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Digital Transformation: 2 Proven Strategies for Uncovering the Why

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Enter “k12 digital transformation why” into Google and what you’ll see is a fair number of school districts undertaking digital learning initiatives driven by putting devices in the hands of all students - 1:1 and BYOD. And this is what seems to be the focus...the device, confirming what I see in many schools and school districts….focus on the low-hanging fruit of devices with little to no evidence of deeper work around WHY our schools must be transformed.

How can we as leaders approach this WHY conversation? How can we quickly bring stakeholders (whether parents, students, teachers, other administrators, school board, community or business leaders) to that point of making an emotional “ah-hah” connection to a need for change - the WHY?

I’ve  used two effective strategies that don’t take a lot of time and allow stakeholders to make a personal connection to this need for transformation.

1. The first strategy comes from Larry Rosenstock, CEO of High Tech High. He calls it the most memorable learning experience exercise. I’ve used this with success in a keynote at the Keystone Technology Innovators Summit this past summer. Here is the process:

  • Write down your two most memorable learning experiences from school.
  • In a small group, share and synthesize the experiences to come up with the key characteristics that define an important, significant learning experience.
  • Share out in the whole group. (Common themes will likely include a project, involved community, fear of failure, recognition of success, a mentor, public display of work, etc.)
  • Once your stakeholders have generated a list, ask the questions: How does this comport with the way you teach? With the way your children learn? With what you see in our classrooms?

Your audience will quickly see the disconnect between what is memorable for learners and what the majority of learning looks like in our classrooms. Stakeholders will then be able to article a strong WHY for digital transformation based on reasons that go deeper than technology devices.

2. The second strategy comes from Ron Ritcchart and ideas outlined in his book Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools. The process is similar  to the one above because it focuses on the participants answering a question from a personal perspective. I’ve used this strategy successfully with a group of parents. Again, it allows participants to quickly arrive at their own understanding of the need for change in schools - that WHY.

  • Using the chalk talk thinking routine, ask participants to record their thoughts on large chart paper to the question: What do you want your children (all children) to be like as adults? You might prompt with additional questions: What ideas come to mind when you consider this question? What connections can you make to others’ responses? What questions arise as you think about the question and consider the responses of others?
  • Share out in the whole group. (Common themes will likely include curious, engaged, able to persevere, able to learn anything they want, thinkers able to communicate, collaborate, innovate and problem-solve.)
  • Finally, ask the questions: How are our schools doing in producing this vision of learners? How is the current story adequately promoting the outcomes we value? How can we fill in the gaps?

transformMake some deep thinking time to process these strategies yourself and see how effective they might be with your group of stakeholders. Choose one, or maybe even develop a synthesis of the two. Spending time with the strategies will provide you with a valuable experience before sharing them with a larger group.

Once your group of stakeholders understands the WHY behind transformation, then you can move on to the even deeper questions: How do we dream and articulate a new vision? What if... And of course, technology will be a part of that conversation, but it needs to wait until the WHY has been addressed.

How have you successfully navigated the WHY of digital transformation with your stakeholders?

In a future post, we’ll share some ways to approach the dreaming and articulation of a new vision for teaching and learning and think about how technology plays a critical role.

Connect with Randy on Twitter and on the TLTalkRadio podcast!

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Randy currently serves as Superintendent in the Salisbury Township School District in Pennsylvania. Prior to his current position, Randy was a classroom teacher, Department Chair, Technology Integration Specialist, Director of Technology and Assistant Superintendent. Randy is also Clinical Adjunct Professor of Education at Moravian College, teaching courses in inquiry, assessment and technology in the undergraduate, graduate and principal certification programs. He graduated from Moravian College with a B.Mus. degree, earned his M.A. from Teachers College, Columbia University in technology leadership, and an Ed.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in educational and organizational leadership. In 2014, the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association (PSLA) recognized Randy as the Outstanding District Administrator for the state of Pennsylvania. In 2015, Randy was recognized by the Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology (PAECT) as the Outstanding Leader of the Year. Follow Randy on Twitter @ziegeran, read his blog WorkingAtTheEdge.org and listen to the podcast co-hosted with @lfuinihetten at TLTalkRadio.org.
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