The world is changing rapidly, and many school leaders are struggling to keep up, according to Scott McLeod, an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Colorado in Denver.
McLeod, who has devoted considerable research and writing to areas of concern for educational leaders, including information literacy, workforce preparation and educational equity, shined a light on this topic during a recent interview on Education Talk Radio.
He advocates for well-supported, innovation-minded changes to jumpstart schools and educational-leadership programs. Here are some of the topics McLeod says should be on education leaders’ minds and to-do lists:
A lack of information literacy may be threatening schools, McLeod said. Information literacy, specifically the ability to discern credible sources from unreliable ones, is of great importance in light of misinformation circulating on the internet. “[The] new information landscape has a number of characteristics that are quite different from our old ink-on-paper, printed-book world,” McLeod said. In this new landscape, some schools are struggling to teach students what they need to know about vetting sources, he added.
McLeod discussed this topic in his blog post, “How school leaders can combat ‘filter bubbles’ and ‘fake news’,” which was a winner of last month’s Editor's Choice Content Award.
In the post, McLeod mentions a study from Stanford University that revealed information illiteracy among students. According to this data, graduates are at risk of being easily deceived by faulty or unreliable information sources. McLeod pointed out that a school faculty’s ability to discern source credibility -- hopefully with the exception of trained librarian staff -- is likewise highly variable.
A reluctance to discuss controversial matters like politics may be further hindering information literacy education. McLeod expressed concern that discussion lead by informed faculty about informational literacy, and, by extension, controversial political matters, may be constrained by faculty members’ fear of inviting censure from their leadership. “Schools are notoriously controversy-averse,” he said.
McLeod also pointed to workforce preparation as an area where many school systems are falling short. In his interview, he said that employers are looking for “deeper learning skills” that high schools formerly only cultivated in a small section of graduates. “Now we [members of educational leadership] have to look much deeper into the graduate pool,” McLeod said. He added that schools need to figure out how to recognize students’ skills and direct them to the appropriate workplace. “We have a lot of mismatches between students and career paths,” McLeod said, “and we don’t do a very good job in K-12 of helping kids get aligned.”
Disadvantaged students of color aren’t always seeing the same learning opportunities as middle-class students, McLeod noted. Without those opportunities, many students are relegated to remedial programs, and the learning gaps between rich and poor continue to increase. He explained, “We’re so focused on getting kids above the line on these standardized bubble tests that we double down on drill-and-kill and remediation rather than reclaiming kids by giving them something different.”
“New tools create unbelievable opportunities for kids to do interesting and amazing things,” McLeod said, “and schools are hesitant and fearful of embracing this powerful learning that could occur.” The central learning challenge for students, according to McLeod, is boredom: “We’ve known for centuries that kids have been bored out of their mind at school, and we seem to have very little willingness to do anything about it.” He cited a Gallup poll that found that by the end of high school, only one third of students would say they’re engaged in learning.
Challenges to innovation
The innovation gap between what’s possible and what schools are doing interests McLeod as a member of the educational leadership community. “It’s this idea that while other entities are ramping up [and] figuring out how to be more responsive and more adaptive, schools are plodding along pretty slowly, and, to be honest, so are universities,” he said.
He listed several reasons why institutional innovation lags behind in the academic world. Most pressing among these are creating the necessary support structures to implement real change and correctly preparing those in educational leadership to be innovators as well as managers.
The urgency for change that you may see from superintendents or principals does not always follow through to the people teaching in the classrooms, McLeod explained. The result is “isolated pockets of innovation” from teachers or schools trying new things on their own terms rather than a change across a whole school system. Teachers need to be supported to change their teaching practices rather than pressured to do so. McLeod suggested that this support come from additional IT resources, follow-up workshops after training sessions and increased prep and collaboration time for teachers.
McLeod added that educational leadership programs need to improve. “We as leaders need to take some responsibility for this,” he said, sharing that many principals are trained to be managers rather than to effect change in a school.
For example, he explained, there are 600 educational leadership programs in the United States, comprising at least 3,000 faculty members, and the number of faculty who care about technology in schools may be about 10. “So in a world where technology is transforming everything, 99% of the ed leadership programs across the country continue to put out new generations of school leaders that have no exposure to this stuff whatsoever.”
Educational innovation, as Scott McLeod sees it, is not only promising, but also imperative to remedy problems like informational illiteracy and to create capable, functioning members of society.
Scott McLeod is a recent winner of the monthly Editor’s Choice Content Award. Follow him on Twitter. Want to hear more? Listen to the full Education Talk Radio interview.
Teresa Donnellan is an editorial assistant for SmartBrief.
Like this article? Sign up for ASCD SmartBrief to get news like this in your inbox, or check out all of SmartBrief’s education newsletters, covering career and technical education, educational leadership, math education and more.