Schools need heroes

Schools today need heroes. Not superheroes who save the day, but leaders who are not afraid to make changes to improve student learning rather than perform well on “the test.”

“Those who advocate incremental change are not the heroes of history.” unknown tweet

I saw this a few weeks ago on twitter and it summarizes how I feel about where schools need to go. We need to be bold and not afraid to try new things.

There is too much emphasis on teaching to the test to make AYP under NCLB. I understand that federal funds and administrative jobs are tied to the scores and that they get published in the newspaper as “failing” or “passing” schools based on complicated formulas that the general public does not understand.

Still I long for administrators to de-emphasize the tests and implement student-centered, project-based instruction. Instead of trying to synchronize every content class with common assessments, encourage teachers to experiment with personalized instruction that meets students where they are and pushes them as far as possible.

The ideal classroom would be 1:1 laptops with no textbooks. The internet and world would be the “text” along with conversations with students and adults from around the world. Teachers would not use textbooks as easy lesson plans, but would continually be exploring the web themselves finding the latest resources to engage their students. Students and teachers would learn together and document their learning on blogs, wikis, and digital portfolios. The portfolio would continue with the student throughout their school career showing their learning progress. Students would use skype and other social media to collaborate with schools around the world in real life projects that integrate multiple content areas. “Homework” would be students continuing these conversations on the internet outside of school and researching more about them. “Classwork” would be students sharing and teaching each other what they discovered at home.

There are literally hundreds of “tools” on the web that are free and open-sourced. School budgets would shift from paper,textbooks, and canned software to wifi, netbooks, and teacher training for the student-based learning. Schools would get creative (and save money) by allowing students to use their own laptops, cell phones, and ipods to access the web.

These kind of changes can not be implemented by individual teachers in isolation, but require leadership from the top that is willing to take risks and encouraging risk-taking by its teachers and students. Teacher training is imperative to successful implementation.

Where should administrators begin? Start with reading blogs of some administrative leaders such as Chris Lehman and Scott Mcleod. Learn about the best practices from bloggers like David Warlick, Will Richardson, Shelly Blake-Plock, and Wesley Fryer. Engage in the comments section of these blogs and join twitter. If you feel that you are “not good at technology,” ask these people to help and share with you. They will meet you at your level and help you join the learning revolution. Find some one to mentor you in how to successfully use these tools. Here is a place where you can find some people who will mentor you on how to use twitter. Administrators, please go to educational technology conference yourself. Do not just send others, but experiment for yourself with the possibilities.

After you have seen the creative possibilities out there, share your enthusiasm with your staff and teachers. Encourage them to engage like you have. Demonstrate to your teachers how to build a PLN (personal learning network). Encourage innovation, get rid of filters, train teachers, and turn them loose.

If you create this kind of school, parents will not care about what the newspaper says about your school, but will know that you are creating the best educational environment for their child. They will see the difference in their children who are engaged in school and truly learning. So what are you waiting for? Jump in and become a hero. Our students deserve nothing less.

PS: more ideas from Leadership Day 09 posts here.

10 thoughts on “Schools need heroes

  1. keepingkidsfirst

    I love the passion with which you approach teaching, leading and learning! Thanks for sharing. My favorite quote is “If you create this kind of school, parents will not care about what the newspaper says about your school, but will know that you are creating the best educational environment for their child.” Nothing could be more true!

  2. andrewbwatt

    This is good. My post is over at for today (July 12, 2009)

    Oh, and I’m @andrewbwatt on Twitter, so you know me. I’m adding your blog to to my feed, and I’ll likely add you to my weblog’s blogroll shortly.

  3. Kevin Hodgson

    I like this:

    “… encourage teachers to experiment with personalized instruction that meets students where they are and pushes them as far as possible.”

    I do wonder if you are right about the ideal classroom being a 1:1 classroom. I’m not contradicting you, just wondering about it as an ideal situation.

    Thanks for the insightful post.

  4. concretekax

    Thanks Kelly (keeping kids first)for the compliments. I really believe we should focus on the most important people at school-students.

    Thanks for the conversations Andrew. Keep up your blogging and pushing my thinking.

    Kevin, I have to ask what are your reservations about a 1:1 classroom? Given the choice between a class that is 1:1 or not, I think almost all teachers would choose to take the computers. I understand that it will not be effective without a skilled teacher, but what are the negatives of 1:1 that anyone would not choose it given the opportunity?

  5. Anonymous

    In February, my students began using 1:1 laptops and it transformed my class. It was one of the most difficult classes I have had in all my years of teaching. The students did not like one another and were constantly disruptive for the sake of being disruptive. They were just not interested in anything I tried and believe me I tried. After we started using the new macbooks, they were engaged in their own learning. The best part of the transformation was watching kids who did nothing but bicker and argue, turn to one another for help and truly collaborate with one another on projects.

  6. Kevin Hodgson

    I guess my hope would be that professional development on how to use the laptops fully in the curriculum would have to follow. In our district, there is an optional laptop program for the middle school (which brings up issues of equity) and from what I can gather, so few teachers have been trained on how to effectively use the laptops for learning that they have become glorified dictionaries and writing tablets, and not real tools for learning.

  7. concretekax

    Thanks for the real example of how motivating and effective computers can be.

    My question is the problem the computers or the teachers? It sounds like the later. Technology will never replace the need for quality teachers. But great teachers can be even better with the use of technology.

    As you mention, administrators need a plan for PD. Just buying hardware is the easy part. Leading requires a system to teach teachers how to learn again.

  8. Dawn

    I believe that there needs to be a balance between technology, hands-on materials, and really great literature. There can never be just one way to teach or learn.

  9. concretekax

    I agree, but much of that great literature can be found on-line for free in e-books.

    I teach technology class but we only spend half of our time on computers. The rest of the time we are building and creating things. Check out our landscaping class blog for examples

    Here is a student blog showing some of the other projects that we do

    My mantra has always been that only students who are doing are learning. If I am the only one in the room “doing” (lecturing) then no one else is learning.

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