(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.