As a core tenet of North Carolina Virtual’s Leadership for Innovation division and the GO LIVE initiative, we have asked several key leaders in our state to offer words that challenge and encourage superintendents, principals, and other district and school “movers and shakers” in leading change toward blended leadership and learning. This blog post comes from Dr. Donna Peters, former superintendent of Montgomery County Schools and the 2010 State Superintendent of the Year.
Leading change is hard work, and leading change for online and blended learning throughout a school system is indeed a significant challenge. While we don’t like to admit it, our schools tend to be steeped in traditional methodologies and practices that prove difficult to replace with 21st Century opportunities regardless of how ineffective the old ways may be. We all know that no one likes change but babies! However, the resources available to students and staff in a blended learning environment are immense, and change must happen for our students and school systems to have a chance of success in today’s complex and open world!
In reflecting upon my efforts to lead change for digital learning throughout a school system, the work centered primarily around five areas of focus.
- Creating a sense of urgency for maximizing technology in the learning process for students and adults – This is an easy one for those who are student centered. Thomas Friedman alerted us to the fact that the world had changed significantly and that we must change with it in order to survive as a nation in his 2005 book, THE WORLD IS FLAT. Meeting the needs of students today requires an understanding that our students are forever different from us as a result of being born and reared in a very changed digital world. The global economy, created in large part through the internet, results in our students no longer competing with students in the rival high school or college across the county or state. In fact, our students will be competing with others all over the world, many of whom are highly skilled and willing to work for very low wages! As superintendent, I talked a lot about these and related facts to create a sense of urgency for the need for change. Discussions at most administrative meetings centered on this sense of urgency. Board of education, parent, and staff meetings highlighted the need for change as well. The WHY of change has to be at the forefront to motivate and inspire people to TRY new models of thinking and working.
- Developing and communicating a vision for 21st Century learning and teaching throughout the school system – Leaders know the importance of vision in creating change. Because everyone does not fully understand what 21st Century learning and teaching entails, communication of the vision is very important. In our school system, the board of education adopted the vision 21st Century Learning and Teaching for Every Student in a Safe, Nurturing Environment. I believe this vision went a long way in helping our school system change the way it viewed learning and teaching. Principals and teachers worked together to create a shared vision around 21st Century learning and teaching in their schools, meetings were held by the superintendent and central office staff to share the vision, and the vision was shared in the community. Of course, the vision needs to be front and center in all media formats—Website, Twitter, Facebook, etc., and communicated constantly both internally and externally.
- Providing needed resources for blended learning – The superintendent and leadership team must assure that needed resources for blended learning are ready and available for students and teachers. This is a challenge in these economic times, as resources are limited. Greater emphasis from state and local levels must be put into providing students and teachers with appropriate and updated technology. Our school system utilized available resources to improve infrastructure and to provide technology throughout the school system, but not to the level needed. Until every student has one-to-one access with internet capability at school and home, we must continue the work of eliminating the digital divide!
- Building capacity for leaders and staff – This area of focus requires the most time and effort from the superintendent and leadership team. The move from 20th to 21st Century thinking and skills is a major transition for school systems. The crossover requires ongoing professional development and support for school leaders and staff to develop the confidence and skills needed to take advantage of the open world (Bonk). We know that technology and the internet have created a world where anyone can learn anything from anyone at anytime. To take advantage of opportunities for learning, everyone throughout the school system must know the possibilities in the open world and then be taught/led to use what is available to the advantage of students, teachers, and staff. In his 2009 book, THE WORLD IS OPEN, Bonk provides a model called “WE-ALL-LEARN” that powerfully shows the advantages of opening up the world of learning. Book studies are an important aspect of capacity building, and this would be a fabulous book study for a superintendent and leadership team on the journey to blended learning for all (for an example, access North Carolina Virtual’s study of The World is Open on their GO LIVE site). The model outline below provides a quick insight into the possibilities of the open world that our students and teachers cannot afford to miss:
- Web Searching in the World of e-Books
- E-Learning and Blended Learning
- Availability of Open Source and Free Software
- Leveraged Resources and OpenCourseWare
- Learning Object Repositories and Portals
- Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
- Electronic Collaboration
- Alternate Reality Learning
- Real-Time Mobility and Portability
- Networks of Personalized Learning
Superintendents must take the time to assure a strong plan is developed and implemented to build capacity for the organization and those who serve the students. That is the only way the students will be served appropriately and prepared well for THEIR world (a very different world from the one for which most educators were prepared)!
- Walking the talk by using the tools - My father used to advise me that the key to real estate investment was location, location, location. I have learned through the years that the key to leadership is model, model, model. If leaders don’t walk the talk, forget it. Little change can occur without the leader’s commitment to change, which translates into “JUST DO IT”! If the superintendent wants his or her district to excel in providing a 21st Century education for the students, then that superintendent better be ready to learn and lead in a blended environment. This will result in paperless board of education and administrative meetings and the use of collaborative and FREE online tools like Google Talk, Tokbox, Google Docs, Diigo, as well as social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
The possibilities and opportunities are endless! Will everyone be on board in the beginning? Will there be resistance to blended learning? Will some believe blended learning is a threat to their own comfort levels or livelihood? Absolutely! The superintendent or administrator leading change for digital learning will need to intentionally create the sense of urgency (the why) and develop the vision (the what). Then, a plan must be developed for building capacity and providing the necessary resources for digital learning. Finally, the 21st Century leader must model by learning to use the tools and skills he or she wants for the students. It can be done, and it must be done. Fortunately, leading this change is not just challenging, but it is also rewarding! Have fun making a difference!