Wanted: Connected Learners and Leaders

Much has been articulated about the disconnect between the two worlds our students traverse on a daily basis. Outside of schools, students are tethered to each other and the larger global community via a plethora of interconnected, primarily mobile, devices. This world is fast-paced, interactive with most students engaged in and navigating through it with ease. However, in far too many schools, this connected world is not even acknowledged. Teachers teach in silos and school leaders lead in isolation. Many schools and districts boast archaic and disjointed policies that actually impede the ability of our teachers and school leaders to learn about ways they can and should be connected in order to create authentic and engaging learning experiences for our students.

Recently, as I have been reviewing and preparing for the next session of a Leadership for Learning Seminar that I teach as part of a Master’s Program in Instructional Leadership here in Hawaii, I have been struck by the dissonance between what I know is possible and what I’ve encountered in the field recently in my work here in Hawaii.

  • The need to fax something because a scanned version was unacceptable.
  • The need to rip and share a YouTube video using KeepVid and DropBox from home for a panicked math teacher when the proxy address that was supposed to allow access to YouTube didn’t work at school.
  • The need to snail mail an invoice to a school account clerk because the pdf version from QuickBooks that was emailed wasn’t acceptable.
  • The need to head to Starbucks to Skype with a colleague on Oahu about an upcoming project because Skype access is blocked at school.
  • The inability to access the Internet while at a meeting at a local community college.
  • A teacher unable to open an attachment sent in an email.
  • A cart full of iPads sitting unused in the corner of a classroom.
  • Teachers sitting in an “Appy Hour” session without ready access to iPads for their classrooms.
  • A parent’s response when she learned that several independent schools on Oahu had launched 1:1 iPad initiatives. “What? No more books?”You get the point.

Archaic perspectives confront me at every turn. There is a HUGE disconnect between what EdTech proponents are advocating for and what is actually happening at many schools here in Hawaii. With the exception of a handful of independent schools, the gap between research and practice actually seems to be widening right around me.

In my mind, three simple things need to happen as first steps to close the chasm between what is happening in our schools and what is happening all around them.

Step 1: Unblock Twitter, Skype, YouTube and Blogs. Let us connect with our colleagues across our islands and the world. This will also allow our students to connect with other students and experts in areas of interest.

Step 2: Provide mobile devices for every teacher and student in our state. Reallocate funds from outdated textbooks and stand and deliver professional development models and invest instead in more cost-effective e-books, educational apps and networked professional development models.

Step 3: Expose our Board of Education members, Legislators and State Department of Education leaders and administrators about the possibilities afforded by Connected Learning. At the very least, require them all to read The Connected Learner: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall. Their book clearly articulates both why this matters and a plan of action to address learning in a connected world. While they are at it, they should internalize the findings from the latest Connected Learning Report from the Digital Media & Learning Research Hub housed at the University of California, Irvine. According to the Connected Learning folks, “the report makes several recommendations and offers numerous examples of connected learning action in order to:

1. Address inequity in education;
2. Engender 21st century skills and literacies in all youth;
3. Attune to the learning possibilities of a networked society;
4. Elevate the quality of knowledge and learning for the collective good.”

Our policy makers and educational decision makers should also take the time to visit and learn from some of the wonderful School of the Future initiatives happening in our independent schools. The fantastic work fostered by the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools should serve as a great foundation for our public and charter schools. Finally, we all must understand that most of this work will require a shift in mindset before developing new skill sets. Simon McKenzie (aka the Connected Teacher) recently shared a wonderful New Mindset Haiku Deck that succinctly expands upon this idea.

It’s time for teachers and school leaders to have access to the tools and resources they need to create the student centered schools our keiki need. Connected Learning for students, teachers and school leaders needs to become the new priority and norm. If you have experience with and/or are interested in fostering a deeper conversation around the ideals associated with Connected Learning, I want to hear from you! Leave a comment below with your thoughts and/or contact me directly via Twitter @lisamireles or e-mail. I look forward to connecting with you.

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