Change Begins with People #edtech via @EdSurge

This article from the U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona highlights his view that changes in education are not connected to “technology, virtual learning, internet access or any of the digital tools” (Koenig, January 2022). And he’s not wrong. The issues that have plagued and continue to plague education are deeply rooted in the system itself. As Tyack and Cuban wrote “the grammar of school is a product of history . . . it results from the efforts of groups that mobilize to win support for their definitions of problems and their proposed solutions” (Tyack & Cuban, 1995, Loc 1123). Notice the date of that statement: 1995.

Now, I recently retired from teaching after 27 years in the classroom so I’ve been privy to the many changes, solutions, and pendulums of initiatives over the years. Most of the changes I’ve seen have been little more than a band-aid to a much larger problem. Take mobile devices in the classroom as an example. Yes, it’s nice (and very convenient) to have access to technology to provide students resources not readily available in the classroom but also as a venue for them to share their learning with a wider audience than just their teacher (me). But adding mobile devices doesn’t change the learning. In fact, research has shown that the adoption of technology in the classroom has not been the catalyst of change as some would have hoped (Kale & Goh, 2014; Shapley, Sheehan, Maloney, & Caranikas-Walker, 2011; Stefl-Mabry, Radlick, & Doane, 2010; Voogt, Erstad, Dede, & Mishra, 2013). According to Cuban, for technology integration to have a positive effect on student learning, the tasks behind its use need to be grounded in pedagogical changes (Cuban, 2013). And, as a classroom teacher and researcher, I completely agree.

I also firmly believe that learning changes with thoughtful planning, flexibility, and an open-mind on the part of everyone involved: teachers, students, administrators, and parents. So, it’s not just pedagogical decisions by teachers, and change certainly does not hinge on whether technology is used (or not ).

The changes needed in education have to be more than just a band-aid…and it’s beyond simply providing more money to schools. I worked at two Title I schools during my entire tenure. We were provided money from the state and federal government. But that didn’t necessarily translate into a revolutionary change for any of the stakeholders. From my experience, that just meant we had money to purchase more devices, licenses/subscriptions, add more after school tutoring session, and maybe add a few more professional development workshops for teachers.


For significant change to occur in education, the whole educational system needs to change. The grammar of schooling needs to change. (Now that’s a blog post for another time.)

But how about this?

Instead of leaders and legislators telling schools and the general public what needs to change, why not ask the ones in the trenches what changes they believe are needed? One of the things that I found very alarming (and sad) were reports from certain entities/organizations who claimed that parental voice was not important in the educational decisions that impacted their own children.

Now, I’m not going to get into a political debate here. I just want to point out that leaving out a huge stakeholder group (parents…aka tax-payers) is not (and should not be) an option. This pandemic seems to have brought out the ugly side of people as I see a large number of finger-pointing going on–playing the blame game, if you will. And shutting out parents from educational decisions? Not good.

But what about the other silent voices out there? Teachers and students?

The solutions to the various educational problems will not be found in more legislation or funding. What I would like to see is a concerted effort to find out:

  • What do teachers need?
  • What do students need?
  • What do parents need?
  • What do administrators at the school site need?

Because I tell you what they don’t need: solutions from people far removed from the classroom.

I applaud U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona for realizing that changes in education do not rest with technology devices and connectivity to the Internet. Because change doesn’t happen with things. Change happens with people.

How about talking to students, teachers, and parents about what they need? And I don’t mean a small sample size. I mean HUGE…from a variety of demographics and locales.

One of my goals now that I’ve retired from teaching is to figure out a way to amplify the voices in education. I don’t have access to a huge demographic, but change starts with small steps.

I have a project in mind.

Stay tuned.


Cuban, L. (2013). Inside the black box of classroom practice: Change without reform in American education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Kale, U., & Goh, D. (2014). Teaching style, ICT experience and teachers’ attitudes toward teaching with Web 2.0. Education and Information Technologies, 19, 41–60. doi:10.1007/s10639-012-9210-3

Shapley, K., Sheehan, D., Maloney, C., & Caranikas-Walker, F. (2011). Effects of technology immersion on middle school students’ learning opportunities and achievement. The Journal of Educational Research, 104, 299–315. doi:10.1080/00220671003767615

Stefl-Mabry, J., Radlick, M., & Doane, W. (2010). Can you hear me now? Student voice: High school & middle school students’ perceptions of teachers, ICT and learning. International Journal of Education and Development Using Information and Communication Technology, 6(4), 64-82. Retrieved from

Tyack, D., & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering toward utopia: A century of public school reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Voogt, J., Erstad, O., Dede, C., & Mishra, P. (2013). Challenges to learning and schooling in the digital networked world of the 21st century. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 29, 403–413. doi:10.1111/jcal.12029

Opportunity for Change

When I was studying for my doctorate, we read a book called Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform by Tyack and Cuban (1995). This book focused on the fact that although educational reform has been a topic of discussion among various stakeholder groups for well over a century, all of the promises and reform measures adopted have not made significant changes to the grammar of schooling (i.e., self-contained classroom, subject-matter courses, age-based grading and placement; Tyack & Cuban, 1995). In other words, very little has changed in how education is conducted in schools.

The pandemic forced K12 education to quickly pivot from in-person instruction to remote emergency learning (see Barbour et al., 2020). Without a doubt this was a significant change in how instruction was delivered to the majority of students enrolled in public K12 education. The speed with which this changed occurred was as unprecedented as the pandemic itself. 

Schools had to quickly address the mode of instruction from the school perspective: Paper packets sent home? Prerecorded video segments broadcasted through public television? Acquisition and purchase of online curriculum and lessons normally used for online academies and/or for credit recovery purposes? Asynchronous classes? Synchronous via Google Meet or Zoom?

Then there was the issue with accessibility of instruction from the family perspective: Would families come to school to pick up the paper packets? Would the school mail the paper packets home? If so, how would the paper packets be turned in to the teacher? What if the families did not have a device or enough devices (multiple children in the same household)? What about Internet connectivity? 

Additionally, the schools also had to consider the technology knowledge and skills of the teachers who were suddenly thrust into a situation that their credential programs did not prepare them for. Teacher knowledge and skills of technology spanned the entire spectrum from expert to novice. Soon came the questions, which technology tools would be easiest to implement? Were these technology tools user-friendly for the teachers, students, and families? Who would provide technical support if something went awry? Granted many districts employ teachers on special assignment, but their knowledge and skills of technology integration likely mirrored that of the teachers in the trenches. Thus, many teachers were thrust into the role of “instructional MacGyvers” (Barbour et al., 2020)—myself included.

The bottom line is that teachers were forced to change how they delivered instruction; students were forced to change how they viewed and participated “doing” school; parents and caregivers had to figure out how to create a learning environment at home while also balancing their own familial responsibilities.

These were all changes that affected how schooling was done, and the changes were enacted within a few months and in some cases days. 

But will these changes persist as we come out of this pandemic? 

I hope so. 

It is my hope that some (if not all) of the following changes will take root in K12 public education:

  • Incorporating technology tools for collaborative learning
  • Allowing students to conduct independent projects
  • Supporting creative means to demonstrate learning
  • Flexibility in pacing and learning
  • 1:1 student to device ratio

As a teacher who has diligently pursued and championed the integration of technology for meaningful learning, it is my hope and desire to see technology used not only as an emergency measure for content delivery, but as a partner for meaningful learning in general. It’s also my desire that the lessons we’ve learned over the course of the past year and a half will be the motivation needed to make changes in how schooling is done in K12 public education. 

We can and should be doing better by our students.


Barbour, M. K., Hodges, C., Trust, T., LaBonte, R., Moore, Bond, A., Kelly, K., Locke, B., & Hill, P. (2020). Understanding pandemic pedagogy: Differences between emergency remote, remote, and online teaching [Report]. State of the Nation: K-12 E-Learning in Canada.

Tyack, D. B., & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering toward utopia: A century of public school reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

“One Success Tells Us What is Possible”

This quote is from Payne’s (2009) book So Much Reform, So Little Change. I read this book in my Turnaround Leadership class a few years ago, and many elements struck me to the core.

A question was posed to me recently: “Do you think the leadership plays a role in the climate of a school?”

In short order, yes.

As a long time classroom teacher, I have seen reforms, initiatives, directives, or whatever you want to call them come and go. Thus, it’s very easy to slip into the not again mindset when a new idea is presented (or when an old idea is presented as new). It makes sense that after awhile teachers become jaded with the trends that come and go, especially if the school has a weak leadership at the helm.

What often happens when a school is experiencing a decline (it doesn’t matter if it’s test scores, school climate, etc.) is that someone swoops in with a reform that is touted as the silver bullet to the problem.

I have worked under six administrators in my 25 years of teaching–two of which stand out because of their leadership ability, integrity, and focus on what’s best for students. But they also focused on cultivating relationships among all stakeholders. These relationships were built on mutual respect and authenticity.

However, when a school has weak leaders in place, it’s easy to succumb to the trappings of a demoralized school climate.

In a demoralized school culture, one will likely find disgruntled teachers (Payne, 2009). One will also find instances of where a distrust of higher authority exists, and where the status quo supersedes common sense (Payne, 2009). The factors that lead to a demoralized school culture are multi-faceted, complex, and likely have been festering over time. But these factors are all related to humans and the relationships cultivated (or not) among them.

Reformers who are quick to jump in with their magic bullet often attack the symptom, but not necessarily the root cause. And that is why many reforms fall flat. But here’s the catch, Payne (2009) aptly points out that “knowing what happens on the average…is often perfectly useless. We need to know more about what can happen, not what ordinarily does happen” (p. 7).

So, what’s the point, you ask?

My point is that instead of looking at the pitfalls or perseverating on the negatives perhaps we need to look instead at instances of where something did work. This is where research and practice mutually inform each other. Or rather, this is where research and practice should inform each other.

Organizations are complex. Schools are complex. And humans are most definitely complex. The solutions to turn-around a demoralized school may not necessarily be found what didn’t work, but rather in what did work.

All it takes is one instance of success to tell us what is possible.