Reflections From FETC & Thoughts On Future Ready

My mind is still on overdrive since returning from last week’s FETC Executive Summit where I had the opportunity to present to roughly 200 educational leaders about Burlington’s 1:1 initiative and our student centered learning environment. It was an honor to share the great work being done in my district on behalf of our students, but it was also incredibly inspiring to hear the stories of other school leaders who are equally committed to preparing students to succeed not just in college and careers, but to flourish as productive citizens in our highly digital world.

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Over the course of the day and a half conference, I was inspired to hear about the work in the area of Makerspaces being done by Diana Rendina, the digital driver’s license program created by Kristy Cleppe, digital pedagogy from Sam Morra, Bring Your Own Technology from Dr. Tim Cook, and the leadership philosophies shared by Bob Dillon, Eric Sheninger, Tom Murray, and many other exceptional school leaders and IT professionals. The conference themes of school culture and shared leadership, equal access to meaningful, personalized digital learning opportunities for all students, and a progressive, growth mindset for school leaders resonated with me the most. The overarching message of ensuring school leaders possess the skills, support, and resources they need to get their schools #futureready (which by the way I don’t think is mere ideology) led me back to reflect on my capstone on tech-savvy school leadership which I completed in April, 2013 as part of my M.Ed. in School Administration and Principal Certification. Coincidentally, it was during this research, which I began in 2012, where I first discovered the concept of connected educators and met Eric, my Assistant Superintendent Patrick Larkin, and many others via Twitter who are now valuable members of my PLN.

As I re-examined my work, which you can read in its entirety by clicking here, I noticed many parallels between my research and the messages that were shared during FETC. One in particular involves recognizing the barriers that are preventing school districts from moving towards a more technology-rich, digital environment and implementing systematic change to remove these barriers. I am referring specifically to resistance from key stakeholders, including school leaders, in moving their schools forward at the quick pace that is desperately needed to get our students ready for their future. Note the key word quick. Education as an industry is notorious for its slow-moving pace. But time is no longer on our side. Schools must start embracing change for the sake of our students. Eric, along with other progressive leaders, would refer to an unwillingness to change as an excuse. Call them what you will; excuses, barriers, challenges, there still exists significant obstacles in getting many of our nation’s schools to move forward. Two major barriers I noted in my research are:

1. Resistance from the leadership in creating a school environment reflective of the 21st century, which MUST include the integration of modern (and meaningful) technologies and digital resources due to fear, lack of awareness and understanding of the benefits of technology integration, or an unwillingness to take a strategic risk to go against the status quo and advocate for the current generation of learners. These may be leaders who are still operating in isolation, do not cultivate an environment of shared leadership and collaboration, or are not using current technologies themselves to further their own professional learning, therefore they lack the fundamental understanding of what skills and abilities their students must develop to be successful in the 21st century. They may lack a clear vision for the future of their school. Hard to believe, but these types of leaders still do exist!

2. Resistance from key stakeholder groups including school boards, parents, and community members to adequately fund and support creating 21t century school cultures, which have the infrastructure, sustainability plans, support staff, training, and devices to allow for a personalized learning environment. Many stakeholders were taught the way many school leaders were taught, before the influx of modern technologies and digital resources. These stakeholders may possess the mindset that because the educational system they went through “worked for them” and that they “turned out fine” that the current generation of learners can go through schooling the same way. This is simply not the case. Again, this group lacks the fundamental understanding that school in the 21st century should look drastically different than it did in the previous century, yet many of today’s classrooms fail to offer the dynamic, engaging, and collaborative environment students need.

Is Future Ready the Answer?

I wish I could say the above mentioned barriers were no longer present in our nation’s schools, but sadly, I know they still exist in many places, from urban to rural school systems. I’ve spoken with many educators who teach in such districts and I empathize with them. However, after listening to so many thought leaders at FETC, I am optimistic for the future. Fortunately, there is a growing movement among dedicated school leaders who are looking to break through these barriers, change the mindset of resistant stakeholders, and do what’s necessary to transform their school districts. I saw this movement and this dedication first hand when I attended FETC and sat amongst many educational leaders seeking to bring meaningful change to their districts. Leaders like Glenn Robbins! What’s most powerful is that these progressive leaders don’t have to go through this transformation alone and their professional learning doesn’t need to stop at the FETC or any other educational conference. The Future Ready movement, which I learned about in-depth at FETC during Tom Murray’s day two keynote, was developed by the U.S. Department of Education this past October and asks district leaders to make a pledge to transition their schools to personalized, digital learning environments and this does not mean pushing out digital worksheets. Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 9.48.06 AM

Burlington’s Superintendent, Dr. Eric Conti has, not surprisingly, already made the pledge. To summarize, the Future Ready pledge asks leaders to:

-transform teaching and learning through leveraging technology
-find ways to provide technology access to all students both at school and at home
-empower their teaching staff through personalized professional learning
-develop a learning environment where students are creating content, not just consuming
-support instruction through offering students high quality digital content
-provide online resources for families to help students become college and career ready
-be transparent with their technology plans and share their work with other school leaders

The entire pledge can be read here and already 1,400 superintendents have signed the document. But is taking a pledge really going to be enough to impact our schools and better serve our students? Most likely not. That’s why schools leaders can go beyond signing a pledge and take full advantage of the Future Ready resources being offered, including a free digital readiness assessment and the opportunity to bring a district leadership team to one of the 11 free regional summits (scholarships are available for rural districts).

With all this support, how could a school leader continue to make excuses?

The Future Ready movement is not about signing a digital document and then doing nothing. It’s about being a real leader by taking action and then making the tough, but necessary, decisions to truly transform our schools. With half of the nation’s public school children now living in poverty, according to a recent study published by the Southern Education Foundation, we need this commitment to our students now more than ever before. During Monday night’s #futureready Twitter chat, there were a few Tweets regarding the poverty issue in our country. I got the sense that some believe that a school leader in a poverty-stricken area could not possibly think about the principles of the Future Ready movement. However, there are many examples of school leaders who have been able to beat the odds and transform their schools despite the socio-economic challenges of their community. So what is the distinguishing factor for these districts?

I would argue, as I did in my capstone, that it is an effective, future ready leader.

IMG_4948Attending the FETC Summit was an eye-opening experience in terms of seeing a real commitment to make a change in education. I’m proud to have had the opportunity to stand before a room full of school leaders and share how our leadership in Burlington has embraced change and is doing what’s best for our students to ensure they are future ready. My only regret is not being able to stay for the duration of the conference and continue learning. However, I left early to attend my first EduCon conference which was also an amazing learning experience, especially for my students! You can read about my time at EduCon (a perfect future ready example) on the BHS Help Desk blog or listen to a podcast about the experience on the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education MC Innovations Lab website.
A special thanks to Joe Mazza for that incredible opportunity!




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