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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Is Your District a Pioneer or a Settler?

by Gail Tolbert

How would you describe your school district? More specifically, what words would you use to describe the actions your district takes? The words that come to my mind are something out of the Wild West like; pioneer, settler, explorer, and non-adventurer; I am partial to using this analogy when thinking of school districts.

Some districts could be called pioneers or explorers. They set out to find new territory on their own. They lead the way and take calculated risks. They are the guides and action takers who provide tangible results for other districts to follow their lead.

At the other end of the spectrum are the districts who act as settlers or the non-adventurer. They prefer to stay back to see what others are doing. They like to talk about the future but they prefer to wait until the new strategies are proven by others with years of success before considering making a change. These school districts are not risk takers and are comfortable with inaction.

Here is my conundrum; part of me wants to say that either a pioneer or a settler is acceptable, but that is not really the case. Only the pioneer is acceptable; each district should be more like the pioneers.

As a teacher in the classroom for 7 years, my experience was that we challenge students to try new things, to take risks and to take action every day. Students are taught that making a mistake is part of the learning process because it helps them understand new concepts and provides them with clarity.

Then as a principal for 9 years, I knew that a portion of my job was to teach teachers to think outside the box, to differentiate instruction, to stand out, to be leaders, and to proactively develop new methods for instructional strategies.

We are teaching, coaching and mentoring our students and our teachers to be pioneers, to lead, to guide, to take risks. So, if the expectation is for students and teachers to be pioneers, shouldn’t school districts serve as the ultimate driving force and lead by that example too?

I work with many school districts and I am amazed at the number of pioneers that I interact with. It is exciting to foster new relationships with administrators who have a pioneer spirit and leaders who want to explore possibilities to maximize their district’s educational visions. I am also amazed with the number of districts that are settlers; that are not willing to stand out or to take action with even the smallest of steps toward improvement for future learning.

How would you describe your district if we added technology to this question? Is your district a technology pioneer or settler? We talk about the 21st Century Learner, what about the 21st Century Educator? Today’s educators are just like today’s learners; they need accessible technology for analyzing and managing what they do in the classroom. 21st Century Learners and 21st Century Educators are doing pioneering work and need forward thinking districts to provide them with the tools and information for their 21st Century journey.

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