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EdisonLearningSep 21, 2021 9:00:00 AM4 min read

3 Timely Actions for K-12 Leaders to Improve Schools Today

3 Timely Actions for K-12 Leaders to Improve Schools Today

In a recent podcast discussion, national education leaders and educational technology experts Jethro Jones, Frederick Lane, and Dr. Wendy Oliver conversed about the key trends in education since the beginning of the pandemic, many of which had begun even before COVID-19. In this blog post, we are rounding up three key takeaways that can help K-12 leaders and classroom educators move education forward in a way that benefits all students. 

Emphasize Critical Thinking Skills 

In an online classroom, teachers have an extended audience. It’s not uncommon for parents to be present during a lesson being presented via Zoom or Google Meet, for example. In the past, the teacher was the expert in the room – the only one who had the information. In the internet age, this dynamic has shifted, and it has changed even more as online learning has become more prevalent. 

Jones points out that it is very clear now that the teacher is not the only person who has the information. Therefore, it is also clear that schools should no longer be emphasizing knowledge about facts and information that is easy to look up on the internet, in which case the teacher’s expertise is improperly utilized. Rather, we should focus on fostering students’ critical thinking skills so they can better understand and draw conclusions from the information with which they are presented. Looking up information is easy, but teachers play the essential role in helping learners understand what to do with that information.  

Move From Engagement to “Enrollment”

Dr. Oliver envisions Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) changing the landscape of the workforce. She fears that if we don’t teach this generation of students to think critically, they are going to be at a loss as the future of work evolves. More and more, simply memorizing facts will fail to be a differentiator – and in fact will be a weakness when compared to what technology can do on its own. This is why, when we talk about what engagement looks like for students, it’s not just paying attention. Thinking critically and analyzing information are hallmarks of meaningful engagement, versus reciting what had just been said or memorizing facts that were retrieved from Google. 

Jones connects Dr. Oliver’s definition of engagement to an interview he once conducted with Seth Godin. According to Godin, this type of engagement is “enrollment.” Kids have to choose to enroll. Nobody can force them to enroll. We can force them to be engaged by putting something shiny in front of them, but that doesn’t mean that they’re enrolled in the process of learning.

Use Funding Flexibility for Ethical EdTech Purchases

Historically, funding has been a challenge for schools largely due to the “strings attached,” says Jones. Although there may have been a lot of money available, school leaders didn’t always feel like they had enough to meet their specific needs. But, with the unique situation presented by ESSER funds and other elements of the COVID Relief packages, administrators have more flexibility than ever before. This reality has given Dr. Oliver significant optimism that districts will not only have the opportunity to meet immediate needs, but also to plan for transformative long-term initiatives. 

Jones, a longtime principal, has given a lot of thought to some of the technology purchases he’d like to see: “I think some of the things that schools should be spending their money on are teaching about ethics in technology spaces, understanding how to use those appropriately, and then thinking really hard about the kind of technology that we buy and whether or not that is furthering our mission and what we want to have happen with our students.” 

He provides an example of buying a piece of software that is teaching kids that it’s okay to have surveillance on their computer. If you’re buying software that treats kids like ‘criminals who have yet to be caught,’ you’re going down a wrong path, he says. Buying software designed to spy on students or catch them cheating makes a statement with that purchase: “It’s really vital to make those decisions in a way that is very ethical, honors people as individuals, and doesn’t punish them for being human beings,” says Jones.

Additionally, Lane shares his perspective that purchasing software designed to catch students cheating is, in essence, training students for the kind of world that you expect them to grow up in. “If we’re treating them as kind of ‘Minority Report’ candidates – people who just haven’t been caught yet – then that’s going to really shape how they view the world.”

Hear much more by listening to Part 1 and Part 2 of this podcast conversation. Learn more about K-12 funding opportunities here: