Are We in Prison or in a Learning Organization?

My friend, Miguel Guhlin, has recently started reading Phil Schlechty's book "Leading for Learning" and has been doing a remarkable job posting his notes on his "Around the Corner" blog. Last night he finished chapter four, in which Phil touches on his metaphor of schools.

My district has been deeply entrenched in Schlechty's work for going on six years now and we've looked at this metaphor of schools many, many times. In short, Phil proposes that schools exist either as "prisons" at one end of the spectrum or as "learning organizations" at the other end.
Along the continuum, schools can be viewed as warehouses, factories, or professional service delivery organizations. In his matrix, Schlechty describes what contributions (or limitations) different members of the school system contribute at each of these levels. For example, in a prison-like model, parents are viewed as distrusted visitors while the teachers are guards. At the other end of the spectrum (in a true learning organization), parents are partners and members while teachers are leaders, designers, and guides to instruction.

Miguel's blog post got me thinking - what  roles would educationally technology (or technology directors) play at each of these levels? How can technology move us "up the scale" in Phil's school metaphor?

If we practice the prison model, then technology directors would view hardware as a rare commodity not to be trusted in the hands of the timid. We would see the flow of information (e.g. the network) much the same way and build safeguards around it so thick that no one would be able to access it. Our end users would be viewed as potential threats to the overall system and would not be trusted. Vendors would be enemies and software licenses "treats" doled out only to our ideal inmates.

Sadly, this model actually exists in some schools. In these prison-based models, technology rules, regulations, AUP's, filters, are firewalls are set up so stringently that a atmosphere of distrust is evident and, in turn, meaningful technology integration suffers.

Don't get me wrong. AUP's, filters, firewalls, and the like are necessary. In fact, we have both a legal and moral obligation to safeguard our students and our teachers and staff. But these safeguards cannot and should not come at a price so steep that it hinders our schools' abilities to use the tools.

I hope that as a Technology Director who strives to "lead for learning" that I serve my students and staff as an instructional guide, a motivator, and innovator, and a visionary. I love when students or teachers come to me and ask, "Dr. Rios, would it be possible to ....?" because that tells me that they're thinking outside the box and trust that I can support them. (P.S. The answer to "Would it possibly to..." is usually "Heck yea! We'll figure out a way!") If someone needs a camera, I find them one. If a student needs access to our tech training lab, we give it to them. If a teacher wants to try out a new piece of software, we get them a demo. In my view, the only way to become a learning organization is to provide the tools necessary and let them learn! 

I hope all this rambling makes sense. You really should read Schlechty's "Leading for Learning" or at least his book "Engaging Students: The Next Level of Working on the Work." 

Your thoughts?


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