Ready, Fire, Aim: Tom Peters - A Schools Primer

CEO, One-to-One Institute

Years ago, Tom Peters’ urged leaders to ‘act’ to make changes necessary for success on the business front.  The practice of taking months and years to generate, design and implement inventive ideas is, to say the least, risky business if organizations want to be competitive in the market place.  My home state of Michigan stands as a painful example of having lingered too long protecting an outdated manufacturing system. The state continues to pay a high price though progress has been made.

Peters’ comments about ‘getting ready’ and then ‘firing’ – that is - taking action – resonate among progressive educators.  This is true particularly now with the United States economy desperately seeking a globally and locally competitive workforce.  There is an abundance of research informing practitioners what needs to be done to transform schools. Some of the best news is that we have digital tools and resources to facilitate the work. The past twenty years of research in education technology informs us about best practices needed to successfully move down the path.

Today’s Learner

Research is important.  The emergence of recent understandings of the brain and today’s learners provides sound information about the importance of personalized learning.  The latter is the topic and movement du jour.  An abundance of guidance resources have emerged.

The big issue here is the need for a new business model, okay – education model, that must drive school transformation instead of doing ‘school as usual’ and expecting to get different results. There have been MANY attempts to reinvent education in the U.S. They’ve had high price tags and no results.  There is much to be learned from Christensen’s ( notion of disruptive innovation.  It’s not pretty, easy and something that’s ready-wear.  Still, we must strive to create a teaching and learning model that is learner-focused and digitally powered.

Digital Lives, Digital Learning

Blended models have captured the conversation and practice.  Complete online matriculation options and flipped classrooms pepper the landscape.  We know education has been on many ‘fad du jour’ carnival rides. Engaging robust, personalized, technology-based strategies is not one of those.  National education policy endorses personalization, ed-tech integration and equal access.  Our entire global enterprise is bound to the Internet, tech gadgets, cell phones, expedited information gathering and seeking, and other digital tools for personalizing every aspect of our lives.  Schools are getting on board.

Resources are scarce on personal and work-related fronts.  That’s nothing new. In 2003, Apple had to re-invent itself to be once again competitive. Enter the myriad of new apps and tools they created.  Over the last 7+ years, Wal-Mart, JC Penny and Target reinvented to gain a competitive edge.  These industries went to just in time data/information systems regarding what is selling, what’s not, so they knew what items needed to be on their shelves.  At the onset, Wal-Mart and Target made up 75% of the retail sales market.  Low cost US airlines were hardly known 15 years ago.  Eleven of those 27 companies made it to the Fortune 500 list in the past 25 years because they changed their business models to become competitive. (Harvard Business Review, February 2009)

We can learn and benefit from the communities of practitioners who are implementing new, effective models.  There are many of these campfires across the country.  Each has good stuff going on, with results, from which others can glean knowledge and skills.  Examples are:  Mooresville, NC; Coachella, CA;

Interestingly, the education research from the 80s and 90s did not criticize the highly ineffective use of computer labs.  Rather, those studies saw them as ‘inevitable’.  Parlay that into today’s experiential knowledge and skill base about computing in schools.  In those ten and twenty years – education findings and experiences are a world apart!!  The message is that education leaders must lay the groundwork for ‘ready, fire, aim’ in schools.

Forward Momentum

We all have experienced the hours of committee work around making key decisions.  Data, research, discussion, questions & answers and debate are crucial for stakeholder buy-in and understanding prior to making changes that affect schools.  It is also critical that teachers and administrators, within the context of daily practice, have the ability to innovate, take risks and continually seek to effectively move forward to meet today’s students’ needs. 

Education needs a system analogous to those of successful corporations where first-rate concepts are ardently sought, promoted, nurtured and then assessed for efficacy.  These are times when education must be on the forefront of authentic reform to address the nation’s serious needs.  Done well, there is tremendous hope for education technology in robust 21st century learning environments, to move the industry in needed directions.  

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.

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