. It will be this mentor who gets you through the long nights when you have too much work to do, but must persist. This mentor is your inspiration... and can sometimes be embodied in the ideals of several individuals culled together to create your vision of leadership.

2. The perspiration - this mentor is someone who knows how to take care of business. You can often find this person by looking within your own institutions. This individual takes care of business each day, and makes the building (in the case of a principal) run smoothly. Most likely this individual is experienced and can offer sage advice on how to get the job done well. Think of this person as a master, teaching you the craft of being in leadership. S/he is the one who knows how things run, and will help you master the task of being effective, efficient and well respected.

3. The actualization - this last mentor is highly elusive, but a prize when found. This individual takes both the inspiration and perspiration and makes them work within a school setting. In this case, you must look to practitioners who mirror the ideals of the inspirational mentor and have the experience at integration like the master mentor who represents perspiration. When you find this individual you will know because the connection between you will feel symbiotic - not so much in the need to survive, but more so in the way you exchange thoughts and ideas. It will be as though this person is an extension of your thoughts; however s/he possesses the experiences which you are lacking, and is able to bring those two things together as a leader. It is through this leader that you will be able to envision yourself in leadership, and grow into the leader you are destined to become.

To become a leader, you must understand where you need to grow. By finding individuals to fill the mentor roles described above, you can develop into the type of leader you wish to become. Oh Captain, My Captain - Thank you for helping me develop into the leader I was meant to be.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Leader in Educating Every Child

Born in 1880, Helen Keller was a typical child.  At the age of 18 months, however, she caught a high fever that caused her to lose her sight and hearing.  Frustrated by her inability to communicate, she was often left to tantrums and wild behavior.  Her parents looked for answers and help, and through different channels were introduced to Anne Sullivan, a newly graduated teacher.  The famous breakthrough, where Anne helps her young (6 years old) student understand the connection between the cold fluid pouring from the well spout and the signed letters for "W-A-T-E-R" turned on the light for this intelligent child.  Helen would go on to graduate Radcliffe College, become a political and social activist, write several books, champion the rights of individuals and serve as an inspiration to all who need to overcome adversity in order to learn.  She would credit the talent of an amazing woman in her life for being able to do this - her teacher, Anne Sullivan.

As I read about the history of education, and how individuals who are different, whether by social/economic status, intelligence, culture, language, physical attributes or race have been taught in the past, I am proud to be a teacher living in 2012.  As I study to become an administrator, I look to formulate an understanding of the best way to serve society by creating a citizenship who are taught to the best of their abilities in the environment that most includes and values the contributions of everyone.  I am not shocked that it has taken many years to cement the right of all individuals to be educated in the United States, in fact, as the wife of a school psychologist, I understand very well what labels mean, how the school and parents work together (sometimes opposing each other) in the best interest of children,  and how teachers sometimes feel overwhelmed by the continuing demands placed on them to diversity their curriculum and teach each student in a way that best meets his/her needs.  This is one of the precise reasons that I wanted to become an administrator.  It is in working together, understanding the rights of students and parents, balanced with the needs of teachers, giving a nod to the community as well (budget, budget, budget) that an administrator is able to best shine as a leader for his/her building.

What drives you in wanting to be a leader?  Is there a visionary piece that makes your soul yearn to be part of something bigger than yourself?  Have you seen injustices that drive you to want to lead to a better way of educating children?  Do you have an idea or concept that you believe will change the way every student learns about his/her world?  Through my classes, I have been challenged to delve into and share my own understanding of why I want to be a leader...  what drives you?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

VSS12 - Share, Reflect and Call to Action

After an intense four days of innovation, collaboration and presentation(s), I needed a rest from VSS.  What is difficult to explain to others who have never attending this conference, is the effect it has on one's psyche.  Meeting other individuals who share the same passion for educational innovation has a profound effect on you - making you feel that anything you do needs to be taken to the next level.  This year was no exception, and I walked away from New Orleans ready to take on the world.

Sunday began for me with the general membership meeting, a discussion of the vision of iNACOL and their priorities, and an introduction of the award winners for this year.  Feeling energized, I joined the membership on the vendor floor, catching up with colleagues from BSN and PLS and finally meeting Rod Darrow in person, after having worked with him over the last month on the online educators blogging project.  As educators who work in the online environment, we are comfortable working with individuals from around the world virtually, however, when we actually get the chance to meet, the synergy is invigorating, and inspiration seem to flow freely from the collaboration.

I felt a call to action in listening to Stacey Childress, Deputy Director of Education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Her work with the Next Generation Model teams will offer educators cutting edge ideas when integrating technology and online resources into their classrooms, especially when working with underprivileged youth.  My inspiration came in the form of making resources available to everyone - not only available, but easily searched, embeddable and aligned to Common Core State Standards.  I want to find a way to make resources readily available to teachers, students and parents, and offer a road map through the clutter that is Web 2.0, social networking, and source validity/bias.  The librarian in me has been working overtime, and through Childress's discussion, I may have found an outlet for work.

In presenting at this conference, I was able to share ways that the Quakertown Community School District is able to ensure success for online and blended students through the services we offer, and how librarians can support students and teachers by offering their services, resources and expertise in the online environment.  These two presentations were well received, and can be viewed here.  Additionally, I also was able to meet with one of the newest members of my PLC, James Brauer.  We met through the online bloggers group at iNACOL, and as we worked through the projects together, found that we shared a passion and dedication to online teaching and administration which made us more like collaborating colleagues than individuals working separately over 1,000 miles away from one another.  Such is the power of an online collaboration!

It's hard to believe that although I've been home for only two days, I've already begun to frame out my ideas for new presentations and chances for collaboration.  It was a wonderful experience #VSS12, but I'm already poised for #VSS13!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Leadership 2.0

In trying to define what it means to be a leader, I came across the Leadership 2.0 Series offered/organized by George Couros similar to a Massive Open Online Course dedicated to Leadership. I unfortunately was unable to attend the Tuesday session (find the archive here) but was able to attend this evening.  Through nine sessions, the group focuses on the seven dimensions based on the Alberta Education Principal Quality Standard.  Although this is foreign to me, the principles are universal and I found the first session to be inspirational.  Part of what was discussed (and I encourage you to attend yourself!) was the need for a leader to share his/her learning, obtain feedback from a worldwide audience (their possible expanded PLN!) and reflect - just as we would ask of students.  It was a very simple concept, but one that offered deep ramifications when internalized.

Although it is not difficult to share ones learning, it does take an unusual leap of faith to put it online, at least for someone who has been more familiar with keeping a journal rather than a world accessible document.  However, the communication that I've had with my own new blogging experience (thank you Rob Darrow of iNACOL) has made me appreciate the power of this tool, and the ability to personalize ones learning through sharing.

For this week's assignment, we are to look at creating a digital portfolio - how a leader can use a blog to share his/her thinking.  One of the projects discussed was 184 Days of Learning from the Parkland School Division, where various stakeholders share their experience for the day, thus following the learning of a community for the entire year.

One of the most progressive movements our district, Quakertown Community School District in Quakertown, PA, has done, is opening up their required professional development/professional learning for teachers.  Although there are some required work sessions that must be attended, teachers are able to choose their own professional development, so that their learning is fully individualized.  One off-shoot of this with which I was involved was our Upper Bucks EduSummit 2012.  We partnered with two neighboring districts to offer technology based professional development to teachers within all three districts, taught by teachers and administration in the three districts.  This partnering between the districts was unprecedented, and allowed individuals to work together with others over common interest.  It was a small step toward individualizing teacher learning - but journeys always begin with one small step.

I look forward to the discussions we will be having as part of the Leadership 2.0 Series (#leadership20 on twitter) and building my own leadership PLN.  Join me - the journey is just beginning!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Online Learning - The Missing Component

As the reach of online learning continues to extend, there is one area that I believe has been unexplored by many practitioners, to the detriment of the students that they teach.  One advantage of the brick-and-mortar setting is that the teacher has access to many resources to help ensure student success in their classrooms, for instance, collaborating with other individuals to deepen students' experience.  Collaborating with the school library is one way good classroom teachers become great classroom teachers.  Online teachers also have this access, but because it would be a non-traditional way of working, the resource is often overlooked.  If more online teachers/programs integrated the services of school and public libraries, teachers could create learning experiences through online inquiry that would produce creative, resourceful and information literate students.


Librarians are uniquely prepared to understand information and share how to inspire students to connect, wonder, investigate, construct, express and reflect on the world around them, per the Stripling Model of Inquiry .  The business world looks for employees who are agile learners, able to change course when needed and map out a new way when the old way is no longer sufficient.  Through traditional curriculum, we create students who learn information and regurgitate what they've learned.  What they need to be doing is to connect with that they are being taught, question the relevance of what the have learned, investigate the answers to their questions, construct understanding from what they've found, share the fruits of their labor and reflection upon the process for true understanding.  Libraries help teachers create this experience for their students.  Online teachers can also do this classes, but often miss the opportunity (or do not realize the opportunity) to work with librarians.  This connection can help online teachers take the next step in their classes, building lifelong skills with their students and creating an online class environment ripe for constructivist learning.


Visit us at iNACOL's Virtual School Symposium 1:30 on Tuesday or contact me with questions @bekcikelly

Monday, September 17, 2012

Online Learning - Equivalent or Improve Student Outcomes

Online Learning has a long history - one which far out dates the adoption of the Internet into our everyday lives.  I remember when I was in high school (the early 90's), I studied the Russian language using a program transmitted through our school's satellite.  It was dynamic - we met with a tutor every Monday on the phone to check our pronunciation, watched programming the rest of the week as a class, and twice a month were the "online class" who had to answer questions as part of the presentation.  I loved it - and still speak Russian, albeit poorly, whenever I get the chance.  The satellite, alas, did not fare so well - it current sits lonely in a courtyard, abandoned and deteriorating.

My delving into online learning, however, just continued to grow stronger.  In 2001, I started my graduate program at the University of Pittsburgh in Library and Information Science.  We were the first online cohort - both for the program and the university itself.  A wondrous success, this education allowed me to get an ALA accredited degree that I would otherwise have been unable to receive.  This accreditation offers me a plethora of career opportunities that an unaccredited degree would not.  My education was stellar at PITT, and I promote their program highly to anyone interested in a library degree.

As a teacher, I have now become engrossed in online learning for my students.  This is the fourth year that our district will offer online classes, as well as building capacity for truly blended learning in our middle and high schools.

I've shared my online experiences, because I've learned that history always becomes more meaningful when seen through your own memory, and aligned to your life.  It helps me focus and give a truly personal answer to our blogging topic - to make a case that K-12 online learning must achieve equivalent or improved student outcomes.

We often ask online learning to fill in a gap - a gap where we are losing students.  These students might have a special condition that keeps them from attending school, a unique circumstance (for instance, we have a snowboarder who must compete during the school year) or social reasons for not wishing to attend public school.  We have a duty, as educators, to ensure that students receive equitable education no matter how they are educated.  I believe that the Common Core will go a long way in bring equity in education in general, and in online learning specifically.

To be truly viable, online learning must offer equitable student learning outcomes.  The unique part of online learning is not what is taught, but the manner in which it is done - synchronous/asynchronous, on-site/off-site, etc.  While there are different attributes that make teachers more successful in one delivery mode than another, creating a supportive classroom environment, individualizing education for each student, and using different modes to assess student learning remain constant in any teaching format.

It would not be realistic to ask online learning to be the answer to every educational need, but as we take the best from online learning, mold it together with high quality brick-and-mortar learning, and take the lessons learned for both, I believe we build the potential for students to truly individualize their learning, and be more involved in their education.  However, we must keep checks and balances on any type of educating organization to ensure that quality education is taking place - common between them must be highly qualified teachers, rigorous curriculum, real world experience for students and the constant potential to grow through an educational program.