Choices and Decisions: Top Down or Bottom Up?
In late January I wrote a post about how to scale or grow pilot programs into something more impactful and possibly more sustainable. Since January, I have been working closely with our Director of Technology, our VP of Teaching and Learning, our Development team, our Principals, and our Math coach to finalize a number of technology related projects. This process has made me reflect on the difference between making organizational changes in a top down fashion, or those that change the organization from the bottom up.
The first project was working on Envision Schools’ E-Rate technology plan. This was an amazing learning experience for me. We worked hard to align our goals and strategies with our vision for bringing personalized learning to all math classrooms. Additionally, we tried to project beyond this program to where we might be three years down the road. Blended learning in math has been a very organic and grassroots program thus far. I have worked closely with the teachers to construct the program, define its impact, and in some cases even write the grants. While writing the E-Rate plan, I found that I could easily formalize the decisions and choices that we had made, and use this to imagine where we might grow.
The second project that I have collaborated on is one that supports our long-term vision for technology and education. I have been working with our Director of Technology to develop Envision Schools’ technology plan, we fondly refer to her as the Big Kahuna. This document lays out all of our current pilot projects, all of our existing technology and infrastructure, our programmatic technology needs and the various rates of replacement, as well as our organizational goals. Phew! It is exciting. It has been really interesting to see how all the moving parts come together, the budget, the school site needs, the personnel needs, the students’ needs. With respect to decision-making, this project has been very tough. It has been vital to continually gather input from a number of key stakeholders and I feel like the decisions that are made occur at the top and the impact of these decisions will trickle down to the school sites.
And the final project that I have been working on is our Envision Blended/Personalized Learning in Mathematics plan. Envision Schools is ready to enter its third and final year of growing this program. The Math coach and I proposed that we make this an organizational focus for the coming year, and the Education Leadership Team agreed. We still need to figure out the details of how we make this happen, but the vision is there. Based on our lessons learned from the Algebra I and Geometry pilots, we want to bring the Algebra II and Pre-Calculus teachers on board. The benefit of making this an organization wide program is that now we can leverage our professional development time ensure that the teachers receive consistent support, that they can co-construct technology enhanced performance tasks together, and can learn together.
With our focus being to build a sustainable technology-based program in our mathematics department, we have been spending a lot of time thinking about online platforms, learning management systems and other data and content tracking tools. There are so many products out there and so many different avenues to pursue that the task of narrowing the focus is a challenge. It is important to me that we present the teachers with the ‘just-right’ amount of choices. Teachers will want to feel like they have some agency in choosing the tools that they use, and at the same time I do not want them to get overwhelmed by the choices and feel defeated.
And so I ask the BlendMyLearning community this: How do we know what is the ‘just-right’ amount of choice to provide a teacher who is making the switch to developing a personalized and blended classroom? Does this ‘just-right’ amount fluctuate depending on years of experience? What are the tools, platforms, and systems that you have used that you found most effective? And how do we strike a balance between making top down decisions that are intended to support teachers in their work and still provide authentic opportunities for teachers to be iterative and innovative so that they can impact the organization at large?