Innovation Leaders: Lessons from Educational Technology

A coffee metaphor for how technology can change educational practice, going from substitution to redefinition (think pumpkin spice instead of plain java) offers insights into how leaders can enhance student learning.

Written By dwalker

On December 18, 2013

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The graphic shown below, re-tweeted by Mike Paul from Jonathan Brubaker caught my fancy.  I liked both the illustrated impact of educational technology from samr_coffeesubstitution to redefinition, speaking to the power of technology to foster change in classroom practice, and the evolving metaphor of plain to designer coffee.  Educational technology can develop new solutions that are both simple and complex as the graphic demonstrates.

This made me think of the range of actions school leaders can take to substitute, augment, modify or re-define current practice.  Principals and other school leaders can do more of the same under a different name or make small improvements that don’t change the nature of education as currently delivered.  For example, most schools use some kind of professional learning community, yet few of them really foster collaboration around either improving classroom practice or making collective instructional decisions based on a variety of data.  Like latte which uses steamed instead of plain milk and in greater proportion than a typical cup of coffee, leaders can tweak current practice so that on the surface it looks different but doesn’t yield much different results.  The pumpkin spice version would instead empower teachers to lead PLC sessions, providing opportunities for them to share lessons and samples of student work, engage in professional readings and other activities they design to build a culture of professionalism and adult learning.

Consider instead what strong and forward-thinking leadership can do re-define schooling in ways that benefit students and teachers.  This redefinition can take the form of student-centered learning, where students can pursue interests and collaborate with peers on extended learning tasks that allow for depth. It can take greater advantage of the arts and technology to foster student learning, while increasing both rigor and relevance; see video and story on student projects emphasizing both the arts and technology: Maker Spaces Program.

Project or inquiry-based learning can offer students first-hand experience in how to organize time, develop and refine work products, and demonstrate new knowledge—all important skills for success in college and career.  Leaders who re-fashion the school day so it is more flexible for students and teachers, who emphasize student invention and originality, and who make the larger community part of classroom learning are on their way to brewing a cup of something that is coffee but is also so much more.

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