Friday / June 14

A Glimpse Into UnCommon Learning

This post was originally published on A Principal’s Reflections.

The world today is changing at a fast pace. We are seeing advances in technology at a frenetic rate, which is having a powerful impact on our learners. It is not that our students are actually learning differently per se, but the environment in which they are learning is dramatically different. The engaging aspects of technology today and ubiquitous access to information provide constant engagement to learners of all ages. They have embraced this digital world as it provides consistent relevance and meaning through an array of interactive experiences.

As a result, the job of schools and educators has become exponentially more difficult as a natural disconnect results when students enter their school buildings. This disconnect manifests itself, as the school environment is the exact opposite of this engaging world of which our learners are now a part. If students cannot learn the way we now teach or in the conditions that are prevalent, maybe we need to teach the way they learn and create a school environment that more closely aligns with their world.

Uncommon Learning provides a process for schools to initiate sustainable change resulting in a transformation of the learning culture to one that works better and resonates with our students. It lays out the elements necessary for establishing innovative initiatives that will support and enhance learning while increasing relevance to personalize both the school and learning experience for all students. Uncommon learning refers to initiatives and pedagogical techniques that are not present in scale in a typical school or district. If present they are more likely to be isolated practices that have not become systematically embedded as part of school or district culture.

These initiatives allow students to use real-world tools to do real-world work, focus on developing skills sets that society demands, respond to student interests, empower students to be owners of their learning, and focus on ways to create an environment that is more reflective of the current digital world. They take advantage of an emphasis on deeper learning that new national and state standards provide while allowing students to demonstrate mastery in ways that not only prove attainment, but also afford them the ability to acquire and apply skill sets necessary in today’s digital world. New standards are not seen as impediments, but rather opportunities for students to demonstrate conceptual mastery in more authentic ways. In this book I present successful uncommon learning initiatives that I helped implement as a school principal as well as examples from other schools across the country. I also pull on leadership strategies presented in the best-selling book Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times (2014).

Within a framework of uncommon learning initiatives, this book focuses on four key areas that are embedded within each chapter:

  • Culture
  • Relevance
  • Personalization
  • Sustainability

As Dr. Bill Daggett says, culture trumps strategy. Without the right culture in place it is difficult, if not impossible, to implement school or district initiatives at scale that personalize and individualize the learning experience for students while imparting relevance in the process. A culture needs to be built first where an initial shared vision is created around these focus areas. This book will assist you in not only developing a vision but also a specific plan for action that when implemented and subsequently monitored, will lead to the proliferation of uncommon learning practices.

The whole premise of uncommon learning is to increase relevance, add context, acquire then apply essential skills,9781483365756 construct new knowledge, and enhance critical literacies. Regardless of what standards you are accountable for, uncommon learning initiatives with and without technology can be integrated seamlessly to foster deeper learning. The book focuses on the following innovative practices:

  • Digital learning across the curriculum: Today’s learner yearns to use real-world tools to do real-world work. Effective digital learning environments focus on learning outcomes as opposed to the tools themselves. This chapter will address the basic tenet that the role of technology is to support learning, not drive instruction. The concepts of digital learning will be presented and discussed. Practitioner vignettes providing details on pedagogy, learning activities, and assessment will appear here and throughout subsequent chapters.
  • Makerspaces: These spaces provide cost-effective ways for any school to transform a dull or underutilized space into a vibrant learning environment. These spaces compel students to create, tinker, invent, problem solve, collaborate, and think to learn. Makerspaces can be created on any budget and motivate students to learn on their own time. They also become supplemental learning spaces for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related classes and courses.
  • Blended and virtual learning: Traditional schooling, as dictated by brick-and-mortar buildings and mainstay pedagogical techniques, no longer meet the diverse learning needs of all students. This chapter will address how schools easily implement both blended and virtual learning opportunities to personalize and individualize instruction with technology. It also will discuss the flipped classroom approach. This new pedagogical technique continues to be implemented across the globe. Pulling from practitioner examples, this chapter will look at many variations of the flipped classroom with an emphasis on how educators themselves can create short, interactive learning experiences that provide more time for the application of concepts during class.
  • Bring your own device (BYOD): Many students now possess a powerful learning tool in the form of mobile technology. This chapter will address the potential challenges and advantages of implementing a BYOD initiative. Issues such as equity, infrastructure, policy development, digital responsibility, pedagogy, and tools will be discussed. The end result is creating an environment that empowers students to use the tools they possess as mobile learning devices to enhance learning, increase productivity, develop positive digital footprints, and conduct better research.
  • Digital badges and micro-credentials: Digital badges are beginning to be embraced as a means to acknowledge a particular skill, accomplishment, or quality associated with learning. This chapter will look at how schools have begun to integrate digital badges to acknowledge the informal learning of teachers and formal learning of students.
  • Academies and smaller learning communities: These programs represent a bold vision and direction based on student interests, national and global need, and intangible skills sets necessary for success. This chapter will examine how schools can create their own unique academy programs on a limited budget to expand course offerings, form mutually beneficial partnerships, and provide authentic learning experiences that students yearn for.
  • Connected learning: Educators today can learn anytime, from anywhere, with anyone they choose. This paradigm shift eliminates the notion of schools being silos of information and educators feeling that they reside on isolated learning islands. Connected learning shatters the construct of traditional learning options such as conferences and workshops as the only viable means for professional growth. This chapter will provide a foundation for innovative learning using social media to form Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) that will continuously support uncommon learning.

Schools have traditionally been designed to work well for adults, but the conventional school design hasn’t always served our learners. Sustaining these outdated practices will not transform schools.  Students today need to be empowered to take ownership of their learning in relevant and meaningful ways to prepare them for a constantly evolving world.  It is my hope that this book will show readers how to cultivate shared ownership, respect, and trust, creating a school learning culture that students value and to which they want to belong in the digital age.

Readers will be exposed to a variety of successful strategies and initiatives implemented at schools with a focus on the purposeful integration of technology, a redefinition of learning spaces, personalized learning, and the whole child.  I hope you enjoy my latest book and am proud that it has been endorsed by Dan Pink,Robert Marzano, Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Governor Bob Wise, Todd Whitaker, Andy Hargreaves, George Couros,Sue Gendron, Vicki Davis, Josh Stumpenhorst, Bill Daggett, Baruti Kafele, Dave Burgess, JoAnn Bartoletti,Yong Zhao, Tom Vander Ark, and Greg Toppo.

The motivation and the majority of the content for this book can be seen in my TEDx talk below.

Read Ch. 1

Written by

Eric is a Senior Fellow and Thought Leader on Digital Leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) and Scholastic Achievement Partners (SAP). His work focuses on leading and learning in the digital age as a model for moving schools and districts forward. His main focus is the use of social media and web 2.0 technologies as tools to engage students, improve communications with stakeholders, enhance public relations, create a positive brand presence, discover opportunity, transform learning spaces, and help educators grow professionally. He is the author of Digital Leadership and UnCommon Learning.

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