Friday, December 2, 2011

Learning in the Shift Age (welcome remarks at Virginia ASCD Conference)

I want to ask educators in Virginia to think back for a moment to August.  Do you remember what we were dealing with in August?  Hurricanes.  Earthquakes.  A Fire in the dismal swamp (which is finally out, by the way).  I found myself thinking of a music group from the 70s and 80s.
Although Earth Wind and Fire was a great group, the challenges of August were not great.  What were we doing when the challenges hit?  We were getting ready to start the school year.  And our efforts barely, if at all stopped: we just dealt with the challenges.  As teachers, principals, superintendents, as educators, we are expected to deal with any challenge that comes our way. 
Today David Houle, coauthor of ShiftEd, is going to challenge us to deal with change.  He says we are entering a shift age in which we can master the opportunities provided by global connectivity.  He talks about the emphasis on choice, customization, and flexibility and he challenges us to transform schools in response to these changes.
Houle and coauthor Jeff Cobb write,
Embracing and rapidly managing change is fundamental to the consciousness of the Shift Age.  The speed of change has accelerated so much that it is now environmental: we live in an environment of change . . . The old phrase “standing on solid ground” no longer has merit.  If an individual believes she is standing on solid ground and has a clear, certain view of the world, it is now a given that whether it be six months, nine months, or a year from now that person is going to suddenly realize the world has changed while she was busy being certain.
Karen Washington, a first-year principal in the school district in which I work, had an experience in August that relates to this notion of not standing on solid ground. She was facilitating her first heavy duty instructional conversation with her staff when the earthquake hit.  Do you know what she did?  She kept right on--talking, asking questions, listening.  She didn’t miss a beat.  She admitted later that she actually didn’t even notice the earthquake.
When she told me this, it reminded me of another group, REM and their song in which they sing of "the end of the world as we know it.”

Click on the videos below to check out these brief excerpts of the music video.

It wasn't the end of the world in August, but there was an earthquake, and Karen Washington was totally fine.  Will we be totally fine with the end of the world as we know it--with the shift age that David Houle is about to describe?  I am optimistic that you will each be fine because you are here at this conference because of your commitment to learning.  And our professional learning will be a key to thriving in the shift age.  With the shift age we have opportunities for learning that did not exist previously.  A superintendent who wrote an essay that is part of the ShiftEd book spoke of her sense that there will be few boundaries of space time or place for learning in the shift age.
One example of learning that is not limited by time or place is the conversation that occurred during the last few days via Twitter regarding ShiftEd.  Teachers, principals, and superintendents planning to attend the VASCD conference started the conversation and others who would not be attending soon joined.  Comments were posted at all times of day from people throughout and outside of Virginia.

It is this type of limitless learning that will help us deal with the Shift Age and the earthquakes, hurricanes, and fires of the future.   So, let us get started!

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