Developing the Vision – and the Will – to Transform Education

CEO, One-to-One Institute

Referring to the famous quote about teaching a man to fish being more useful than giving him fish, Bill Drayton, CEO of Ashoka, said that social entrepreneurs “neither hand out fish nor teach people to fish; their aim is to revolutionize the fishing industry.”

The quote stayed with me. Though I don’t work with social entrepreneurs per se, each time I conferenced, presented or collaborated with my colleagues, I thought about how our efforts to engage the education technology imperative are more than ‘sharing’ or ‘teaching’.  Our work is really about transforming the education industry into a dynamic, global community of leaders, teachers and learners who continuously seek skill, knowledge and use 21st century tools. The “learners” in this context are all of us.  Our focus is to create a personalized, student-centered education ecosystem….mirroring the qualities above noted.

Bottom up, top down or expanding out in larger concentric circles – there has to be a shared vision for education technology within the school community.  The CEO/Superintendent must lead this effort and model proposed outcomes – remaining vulnerable to the processes, shifts in schedule and planning that the journey for true 21st century schools presents.  Once on this shared path, regular communication of the education technology goals and related progress keep the mission in front of all stakeholders.

Consider the following quote:

The basics of tomorrow are skills considered to be of a higher level today.  These skills include:  evaluation & analysis, critical thinking, problem-solving (including mathematical…), organization and reference skills, synthesis, application, creativity, decision-making…., and communication skills through a variety of modes.”

No new thinking here, right? Here’s the source: “The Information Society; Are High School Graduates Ready?”---Education Commission of the States - 1982. Twenty-five years ago (if not longer), we were enlightened as to the skills required for the 21st century learner.

A national survey of US Students, tells us:  “Education (defined) is preparing youth to eventually compete in a global economy…(meaning that)…21st century skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving skills, computer and technology skills, and communication and self-direction skills need to be part of the curriculum".   Twenty-five years after the Education Commission of the States quoted what was needed, today’s message is the same.  There’s been progress but it has been slow, considering the consequences for our society.

Tackling the Challenges

“For technology to have any hope of being effective (in education), its use must be a regular, integral part of the instructional program and not viewed as an add-on.” (Deubel 2001). Anything viewed by educators as a ‘fringe’ or unnecessary ingredient is sure to go by the wayside with tightening budgets. This is one of the reasons it is so difficult to implement the 21st century skills imperative in schools.  To be embraced, technology and 21st century tools have to be seen as an essential part of the whole, and there needs to be experiential scaffolding to support it.

A second consideration regarding the pace of schools’ technology progress is human behavior and experience. Brain research has provided us with tremendous insight into teaching, learning and human response.  For some, learning about and using new tools and techniques is welcomed.  For others, the incorporation of the digital environment challenges the very core of their belief systems.  “Few of us grasp the complexity of the change that fusing technology into education creates. Technology is creating new thinking that is ‘at once creative and innovative, volatile and turbulent’ and ‘nothing less than a shift in worldview.’” (Kuhn 2000).

Knowing and understanding the impact of this kind of shift in schools is critical to facilitating the change of culture and practice through education technology. McREL’s ‘Balanced Leadership’ ( research indicates that second order change in schools and individuals, requires new strategies for success leadership.  A keen understanding of this research has been very helpful to administrators who are navigating and creating robust ed-tech environments that encompass this level of change.

Those engaged in this challenging work are overhauling education’s culture.  Teachers, using a variety of technology tools and resources, are regularly learning new techniques and experimenting as they hone their craft.  Administrators champion the vision; they must be visible supporters who participate in finding resources, support and ongoing professional development. Technology personnel work at a fevered pitch to ensure consistently functional networks, manage trouble-shooting protocols, hardware, and software.  Success depends of the careful weaving of the above team.

If you are a pioneer in the use of robust technology integration, then you are likely familiar with the complexities and understand that such change is tough stuff.  This isn’t the kind of mission you take on because it looks good or it is the ‘next big thing’.  You’ve done this because schools must if they are going to be viable preparatory grounds for students entering a rapidly changing global marketplace.

How can you, as an ed tech leader, help schools move into the future? Following are a few ideas:

  • Consistently communicate about education technology goals, at all levels.
  • Collaborate for a shared education technology vision among stakeholders. 
  • Include ongoing funding/resources as part of that vision. 
  • Engage skeptics by listening to and addressing their issues.
  • Identify unfounded reasons for dissension and disapproval by providing facts and research about education technology and the global marketplace. 
  • Help recalcitrant staff identify their fears and encourage them to take risks. 
  • Provide opportunities for non-believers to observe teachers and students who have successfully integrated technology, curriculum and instruction. 
  • Create cadres of teachers who support and problem-solve with one another as they implement technology tools. 
  • Provide for formative and summative evaluation of education technology efforts.
  • Honestly report findings and adjust where needed.

Key considerations in the impact of culture change are: the kind of education technology being implemented, who and how many are involved, leadership capacity, stake-holder understanding and buy-in, short and long range planning, goals and sustainability.  No one person in the school/district/state can facilitate these factors.  It must be a collaborative, ongoing team approach.  I look forward to your comments and questions! 

Leslie Wilson, founder and CEO of One-to-One Institute, has served education for 38+ years  in top level, key decision-making roles at state and local levels.  Recognized as an international expert in education technology, Wilson is a frequent writer, presenter and interviewee.  Among her many publications, she co-authored, “Project RED-The Technology Factor, Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectiveness” which is the most broadly used research around successful implementation of 1:1 technologies in schools.  

Related toolkits

Learn more now with materials from these toolkit and resource collections: