When CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are asked to list the skills they most want to see in their employees, they never say “good at math” or “proficient in writing.” They are more apt to list soft skills like “resilience,” “teamwork” or “leadership.” In his book, Mobile Learning Mindset: The District Leader’s Guide to Implementation, Carl Hooker suggests that district leaders need to measure these important skills in addition to traditional academic indicators when implementing a technology initiative.
Hooker, who is director of innovation and digital learning at Eanes ISD in Texas, helped spearhead a mobile learning program that put iPads in the hands of all 8,000 students across the district. He urges district leaders to start with the “why” before embarking on a technology initiative.
Here’s an excerpt from Mobile Learning Mindset: The District Leader's Guide to Implementation.
Start with why
One of the most influential videos during my time as an administrator early in our initiative was Simon Sinek’s TED talk “How great leaders inspire action.” In the talk, Sinek discusses what he calls the “golden circle” of what makes certain people or companies successful. The root of his talk (and later his first book) is that as leaders, we must always focus our attention on the “why” whenever starting a project or initiative.
I found this talk extremely compelling, especially when I first watched it. At the time, we were in the throes of a debate about what device we should choose for our 1:1 mobile device initiative. Lots of time and energy were dedicated to this “what” of the initiative, while equal amounts of time and energy neglected the why. Ultimately, we discovered the error in our ways and refocused our energy on why we were doing this in the first place.
As a leader, you will need to communicate this message clearly and well to all stakeholders. Everyone from a teacher to a parent to a student should know what the purpose of learning with mobile devices is in your district. Creating a vision or goal out of the why will help guide all other parts of the initiative. In this book, we’ll look at why having a strong and well-communicated vision is so important and discuss the role a leader plays in a district that is embracing mobile learning.
Many districts have a mission or vision statement. If I had to hazard a guess, they are buzz-filled sentences or paragraphs about pushing kids toward excellence and making learning personalized for each student. Most, if not all, usually contain some statement about becoming global learners or using the 4 Cs of 21st century learning in the classroom. The bottom line is, districts put this type of language in their mission statements but rarely have an action plan to follow through with it.
Any district starting out with a mobile learning initiative needs to look long and hard at these statements. Do they need to be adjusted? Can the goals of the initiative align with the goals of the district? Our district’s mission statement mentions having students globally learn in a “technology-rich environment.” So, although there may be differences in opinion about what that means, I always point to that statement when discussing why we are doing a mobile device initiative.
Set measurable goals
It’s also important to have some measurable goals in mind when you are setting out on this mission. You might take the bait and decide to tie your mobile device initiative to test scores. I’ve seen districts go this route to improve writing or math or science scores. The thinking is the introduction of mobile devices will “auto-magically” make the scores rise as the students will have more access to technology (neglecting any thought that pedagogy might actually play a part in that, too).
Although I think test scores do play a role in measuring school districts, scores don’t necessarily measure the impact of learning. Judy Estrin writes in her book Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in the Global Economy that innovative companies like Pixar steer clear of measurements for the most part.
While you can have metrics that will measure small, incremental components of your initiative (such as student engagement or communication), it’s not feasible to associate test scores with that innovation. In fact, Estrin goes on to write that innovation geared toward the future can’t be measured while it’s actually happening.
That’s a good lesson for an administrator leading a 1:1 initiative. The long-term goals and measurements can’t be fully obtained until students have left the institution. Before our initiative, one of the first bits of feedback we got from students who had graduated was that although we prepared them for the academia of college, they weren’t prepared for all the digital distractions that would be surrounding them. Alumni would share that they would sit in 300-seat lecture halls and witness all the students with multiple devices half-paying attention to the professor and half-paying attention to their device.
In the college setting, most professors believe that it’s the job of the student to learn — more so than it is the professor’s job to make sure they learn. So students leaving a fairly device-restrictive, nurturing environment are suddenly thrust into a world with no support and no boundaries. While this could be the case for most students heading to college, we saw an opportunity to help with at least one part of this issue. Teaching students at an early age to manage digital distraction, while a disruption in the early stages, was a major goal of our initiative in the hopes that students would be more than college-ready; they would be college-successful.
Measure soft skills too
One of the most powerful graphics I’ve ever come across was from Tracy Clark (@tracyclark08) and her “S’more” she created called “measuring what matters.” When CEOs at Fortune 500 companies were asked what they want most in future employees, the words that they repeated the most were represented in her “soft skills bingo” card.
What stands out to me right away isn’t so much what you see, but what you don’t see. I don’t see “good at math” or “proficient in writing” or even “good with Microsoft Office.” You see skills like perseverance, resilience, teamwork, leadership and those 4 Cs we hear about so often (collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity). These “future-ready” skills, as I refer to them, are much more important to the future of our kids, so shouldn’t we focus on them?
Now in the fourth year of our initiative, these skills are the ones we measure going forward. While there is no true 21st-century skills assessment, there are a few on the market that could accomplish the task. When done in conjunction with portfolios, observation and qualitative surveys, you could really start to measure how these skills are being taught in a classroom. Although technology isn’t a specific skill listed here, it certainly affects most areas of this bingo card.
So as you move forward through this book, be thinking about what skills are the most future-necessary for your students and how your initiative can help build those skills. If at all possible, have a pre-assessment based on these skills so you can have some comparative data (one of my top 10 things not to do, as we failed to do this from the outset). Keeping this at the forefront of your mission will not only drive change, it will give leadership, teachers, students and parents a clear vision of what is expected and what the goals of your mobile device initiative are.
Read more about what makes tech initiatives successful in Mobile Learning Mindset: The District Leader’s Guide to Implementation.