Why Trust Matters When Schools Move Forward

Imagine I walk up to you at the Outback Steakhouse and I have a name tag on that says ‘Steak Expert.’  You might ask me what I recommend (which is the Porterhouse w/mushrooms of course) and then order. But instead of what I recommended, you go ahead with the Top Sirloin because that’s what you ordered last time.

Yes…that is me.

Basically, that situation happens to me everyday.

I just finished my first year as the Technology Coordinator after 17 years wonderful years as a Social Studies teacher and I am in some combined state of exhaustion, excitement, and uncertainty. We have a significant amount of successes to celebrate at our school and the general feeling of most of my colleagues is positive in regard to how technology is enhancing learning. Being 1:1 in grades 6-12 has advantages that allow teachers significant freedom to design interesting units of study. Because it is an international school, we are free from the shackles of a standardized testing culture. Alternatively, it has presented our school with all of the painful challenges that come with disruption. Mindsets and philosophies have been challenged, while passionate educators grapple with one another over what skills are to be emphasized and to whom that emphasis should be focused upon. Bottom line: Really BIG questions about technology are being asked by everyone involved (why technology? what to give up? whose job is it?). Complex questions that will require a synthesis of solutions & expertise — questions that will require communication and collaboration.

Borrowing from a cognitive device we all use called representative heuristic, I will replace the more difficult question with an easier one: Who do people trust to make important decision about technology in school?  I am certain that this is the question that we ultimately ask when faced with impending change in any complex situation. Do I trust the decision-maker let alone the decision? Most high functioning schools embrace a shared decision-making model that is based on – wait for it – trust, because why would a school hire a teacher or an administrator unless there is a basic trust in their abilities or their intentions. To get to the point of this post, I continue to believe that the most important qualification for success in groups is trust.  So here are FIVE important things I have come to understand about schools and trust.

1. Teachers should share their thoughts on curriculum and instruction as much as possible. The people doing the sharing are transforming learning; these people are easily connected to and, because of their transparency, can be trusted.

2. Trust the technology only as far as you have been willing to see it’s effect first hand. It is nearly impossible for things to work all the time. That being said, there are a number of situation where teachers want to apply a technology tool to a learning task but never actually tried the tool (or tested it’s effectiveness in that context). Eventually the teacher gives up and stereotypes other tools as having the same problem (remember – we stereotype because, cognitively, it saves us time).

3. Administrators are the foundation for a high energy, highly invested educational environment. Teachers will trust the decision-making of Administrators if they see three things on a regular basis: 1. Administrators in their classrooms. 2. Administrators providing feedback on unit design. 3. Administrators who have the energy to be visibly holding all stakeholders accountable to their defined roles.

If this happens, then, unconsciously, relationships will develop that will necessitate shared decision-making and articulation of a vision. Without these things in place, I am unable to even approach the concept of technology integration with an administrator because the staff view will not be shaped by trust but by suspicion and the prospect of more ‘work.’

4. Establishing trust with a captive audience requires a relationship that has the other person’s best interest in mind. Bill Walton was one of the greatest centers in the history of basketball. No question. What made him great was that all of his teammates understood that Walton was there to make them better so they could all win – together. According to Walton, “to be a great team player, one must find legitimate happiness in the success of others…and that is not an easy thing to do.” It is not always easy to do what’s best for students. I have never been particularly excited about laptops in the hands of grade school students but I can not get past the fact that school experience should mirror the real world in as many ways as possible. If I don’t create a learning design that mirrors real situations requiring collaboration, communication, and fluency, then I am doing my captive audience a huge disservice? How can they trust me?

to be a great team player, one must find legitimate happiness in the success of others…and that is not an easy thing to do. – Bill Walton

5. Trust the experts in your communities. Whether it’s the 10,000 hour rule or the well-read individual, every learning community has those “go to people” who have been there, done that….or at a minimum, have insight into a problem. More importantly, if a situation arises around a particular problem like scheduling or professional development, find the experts who can construct the necessary solution. If a community says that we are going to focus on literacy as our number 1 focus, then as the technology coordinator, I will be adamant that that focus requires a digital literacy component. If the community is going to ignore that perspective, then there is no trust – mutually.

don’t be fooled…this boy can man the helm.

Steering an entire school is a huge responsibility that requires constant monitoring of the climate inside and outside of the campus. Almost a year after taking this job I can definitely say I have learned more than I actually was able to teach others – which is a good thing. If anything I hope people have trust that I will do what is best for our students because that’s what they deserve.

Derby ’13 Picks – Don’t Overanalyze

The spring has flown by like no other I can remember. A few months ago I was watching a Shanghai Bobby dominate two year olds at Santa Anita. The new prep race format and points system has been hailed as successful and horses have emerged from the major regional circuits as the one’s to beat. Todd Pletcher holds pocket aces in this race (superpletcherfecta anyone), but Doug O’neil, Shug McGaughey, and Kenny McPeek are looking to crack them. The greatest two minutes in sports indeed.

Unfortunately, I am too busy to get Bill Simmons-y and crank out a 1000 word post so I’ll get right to the picks.

The interesting thing about this year is that there will be an absence of a sprinting specialist to set suicidal fractions to set up closers. That makes horses like Goldencents and Verrazano very likeable to most. The extra quarter mile of the derby generally is the biggest factor outside of traffic troubles.  The first horse I am inclined to back is Itsmyluckyday. One of the things I look for in a contender is a bottom and this guy has one. With ten lifetime starts dating back to June, he has seemed to blossom since coming to Churchill. I liked his Florida Derby race in that he did what he was supposed to do and got beat by a better horse on that day. Since then I am sure he has only moved forward and should come into this race very sharp. His pedigree on both sides says he’ll get the distance so I expect him to be right there in the final furlong.

My third choice is Overanalyze. Pletcher’s tier three horse is a sneaky play when considering he won the slowest Arkansas Derby in 20 years. I believe his consistency, style, and rider are reasons to back him. Versatility is key in these races and he appeared to be “push button” in his most recent start.

My second choice is Orb. An absolute beast and his work earlier in the week was just outstanding. He can rate, relax, and roll as demonstrated by his Florida Derby win which could have been by more. His training suggests an affinity for the track and I think Johnny V took off the wrong horse. Without a legit speed horse in the race, he is at a disadvantage but he has looked like the best horse this year. I think he’ll run like it Saturday.

My top pick is Revolutionary….my friend Shaun loves this guy and so do I. When we heard he picked up the services of Calvin Borel, there was suddenly more to like. He can race in and out, behind horses, and a closers run which matters in classic races. All things point to this guy so I will take him on top.

If I need to come up with a long shot then two come to mind right away but one, Mylute, seems to have the most upside. He was gaining down the lane on Revolutionary and I think very highly of the trainer who knows what it takes to win a big race at Churchill Downs (ask John Shirreffs). Lots to like in the racing lines and is peaking right now. I’d like to see Rosie Napravnik win the derby.  Normandy Invasion is another horse worth looking at in big trifecta and super tickets. He is getting better and better but is the lightest looking horse in the race. He can definitely get the job done after running off with his exercise rider yesterday.

Good luck and enjoy the day.


My picks: 3 – 16 – 9 – 12

Live longshots: 5 – 6


Getting Back Up on the Horse

I have not blogged since I’ll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby. Since then, much has transpired, and without going into details, I have neglected the duty to share my thoughts and ideas on learning (or actually the trends that will shape learning in the not-to-distant future).  As to not overdue it, this one will be quick and painless.

I finally finished Clayton Christensen’s book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Education Will Change the Way the World Learns.  I am about fours years late but at least I have arrived. The most impactive take away from the book is the great concept of “hiring a job” or what has been coined as the “Milkshake Theory of Disruptive Innovation.” The video below does a really nice job identifying what “hiring a job” means and then explains what this means for human interaction.

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When we are attempting to predict human behavior, let alone disruptive trends & systemic change due to innovation, we must be critical, reasonable, and as unbiased as possible. We end up being far more prepared for the unexpected, and this, to me, is the most important, far more flexible and adaptive.  We may not know what schools will look like in 2025, but I can guarantee that by 2025 we will be wondering what schools will look like in 2050. It is our nature and it is driven by our sense of time, purpose, and curiosity.