Change the Culture!

##AUTHORSPLIT##<--->The message brought forth at a recent ed techconference came through loud and clear.Geoffrey H. Fletcher

DATELINE: SAN FRANCISCO—People from companies serving the technology and education world convened here last month at the Software and Information Industry Association’s Ed Tech Industry Summit, and had plenty to say about what you and your colleagues should do to improve education, and especially how you should use technology to do it. All those remedies boiled down to one:Change the culture.

Notice I said people from companies, not vendors. I use this term judiciously, because many, if not most, of the ed tech professionals at the summit were former educators who care deeply about kids—the effectiveness of their education and the quality of the technology they’re using. I sat with colleagues from software, Internet, infrastructure, hardware, and consulting companies to discuss the market and the use of blogs, podcasts, and gaming. While many sessions focused on selling to this market, some featured educators from school districts and education service centers, as well asstate bureaucrats.

In every session, we discussed how to help educators and improve education, and in virtually every one, a speaker or panelist said that doing so will take more than filling schools with more technology— it will take changing the culture of schools. The message grew into a mantra: In order for our product or service to be used effectively, we must change the culture.We know what is good for schools; we can help change the culture. Heads would nod around the room: Changing the culture is difficult, but it must be done. Then a question began to nag at me: What does “changethe culture” mean? From what to what?

No one actually defined the culture change, but everyone seemed to be talking about a similar concept. Simply put, it involves giving students more control of gathering information, working in small groups to solve problems, and displaying their knowledge andskills in a wide variety of ways.

Given the concept—and the audience of tech professionals—technology was considered an integral component in all of this. But in addition to never identifying what change, no one at the summit explained how to engender it. There were references to professional development, but the more I listened, the more I discerned a consensus: To transform the culture in our schools, weneed to do all of the following:

  • Change No Child Left Behind when it comes up for reauthorization in the next couple of years.
  • Change the way states administer education.
  • Change the way states and districts adopt textbooks/content.
  • Change colleges of education.
  • Provide extensive professional development to all teachers, and especially school leaders.

It’s a lot to ask, a point recognized by Piedad Robertson, president of the Education Commission of the States, which helps states exchange information on education. She says that whenever she despairs over the amount of work that needs to be done—that ultimately may not make a ripple of difference— she feels like Simon Bolivar. When Bolivar was asked on his deathbed how he felt about liberating South America, he is reputed to havelamented that he had “plowed the sea.”

In my own mind, I countered with a favorite line from George Bernard Shaw:“The reasonable man adapts himself tothe world; the unreasonable one persistsin trying to adapt the world to himself.All progress depends on theunreasonable man."

Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editor-At-Large

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.