The Road Less Traveled

CEO, One-to-One Institute

It takes time to get things right.  Many of us, myself included, lack patience.  Immediate gratification is the rule of the day.  The powers and speed of technologies reinforce our zeal for ‘results now’.  The very powers that tech tools can ignite also inspire our urgencies.  Understanding that purposeful change takes time, commitment, trial, error, practice and reflection is essential for real school transformation.

Effective leaders get this.  Those skilled in leading change know that each stakeholder is somewhere on the continuum of first, wanting to pursue the path to real shift, and second, developing skills, knowledge and practice to get there.  Engaging and supporting each individual AND the whole contingency are essential.  It’s strenuous and messy business.  Having realistic expectations is a basic foundation.

Once the vision is established tactical strategies makeup the project plan.  Project RED has a template (Project RED Model Project Plan) that shows the activities that must be tended to for a successful implementation of any robust ed tech program. Most people with whom we work find the plan arduous, time consuming and daunting. It demonstrates the complexity and level of mindfulness behind any successful endeavor. It follows that seeing immediate desired results (such as increased student test scores, teachers’ ubiquitous integration of tech resources, etc.) makes little sense. There are, however, other benchmarks that pave the way for longer term goal achievement.  Defining, recognizing and capturing that data is as important as witnessing five and ten year objectives.

In this age of immediate everything, how do we educators ‘live’ the steps of this journey in fulfilled and celebrated ways?  Breaking down the whole into parts is one way. What makes up the initial days’ rollout and educators’/students’ early teaching and learning activities? 

A couple of years ago we worked with a superintendent of a large district who interrupted our work session demanding to know, ‘what do you want us to actually do – just tell us what to do. This has to happen yesterday.’  Our efforts to ‘show’ her the great strides that can be made the first year and the steps required to get there were lost on her.  She wanted ‘results’ meaning increased student test scores and within the first 6 months of giving each learner a laptop. There was a major disconnect. The district’s leaders clearly didn’t understand best practice, research around education technologies.  They didn’t get that executing a successful strategy is imperative to seeing a return on their investment. 

While we understood the demands of her role and the accountability she may have been facing, we could not help her realize that she could demonstrate much progress in those 6 months – just not what she demanded.  Most babies crawl before they walk.  This superintendent desperately wanted to avoid the natural developmental processes required for healthy growth. They are still not even crawling – but have glommed on to federal and state and grant opportunities galore without cohesion or relevance to vision.

This is not to advise that we ‘committee’ or ‘task force’ everything ad nausea.  This was routine strategy in a large suburban district outside Detroit where I served a short period of time.  The craziness of bi-monthly or bi-weekly meeting after meeting after meeting with no project plan or project lead was the order of the day.  This was a great way to ensure nothing ever changed; learners never got served; adults stayed in power and control. Similar but different from the other district example. The results were the same.

There are numerous high quality examples out there that well capture the tasks, progress and timeline for ed tech implementations. The Project RED Signature Districts, Mooresville and Houston Schools are quality examples to check out. 

The University of Memphis CREP team and we at One-to-One Institute developed a Benchmarking Tool and Guide to help districts understand ‘expected results’ within snapshots in time. We anxiously anticipate that this will benefit those trying to understand and set realistic results at each progress point.

Years ago Tom Peters said, “Ready, fire, aim.”  I’ve adhered to this advice. It’s important to ‘get’ and then be ready.  There are crucial components to readiness no matter the work on which we embark.  It is then important to begin –  to get rolling – knowing that ongoing feedback and assessment will drive how and what will be adjusted and retooled along the highway.

Ed tech implementation is like fueling an airplane in flight or changing the tire of a moving vehicle.  New age nimbleness is the norm.  The exceptions are the leaders’ abilities to pilot the needed change scenarios while continually aiming at the vision.  It is key to realize and facilitate the time and tasks required for ongoing progress toward long term objectives-and identify the many progress steps required along the trek.

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