David Warlick Ryann Warlick Martin Warlick
Shakabuku Infographics Video

So Here’s What I’d Do

I can not remember when I have thought so little about work for so many days.  It was probably 25 years ago. This has been a wonderful holiday season and I have been a relentless participant. Alas, among my gifts were an iPhone 4s and an iPad 2. I’m back to work.

But I’ll insert here that I’ve enjoyed this time outside my professional box and will selfishly be seeking more of it. I’ve been practicing education for 35 years now and ed tech for 30 of it — and it’s time to start considering my next great passion — what ever that is.  :-)

Until them, I’m still around, and this all comes around to what got me up this morning, an article posted by Tim Holt in his HOLT THINK tumblr blog. It’s number six of his 10 Bad Trends in Ed Tech 2011. He wrote it on the 21st, but I caught up yesterday, thanks to Stephanie Sandifer’s Tweet. His sixth bad trend is “Ed tech gurus not offering solutions.”

Photo of a lighthouse

A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire, and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways. ((Lighthouse. (2011, December 20). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 11:57, December 29, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lighthouse&oldid=466924292))

I agree with some of what Holt says, but take exception with a great deal of it.  Scott McLeod expresses much of what I would add to the conversation and brings a great deal of balance. Be sure to read the comments, to which I may add something after I’ve finished this post.

For 2¢ Worth, I’d like to turn it into a challenge, “What solutions would you have, David, if you were back in that rural North Carolina school district you left 22 years ago?”

I would consider the following ten-action plan is based on my past and current knowledge of that school districts, and would almost surely be altered by a closer association.  But here are the solutions that this challenge brings to mind.

  1. Eliminate paper from the budget and remove all copiers and computer printers from schools and the central office (with exceptions of essential need). “On this date, everything goes digital.”
  2. Create a professional development plan where all faculty and staff learn to teach themselves within a networked, digital, and info-abundant environment — it’s about Learning-Literacy. Although workshops would not completely disappear, the goal would be a culture where casual, daily, and self-directed professional development is engaged, shared, and celebrated — everyday! Then extend the learning-literacy workshops to the greater adult community.
  3. Establish a group, representing teachers, staff, administration, students, and community. Invite a “guru” or two to speak to the group about the “Why” of transforming education.  Video or broadcast the speeches to the larger community via local access, etc. The group will then write a document that describes the skills, knowledge, appreciations and attitudes of the person who graduates from their schools — a description of their goal graduate. The ongoing work of writing this document will be available to the larger community for comment and suggestion. The resulting piece will remain fluidly adaptable.
  4. Teachers, school administrators, and support staff will work in appropriately assembled into overlapping teams to retool their curricula toward assuring the skills, knowledge, appreciations and attitudes of the district’s goal graduate.
  5. Classroom curricula will evolve based on changing conditions and resources. To help keep abreast of conditions, teachers and support staff will shadow someone in the community for one day at least once a year and debrief with their teams identifying the skills and knowledge they saw contributing to success, and adapt their curricula appropriately.
  6. The district budget will be re-written to exclude all items that do not directly contribute to the goal graduate or to supporting the institution(s) that contribute to the goal graduate. Part of that budget will be the assurance that all faculty, staff, and students have convenient access to networked, digital, and abundant information and that access will be at least 1 to 1.
  7. A learning environment or platform will be selected such as Moodle, though I use that example only as a means of description. The platform will have elements of course management system, social network and distributive portfolio. The goal of the platform will be to empower learning, facilitate assessment, and exhibit earned knowledge and skills to the community via student (and teacher) published information products that are imaginative, participatory and reflect today’s prevailing information landscape.
  8. Expand the district’s and the community’s notions of assessment to include data mining, but also formal and informal teacher, peer, and community evaluation of student produced digital products.
  9. Encourage (or require) teachers to produce imaginative information products that share their learning either related or unrelated to what they teach.  Also establish learning events where teachers and staff perform TED, or TELL (Teachers Expressing Leadership in Learning) presentations about their passions in learning to community audiences.
  10. Recognize that change doesn’t end and facilitate continued adapting of all plans and documents. No more five-year plans. Everything is timelined to the goal graduate.

If the institution of education is not transforming fast enough, I do not believe it is because the “gurus” are not getting their hands dirty enough fixing the problems of specific high-need school districts.  I believe that every student deserves educators who are capable of adapting to changing times.




  • http://hotthink.tumblr.com Tim Holt

    David, thank you for keeping the conversation going. This one little entry has generated more comments than any other that I have written this year.

    Let me push back a little here: You offered 10 compelling and sufficiently generic enough solutions that could be the basis for change in almost any school district. So…why can’t those 10 become the starting point of your conversations/keynotes/workshops instead of being the things that they should do after you leave? You present a blueprint here for change, and move away from the long-in-the-tooth message of “We need to change” towards a more powerful “Here is a starting point of change.”


    • http://blog.idave.us/ David Warlick

      @Tim Holt, you have certainly pushed me to think hard about what I do, perhaps harder than I’ve done in many years. It may have come through in the opening of this blog post, that I have reached a point in my career when I am simply coasting — without apology. But I suspect that I couldn’t do that for very long.

      That said, I can’t agree with your suggestion that “those 10 become the starting point of (my) conversations/keynotes/workshops,” and here are 4 reasons…

      1. It would break my three bullet rule. One of my aims, in being an effective speaker/teacher is to refine my message down to no more than three fundamental points. I’ve exceeded this number by one from time to time, but ten would be out of the question. Petty perhaps, but a ten point action plan is the sort of thing that’s better read and not presented. I may add this blog post in essay form to my online handouts.
      2. I’m not especially confident that they are the right ten steps. I have little doubt that if I were to return as the director of technology for that rural southern school district, that list would change — perhaps substantially. Maybe if I were to refine the list from 10 items to three, then… and that maybe worth the doing.
      3. Part of this may come from my philosophical objection to education based on scientific research. Research is enormously helpful. But no classroom, school nor school district is a laboratory. Each has its own nuanced challenges and resources. The best solutions come from within.
      4. Although I believe that my keynotes and workshops do offer suggested solutions, I believe that my job is to help audiences realize what is wrong. Education is unlike almost every other institution. It’s not a business or religion, and it has nothing to do with seasons and far less to do with age than we pretend. It is far more solitary than it should be, but because of our isolation, we become complacent and comfortable, and inclined to wrap our selves in standards and procedures with which to comply. Part of my job is to crack that mold, to shift your center of gravity and make you wobble, to force you to reorient yourself to find a new position of equilibrium — perhaps in a place were equilibrium is more difficult to keep.

      In one of my all-time favorite movies, Grosse Point Blank, Minnie Driver’s character says, “You know what you need? Shakabuku! It’s a swift, spiritual kick in the head that alters your reality forever.”

      In a way, I think of myself as a deliverer of “Shakabuku!”

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  • http://www.ryanbretag.com Ryan Bretag

    The problem in education remains the doing. The knowing-doing gap is both wide and deep. Even more, it is sad when we look at what we currently do despite what we know.

    The foundation of your points (goal graduate) is a long held belief of mine stemming from my Jesuit schooling and their grad-at-grad.

    Yet, the problem remains even when created: a sustained attacked horizontally and vertically on it that each member of the community believes in passionately.

    I’m sadly starting to hear Beck sing “Lost Cause” too much these days.

    Keep on keeping on! I’m off to watch Gross Pointe Blank — one of my favs, too :-)

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  • http://kinderchat-kinderchat.blogspot.com/ Heidi Echternacht

    Suggestions 2, 3 and 9 sound a whole lot like #kinderchat on twitter. Yet, many leaders in education continuously downplay our efforts or even poke fun at PLNs.

    We have invited experts to come, hold weekly meetings, run hugely interesting, awesome and cutting edge projects, all the while learning and laughing with each other in a joyful, caring and continuous dialogue.

    It seems as if even the experts advocating a practice like this are either unaware of what’s actually happening in the field or don’t take our efforts seriously, I’m not sure which.

    We are not a “should” institution but a “do” institution. And doing we are. I invite you to join us anytime. Monday 9PM EST.

    Thank you,
    Heidi Echternacht

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  • http://www.artsedcollaborative.org Jamie Kasper

    Thanks, David, for the interesting post. A couple of thoughts:

    - “Eliminate paper from the budget and remove all copiers and computer printers from schools and the central office (with exceptions of essential need).” I think I just heard collective gasps of horror from the visual arts teachers of the world.

    - “Classroom curricula will evolve based on changing conditions and resources. To help keep abreast of conditions, teachers and support staff will shadow someone in the community for one day at least once a year and debrief with their teams identifying the skills and knowledge they saw contributing to success, and adapt their curricula appropriately.” This assumes that the community has people in each field who are willing to participate in this. I grew up in a rural community where there were few or no professional musicians, dancers, or actors, or people doing arts-related work in general. How would you address that situation?

  • Allen Bryant


    Budgets are tight everywhere. I’ve made a similar suggestion @ my school that we have a network printer for each hallway instead of personal printers. I have an Activboard; therefore, I rarely use paper. I’m in my forth year in education, and the first thing that stood out to me is how inefficiently the system is ran.

  • http://unlearningtech.blogspot.com/ Chris Goodson

    Good ideas. I especially like #1, even though it would be the hardest to implement. There is so much stubborn, knee-jerk resistance to change out there. As a tech facilitator, I constantly have people asking me for MORE printers while I try to argue that we don’t really need printers much at all.

  • Megan M.

    LOVE your ideas. Reading through them truly made me excited about being a teacher during this “evolving technology period.” I plan to share your suggestions with my administration, as I think they are the ones that need to take this to the top. The most important ideas you mentioned that hit home with me were related to professional development. The problem I am facing at my school is that administration gives us a few new “toys” (SMARTboards, laptops, scanners, Flip cameras) here and there, but I have yet to receive any training on anything. I feel like I’m at an advantage because this type of equipment interests me, so I take the initiative to learn on my own, but there are teachers at my school who have this equipment just sitting in their classrooms because it intimidates them!
    I’ve done a lot of research on 21st century education and also think #5 is necessary and overdue. It makes no sense to me why districts are still using textbooks from the 1970’s that cover materials that require knowledge retrieval from students. Our curriculum MUST be updated and relate to current conditions and resources.
    Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  • http://kindergartenlife.wordpress.com/ Sharon E. Davison

    I loved reading this. So very inspirational and a reminder of the importance of vision. I plan on sharing this with everyone I know. Thanks for posting! Sharon E. Davison

  • Todd Cassell

    Very interesting ideas. I specifically like number 1. I know at our school there has been a huge push for books on ipads for every student and to element books themselves. We currently have no text in our math classes and are having to produce our own materials which often causes the use of to much paper. I also enjoyed reading solution 6. The budgets must be worked so that all teachers have the available tools to teach successfully in today’s society. With that being said, teachers must also use what they are given.

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  • http://www.kyhomeschoolers.com/forums/forum.php Kentucky Homeschooler

    Great action plan. I appreciate you putting it together. Take care.

  • http://cherishedmemories.authorsxpress.com Dr. Beverly Anderson

    David, the professional development initiatives are important, I agree.

    With the federal demands for teachers to be ‘highly qualified’, many teachers are just going through the motions. If they are able to choose the topics and suggest speakers to learn from, they will be more involved and therefore get more out of these huge segments of their time.

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