Knowledge vs Intelligence: A Discussion for Digital Learning Age

I came across this article  some weeks ago – Does knowledge matter in the age of Google?  Heads up, the first couple of sentences may be slightly bothersome to some but bear through it as it gets to the heart of the discussion – how we as a society, particularly our growing millenial workforce,  view knowledge and more importantly, the value we place on knowing facts. There’s a great statement about how we are ‘outsourcing memory’ and are at the detriment of not knowing what we don’t know. It has a great conclusion, ‘Knowledge is not wisdom, but it is a prerequisite for wisdom..,’ after all, we do have to know why we have made decisions we’ve made and why we should or shouldn’t make decisions.

But we have the hard reality of living and working in the information age. This article, Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to be Every 12 Hours – hits on this point. Prior to our world being connected and our developing the ability to share conversations and information with the click of a button, gathering this knowledge was work and saved for exclusive groups. Now, information, more accurately access to information, is a right! We can get to it by making a casual decision to do so. With our inventions and innovations and our deciding to share, we are growing the amount of information in the world. We once held libraries in reverence for holding all or most information we needed. Now, we can take a smart device, with or without service, to a public wifi and get those same facts.

All of this leaves me with some questions:

  • What key facts should we insist on knowing/teaching?
  • What is pertinent information?
  • Who should be determining ‘pertinent facts’?
  • Are we allowing and promoting that pertinent facts should mean different things for different people?

Call to Change

The solution here of course lies in the how and the what we do in education. Our expected learning outcomes and demonstrations of learning can’t be tied to regurgitating facts or filling in blanks or solving naked math problems. It calls on us to unlearn most of our own K-16 learning experiences and embrace delivery methods that require kids to ask questions, solve problems and challenge existing viewpoints. We have to embrace that the grade of 50 or 70 or 100 cannot denote the end of learning.

We have to embrace that where our emphasis and value was on knowledge, now it has to be placed on growing intelligence and perseverance of every student. Changing these perspectives should be our top priority.

Last year, my instructional team developed a learning activity for the staff. We gave them fact recall questions OUT of their content area and told them NO TECH! There was a little stress at first but when we allowed them to use tech to answer the questions they felt a little better. Imagine how this makes our kids feel. [Fact deficits should not impact a child’s comfort in class] Later we gave them a the real activity that required them to dive deeper into the concepts and create a project that really demonstrated understanding. For this outcome, it really didn’t matter what facts you brought to the table, the tech helped with the fact gathering. What counted was the team working together to achieve the goal and building upon each other’s strength. The lesson design made the day. We have to continue to work with our adults to change their perception of good work to ensure that our students are able to participate in that work.

There are new skills and mindsets our students need that we can dive into while teaching our standards:

  • 21st-century-skills-4-cs-graphicWe can design with the 4 C’s in mind;
  • We can coach perseverance;
  • We can help stoke the fire in our students to be compassionate and service-oriented;
  • We can bring the value and need for curiosity to the forefront;
  • We can unlearn and relearn what’s ‘important’ in education to design learning and delivery that will help students with their future needs and problems.

Motivations for Joining a New Team

For most schools, summer is a time for conversations and interviews for vacancies. Every new day in summer brings about new opportunity for hiring more staff to bring into the school, an opportunity to bring new skills, backgrounds and perspectives to make for a more diverse learning environment.

tumblr_nqqbb7KYTq1u3mvsoo1_1280I look forward to these talks because I am always looking for different voices and thoughts to make my team[s] better. Creating and building a healthy schools means building a team [I avoid the word family here] that is focused on growth and improvement and school goals. A healthy school can weather conflict and challenge amongst team discussions and planning and come out better, stronger, even renewed at the end. Every principal is looking for these lead learners, at all levels, to make classrooms, grade levels, departments and groups better.

I’ve recently began to focus on why people want to work at West Rowan Middle. West Rowan Middle is a great school with a great reputation, academics and athletics. We are fortunate that our school has a special place in many local hearts. While we don’t get the attention of our larger neighboring school districts, we are lucky to get the love we do. So when we’re interviewing and the question comes up about why are you looking to join, the answers vary widely. Its great to hear prospective teachers say they are looking for growth opportunities/advancement, help with developing skills or just looking to teach in different environments. While this doesn’t guarantee a job, it does get us off to a great start. And its sometimes like finding the treat in the Crackerjack when you meet the educator who’s family has recently transplanted! Its a great feeling.

teamRecently some of my conversations have led to me probe even deeper into motivations of people seeking to join our school. One reason given is people have been ‘wanting to get close to home.’ At first, I took this as a welcome sign but as I’ve reflected on it, I am becomimg more indifferent about it, to the point now where I may not be happy with this answer.

This answer, on the surface, is about convenience. While I recognize it may make the teacher’s personal life easier, it doesn’t say anything about a commitment to making our school better or dedicating to working with our school population.

Our kids need and deserve someone who is committed to the vision, goals and mission of our school.

We have to make sure that the people we are inviting in for interviews are seeing the our school first. Our mission, vision and core values are setting a course for our school. Its made me change what I want to make sure I hear from candidates. I’ve added some questions to my interview expectations to gauge where the hearts and minds of the people wanting the join the #Bulldog staff:

  • How will you make our school better?
  • How will you make the world a better place?
  • What is the best learning activity you’ve ever created? Name two ways you can improve it.
  • If we were to interview kids from every year you taught at WRMS over the next couple of years, what would they say about how you have helped them grow?

We want and need everyone who wants to come to West Rowan Middle and make a difference for kids and our school to be a #bulldog. But all of our priorities have to align – kids first and making sure that our teams are the clear winners!

Supporting Our New Teachers

I’ve been meeting with our school based new teacher mentor about  planning impactful on-boarding experiences for our newest teachers, both to the profession and the building. This is her first year in the role and she wants to make sure she does a good job in supporting our newest game changers.

mentorDuring our last talk, I asked, beyond the normal paperwork and monthly meetings, what innovative things did she have planned for our new teachers? This conversation evolved into something wonderful. We all know the value of the gentle nudge, the right question that will inspire people to do move out of a routine pattern and think different. That’s what happened here. I don’t think our new teacher coach [and that’s the title I am giving her by the way] expected to be given a wide berth in this role. But that’s what I was asking for – extraordinary experiences to grow our new teachers.

We prefaced our list of learning opportunities with the premise that while we won’t overwhelm our new teachers, we will provide them with quality growth opportunities with consistent opportunities for reflection.

I was very happy to empower our lead learner/new teacher coach with the freedom and support to help our newest game changers grow and develop. Instead of a checklist, she needed support and encouragement to take risks. It made it safe to give her the three things we need to grow and support our new teachers:

Game Changer Initiative 1 – Support: During our last faculty meeting the outgoing new teacher coach gave a very moving and heart felt appeal to our new coach – ‘You have to get to know them.’ Those words still resonate with me. On her last day, she told me that getting to know new teachers and seeing them grow gave her personal/professional joy and fulfillment, in turn I’m sure it enriched their lives as well. This opportunity to build relationships and have different conversations has to get beyond the check-in and check-out mode we fall into. Our newest game changers need to know it is safe and always welcome for them to come to us with what’s on their plate. They have to know they won’t always get the answer they want but they will always get the support they need. #relationships
Game Changer Initiative 2 – Motivation: We can’t change the realities and demands of teaching. While we can challenge traditional thought, we can’t shield/protect/avoid the things that can easily despirit us. Its our charge as lead learners to keep new teachers inspired. Visiting other schools and seeing best practices, getting new teachers to find and share a great Pinterest collection with the group, share a new PLN building experience are great ways to start conversations and keep everyone focused on moving forward. Getting better is the goal. Carol Dweck’s Mindset, is a great read and it dispels the notion that we have to stay in cheerleader mode 24/7. While I believe in a positive disposition, we have to keep new teachers focused on growing and improving, not at an arrival. new teacherNo matter they victories or barriers we are living now, we have tomorrow to make another difference with students.
Game Changer Initiative 3 – Keep Them Hungry: This is a goal for every lead learner. How does a teacher keep his class motivated to keep learning more difficult materials? How does a department chair keep her teacher group focused on trying new teaching methods? How does an administrative team keep teachers focused on continuously growing new skills to match new learning needs? I share resources I collect from my PLN regularly with my staff. I embrace my role as a researcher/reader and filter out what is not needed, what can be useful later and what will make good PD/discussion points now. My team makes a point to challenge traditional concepts when we can and at the same time provide alternatives, mostly found from our PLN. But alternatives and a suggestions don’t create fire in new teachers – a lead learner focused on seeing learning and teaching that is responsive to student needs does. Good talks about our new vision, mission and core values is a good start. Not settling for what is convenient is great mindset and students-first is a must.

‘Is Your Leadership Attitude Worth Catching?’

month, Dr. Julie Morrow , our Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, led a talk with principals about setting the tone in our schools and how important our influence is to teachers, students and our community. I tweeted this picture during her presentation as what she was saying really resonated with me and the conversations I’ve been having with several #leadlearners around my school:

Her passion about this message evident and this is a message that speaks volumes by itself. It made me reflect on my actions and thoughts:

  • the-principal-50-part1
    The Principal 50: Critical Leadership Questions for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence @PrincipalKafele

    What do I really believe about my school?

  • Would teachers/students parents be able to articulate my beliefs to a visitor to West Rowan Middle?
  • What does a person see/hear when I am talking about West Rowan Middle?
  • Do my students say my attitude sucks or do they believe I love them and my school?
  • What am I inspiring people to say, think and do?
  • Do they see/hear a consistent message?
  • Do they hear trust and belief from me?
  • Do I joke too much? Do I use sarcasm at the wrong time?
  • Am I speaking with enthusiasm and drive? Commitment?

I also reflected on other lead learners in my building:

Department Chairs: Do the teachers in these departments merely get updates or are they hearing an inspiring message to try new things? Do the teachers in departments know they are supported on every level? Are teachers encouraged? Are teachers being told that their department is critical but our overall goal is drive the school mission and vision forward?

Grade Level Chairs: Do teachers hear a positive message in supporting the emotional/social needs of our kids? Are teachers building great routines that help them get to supporting students? Are teachers being told that their grade level is the most important and our overall goal is drive the school mission and vision forward?

Leadership Team: Are they seeing me model tough conversations and change and is it giving them the tools and impetus to do the same? Do they hear and see the vision of our school being communicated in a powerful way that will help them repeat the message?

Parents: Do my parents hear me say we look forward to seeing kids everyday? Do they believe it? Do they know we are always looking for new ways to challenge kids?Do they know that we treasure their future?

I want my attitude and message to be meaningful and contagious. This is a great message for us all, any educator in any position, to keep a keen eye on what we do and say and be purposeful in our acts and messages.

Other resources:


Changing Narratives and Perspectives at the End of the Year

14737877-vector-symbol-of-question-mark-isolated-on-white-background-Stock-VectorLike all schools, as we wrap up the end of the year, we schedule conversations with teachers and staff to reflect on the year. We try to talk at length about things that have gone well and not-so-well and what adjustments can be made for the next year.

I’ve recently began these conversations at West Rowan Middle. This being my first year here, its been great to be part of these conversations with a new staff as we embark on our change journey. From some of these conversations, I’ve come up with some topics I want to make sure I cover at the end of next year. They are reflective and show some vision building on their part

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 1.33.44 PM1) What have you learned, unlearned and relearned this year? – This year, we gradually introduced new topics and operational procedures. We all know change is hard – I’m going to be interested in seeing how we make adjustments and look forward in anticipation for the things the things coming up next year.
2) How will your learning space look different next year? – At the beginning of the year, we make some concerted efforts to create some collaborative spaces for each grade level to give our students some space and opportunity to produce great work. Throughout the year, I have also shared lots of resources of flexible spaces and classrooms and how they all tie into creating different learning opportunities for students. This topic should get teachers to thinking on how environment affects learning, operations and procedures in the classroom and what they can do to enhance that is happening in their rooms, grade levels and department plannings.
22f97e0ad232f9343e424963aee2a2be3) What summer learning experiences do you have planned? – Encouraging others to build PLN’s is always good measure. Nothing shows initiative and commitment and value like joining conversations on Twitter or group discussion on Voxer to keep our own growth continuous and impactful. [This summer, we also reading for our second book study, Mindset]
4) How will student engagement/student learning look differently? – We always stress to teachers that improvement, not perfections, is a process goal. This is an opportunity to reflect on things that have gone well in class and collaborative planning and make plans for taking chances with activities or learning models that help take us from good to great.

I would love to hear from you on some of your favorite end of year questions that either you ask others or have been asked that have helped you in your growth to being a better educator.

Technology is a Gap Closer

Like many of us my good friend, Daisy Dyer Duerr@DaisyDyerDuerr, drives the value of integrating technological learning experiences into the classroom. Of the many values she speaks on, technology serving as an experience gap closer for students is at the top of her list. We both have experience working in rural schools and talk about how lack of cultural experiences is a barrier teachers have to get creative to work around in all schools, not just rural students.

We are in a rural school system about 30 minutes north of Charlotte, North Carolina. My current school serves largely a rural area, covering about 1/3 of county. Our school population is about 65% free and reduced lunch. We have great kids and supportive families, many are very involved and care about their kids but many also have other priorities. While its not surprising that many have not been out of the state of North Carolina [state line is about 75 minutes away] it does catch you off guard how many haven’t been to Charlotte not on a field trip or educational experience. This isn’t about judging experiences or decisions of our families, its about respecting the priorities that our families and its a call for us as educators to use resources at our disposal to serve as gap closers.

Last week, our tech facilitator Jerry Pittman,@wrmstech, helped close the opportunity gap for several classes of students using @googlecardboard. Our 6th grade Social Studies teachers are exploring ancient China, and saw exploring the Great Wall as a means to really engage kids. Our media specialist @wrmsreads, and Mr Pittman, regularly attend our collaborative planning meetings to involve themselves in curriculum talks. He was invited to help plan this part of the unit. He thought of the integration and usage of GoogleCardboard to help with this learning experience. He and Ms Kennington, our 6th grade social studies teacher planned this day and activity down to the detail.

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I’m struck by how small efforts on our parts make huge differences for our students. The ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ and sheer amazement in the room really let us know our students had a deeper learner experience than just from watching a video or reading some online materials.

Takeaways from this experience:

  1. BYOD: Even though our school and school district is 1:1, this would not have been made possible if the teacher had not permitted the students to bring their personal devices and Mr Pittman had not given clear instructions and set expectations for what they were to do;
  2. Engagement: We hear so much from teachers that if students are allowed to bring devices, they will get distracted. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Like most things in the classroom, its about expectations being set and having the determination that learning will be engaging and fun. Its ok to design learning that will blow students’ minds wide open;
  3. Have clear learning targets set: A good friend of mine, Bill Ziegler @DrBillZiegler has mantra – don’t chase technology, chase learning [spoken like a true digital principal]. From this video, you can see that design and outcomes were set early. This is what makes great teaching. We look for technology to enhance learning experiences and create next level excitement and engagement. I speak to principals and teachers regularly about the perils of reversing this process. Its critical we get this right.

You can read about Mr Pittmans firsthand experience in his blog post here: A Day in The Life of Using Google Cardboard in A Classrom He is a connected educator and welcomes connections.

This virtual field trip experience was about kids and giving them a learning perspective that they can really communicate and appreciate.

The Realities of Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning

James Pittman, the technology facilitator at West Rowan Middle School, shared this article with me about a digital/thinking shift happening at AT&T.

14att-split-master1050Gearing Up for the Cloud, AT&T Tells Its Workers: Adapt, or Else

Randall Stephenson, Chief and Chairman at AT&T, has laid out a new, clear vision for where the company needs to go, specifically in terms of evolving employee skills.

“There is a need to retool yourself, and you should not expect to stop”
‘If you don’t develop the new skills, you won’t be fired … but you won’t have much of a future’
“Learn new skills or find your career choices are very limited.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 1.33.44 PMThis is a good hard truth for many of us working with students and teachers in schools today. This article talks about the dire need to evolve – if the employees of this company do not continuously grow skills and adapt practices they could face some dire changes. The absolute same can be said for us in schools – if we don’t change beliefs, practices and approaches to learning and teaching, we will woefully underprepare students for their futures.

It was telling to hear that Stephenson’s own brother is one of the reluctant movers of the company – talk about a leadership conundrum. But in terms of what we face and do in our schools, are we having the difficult change conversations with our co-workers that will bring about the change we need? Are we having the ‘good’ conversations with others about:

  • flexible learning spaces
  • passion/problem based learning
  • BYOD
  • Student ownership
  • Decreasing direct instruction
  • Flipped learning
  • Blended learning

Do they know they have to change for their students? What do we do when they are reluctant?

hqdefaultThis makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Alvin Toffler captured in this visual. This was profound when I read it years ago and even more striking when I read it in the context of this article. Literacy is a fundamental skill but we have to teach everyone that fundamental skills today also include adapatability, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and grit. If we don’t promote these skills, students may not only find themselves ‘illiterate’ by new measures, they could also be unemployed or ‘have limited options.’ I want better for my students.

A few takeaways:

  • Do you have a clear vision of where you want to take your department, school, or school district and can people articulate it?
  • Stephenson needs his employees to be critical, flexible thinkers and solve problems they didn’t imagine when they first began working – are you training students for that mindset?
  • How are you fostering growth and change in the skills of people in your department, school, district?
  • If students returned to your school in 5, 10, 15 years would they say “This school really prepared me for my future” or “I’m riding the copper train all the way down”
  • Does AT&T have Twitter chats? Imagine the growth and potential for implementing PLN growth practices like Twitter chats or edcamps [or whatever is comparable].

You should share this article with every stakeholder group in your school.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 1.33.44 PMParents should read this article because if they aren’t educators they can appreciate a good business/work story and the implications of what happens when an employee can’t meet company needs.

Teachers should read this article because they are living this reality [or they should be]. We all have to check our great practices from 5 years ago and embrace that every year is a new year and we should be putting something in place that we have newly learned.

Students should read this article to begin to understand why they must develop dynamic skills and a growth mindset. We should be celebrating successes and growing hungrier from every opportunity given to us.