Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Design, Rationale, and Proposal For Change

Research, case studies, and theories noted, but aside, I believe that the only ethical approach to education and leadership decision making in education is through a student-centered lens.  Essentially, "student-centered" defines an experience where the individual comes first in the education process, in both leading and learning.  I believe this idea must underlie the entire educational process, at all levels.

Assessments need to allow the students to highlight their strengths.  Portfolios should be more weighted than standardized tests.  If the student demonstrates a propensity for graphic organizing let them convey the knowledge they've learned in such a way.  If a student wants to write a poem to express her understanding for an equation let her do so.

Opponents of this sort of approach would argue that in allowing students to choose how they want to be evaluated they will under-develop other skills they may not appreciate, and that are necessary for higher education: learning must require work to acquire new skills and perspectives outside of comfort zones.  In response to this argument, I would say this is not a student issue, but a teacher issue: the teacher is responsible for understanding the uniqueness of his students, for harnessing their talents and transforming their natural tendencies towards new understanding.

In curriculum and lesson planning a teacher must be knowledgeable of the student and creative in the delivery of educational objectives.  Workshops, case study discussions, and role play can play an effective role in motivating educators towards multi-faceted approaches to reaching each of their students.  Furthermore, drama/theater-based skills development, namely improvisation and character development, can improve educators' abilities to maximize student-centered learning.  Concerning improvisation, training in this skill allows for the development of faster and creative thinking and embracing the idea of "going with the flow."  Improvisation acting teaches the actor never to "block" the progress of a scene, or randomly or tangentially shift the scene in a different direction.  In letting the idea play out, creativity and teamwork between actors is strengthened and the scene develops into a substantial work of art, with characters, plot, climax, and twist.  A teacher can use improvisation skills in the classroom to playfully weave and steer students' uniqueness towards lesson and curriculum objectives.

Concerning character development, this skill involves understanding the intense process of intraspective or meta-cognition.  In developing characters, a dramatic writer must understand the motivations, talents, and pet-peeves of the individuals.  This process allows for deep analysis of the human psyche and human relationships.  Training in this skill keeps the actor focused on the intricacies of the other characters, and forces him to find the connection he has with them.  From an educational standpoint, character development can help the teacher identify the characteristics of his students that make them unique.  In better, fully understanding the student the teacher has a foundation from which to design and implement curriculum.

At the administrative and decision-making level, the themes carry over.  Educational leaders need to be creative, flexible, and caring of others, all while balancing the responsibilities of their role and influencing external factors.  Only in fully understanding the uniqueness of their schools, teachers, and students can leaders be effective and ethical in their guidance.  The student or individual-centered approach must drive educational leaders: the goals of policies and politics will always change, but teachers and students will always remain a constant.

Ethically, students must have choices, freedom, and the opportunities to explore their interests.  Revisiting the amendments I proposed to Dr. Unger's "Big Idea #1" in the post What's The Big Idea, my stance for change starts with the fundamental re-shifting of all educational decision-making processes to refocus on the student:  

The overall design for this shift concerns educational leaders discovering and cultivating the ethical importance of student-centered themes.  Logically, then, using the reformatted diagram, this knowledge will resonate from the classroom through the schools, into community and district-forums, across states and into legislative offices, and with the advances of social media and internet technology, broadcast world-wide for global collaboration and exchange of ideas that impact student experiences.  
As the new diagram to the right indicates, input derived from global exchange can provide the catalyst for discussion between leaders and professionals, and the resulting ideas scripted into educational policies, curriculum standards, and best-practice theories in teacher preparation programs.  The culmination expands on and sustains ethical student-centered experiences in education.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Staying Student-Centered Outside The Classroom

The theoretical and practical implications of student-centered learning apply as much outside the classroom environment as inside.  The previous posts, and discussion, in this blog have focused around the applications of student-centered learning for teachers with students.  Using Wagner and Simpson's work Ethical Decision Making in School Administration (2009) as the primary resource, this post is intended to describe the many ways the basic theories of student-centered learning can be used for administrators and in policy.

“Successful administrators know how to bring it all together for the benefit of stake-holders and institution alike" (Wagner and Simpson, 2009, p. 70).  Referencing the work of Gneezy & Rustichini (2000) this statement implies the savvy nature of educational leaders to consider multiple dimensions in the decision making process, much like how teachers should be sensitive to students' abilities in teaching and lesson planning.

Wagner and Simpson (2009) believe that continuous improvement, at the administrative leadership level, is the backbone to moral architecture.  In order to promote continual progress they cite the work of W.E. Deming and Israel Scheffler.  Deming's Managerial and Social Idealism (2000) promotes the elimination of fear, barriers, and quotas, as well as the development of pride and maximizing leadership. Excessive data collection and the over-quantifying of results, as in the efforts of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), can overwhelm leaders and skew leadership objectives.  Sheffler’s Pragmatism (1986) concerns the idea that "universal human betterment can be achieved through appropriate education and organizational structures and the accompanying processes" (Wagner & Simpson, 2009, p. 72).  He championed the idea that moral concerns start with an examination of local problems because of their uniqueness (Wagner & Simpson, 2009); in working through individual problems, issue by issue, the strung-together final product is an overall improvement for the collective whole through a pragmatic idealism lens.

There are several parallels one can draw from the aforementioned ideas between student-centered learning and administrative leadership.  The first is focusing on the numbers that matter.  Questioning the relevance of high stakes exams is critical to understanding how students learn.  NCLB pitted standardized test scores as the sources of education proficiency.  However it is known that students learn in multiple ways (Gardner, 1993) and therefore assessing them must be varied.  Just as there should be multiple perspectives to consider to instruction, there are also multiple dynamics to administrative competency: student retention, introducing new technologies, developing new curriculum standards, etc.  No one role or function defines an administrator. 

Another parallel of the student-centered experience and administrative duties can be derived from the purpose of education, which is to engage learners in the Great Conversation (Wagner & Simpson, 2009, p. 4), or sense-making activities of how to manage the world.  Administrators help create and maintain a shared vision that promotes the Four Corners of Educational Purpose (Wagner & Simpson, 2009, p. 52) for truth seeking: information sharing, learning and perfecting skills, developing collaborative attitudes and dispositions.  Seeking the truth through these four parameters, matters as much to school leaders as it does to learners because it is the leader's role to encourage a life of thinking and learning.

Modeling and collaboration are essential tools used in student-centered learning, and useful for educational leaders as well.  Wagner and Simpson (2009) describe practical ways in which school leaders can use these tools in practice.  Planning daily/weekly library hours for modeling of effective study and reading habits can inspire colleagues and the school community.  Creating "teacher circles" (p. 79) programs can spark conversations with other teachers concerning case studies, classroom management, and best practices in teaching.   Principals could provide opportunities for schools and communities to see how they "live a life of thinking and learning" (p. 79), via seminars and learning forums.  Administration can help to make every day connections to the outside world in their schools, with timely announcements about world trends, and news.

For more information on Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory and the Great Conversation, see the Online Resources section of this blog, or click on the highlighted texts within this post.  Additionally, I have included another research article which can be found in the Articles and Research Section of this blog, which continues to flesh out the defining factors of ethical leadership in education as it concerns student-centered themes.  Also, another case study, discussing how learning-centered collaboration can improve leadership, was added and can be viewed in the Case Studies section of this blog.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Defining "Student-Centered"

As the focus of my idea and rationale for ethical education, the term "student-centered" deserves further analysis and understanding.

Maryellen Weimer in her book Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice, describes student-centered teaching as 1 idea based on 5 principles.  The idea: the student is the focus of the class; the principles:
  1. The balance of power
  2. The function of content
  3. The role of the teacher
  4. The responsibility for learning
  5. The purpose and processes of evaluation.
According to Geven & Santa (2010) of Educational International, student centered learning has an academic and social (multifaceted support systems including healthcare and financial services), and ontological and epistemological (multifaceted instructional methods to further understand human nature).  View their full analysis here or in the Case Studies section of this blog.

The University of Glasgow (2004) identified four strategies on student-centered learning practices: the more active student knowledge acquisiton (classroom exercise, fieldwork, technology-assisted learning);  the more aware the student is of what they’re doing and why; a focus on interaction(workshops, discussion groups); the focus on transferable skills (connecting knowledge to higher levels of knowledge) (O'Neil & McMahon, 2004).  Visit the Articles and Research section of this blog for access to this study. 

Balance, give and take, active interaction, epistemology, academically social...From the research, case analysis, and my experiences, it is clear that student-centered education is an unformulated, harmonious balance of both unpredictable events and specifically scripted requirements.  Ethically speaking, a student-centered education is an inclusive celebration of life and humankind.

Classmates, your definitions and input are critical.  What do you think of when you hear "student-centered?" Do the case studies miss the point?  Is "student-centered" the same in elementary schools as it is in higher education?  Please post your comments.  Thank you.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What's the Big Idea?

In revisiting Dr. Unger's Big Ideas – on Ethical Decision Making for Education Leaders, I re-examined Big Idea #1: Ethical Decision Making happens at ALL levels of the system.  The diagram above is used to explain the ripple effect of decision-making throughout the educational system.

Understandably, the classroom is the centerpiece for ethical consideration.  But the diagram is incomplete.  Classroom is too broad of a term, and excludes the important players, teacher and student.  It is my idea that  ethical student-centered experiences are the crux and catalyst for all ethical decision-making leadership in education.


Once educational leaders, in the classroom and in the boardroom, understand how to tap into and cultivate uniqueness and direct free-thinking, they will have captured the ethical essence of the educational experience.  Student-centered themes can then be considered on a cross-dimensional, professional and global scale.  This theory will be discussed further in the post concerning my Design and Stance For Change.

However, first defining an ethical student-centered experience is key.  To explore the idea further I will refer to John Dewey's Experience and Education (1938).  A staunch believer in democratic values, Dewey perceived the classroom as a mirror of society, and education as means to further basic human rights.

"How many students, for example, were rendered callous to ideas and how many lost impetus to learn because of the way in which learning was experienced by them?” (Dewey, 1997, p. 37).  

Restricting choice in learning is restricting personal growth.  The classroom must reflect the needs of the learner, not the teacher, the administration, or global pressures.  Only when the student is center, learning is ethical.  For more information on ethics and John Dewey's Experience and Education review John Dewey's Experience and Education-Book Report/Power Point Presentation (Alberghini, Kreiter, & Lyons, 2010, slides 9-15).

Hansen and Stephens (2000), in their review of new millennium themes in teaching and learning, noted that the ethics in learner-centered education is evident in the fundamental relationship between learner and teacher.  "Teaching needs to rediscover its moral base; doing so will enable students and teachers alike to do their job of developing minds with courage and integrity." (p. 42).

Preparing the student for the test and the world are critical for individual success, and mandatory for moral standards.

White (2007) quantitatively studied the relationship between student-centered (he refers it as "person-centered") teaching and positive student outcomes in a variety of areas including, cognitive and behavioral affects.  Through thorough meta-analysis, he found many positive correlations between improvements in IQ scores, decreases in disruptive behaviors, and an increase in student self-esteem.  

Ethically, subjectively and objectively, students need the freedom to exchange ideas, collaborate, question, and discover information that is familiar and comfortable to them.  The teacher, in their mastery of knowledge and technique, must facilitate and, according to educational psychologist Lev Vygotsky, "scaffold" the learner, by providing non-intrusive intervention to encourage [them] to carry out the parts of the tasks that are within their capacity." (The Mozart of Psychology, May 2005).  

These student-centered ideas should be the focus of the educational process and decision-making.  Leaders need to recognize and/or revisit this critical idea in order for students to be justly escorted into successful endeavors.

Find and review all references in the Online Resources or Articles and Research pages of this blog.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Welcome Note, Introduction

Greetings EDU 7203,

Thank you for viewing my blog (although I know you're required to do so).  I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce you to "Ethics in Educational Leadership," my final project for EDU 7203.

A blog's purpose is for an author to provide on-going commentary on a particular issue.  This blog will focus on the ethical consideration for putting the STUDENT back in the center of the educational process: from legislation to graduation.  The topic to cover is broad, which leaves room for a wide-range of ideas and opinions, a variety of resources, and creativity.  Each blog post builds on the next, so I would recommend reading from earliest to most recent post; although each post can be read separately as well.  

The SIDE BAR on the RIGHT-HAND SIDE of the blog contains the blog archive which documents the history of posts of this blog.  Also, the SIDE BAR has additional news, information, and links of interest all pertaining to theme of the ethics of student-centered education and decision making in educational leadership, as well as classmate blogs of note, and access to Northeastern University Online.

It is my intention that this blog be an organic project.  Over the next few weeks it will become rich with more content, discussion, analysis, and resources.    

From This Blog You Will: