Google Beta ImageI was excited and then frustrated today. Yesterday I read about the changes Google was making to Gmail. Changes that when I read said to myself “That makes sense, that will work for me”.

Then today I opened my inbox saw the pop-up that said I had gotten the upgrade and clicked continue.

I then went on to struggle figuring out where things were:

  • How do I delete a draft?
  • How do I align something center?
  • Where’d the link button go?
  • Where? What? How do I?

I saw my producitivy today plumit. I felt myself getting frustrated because all of a sudden I was a beginner again.

You have to be comfortable always being a beginner

This is the world we live in. Things change, and change without warning. Yesterday I felt I was a very productive user of Gmail. Today I was a beginner. Today I had to learn, I had to play with a program that I had mastered and start over at being a beginner.

And….I’m OK with that because I realize I’m really never going to master anything again. I’m constantly working towards mastery but as soon as I think I have reached it, things change, progression comes, and I’m back at the beginning. I live in a state of prepetual beta.

I was a master at my Galaxy S III, then I got the latest update and I was a beginner again.

I was a master of OSX 10.6 then 10.7 and now working back to being a master on 10.8 on my Mac Book Air.

I was a master at running, then decided to run barefoot and had to learn to run again.

We, humans, now live in a time that is constantly changing and we need to be comfortable at being a beginner. We need to get to a point where we understand we’ll probably never master a technology again.

I don’t expect everyone to be like me, where I almost crave change, crave something new. I’m crazy like that (hence the changing jobs/countries/schools every 2 to 4 years). I see change as the future and I live for it.

But I know not everyone is that way…but everyone needs to be comfortable with being a beginner and once you allow yourself not to master things but instead learn things, you feel much better about technology and life in general.

So be comfortable being a beginner…that way you are always excited to learn something new.

Over the past couple of days I’ve had one simple question that I can’t get out of my head.

Why do we believe that every teacher having a computer on their desk will benefit teaching and learning, but giving one to students wouldn’t?

It’s a simple question isn’t it? I mean….when I started teaching in 1999 I walked into my 4th grade classroom with a computer sitting on my desk. Not every teacher had one at that time, but the next year, at a new school, every teacher had a laptop. We’re talking the 2000-2001 school year. Every school since has provided me with a computer.

At some point, someone somewhere decided that every teacher having a laptop benefited teaching and learning. That this “tool” no matter how expensive had benefits that out weighed the cost.

And you can’t tell me that there were not conversations before this happened around:

  • Will they use it appropriately?
  • How are we going to make sure they use it?
  • What if they screw around and get off task?
  • What happens if it breaks?
  • How are we going to measure its effect on learning?
  • How are we going to measure its effect on teaching?

and for those of you who were in some of these conversations I’d love to hear the other questions/concerns that were raised. Here’s the best part….10 years later here are the answers to those questions as I see it:

  • Will they use it appropriately? Some will some won’t
  • How are we going to make sure they use it? We won’t, it’s a tool that is there for them to use when they need it to help them do their job.
  • What if they screw around and get off task? They will, it’s a fact, we have teachers updating Twitter and Facebook during the school day, sending personal e-mails, looking up movie times for after school, and booking flights. They screw around on the computer all the time!
  • What happens if it breaks? We’ll keep a couple spares to replace it.
  • How are we going to measure its effect on learning? We won’t but we have a hunch that it does.
  • How are we going to measure its effect on teaching? We won’t but we have a hunch that it does.

10 years later and these are the best answers I can come up with?

We have no data, we have no facts, we just have a hunch that our schools are better when every teacher has access to a computer. Oh, and not a computer in a cart, or one they have to check out every day. No a computer that is customized to them, that allows them to do what they need it to do no matter what they teach.

I mean…why in the world does a PE teacher need a laptop?

Now that's what a teacher's desk should look like! Flickr ID: Corey Leopold
Now that's what a teacher's desk should look like! Flickr ID: Corey Leopold

So that’s it….I’m going to march into the Head of School’s office tomorrow and ask him to please either show me the data that every teacher having a computer leaders to better more in-depth learning, or I’m going to request that he take them all away and that we use that money for something else that we know without a doubt leads to better learning. Then I’m going to unplug his machine and walk out the door with it! We’re going to spend that money on SAT prep-books, Resources for teachers so they can teach the content they are suppose to be teaching instead of updating their Facebook status.

Yep…that’s it….10 years I’ve had my own computer and I have no data that shows that it ever effected true learning in my classroom or schools.

So I’m calling on all you tech people, our time is over, it didn’t work and I’m going to ask you to please start approaching your teachers 1 by 1 and asking for their computers. They can teach without them, they can communicate without them. They were a waste of money, and as someone who has helped to push technology over the past 10 years I apologize, I was wrong….you were right…they have no place in the hands of teachers or students.

My apologies,


Jeff Utecht is not responsible for bodily injury or lost of employment that may occur from above mentioned acts.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51Wfzh%2BZq%2BL._SL500_AA280_.jpg  If you haven’t heard, Amazon has announced the Kindle DX. A 9.7 inch Wireless reading device with a larger screen made for reading textbooks and newspapers.

Now this is all great news for technology and e-books. But as I listened to the TWIT podcast episode 194 they talked about what this device really is about.

More important than the size of this device is that starting with the DX it will allow people to upload and view PDF files.

Now this might not seem like a lot but as they said on TWIT and what I agree with is that Amazon has just opened the door to a whole new round of piracy and have backed publishers into a corner to force textbook to be created in the Amazon Kindle format.

How so? Well let us pretend for a second we’re in college and you are trying to save that $110 for something more important than a textbook (in college there are many things more important than a textbook 🙂 ). What if you and your buddy could split the cost of the textbook, use one of the scanners in the school, scan the book to PDF and then put it on your Kindle? What if students from other universities did the same and then shared those files using Bit Torrent or P2P Networks basically giving the book away for free.

Or how about this….most textbooks are in PDF format before they are actually printed. Much like pirated DVDs it takes one person to post the PDF of the book on the web for download to sidestep the publishers and give that content straight to students.

Why hasn’t this happened already? Apple created the iTunes store which with the #1 MP3 player the iPod created both a need (music) with a want (iPod).

Amazon has just done the same thing. The need (textbooks, books, newspapers, etc) now has the wanted hardware device…the Kindle.

Amazon has just created a whole new round of piracy.

So if you are a textbook publisher…or any publisher for that matter what are your choices?

A) Continue to pretend that that Kindle does not exist and continue with your model of creating traditional textbooks. Then try to track down and stop piracy through the courts (because it worked so well for the music industry).

B) Embrace that media and textbooks have changed that this is the start of an evolution of textbooks and content, and start creating ways for students to purchase their books in Kindle format. Making it easier for them to purchase a book rather than to try and search for it illegally (exactly what iTunes did for the music industry).

Has Amazon just changed the game? Will textbook publishers be able to wrap their heads around this fast enought to change their modle?

Even the New York Times after knowing that they could save money by giving everyone a Kindle, can’t seem to fully wrap their head around the change.

The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and The Washington Post to Launch Trials Offering Kindle DX to Subscribers Who Live in Areas Where Home Delivery is Not Available

I won’t expect the New York Times to just turn off the printing presses tomorrow, but why not give people the choice? They obviously see this as a way to get more subscribers rather than admit that their subscriber base is changing.

Old business models are hard to change…we know this all to well in education. It’s not until they are forced to change that they actually do. It’s not until these businesses are actually backed into a corner where they are loosing money that they decide to change. Can we keep this from happening to education? Or will education as a system follow the same pattern? Ride their business model of how to educate kids to the point that the kids (customers) just don’t show up anymore. Only then will we see real change. Only then will there really be a reason to change education. Until then…what we’re doing is good enough and there isn’t enough pressure from virtual schools or other educational methods to make the model change. In other words what we got is good enough for now…why change.

Napster was started in June 1999 and for many marked the beginning of an era of free digital music.

For the next 10 years the music industry would try to stop people from downloading free, and what they claimed to be, illegal music.

In January 2009 the largest online music store in the world, Apple’s iTunes, announced it will offer all 10 million songs DRM free, allowing people to download and share their music without any Digital Rights Management.

It took the music industry 10 years to change to a new model, to understand a new landscape, and to learn to take advantage of it.


The newspaper industry has been in sharp decline for the past couple of years. If blogs, which really started gaining momentum in 2005 (my own opinion), are to blame and if they follow the same slow path of change as the music industry will not find a way to survive in this new free digital landscape until around 2015.


YouTube was created in 2005 and really gained ground in 2006 and 2007. The television industry is just starting to feel the heat, and following the path of its brother, the music industry, has tried to conform the new media to old ways. If it follows the same path as its brother the music industry, we will not see a real revolution in the way television is viewed until 2016ish.

The conversations about the changes that have been happening and continue to happen in education around these new models of learning, and digital landscape have only been going on since about 2002 (my own opinion).

Which means we’re looking at 2012, if education follows the same path as the music industry, before we see some real change. Until then we keep chipping away at it…as it’s little changes that lead to big ones.

Just a thought!

(As you can tell from Kim’s recent post. Systematic change at all levels is on our mind at ISB)

How much time to we spend helping our community understand the changing landscape of learning?

If we want to change the system, then we need to be prepared to change the whole system. We need to help our school communities understand that this isn’t the learning they had, and it’s not the school they had either.

The hardest part about changing a school system, is that we are all experts…and I mean all of us. We all went through the system, we all remember what good teaching looked like, we remember the bad teachers as well. We remember those teachers that engaged us, and those you just did the work to get by.

We remember that you took spelling tests on Fridays, went to Library, learned how to use a card catalog, and learning how to take notes out of an encyclopedia.

To change a system that everyone knows, we need to change the thinking of everyone in the community.

Last year Kim helped to start Elementary Parent Technology Coffee events. The first Wednesday of every month parents are invited in to chat about technology and learning….more specifically about learning, but technology is a part of that. This is part of relearning a community.

Our team went to a leadership meeting and for an hour talked with the leadership team about learning, and the changing environment we fine ourselves in. This is part of relearning a community.

Tonight we spend 30 minutes with the school board, talking about the skills our students will need in the future. Helping them to understand why we need to revisit our schools vision statement and rethink what it means to be a learner today. This is part of relearning a community.

Next week Kim, Tara and I will lead the elementary staff around the changing landscape of learning and rethinking what it means to be a learner today. This is part of relearning a community.

Systematic change means changing the whole system. It’s the small steps, the conversations with all the stakeholders. Are we there yet? No way, not even close. Have we started the conversations? Absolutely, and we’ve started them in multiple places, with multiple groups. That is how change starts. Slow and steady and swells.

Never before in the history of education have we been given the task to not only educate the children they send us everyday, but to re-educate a whole community on what it means to learn in today’s world. What it means to collaborate, to read, to write, to communicate, to research. If you can get your community to relearn you can change the system.

(What follows is the thinking of many people that I have the pleasure to work with every day. It is my hope that I can put into words, for myself, how we are trying to bring systematic change to our school in hopes that you might be able to use a piece of it to bring change within your organization as well)

Systematic change does not come easy. There are many factors, people, and a history to overcome. Yet educational organizations find themselves struggling with the changes needed to stay relevant in a connected, digital world.

There are many ways to approach systematic change, yet systematic change begins and ends with a vision. A vision of what your organization hopes to aspire to some day. A vision is never really meant to be accomplished, but is instead a guiding light for an organization. A statement that allows the organization and it’s employees to focus on the task at hand.

In the past we felt the need to have different visions. A school vision, a technology vision, a vision for learning. We have different visions to drive us forward in different areas.

When we get right down to it, there really only is one vision. One guiding light that hopefully everyone within the organization can hang their hat on. So how do we make sure our visions are relevant in today’s fast pace, digital world?

I’ve spend the last couple of days looking over different school visions. It’s not that school visions are bad, but instead what we need to do is expand our thinking on what they mean in today’s world. There are many school visions that were created at just the wrong time. Right when the world was changing, schools were revisiting their school vision. Many school visions I found were created/crafted in the late 1990s or Early 2000s. What we know has changed in the past eight years. We’re not talking little change, we’re talking significant change in what we know about learning, the brain, knowledge, etc. What we need to do is many cases is re-exam our visions and understand them in a new context.

Examples from vision statements (takin from schools I have worked at or will be working with):

The gift of cross-cultural understanding

In 2003 having an understanding of other cultures meant, in many cases, studying it in a book, maybe watching a video. Google Earth (2004), YouTube (2005), Skype (2003) weren’t created. Our understanding of what it means to be cross-cultural and the tools available to help students and teachers reach that vision in new meaningful ways has changed. It’s still important…but the context of what it means to be cross-cultural has changed.

Effective communicators who do so through clear and concise written and
spoken language, relevant visuals, accurate numeracy, active listening,
critical reading, appreciation of humor and artistic expression.

This isn’t a bad vision statment. But has the school as an organization looked at what this means in a digitally connected world. What does it mean to communicate effectivley in a world of SMS, IM, Skype, E-mail, Blogs, Wikis, Social-Networks? What does concise writing look like in an e-mail vs. a report? How do you read critically in a book vs the web? Artistic expression: YouTube? Flickr?

Our mission is to encourage students to be independent, lifelong
learners who strive for excellence and become responsible stewards of
our global society and natural environment, achieved within a
supportive community that values diversity.

What does this mean in a digitally connected world?

Students should have a mastery of the core concepts and factual
information needed to function effectively in our current and future

What are teh core concepts for today? What factual information is needed?

As you past that vision statement today that I’m sure is hanging in your own office or hallway. Stop and have a read and then think do this apply to today’s learning landscape? In some cases it might be time to revisit the vision. In other cases it might be as simple as having conversations to expand the context of what the vision means in today’s world.

On Thursday during the Shifting Our Schools Podcast we’ll be looking at the Essential Question: Where do you start the shift?

In Part 2 of this mini series we’ll look at ways to start the conversation.

This morning before leaving for work I was enjoying a cup of coffee with The Thinking Chick (the new nickname for my wife by my colleagues). We were discussion a video created by one of Chad Bates‘ students in class.

Me: “It’s a great video! And think how much more she’s going to remember about Excel. Way more then she would if someone just told her how to do it.”

Thinking Chick: “Yeah, but it’s not really about Excel right? I mean you’re always preaching about the skill is more important than the content. That the process she went through to teach herself Excel and how to create a graph is where the real learning took place.”

Me: “Yeah, but she now has the skill of creating a graph in Excel.”

Thinking Chick: “But that is actually just content right? Excel is going to change, creating graphs are going to change. Don’t get me wrong I’m glad she knows how to create a graph, but the larger picture here is that she learned how to learn. When Excel changes, when created a graph changes she will be able to learn to do it again. She knows, or is learning, how to learn. Isn’t that what you are always saying?”


Yes, that is what I’m always saying that the content is great, and we need the content for the here and now, but the bigger picture is this girl was working on a life long skill of researching, learning, and then sharing her knew found knowledge with the world by created a video. That is what I’m always saying!

Even I find change difficult. I was so excited about the content that I took my eye off the real learning. That’s what I love about the Thinking Chick. She keeps me focused, keeps me real, and when I do get excited about the technology piece she brings me back to the learning. To what we are here to do….teach students how to learn.

I too constantly battle with this change thing. I was taught the same way everyone else was. I was talk to learn….and, well that’s it…just learn.

I do seek change. In my job (6 different positions in 7 years) in my life (3 different countries in 7 years) and in my thinking (constantly reorganizing my rss reader). But it’s a mental shift that even I from time to time fail to reach.

I hope everyone has a Thinking Chick either at work or at home that constantly pushes your thinking both in education and in life.

To often I hear educators make remarks about change. Either about that it’s too much, too fast, too often, or the more famous one, “Here we go again.”

For some reason, some educators do not see the I in change. The school can change, teaching can change, students can change, as long as I don’t have to change.

How do we put the I in change?

Should we even be trying?

Change is difficult, change is uncomfortable and honestly we, as humans, don’t like change!

But we are in the change business. We change minds, we change knowledge, we change attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. If we are in the change business why are we as a profession so unwilling to change?

Change our teaching, change our thinking, change our outlook. Why as a profession (not all but still the majority) of educators do we have a hard time putting I in change?

Do we need more PD time? Do we need to make reflection a priority? How do we put the I in change?

The issue I’m having with this of course is that we say students need to have the skill of learn, unlearn and relearn. Are we teaching our teachers to do the same?

Do our teacher know how to learn? I know we hope they do…but remember when we were in school we were never taught to unlearn and relearn. We were taught to learn…..period!

We’re good at learning, we’re not so good at unlearning and relearning.

We grew up in a era when you just learned how to do something and that was it….you went off and did it your whole life. No need to change, everything stays the same. Case in point…how many of you have only ever worked in education? Professionally I mean, not that summer job you did in high school. I mean a real professional job that you lived off of. (I never have. I only know education…but someday I hope I can be a professional in another field)

I’ve been thinking about this after talking to some teachers who wanted to know when the next release of Mac’s OSX was coming out.

“I don’t want to waste my time to learn something that I just have to relearn anyway.”

The problem is you still have to learn it, and some of those skills will be transferable. But yes, you will have to unlearn and relearn. We want to just learn how to do something and then not have to do it again.

That’s not the way it works in the 21st Century. You can’t buy the same cell phone, the same TV and remote, the same DVD player because they go out of date. You cannot rely on data you gathered three years ago without researching to see if there is updated more accurate data out there.

We live in a time of constant learning and if you are not constantly learning you are becoming extinct.

Find a way to help those around you put the I in change.

I’m going to remix some ideas from Gapingvoid. I do encourage you to read the entire post with an eye on education.


It seems to me that in any school, large or small, you can divide the people into three broad categories.

1. The “Changers”. These are the educators who use their work as a platform to “Change The World”. They go into a school and try to change it, in order to create something better, both for themselves and for the students at large. They can be the Principal or janitor. Theirs is not a social position, it’s a psychological condition.

2. The “Contributors”. These are educators who want to do their jobs, do it well, and get handsomely rewarded for it. They don’t necessarily see the need for “change” per se, they just want to see what works, and get it done. They want to find out who’s on the winning team, and get themselves a place on it.

3. The “Coasters”. They just want to turn up and get paid. Their lives and identities are outside their work- families, friends, hobbies etc- their job is just a means to an end; a way to pay for their “real lives” elsewhere.

He finishes with this….

My friend and I are sitting there, enjoying the evening, talking about the good old days, back when we both attended university in Austin. Suddenly in the back of mind, I’m thinking about the “Changers” inside Dell. These, I decide, are the people I need to speak to. All roads ANYWHERE worthwhile begin with these good folk. The rest can look after themselves. The rest won’t quite understand me, and there’s simply no point pretending that they will.

Who are the “Changers” at your school?

A recent conversation with my wife about NECC, my frustrations with schools and education in general led to this.

Me: I don’t know….I just don’t think it’s going to change.

Wife: Of course it’s not going to change. People don’t change unless they have to or are forced to

Me: I know…and we (the educational community) can’t do either

Wife: It’s gonna take another Sputnik.

Me: Ouch!

Wife: Yeah…but think of it, when was the last time real change was made in education? I mean deep lasting change that affected the way schools were ran and what we taught and how we taught it.

Me. True!

Wife: It’s gonna take another event like that. It’s going to take some other country to do something and make America react before we see changes.

Me: So what do we do in the mean time?

Wife: Wait.


Have I mentioned how smart my wife is…and a school counselor which is another reason she knows about Sputnik