How Staying Uncomfortable Is The Key To Success

Memorial 5th graders at New England Student SHowcase.png

As we near the completion of our third year of being a 1:1 tablet school in Burlington, I continue to ponder what is the next step. Glancing in the rearview mirror, it is hard to believe that nearly three years have passed since we distributed mobile devices to over 1,000 high school students in a school that had previously policies in place against mobile phones and MP3 players just two years earlier. In fact, the integration of iPads into classrooms went so well that we expanded down to our middle school the following year and added in half of our elementary grades this year.

While I am excited that Burlington Public Schools will have iPads for students in all grades at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, I am also anxious about our continued growth as learners. A few years ago we were looked at as a progressive school for our work in deploying mobile devices and allowing our school environment to look more like the real world where access to online resources is ubiquitous. However, just providing access was really the starting point, and as I see other schools still struggle just to get the infrastructure in place to provide the same access I worry about stagnation.

Continuing To Move Forward

Looking at some of the work of Amy Edmondson recently has helped me to frame my thinking a bit. Edmondson, a Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, has written a great deal about organizational change. She describes four zones for organizations involved in change initiatives in her article titled The Competitive Imperative of Learning:

  1. Apathy Zone
  2. Anxiety Zone
  3. Comfort Zone
  4. Learning Zone

Although my descriptions of the four zones are be a bit different than Edmondson’s, I think that these four zones can be repurposed rather nicely for schools making the move to 1:1 environments.

Apathy Zone

This is where our school was back in 2008-2009 when we did not allow students to bring their cell phones and other mobile devices into our classrooms. Living in the Apathy Zone, means that you give little or no credence to the fact that having students access web-enabled devices could add any value to learning.

Anxiety Zone

There was certainly a sense of accomplishment as we moved beyond our state of denial and embraced the reality that we would be better preparing our students for what they would be facing if we allowed access to mobile devices. However, this move also moved us into the Anxiety Zone, a place where educators run the gamut from the apoplectic few who are still shocked that we would put these gadgets in the hands of every student, to the app-addicted staff members who want to learn about every new app that hits the app store. Of course, our continuous focus on a Professional Development model which focuses on a few foundational web-based resources that can provide easy wins, along with regular time for colleagues to share best practice, provided an exit route from the Anxiety Zone.

Comfort Zone

But there was still trouble ahead because the next stop, the Comfort Zone, is one that can breed complacency and a false sense of security. This is the place where a great deal of reflection is needed to be sure that momentum is not halted. This is our current reality in year three of 1:1 in Burlington. We have a seen many more examples of students being empowered and following their passions to do things that we would not have seen prior to our 1:1 implementation. This was evidenced during the recent New England Student Showcase during the New England 1:1 Summit. However, we still have a lot of work to do in establishing the learner-led environment that will make these types of experiences the reality for all students.

Learning Zone

This transition would put us into the Learning Zone, a place where collaboration and creation is the norm for all learners (both staff and students). This is the place where we stop asking questions like “How often do you integrate technology in the classroom?” and start focusing on the tools of differentiation that can foster endless opportunities for students to show their learning in ways that best suit their learning styles. Of course, the challenge here is allowing staff the same opportunities in their Professional Development so that they can make the connections as learners that will allow them to seek these same options for their students. We can clearly see the Learning Zone on the horizon, our challenge is not to become satisfied with our arrival in the comfort zone.

Stay uncomfortable my friends!

To learn more from Patrick, come see his featured presentations at the July 28-30 EdTechTeacher Summit in Chicago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>