Innovation Takes Good Leadership

LeadershipWhen I was working on my undergrad degree in English Education, one of the texts I was required to read (and which I highly recommend) was Leila Christenbury’s Making the Journey: Being and Becoming a Teacher of English Language Arts. We were asked to write reflection journals as we read, and Christenbury made that very easy because she included journal prompts. I still remember one of the prompts. It asked the reader to think about the relative importance of administration, teachers, and students in a school. At that time, I felt that teachers and students were the keys to a successful school. Outstanding, engaging, dynamic teachers and students eager to learn. I did not see that administration had much importance. I recall that my instructor wrote the comment “Let’s see how you feel about this after you begin teaching.” It stuck in my mind because I knew that the comment meant I was talking about something I didn’t know. She didn’t belittle my opinion. She didn’t tell me how ignorant I was. Her comment was meant to make me remember. I didn’t have to teach for long before I understood what she meant. I do not believe a school can function for long without a good administration. The administration leads from the top. There is no change, no innovation, no organization, no rudder without a good administration.

I have been thinking about the role of administration in innovation, and recently Scott McLeod posted a short blog post that inspired this one. I think some schools invest in technology without offering the professional development teachers need to use it. In addition, some administrators do not change their expectations regarding the use of technologies. If teachers are not expected to adopt new technologies, change and innovation won’t take place. I’m not talking about using tech for the sake of using tech. But I am talking about using tech in ways that make learning easier and more engaging.

One example I’ve been thinking about is Apple’s announcement about iBooks textbooks. I don’t have an iPad, but a colleague demonstrated one of the iBooks textbooks. It’s gorgeous. The color pops off the screen. Embedded content like videos makes the text more interactive. You can take notes and highlight in them. And they cost a fraction of what hardcover textbooks cost at $14.99 or less. Global Equities Research estimates that the production cost for creating an iBooks text is about 80% less than a hardcover text. Let’s say a hardcover book costs $100. Schools often purchase the hardcover books and use them for several years. In Georgia, the textbook adoption cycle is usually seven years. Over seven years, that textbook costs the school between $14 and $15 if the school is on a seven-year adoption cycle. However, the iPad also has a large variety of apps, and iBooks also sells novels. Purchasing iPads is a serious investment for a school to consider, and it should be undertaken after thought and study. Teachers should be supported as they learn to use and to integrate the use of the iPad in the classroom. iPads could potentially transform a school, but in the hands of teachers who don’t know how to use them and aren’t expected to use them, they are nothing more than paperweights.

What I can easily see happening is a school deciding to adopt iPads and then not supporting their use through professional development. If teachers are required to use any tool, and the iPad is just one example, without professional development they will likely take one of two paths: 1) try to learn it on their own the best they can, or 2) give up and not use it. In addition, if there is no expectation regarding the use, the tools become useless as there is little incentive beyond a personal intrinsic motivation to use the tools. Some teachers have a strong motivation to continue learning and improving and using new tools, but others do not. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t matter that the leadership in a school did not expect teachers to grow or didn’t support growth through professional development because the teachers would grow anyway, but what I have learned over time is that teachers need both the support for their growth and the expectation that they will grow as teachers, and that support and expectation needs to come from administrators who have an interest in innovation. Otherwise, it’s just not going to happen.
Creative Commons License photo credit: pedrosimoes7

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Literary Mixtapes

An old love song!The pop culture blog Flavorwire regularly creates mixtapes for literary characters. Their latest offering is Dorian Gray. Creating mixtapes can be an interesting way for students to think about characters and themes in the literature they read, especially if, like Flavorwire does, they need to justify their choices. Such an assignment could address the following NCTE standards:

  • NCTE/IRA Standard 1: Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • NCTE/IRA Standard 3: Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

Creating a literary mixtape would require students to think about the character and his/her conflicts and development as well as the plot and theme of the work in which the character appears. The mixtape could be a fun strategy for helping students comprehend, interpret, and evaluate texts and enables them to draw on their prior experience with music to make meaning of the texts they read.

Instructions

  1. Students should either pick or be assigned a character or work of literature.
  2. Students pick ten songs that somehow illustrate the work’s theme or define that character. Students can also pick songs that would appeal to their character.
  3. Students write a two-three sentence justification for their song selections. Their justification should explain why the song fits the character or work.
  4. Optional: students can present their mixtapes.
  5. Optional: students can design a cover for their mixtape.

Examples

Take a look at these other Flavorwire mixtapes.

At an NCTE conference in 1997, I went to a session that shared a strategy similar to this, and the teachers in that session shared that students had paired “Uninvited” by Alanis Morissette with The Great Gatsby and “Head Like a Hole” by Nine Inch Nails with Heart of Darkness. I thought those examples were good, as the speaker in “Univited” is addressing a suitor she isn’t interested in and explores the uneven nature of their feelings for each other, while the speaker in “Head Like a Hole” repeats the refrain, “Bow down before the one you serve. You’re going to get what you deserve.” The last line of the song, “You know what you are,” echoes the end of Heart of Darkness: “The horror”—Kurtz’s last words as he realizes who he is.

Cautions

Be mindful of copyright. Do not ask students to assemble actual tapes or CD’s. Students might be able to find officially released videos on YouTube or the artists’ websites, but they should not try to circumvent copyright laws in order to share the music they assemble. Several online services allow users to stream selected songs and create playlists (Spotify, for example).

This assignment could also work for historical figures or biblical characters.

Update, 1/10/12, 8:45 A.M.: Check out Leslie Healey’s post about creating a mixtape for King Lear. Note: she shares Playlist.com as a way to create mixtapes.

Creative Commons License photo credit: silkegb

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New Year Update

Hi everyone. I realize that I haven’t posted much here, but a change to Technology Integration Specialist last August has changed my focus, and I need to re-orient myself I appreciate your patience very much. I would suggest that you might want to subscribe in a feed reader or via email if you would like an easy way to check for updates. We have also had some upheaval at home that I need to sort out, and I hope you will forgive me if I am a little quiet online until I do. Thank you very much for continuing to read.

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Diigo Links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

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