Thursday, February 13, 2014

An Open Letter to All Educational Leaders & Administrators

Dear Fearless Leaders,

You know who you are; those who devote all their time, energy, and expertise to improving education around the world. I'm speaking to you because I need your help. And not just me, but every teacher who is embracing 21st century technologies into their classrooms, and attempting to motivate others to do the same. I know you are busy, and you have 101 different initiatives on the go right now; but you at least need to put those on hold for a second and listen up.

We have entered an era in education, which might be the most significant, game-changing, paradigm shifting, wall-breaking era ever to hit education. It is a fantastic time to be involved in education. There are so many amazing things going on, and so many people sharing their stories about these things. We have teachers who are harnessing the power of YouTube to deliver lectures so that students can be better prepared walking into class; teachers engaging in weekly Twitter chats outside of school hours to better themselves professionally; others who are harnessing every web 2.0 tool imaginable so that they can support their students communicate, collaborate, create, and most importantly, critically think. Educators all over the world are re-imagining what the physical classroom should look like, and creating 21st Century classrooms right before our eyes. The promotion of digital citizenship has never been bigger, and teachers, parents, and students are working together to spread the word. We have 1:1 classrooms, blended learning,gamification, mobile learning, MOOCs, BYOD initiatives, and so much more going on. And yet, the majority of people who are talking about this, sharing their insight, and knowledge are teachers. 

I hear about many teachers who describe themselves as '21st Century Educators/Teachers' but when you look around, you don't see too many administrators, superintendents, or directors who describe themselves in the same way. Why is this? I think because in most cases, teachers are the ones who are leading the charge when it comes to promoting 21st Century initiatives; and are also the ones attempting to assist other teachers who are willing to learn. Administrators are more than willing to support these individuals, and that is fantastic; however, support has to come in more ways than financial, resource, time release, or other ways. And just like these countless educators are willing to support, tutor, and assist other teachers, they're willing to do the same for you! You just need to ask, sacrifice, and be willing to become a student again. No player is willing to play for a coach who is not willing to lead by example, and in just the same way, teachers are looking for similar leadership. 

I realize this does not apply to EVERY administrator out there, but unfortunately, my belief is that there are too many that it does apply to. In the beginning of this post I asked for your help, and so here are my requests that I NEED you to complete by the end of the school year. These are not large requests, they are not leaps; just baby steps. And remember, one foot at a time.

1. Get on Twitter! 

You need to share your expertise and insight, and demonstrate how Twitter is an extremely powerful learning network. PD is no longer restricted to PD days once a semester. It's happening all the time, and has become self directed. Teachers and other educators are developing professional learning networks where they are able to learn best-practices from others all around the world. They are connecting with other educators who share similar beliefs, passions, and characteristics when it comes to teaching. They are conversing regularly with others not only within their building, district, or country, but across borders. They are sharing images of their classrooms so that they can show others the activities that are leading to student success. Show your teachers and community this, and engage with them regularly.

2. Stop Saying "I'm not really good with Technology"! 

That's like saying "I'm not really good with this Math stuff", or "Reading isn't really my thing". Imagine the message you convey to staff and students when you say such things. You are acknowledging that it is acceptable to do poorly in math, or that literacy is irrelevant. In just the same way, you are also acknowledging that it is acceptable to remain in the 20th century, and that you don't need to take time to learn new processes and technologies. If you believe this, then get the typewriters back out and give those to your students; and then wait for their reactions.

3. Encourage Risk Taking. 

I don't mean that you should allow schools to become the Wild West, and anything goes; but encourage teachers to try new things, and that it is OK for them to fall on their face. There are so many options now for students to learn, and so many teachers want to try new things. The problem is however, that many are so afraid to fail; and their reasons are justified - performance appraisals, student & parent outcry, peer judgement, etc. However, developing a culture where teachers are willing to try gamification, the flipped classroom, blended learning, or other pedagogies could lead to amazing results! The very fact that students still fail, illustrates that education is not perfect. I'm not saying that any of the above mentioned pedagogies are perfect, but it may be that embracing one or more of them could lead to greater student achievement. The former General Stanley McChrystal once said "leaders can let you fail and yet, not let you be a failure"; and I think that's a lesson worth remembering.

Jason Richea

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