Leading in the Digital Age: A Story of One School's 21st Century Transformation - by Lisa Nielsen
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October 21, 2011 By: Tech Learning Blog Staff
My personal trainer often shares with me the accomplishment and satisfaction she gets from watching her client's bodies transform from flab to fab (I hope to be on my way!). During our recent session,
I realized my own work in many ways is similar to hers in the great pleasure I
receive when seeing a school transform before my very eyes and knowing that my
staff and I had even just a small piece in that transformation.
That happened recently when I visited PS 4 in the Washington Heights section of
New York City. This school has been involved in a leadership grant since last
spring. Principal Delois White shared the grant came at the right time as the
school leaders had a strong 21st century vision and were eager for the support to
realize it. That process started with the formation of a school-selected
innovation team comprised of the principal, AP, and school tech liaison. We
worked with those team members to assess their school on the continuum of 21st
century success first through a simple assessment
(their school is emerging), and later using a more complex assessment tool. This enabled the
school to set some goals for becoming a 21st century school which were
articulated and shared in an innovation roadmap.
The next stop in the process was participation in the Building Learning
Communities conference. It was at this conference that we asked school leaders
to share how what they learned would impact their effectiveness as a 21st
century leader. In his post, school innovation leader, Jacek Polubiec shared My 21st Century Transformation where he
outlined a plan for the transformation of his school and his own transformation
into an innovative leader. The school was interested in transforming school
leadership and creating change in the way their school did business. While at
the school it was a pleasure to see so many of these ideas in progress in such
a short time.
course, it starts at the top and I knew this principal was hooked on innovation
when I entered her office to speak to her and she excitedly said, I've just got
to show you this free and engaging gaming site my students, staff and I are
hooked on that helps develop Math, Language Arts, and Geography skills.
Then she said, "Please have a seat and play with me. You just gotta see
this." And, this principal not only gets it, but gets right into it as she
hooted and hollered for her penguin to land on the right iceberg. We connected,
had fun, and learned some geography too. Of course, it wasn't just this moment
when I dropped by her office that I saw evidence of how Ms. White's infectious
love of teaching and learning was spread. Along with her innovation team, Ms.
White contributes to the school's newly launched blog where she shares her message with her school community.
In it she says this:
plans are enormous and quite promising as we embrace the need to prepare
ourselves to live productively in the 21st century. I'm sure that you have
noticed that technology is moving at a rapid pace. Yesterday's T.V. set is
today's antique. The telephone, though still a viable communication tool, is
fast becoming an instrument for our parents and grandparents. The youth of
today communicate through iPods, Wikis, web posts and blogs. Therefore, here at
P.S. 4, we've taken on the challenge of teaching all of the skills and
knowledge that our children will need to enter the job market and be able to
exchange ideas with scholars around the world in an instant. Our staff began
the school year by asking this question; "are we preparing our children
for our future or are we preparing them for our past." Clearly, the answer
must be that we will embrace the winds of change with the help of our teachers,
parents and staff. With our new 21st century grant, we will realize our goals
and aspirations for the 2009 - 2010 school year."
you have a message like this, published from your principal, in a blog...you
know you're off to a great start!
The principal is also highly supportive of sending her innovation team members
to professional development to support their work. It was at that professional
development that her AP Jacek Polubiec learned how to launch learning networks
and began encouraging staff to Use Educational Networks to Build Teacher Leadership.
As an active member of the Manhattan
learning network, Mr. Polubiec certainly leads by example leading
and engaging in multiple conversations.
Mr. Polubiec also attended the
Eight Ways To Use School Wikis professional development and
received additional onsite suport provided for by the grant. This lead to
attainment of the school goal to launch a school wiki as well as one for each
academy. This has been tremendous as the wikis are being created to allow
communication, collaboration, and conversation in ways not previously possible.
Another benefit of the wikis that the school innovation team is quite excited
to realize is that next year, there will be no more paper, no more books
(ahem...binders) that took hours to create, copy, and collate. All important
school resources will be posted right on the school and wikis of each academy
and if there are any questions, comments, or feedback, staff can easily use the
discussion tab. The school is eagerly embracing this free time saving, tool
that is great for the environment and stimulates conversation.
Another way they are using the wikis is to collect the lessons that teachers
create for units of study. Currently, with paper, these exist with various
teachers, in various classrooms, in various notebooks and binders. Now, they've
set up a section on the wiki for lessons collected by grade and subject. They
are now writing these lessons using Google docs where teachers can engage in collaborative curriculum writing. They have a
document they use to begin creating the lessons and units of study and all
those involved can contribute anytime/anywhere. These final lessons / units are
uploaded to the lesson section of the wiki. These lessons are then available on
demand to any teacher, anywhere, any time, this year or next and...because of
the Google docs and wiki format, they can be revised, customized, and
The school is also excited about their innovative learning walk process. They
truly embraced 21st century tools to do learning walks in new and more
effective ways. During the learning walk educators visit classrooms armed with
their cell phones which they use to collect data on what they saw in each room
that is captured and shared via text using Poll Everywhere. This instantly
enables all data to be collected and shared in one place for discussion in the
debrief and reflection at any time. This allows our teachers to get to thinking
and the conversation faster," said Polubiec. It also enables us to
capture, rather than lose instantaneous feedback and ideas, that are often lost
during these types of activities. Following the walk, educators were given time
to share their reflections using Google forms. This allows each reflection to
instantly be populated and shared with the team. In essence, the time in the
meeting isn't spent asking people what they thought. That is right there in
front of them. Instead...they jump to discussing what they will do based on the
reflections of those on the learning walk. This process allows participants to
jetison past the capturing of ideas and move right to making meaning of the
ideas. During the debrief and discussion of next steps, it's not one person who
is contributing to the conversation. All members complete a Google form to
share their feedback which is instantly shared and projected and instead of
listening to each idea, and missing several, members can see every idea and
start discussing. Teachers and school leaders who were absent from the
conversation, can go back to take a look and contribute at any time. Talk about
a transformative practice!
It's hard to believe that just last spring this school was just beginning in
their 21st century transformation process. Since then they've brought much of
this to reality where they've:
- Developed a school where
teachers and leaders converse in online learning communities
- Publish successes and
information in school, teacher, and student blogs
- Use wikis to share important
school documents and resources in ways never before possible
- Conduct learning walks that
enable participants to accomplish double the outcome in half the time and
make and capture meaning never before possible
- Using Google docs and wikis to
collaborate on lesson writing, collection, and sharing
- Published and innovation
roadmap with goals and actionable steps to progress along the continuum of
21st century success
Celebrating and sharing success of course! In alignment with other NYC DOE
initiatives, PS 4 will conduct an "Innovation Celebration / Learning
Walk." Like the NYC Department of Education iZone schools,
PS 4 will identify an area of innovation which they will celebrate and in which
other schools can learn. These learning walks will of course incorporate all
these elements, and even a few more, as the innovations will be captured and
published via photos, videos, and text. This will allow not only PS 4 to get
smarter about this work, but it also invites other schools to learn how to
engage in the process.
As the administrator of this grant, I enjoy the feeling of satisfaction my
personal trainer shared with me as I witnessed the transformation that has
occurred as a result of solid school leadership resulting in school-wide change
and transformation as they progress full-speed ahead into the 21st century!
Nielsen is a permanently certified teacher and educational administrator with
more than a decade's worth of experience working in various capacities in
educational innovation at the city, state, and national level. Perhaps her
favorite role was that as an innovative educator who while serving in the
capacity was honored as Teacher of the Year and nominated by her district as
Technology Educator of the year. Ms. Nielsen is a Google Certified Teacher,
International Edublogger, International EduTwitter, and creator of The
Innovative Educator blog, learning network, and wiki which can all be found at http://TheInnovativeEducator.blogspot.com.
An outspoken and passionate advocate of innovative education Ms. Nielsen is
also often covered by local and national media for her views on "Thinking
Outside the Ban" and determining ways to harness the power of technology
for instruction and providing a voice to educators and students.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer or any other entities.