What would YOU say to the NEA?

I have been invited to speak to the Board of Directors of the National Education Association (NEA), our nation's largest teacher union, about disruptive innovation. I'm scheduled for the morning of Saturday, December 12. I only have 20 minutes, plus another 10 minutes for questions and discussion. If you were in my shoes, what would you tell them (stick to the topic, please!)?

31 Responses to “What would YOU say to the NEA?”

  1. Wow! Well, unfortunately disruptive innovation theory as it has largely held up in the past doesn’t bode well for the incumbency of education–today’s teachers. I’d encourage them to learn from past victim incumbents, and exhort them to be the exception to the rule by acknowledging the radical shift that is already taking place. Individually and collectively (if only in smaller pockets) they can choose to help shape the future of learning instead of being shaped by it. They must realize how significant this shift is, and commit with tremendous earnest. Per the African proverb so so aptly quote, nobody ever leaps a twenty foot chasm in two ten foot jumps.

  2. Decline the invitation! This isn’t your target audience, right Scott?
    NEA is a teacher organization…no administrators will be there, no? In the Dear Will post and commentary on twitter it seemed like you indicated teachers were less desirable in the change process, so why waste your time talking with them at the NEA event?

  3. Don’t be snippy now, Matt! I didn’t say that teachers were unimportant. I said that I had limited space and decided to focus FOR THAT EVENT on the folks in Iowa who had greater policy / decision-making power.

    I do LOTS of talking and working with teachers. I repeat: they are important and necessary players in school reform. I am not anti-teacher.

  4. You may say teachers are important, and you may work with them, but when it comes time to pick those with influence in the state, you pick grad assistants, AEA folks, and newspaper reporters over teachers! Actions speak louder.

    And if you would like to discuss this further over a friendly game of Settlers of Catan, we are playing over here in Walford. :)

  5. :). You’ve created some great table conversation this afternoon! Russ brings up a good point though. Looking forward to meeting up with you again in January at Grant Wood AEA in Cedar Rapids…where both administrators AND teachers will be present.

  6. AEA leaders have a greater scope/scale of influence than classroom teachers. Newspaper reporters have a greater scope/scale of influence (in terms of reaching people) than perhaps anyone else on the list. And I don’t feel the need to defend bringing two of my doctoral students, who are integral members of the CASTLE team and who are assisting with tech leadership training. It’s okay with me if you hold your own event, invite a bunch of teachers, leave out the administrators, and even blog about it!

    Hope the Settlers of Catan game goes well. I’m partial to getting the longest road, personally. Can you play that virtually yet?!

    Okay, back (I hope) to the topic at hand…

  7. Unfortunately, it feels like you’ve missed my whole point.SEhyo leave people out? The number of seats is arbitrary. Scale back to 14 Supers an have 4 teachers, for example. That’s just one scenario to involve more minds.

    Besides, we all know that any event I set up isn’t going to pull a guy like Will Richardson. That’s what’s so disappointing about it. Influence. Here you’ve got the influence to bring in Will, and teachers get left out. That sets a precedent.

    I fully understand that it’s your event and you’ll put it together how you see fit. You see a hierarchy in this specific context that I don’t. Waiting around as a classroom teacher for directives is status quo.

    http://games.asobrain.com For some Settlers action online. Twinsfan8791 if you’re looking for a game :)

  8. Darn iPhone. That was “Why leave people out?” not “SEhyo”

  9. Since it’s my fault you were asked (and thanks for agreeing!), my hope is that you’ll let the NEA Board know that disruptive innovation, specifically personalized learning, is likely to hit the tipping point soon. I heard you speak about this at NECC09 and kept thinking, “If he’s right, teachers (and other NEA members at all levels) are going to have their work lives turned upside down even more than they already are.” To the best of my knowledge, neither NEA or any of its state affiliates are paying much of any attention to the theory, let alone planning for the future.

  10. I would challenge them to reflect upon the past few years (months) and how the UAW has responded. At first it was us against them, then it was how can we work together and finally it was what can we do to save our jobs. The challenge is we are not talking about cars we are talking about kids and our future. We don’t have the time to go through this dance in education. I think the NEA needs to be the leader in disruptive innovation and not a by-stander.

  11. Catan is available for online multiplayer via Xbox Live and for local multiplayer as an iPhone app :)

    What I would suggest to all teachers – especially to teacher leaders – is that they concentrate on compelling, forward-looking visions of what teaching and learning will look like in networked or cloud classrooms, that they teach toward that vision, and that they champion the vision whenever they can. Help cloud-share micro-level agendas and innovations from visionary classrooms, push policies that let teachers self-aggregate into professional development cohorts with professional portfolio requirements based on authentic student work, and support the restructuring and resourcing of schools with people, materials, and missions that will attract learners on a daily basis through high school graduation.

    We need teacher federations that present policy-makers with learning alternatives, including accountability models, that are more attractive than more testing for all.

    Maybe I would try to ask new questions: What would we be working on if we weren’t engaged in any of the policy conflicts in which we find ourselves? Or, What would we be doing if we were the National Learning Association? How would we be organized? What goals would we set in supporting and reforming classroom practice if that was our only focus for the next five years? Why don’t we do that? Standardized testing hasn’t killed authentic teaching and learning yet. Why not? What inoculates a classroom against it? How do we grow out those learner behaviors so policy is moot? What should school-housed learning look like in 5 years in any kind of classroom, and how can we act over those 5 years to support the highest percentage of classrooms possible in attaining that vision?

  12. Scott, I would encourage you to not simply tow the line that many supporters of K-12 online learning/virtual schooling have (i.e., bought into this notion hook, line and sinker). I would encourage you to take a quick read of my review of the book at Theory of Disruption Applied to K-12 Doesn’t Compute and then take a serious read of Zucker’s review, Lost in cyberspace: A review of Disrupting Class. Zucker was one of the original evaluators of the Virtual High School Global Consortium project – which was one of the earliest K-12 online learning programs in the United States. His critical review of the book (and the theory) tell me something about the applicability of the authors’ notions of disruptive theory in education – or at least K-12 online education.

  13. It would appear, Scott, that the NEA has a deep interest in informing their members about the essential connection they have to technology. When we are currently looking at:
    1) major reductions in funding
    2) budgets with 80% of expenses realted to salaries
    3) newly emerging approaches and access to technology by students and educators
    4) NCLB nearing the 100% proficient year
    It seems being technologically savvy and competent with these skills puts a teacher in a position to keep their position when others may be losing theirs. The message may be as simple as, “who wants to be here and for how long?” As a current building administrator, technology ability and a willingness to access and use it has got to be one of the top 3-4 characteristics I want in my classroom teachers.

  14. Scott, given the opportunity, you might encourage them to consider Moe and Chubb’s Liberating Learning main points. You could certainly challenge them with lack of preparedness for online learning, then encourage them to rethink their mission statements in light of connective/collaborative technologies that are linking the world.

    My short list of take-away’s from Moe/Chubb’s book:
    http://www.mguhlin.org/2009/12/book-reflections-liberating-learning.html

    Warm regards,
    Miguel Guhlin

  15. “What are you doing to disrupt the disruptors?”

    (For-profit online learning is disrupting traditional education. While “they” disrupt us, we have the opportunity to disrupt their model. What is the NEA thinking about?)

    (BTW, thanks for your work.)

  16. Tell them that they have a golden opportunity to be a huge force in shaping the future of education. They don’t get to vote on whether or not the disruption will occur, though; it’s already taking place. They get to decide how relevant they want to be.

  17. “Are you with us or against us? If you are with us, this ship has a chance of sailing. Is you are against us, this ship will surely sink.

    NEA, we need you on board!”

  18. Just for funsies, here are a few excerpts from http://www.claytonchristensen.com, with a little twist: instead of organizations innovating products for people, I have framed it as educational theorists innovating theories and approaches for teachers and schools.

    “Because [educational theories] tend to innovate faster than [teachers and schools]change, most [theorists] eventually end up producing [theories or approaches] that are too good, too expensive, and too inconvenient for many customers.”

    “An innovation that is disruptive allows a whole new population of [teachers] access to a [theory or approach] that was historically only accessible to [teachers and schools] with a lot of money or a lot of skill.”

    So, how can you make the innovations and changes you advocate more accessible to teachers? A lot of the language around disruptive innovation is negative. Faced with mandates and criticisms, it’s easy to see why people in the field would hunker down and get defensive. How can you make it more inviting and less threatening to teachers?

  19. This is not your grandfather’s education system . . .

  20. Wow, Russ really has an axe to grind!

    I would ask them to think about how they have and will contribute to their own demise in the face of disruptive innovation.

    I would also ask them to think beyond just online schools as disruptors. Why are students leaving public brick and mortar schools?

  21. The train has already left the station. You are either:
    1. On it.
    2. Got run over by it.
    3. Running to catch it.

    Do something disruptive with THEM! Live interactive poll using polleverywhere.com where they can answer question(s) via text msg on their blackberry, blueberry, iphone, uphone, etc…

    Ask them questions only (that you carefully craft) and they discuss the responses with them citing examples (via video) of each possible answer. “If you answered no to such-n-such a question…then explain this … insert video of student creating…on computer/mobile/etc.”

  22. I would tell them that if they are truly looking at disruptive innovation then they cannot have any sacred cows. In fact, the more sacred the cow, the more likely it is that disruptive innovation will make it obsolete.

  23. Invite them to consider leveraging the skills of their members to produce innovative online learning tools. They should welcome the chance to diversify their revenue stream. They may not survive on membership dues forever . . .

  24. The question for the NEA is what is their disruptive innovation agenda? The last reauthorization of education funding at the national level was all about leveraging standardized test scores to ratchet up accountability. Now that NEA is in a more powerful position at the national level, what is their disruptive innovation? Authentic learning and assessment?

    The case for change invites action spun as radical (disruptive). What can the NEA pull out of their national agenda that can become the next disruptive innovation?

  25. Help them understand that teachers should not be saying “Ya know, with all this new technology that they keep shoving to us, we probably ought to come up with some sort of policy for technology. If not, pretty soon we will all be forced to use it.” This was stated by a BR teacher at a Building Representative meeting for our Local Union. Good luck!

  26. Tell them that teachers’ unions are most effective when they actively and visibly invest in the quality of the product they sell to schools. Right now, in a time of disruptive innovation, that means aggressively determining how to create educational experiences that can only happen while students are physically at school and figuring out the best way to ensure student engagement and success in those experiences that don’t have to happen while physically in school.

  27. When I originally recommended that you be asked to speak to the NEA Board, this is why:

    “Yesterday I attended a NECC09 session by Scott McLeod of the University of Iowa (he blogs at Dangerously Irrelevant) who spoke about Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and “Disrupting Class”. He believes that the disruptive innovation of 21st century education is “personalized learning” and that most schools are not ready for it; indeed, they are ignoring it.

    In listening, then, to the keynote debate this morning, “Resolved:
    Bricks and Mortar Schools are Detrimental to the Future of Education”, I realized that if schools are ignoring this change, teachers’ unions are, as well. The current paradigm is school building-based local
    Associations and members. If McLeod is right, then – even if school
    buildings continue to exist as I expect they will – there will be a
    great deal more variety in the type and location of educational services
    students receive. Unions should be acknowledging and positioning
    themselves for that disruption.”

  28. Apologies for multiple posts; that’s what happens with satellite internet access: the lag time creates a sense that nothing’s happening and then – it does.

  29. Stop fighting the current innovators: TFA, NLNS and the like!

  30. I know I’m late in responding, but here goes anyway:

    I am a teacher librarian (elementary school), and feel my call is to help students learn to recognize when they need information, how to find and organize that information, evaluate the information they’ve found, and then use that information – and to do all of this in the context of the content curriculum.

    In light of your presentation to the NEA, it is more clear than every that I have the most vital teaching job. Unfortunately, our District is not unlike most others (in Iowa at least) – we have been reduced from 8 full-time teacher librarians to 3. I currently am assigned to a strict, fixed schedule teaching “IC Skills” to 45 sections of just short of 1,000 students in total isolation from the classrooms.

    I will be asking to share your presentation to building and District administration because things certainly MUST change here and everywhere. Thank you for your expertise.

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