Is it Mission-Critical?

Having spent the past week immersed in the startup culture and innovative ethos of schools and companies in San Francisco, I am now thinking about how this might translate back to my east coast environment. A common thread that has emerged in my thinking is the notion of something being ‘mission-critical.’ Many, if not all, of the startups and independent schools we visited grounded their innovations in their company or school mission. When attempting to introduce a change or new idea, whether in a tech company or a school,  the questions often posed are: “Is that mission-critical?” “Is it helping to further the strategic plan or goal of XYZ school/organization?” This has led me to  think about how I might articulate my own “mission” as an educational leader.

If you were to craft a mission statement for yourself, what would it say? How might it connect to that of your school/company? Of those in your professional network?

Networks are mission-critical to me. As a first year teacher-librarian, I was lucky to find ‘my tribe’ through Twitter (#TLchat). I learned so much from teacher-librarians and others in education across the country who openly shared the amazing things that their students were learning. I found a home online that counteracted the isolation that came with being the only librarian in my building.

At the end of the last school year, I took a risk, and left my role as teacher-librarian. I moved into a new type of school and new position within education. Once again, I felt very isolated. The task of building a new network within this rather unfamiliar context has been challenging. However, spending the past year without my TL tribe has allowed me to think critically about what is ‘mission-critical’ for me in a specific job, an organization, and life in general. The ideas of collaborating, taking risks, creating, designing, and sharing are all mission-critical to me. Consequently…

I’ve decided that my mission statement is:


Each of the phrases above is connected to someone within my tribe. Whether I’ve had the opportunity to connect with them in person, or have been following them from a distance, their words have impacted me in one way or another.  As I start to build my new tribe, I am very grateful to have met the #pennsv16 group of educational leaders, and look forward to continuing to learn with them.

What is the Uber of Education?

The first day of our #pennsv16 adventure began at Wharton’s San Francisco campus. On our ride over, the question of ‘What is the Uber of education?’ was posed. As someone new to Uber, (yes, I downloaded the app upon arrival at the SFO airport), it was interesting to think about how Uber has disrupted the traditional transportation industry. Even more intriguing, was trying to think about an equivalently disruptive innovation within the education industry.

Working in a school with a rich and deeply-rooted history, I think the tension between innovation and tradition is ever present. Being relatively new to this particular school myself, I’m interested in how we might continue to develop our identity without simultaneously becoming trapped by it. Particularly within high-performing schools, the challenge seems to be not only articulating the value in disrupting something that’s already considered to be ‘good,’ but then acting upon that thinking.

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to start a school from scratch.

Would it be easier to innovate in the absence of a history, with a team of people building a school culture together rather than assimilating into already existing structures?

Conversely, is it more challenging to develop and ultimately disrupt a culture that doesn’t exist? Would Uber exist if there were no taxis preceding it? What does this mean for our schools and their leaders?

Notes from the day: 

Notes #pennsv16 Day One

Lessons Learned from L.E.A.R.N

For the past few months, I’ve been involved with planning parts of the L.E.A.R.N Annual Conference, this year entitled, The Debate for America’s Future (#LEARN2013). Panel discussion topics included: restructuring school systems, teacher evaluation systems, district-charter collaboration, technology, & school intervention/turn around models. The overall goal of the conference was to assess ‘solutions’ currently being offered to address issues in each of those areas & determine what is/is not working in public education.

Per their website, “L.E.A.R.N., the Leaders in Education Advocacy & Reform Network, is an interdisciplinary organization that seeks to create a forum for graduate students interested in improving the quality of education in America’s schools.  We aim to foster dialogue about pressing issues, increase knowledge of and access to career opportunities, and engage students in service opportunities in the field of education law and policy. The organization is a joint effort between Penn Law, Wharton School, Graduate School of Education, and Fels Institute of Government. While I may not always agree 100% with the mission and/or approach of the organization, I am grateful to have had to opportunity to have had a hand in building this conference.

My role, specifically, was conference manager for the ‘Technology in the Classroom’ panel (#LEARN2013tech). I had the privilege of bringing together a fabulous group of panelists & moderator; some of who I had previously only known through Twitter. The panel was a very interesting discussion about different issues and terminology used within conversations about edtech. From the opening question of What is the most interesting use of technology inside the classroom and out? to those of how technology fits within our current assessment and teacher preparation structures, all of the panelists offered unique perspectives and resources that they are using in their work.

What will I take away from this experience?

  • Behind any and every event similar to this one, there are a bunch of people working to ensure that everything runs smoothly. I am indebted to the conference team, all of whom put in many hours to make this event a success.
  • Discussions like these, about the future of education, should not be limited to or privilege certain groups. It is imperative that all ‘stake-holders’ are included in the conversation & feel as though their voices and contributions are valued.
  • There needs to be an acknowledgement that (1) Students are people, & teachers teach students, not subjects (2) Learning environments exist within and beyond the typical classroom (3) Regardless of personal opinions/interests, the overall mission of education needs to be focused on what’s in the best interest of learning.

LEARN Conference Team Photo Credit: Adam Dunn (conference photos available here)

High-Tech vs No Tech

In working on my thesis & an upcoming panel on technology in the classroom-you could say I’ve been tech-obsessed lately. However, I think it’s important to stop and consider the difference between viewing technology as a shiny new tool versus a means of enhancing student learning. Adults get so caught up in focusing on the new and shiny and loose sight of what we actually want students to learn by using technology.

This reminded me of an awesome story I came across a while back about a kid named Caine. He is a 9 year old boy who built an elaborate cardboard arcade in his dad’s used auto parts store. See the story below:

So what can we learn from Caine? I think in our tech-obsessed culture it is important to reflect on how our students are actually using technology. If the goal is to help kids develop their skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity, do we absolutely need technology? I would say that Caine’s arcade is an example of how those skills can be developed in kids with out relying on any technology.

Web Literacies (vs. Fluency)

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend Educon 2.5. A fabulous conference/set of discussions about the future of innovation & technology in schools. One of the sessions I went to was ‘Web Literacies: Redefining the Continuum of “Literacy.”‘The conversation was jointly facilitated by Mozilla & the National Writing Project. Notes from the session show the general direction in which we were heading. The Radio Rookies video from the beginning of the session is definitely worth watching. It’s a very thought-provoking piece on many levels, and provides a context for the discussion that followed about what competencies and skills were used by the students in its creation. What do we want our students to be able to do with digital tools? How are we going to get them there?

Working in small groups, one of our tasks was to use the Mozilla Web Literacies Framework to create a tree of dependencies web literacy skills. In doing so, our group spent a lot of time talking about the difference between the terms web literacies and web fluency. Is there a fundamental difference between the two? Does web literacy indicate that a student has command over different digital tools in isolation but only becomes fluent through their seamless integration? Is knowing how to juxtapose different medias to tell a compelling story indicative of fluency? Where does coding fit into all of this? At the end of the day, is the goal for our students to be web literate, fluent, or all of the above?

“And I will love words for their own sake…

…like hyacinth and piccadilly and onyx.”

So today begins my journey into the blogosphere. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while but never seem to find the time. A digital literacies course (#diglits) I’m taking this semester involves blogging, delving into multimodal texts & uncovering some new (at least to me) Web 2.0 tools. I’ll be discussing the course and some of its topics in future posts.

In the meantime, today I also received the go ahead from the powers to be on the topic for my master’s thesis. With that comes the beginning of my crazy concept mapping & outlining. (I am a huge fan of transmediation)


I’m planning to look at issues of access, equity, and integration of technology in K-12 classrooms & schools. How are they impacted by policies at the national/Federal, state, and local/school levels? Can this impact be measured? If so, by what? I’m hoping to chronicle the research & writing process as the project progresses. Here goes…

Bonus points if you can identify the quote 🙂