Diversity in a Complex World with Rafranz Davis

What’s required to build support for change in a diverse community? How do you tackle the big issues around change, when so many small ones are gathering momentum?

What does it take to ensure that the day-to-day distractions that every school leader has to address don’t distract you from maintaining a focus on long-term sustainable change?

In this episode of the Modern Learners Podcast, Will, talks with Rafranz Davis who is the Executive Director of Professional and Digital Learning for Lufkin ISD. She is also a highly regarded speaker at education and technology conferences across the U.S.

Rafranz’s passion for creativity and student centered learning has driven her work in supporting Lufkin’s transition to taking more innovative approaches to teaching and learning through integrated computational thinking, makerspaces and community driven personalized professional learning.

When Rafranz is not disrupting the status quo in East Texas, she can be found connecting with the global education community as an advocate for STEM education, teacher voice, digital equity and diversity in edtech.

Highlights from their conversation include:

  • The steps to a more student-centered and self-directed learning environment.
  • Just how much agency should students have? How can a leader find a balance between where they philosophically fall on that spectrum of possibilities, and where your school district realistically will fall. How might you resolve the gap?
  • The importance of leadership knowing that you don’t have to allow a state or a score to dictate who you are as a school, but rather you look at what learning can be, and that defines your identity.
  • How important is it to have a vision for what change will look like in the end?
  • What role should does passion and interest play?  In looking at teachers as learners, how does passion play a role in teachers as learners first of all?
  • How important is it to share work, and to make that work transparent?
  • What does it take to nurture a culture shift, so that’s about more transparency and more sharing?
  • Setting priorities around the right tools. If teachers are using tools in the classroom that were completely outdated, and you don’t have wifi coverage, what can you do about that?
  • What are some of the dispositions that leaders of change need to have?  What are the most important qualities that people who are devoted to or really passionate about change?  What do they need to have in their make up?
  • The importance of being connected, and how that should be a priority at every level and across all staff. Reading books, doing research, participating in action research; the value in having to extend beyond what your domain is.
  • How we keep diversity in the mix not just in terms of race and gender; to keep people that come from different point of views, different spaces at all times.
  • Why being uncomfortable is a good thing.
  • How do you think technology can amplify a change in practice?
  • The importance of connecting and learning with and from people from other places, other cultures.  Why we should do more to encourage our classrooms to connect and learn from and learn with and not just connect to fix.
  • Is technology for learning more of an opportunity or a challenge for schools?
  • The urgent need for our students to understand that the world is bigger than the zip code they live in.
  • Why it is so important that we see kids developing as learners as much if maybe not even more, as they’re developing being learned?

Links to Topics Mentioned in this Podcast

@RafranzDavis

Minecraft

Google Hangout

Lukin ISD

Maker Spaces and Maker Culture

www.willrichardson.com

www.modernlearners.com

@willrichardson

Transcript for the show

What do you need to build support for change in a diverse community? How can you tackle the big issues, when so many small ones are gathering momentum?

Specifically, how can you avoid the day-to-day distractions that every school leader has to address, and maintain a focus on long-term sustainable change?

Hey again everyone.  I’m Will Richardson and I want to welcome you back to season one of the 2017 Modern Learners Podcast.  For this year we’re searching around the world for schools and districts that are raising the bar when it comes to thinking about relevant sustainable change for their students.

In this episode I talked with Rafranz Davis, the Executive Director of Professional and Digital Learning for the Lufkin Texas School District.

Despite the number of challenges in her district, Rafranz is spearheading efforts to create innovative opportunities for maker spaces, integrated computational thinking and personal professional learning.  We talk about what student-centered learning really is, the role of passion in learning, the requirements of culture to make sustainable change happen and the layers of barriers that make change difficult.  I hope you enjoy it.

Remember, if you want to learn more about this podcast series about our white papers, master classes and about our new eight-week course on Modern Leadership that we’re launching this March, check out our private Modern Learners Facebook group or head on over to modernlearners.com or you can sign up for amazingly informative weekly newsletter that tracks all the opportunities and challenges of learning today.

But for now, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Rafranz Davis.  Thanks for listening.

Will Richardson: Rafranz, I want to start with the question that I’ve been beginning within all of these interviews.  That is, what is the question that is driving your work right now in your district?  What’s the burning question that is motivating you and the way you think about learning, the way you think about how that happens in classrooms with teachers and all that?

Rafranz Davis:  For me, it sounds very cliché but it’s, why not us?  Why not?  Just let me go into what that means and why I chose that question is because often times we tend to look at different schools or different learning environments that are opening up to be a lot more student-centered, a lot more creative ways of thinking and often times we tend to think we can’t do that, we don’t have this, we don’t have that.  We still lack of training.  We still lack certain types of accesses.  But for me, it’s about what do we have and why can’t we just question how we do things a little bit differently.  Why couldn’t we do that?  I think that probably drives me more than anything.

Will Richardson:  What are the things that you’re questioning then in terms of doing things differently?  I mean, what is change look like for you in your district?

Rafranz Davis:  I wish I could say that it was pretty all the way around and it isn’t.  We’re just starting.

Will Richardson:  You’re not alone in that by the way.

Rafranz Davis:  No.  What’s funny is people will have you believe the opposite of that.  They will have you believe everybody is doing inquiry in everything single class all day and test don’t run what we do but that is so far from the truth.  That’s a reality people don’t like to talk about.  But for me it is, just those moments whether teachers are creating a communication access to their students that they didn’t have before or changing an assignment instead of giving every kid the exact same thing to do saying, here is what you need to learn.

Now, create that thing and then we will evaluate what you’ve learn based on that.  That happens more times than I thought.  But it’s happening more and more.  The more teachers are opening up and the more that they are seeing, the possibilities from maybe model classrooms or model teachers across the district.

Will Richardson:  Now, I know you’re a big advocate for student-centered learning and I’m a real stickler for definition of terms.  What does that term mean to you?

Rafranz Davis:  I think the best way that I can explain it is that it’s not that the teacher is the one with the 90-minute lecture and sometimes a lecture is okay.  Let me just say that there are certain times in certain learning when you need to listen.  We all are accustomed to kind of doing that.  But as the same time, it is when the teacher gets to step aside and the kids are researching.  They are utilizing each other.

They are bringing in learning the things that they have learned or applied from outside of the classroom.  It’s when kids really get to tackle a topic in a way that makes sense to them.  That to me is a lot more student-centered not teacher driven, not a checklist of things maybe a question.  But who knows what the kids will dig and what they’ll learn just based on a question.

Will Richardson:  I think one of the things that as I hear people talk about student-centered and self-directed and those types of terms one of the things that’s interesting to me is that there seems to be this continuum as to how much agency that really means for kids.  In some cases when people say that it’s pretty much kids have choice of getting to our outcomes and we’re just giving them a little bit more leeway in the path that they take to get there which isn’t a bad thing.

But I mean that’s just one way people define it and other people in the other end of the spectrum kind to say, it really is about letting kids determine what to learn, how they learn it, when they learn it, how they apply it so there seems to be a lot more empowerment that’s given to kids.  I’m curious as to where philosophically you fall on that spectrum and then maybe realistically where you can fall on that spectrum in your school district.

 

Rafranz Davis:  Philosophically, I strongly believe that what is that saying that you shouldn’t give kids questions that they, you shouldn’t have to lecture things or tell them things that they can look up for themselves.  Philosophically, I think that the kids, when we talk about this is what you need to learn by the end of a unit and maybe there are some guidelines to that.  But at the same time, kids get to ask questions and make connections that I didn’t have to think about that they are making those connections.

Case in point; I had a teacher who just gave an assignment the kids were researching.  It was in Science.  I think it was like convection at Kemp radiation.  There was another topic the kids are researching.  But she didn’t go into definition about any of these topics where she specifically said, this is what we need to learn about.  You’re going to get to build some background information first and then talk about what you’ve learned or what you’ve found based on it and the kids got to do that research.  They got to also go create or apply it and then come in and talk about it.  Some kids use Minecraft to build machines.  Some kids wrote poems, they wrote songs.

It was just interesting, their taking on the topic when they came in and that was before the teacher got up with the PowerPoint to say, these are the things you needed to learn.  It actually never got to that point because of the connections that the kids made.  Ideally, I wish that could be done for every lesson in every class all the time especially coming from a Math background.  I would love to see more of that.  That’s my philosophically.  Ideally, that’s not going to happen.  It’s not going to happen all the time but it should happen.

Will Richardson:  Can it happen?

Rafranz Davis:  It can.  Here is what’s keeping that from happening.  What’s keeping that from happening are the foundations of the way of school should run and now being on this administrative side.  I see where it’s coming from.  It is coming from a state saying, we need to meet certain marks.  I hate to call it the people in power but that’s the way of the beast.  I guess that the pressure of those in an administrative position needing to meet those terms and that same pressure filters down to teachers.

The reality is the teachers can go to training and they can read books, they can get on Twitter and they can see, I can change my classroom in all these ways.  But if your leadership isn’t there and if your leadership isn’t on board with knowing that we don’t have allow a state or a score to dictate who we are as a school and look at what learning can be then those teachers have a lot more freedom to think differently and think out of the box in order to give students more of those experiences because they’re not pretty at the beginning.  They’re not going to show up on a district test at the beginning.  But they will show up eventually as the kids continue to dig more, collaborate more and build more.

Will Richardson:  That sounds a lot like culture, right?

Rafranz Davis:  Absolutely.

Will Richardson :  Yeah.  How do you as a leader attempt to change that culture?  Because there are people and I’m sure you know many of them in their leadership roles are able to say the teachers in their schools, look we know we have to get to these outcomes.  They are very specific and we’ve had to do this for a long time.  But we don’t necessarily have to get to those outcomes in the traditional path.  They’re trying to find different ways to get there and build culture around that.  How do you think about that?  How do you attack that problem of culture or not problem but have you shift that culture around that?

Rafranz Davis:  I’m very fortunate for me that I am a part of a pretty strong team that is actually looking to change that.  A lot of what we did in year one which was last year is we just went into classrooms and they help teachers think differently or do a lesson differently and we shared that.  Then, there was some pushback.  I’m not going to say that there wasn’t.  There were people that were kind of, you all are doing the fun stuff now we need to learn.  That was probably some of the most unnerving time when you’re encountering that type of feedback.

But I believe in ignoring that and just keep pushing.  Eventually, those people came around and they were like, we saw what you did in these new classrooms.  How can we spread that?  How can we bring this thinking to other classrooms?  My superintended is incredibly passionate about some of these same ideals on school change and thinking in culture.  We did a book study.  We read Building School 2.0 as a leadership team.  We came back and we discussed it.  We’re trying to embed that more with that thinking more and more in our schools.  But I think that it comes from number one, you have to keep pushing for a change regardless.  Number two, you have to be very real about where you are and you have to proactively do things as a leadership team to help spread those ideas or to help bridge that communication so that others can come on board.  We would not be where we are without taking those steps in doing that.

Will Richardson How important do you think it is to have a vision for what that looks like at the end?  Obviously, you can make changes and many of them are going to incremental simply because of the realities and it’s going to be challenging and probably time consuming.  Do you guys have a vision for what you want it to look like if you get there whether that takes one year or five years or 10 years?

Rafranz Davis:  Yeah.  That’s why we have committees, to come and talk about that.  We actively look at it and we actively pursue it.  We have our strategic plan which we just changed.  To head that the fun task of expanding like three or four areas that we needed to expand upon because it just wasn’t in the discussion and now it is.

For me, I think that’s really important.  It can’t just be one person.  If it were only me saying, we need to not do worksheets every day, that wouldn’t do anything.  But it needed to be a community of teachers.  You need to have student voice which we do.  You need to have of course your leadership teams on board.  You need to have your community as a part of it.

Will Richardson :  I know that passion is another word that you use a lot and that you use in the context of student learning and also teacher learning.  How does passion play?  I’m really interested in teachers as learners.  How does passion play a role in teachers as learners first of all?  How does that funnel down into classrooms as well?

Rafranz Davis:  I’ve had the incredible experience of being an aunt to a pretty incredible passionate kid who just surprises us every day with the things with his little brain creates.  I think that that particular idea of, what do you want to learn and what walls would you breakdown to learn it has really inspired me in my own journey.

Coming into this and working with teachers, I’ve realized just for myself when I was really invested in an idea, I put my heart, soul and gut into it much like my nephew.  But what ideas what our teachers passionate about?  One of the things that we did this year, last year, we started what we called our Teacher Ambassador Group.  They are teachers who were thinking that whether it’s using technology or it is rethinking learning in my classroom.  I want to be a part of this change in our district.  We’ve asked them, what are you passionate about?  What could you create that could have a direct impact on our teachers and students if you were to create your own project?  That’s one thing that we’re doing is helping those teachers to put their projects into action.  I think that you need to do that.  It helps teachers to create the change that they want to see.  It also helps them to see I guess from that lens of you being the architect of this change.  What this looks like so that it can filter from you as a teacher to what that looks like for your students.

Will Richardson : How important do you think it is to share that work to make that work transparent?

Rafranz Davis:  Absolutely.

Will Richardson :  Yeah.  How do you that?

Rafranz Davis:  We actually have an Innovation Night where we share from across this district.  For this year, we have several, different things happening.  We have all of our schools representing with an outstanding projects that students have created in class or units of kids have done.  We have students that are in our grades three through five young scholars program that are doing advance study with technology and art.  We also will have our teacher ambassadors with the projects they’ve created showcasing those projects and that’s open to our entire community.

Will Richardson :  Do you communicate that stuff in other ways other than kind of face to face presentation as well?

Rafranz Davis:  We will.  Remember, we’re just at the beginning stages of this.  Phase one for us was our district website.  It’s kind of a joke right now but we’re working with Edublogs, Campus Press to build our new school website which will integrate blogs for every teacher and student into it.  Once we finished, we’re still working out the design kinks of what the new page looks like.  I actually have a meeting with Campus Press today.

We actually have two blogs.  One for our teacher projects and then one, a student voice blog, where we’ll showcase anything the students are passionate about where they can submit and showcase and we’ll showcase whether it’d be student work from the classroom.  Passion projects they do outside of school.  Poems that they write, book reviews that they just want to talk about or whatever, we’re also creating a platform for our students in that way too.

Will Richardson That’s a culture shift too, right?  I mean that’s about more transparency and more sharing.  How do you nurture that?

Rafranz Davis:  It’s really funny.  The first thing that we did is every month our superintendent actually has a meeting with our student leadership team.  Our student leadership team will comprise of our high school students and all of the academic special teams and the elective leaders of student organizations.

I actually went and met with her in our student leadership team several times last year to talk about it.  They were number one, completely on board.  Number two, they are the ones that are going to be 90% of the time running it.  That was another part of it is you don’t do something like this without involving the students to see if this is something that they would want to do.  But more importantly, you get them involved to the point that they are actually the kind of curators of it.

Will Richardson :  Tell me a little bit about your plan and what the term is in terms of your vision.  How long you think it’s going to take to where you want to get to and how you came up with that plan.

Rafranz Davis:  Again, I have to credit my superintendent, I love her.  The first thing that she did is we all have yearly goals that we continue to communicate on throughout the year, our entire executive leadership teams.  We come up with these hair brain ideas and we say these are the things that we want to put in place.  This is what it takes.  Here’s where we are.  Here’s how long it goes.  I will say about 75% of what I put down last year had to shifted into year two because I have pretty big goals that couldn’t be just done in one year.  But I would say by year three, in the year three we should be where we need to be.  I mean we had a lot of problems coming in.

Our teachers were using tools in the classroom that were completely outdated.  I’m talking about five to six year old computers.  Some of which they weren’t working that well.  Our WiFi infrastructure was not great.  We add work directly with our IT director.  We were getting that to where it needs to be.  But part of that also face was upgrading our teacher computers, we just did that.

I mean, in that one year we gave them all laptops for the first time like they didn’t have to turn on their computer and go down the hall and get coffee, go to the bathroom, go get breakfast and come back and wait 10 minutes for their computer to start, it just worked.  That was a part of it is connecting them to information.  They didn’t have access to it and we had to do that.  Between that connecting them to information, connecting them to each other now we’re working on connecting them to the outside while at the same time, I realized that as you wait on growth or you wait on change often times the student initiatives usually take a back burner because you’re building up the teachers.  I also believe why do we need to do that?  Why can’t we start with our students too?  At the same time, we are also working directly with students so that we’re making sure to fill some gaps for our students while we bring our district and our teachers to where they need to be.

Will Richardson :  Basically, a lot of capacity building going on right now.

Rafranz Davis:  Yup, absolutely.

Will Richardson So what do you think are some of the dispositions that leaders of change need to have?  What are the most important qualities that people who are devoted to or really passionate about change?  What do they need to have in their make up?

Rafranz Davis:  Number one, patience, patience, patience, patience.  The second thing is you need to be real with yourself and reflect.  You need to know when you’re going in the wrong direction.  You need to know when you’re not listening to the right people so that you can fix that.  I’m not perfect and I didn’t get this right at the beginning and there are certain things that I still don’t get right but the one thing that I do is I recognize when it’s not right.  I keep people around me that are just as honest and really work on trying to do that.

I don’t feel like I need to have all the answers and I think that if you’re here in this position, you need to be a person that realizes you don’t have all the answers, even if you have a plan.  There’s no such thing as a one person plan that creates a big of a change as we would like to see and that’s another part that’s important as well.

Will Richardson :  I’m wondering too then in terms of communicating about change.  How do leaders need to approach changing that story of education?  Because really that’s what you’re trying to do and teachers, students, parents, community members are all invested in a fairly traditional story.  Talk a little bit about that.  How does leadership best attack that issue as well?

Rafranz Davis:  You need to have other leaders on board with you and what I mean is, again, if they would just me that said, “Hey, we need to maybe not have a folder with 50 pieces of paper in it for every meeting.”  We need to think about our use of time and space differently from a leadership standpoint and knowing those conversations can also go into schools.

Our superintendent, our other leadership staff, we develop that mindset within ourselves.  I went and do the training with my assistant superintendent and with my superintendent just on basic things that they could do that could have an impact on the principles that we work with.  That was important too.  I think that when you and I guess, hopefully I’m answering your question.  Can you repeat it again?  I want to make sure I get that.

Will Richardson :  I’m just curious because the story is changing, right?  A lot of people struggle with that narrative shifting because it doesn’t reflect with what they experience when they were in school.  I guess you were talking about building capacity of your teachers.  How do you build capacity of community to also embrace that change?

Rafranz Davis:  There we go.  That’s where I was going with.  I get started and carried away and just continue on with it.  You have to forgive me on that.

Will Richardson :  It’s alright.

Rafranz Davis:  But what I was saying was that we know that we needed, school shouldn’t look like the way it looked like when I was in school but let’s be real.  80% of the time or up, it does.  Again, as I was talking about building the capacity in leadership, we have to start there.  That’s where I was, where I started and I’m always shocked to see a place says they don’t do that.  I came from a school district that didn’t do that.

We wanted to bring in all the buzz work of education into the classroom but when your leadership will come together is the same thing.  The norms of no technology, no talking to other people, that everyone’s writing notes in the exact same way.  There’s not really any type of collaboration.  Well, we have to bring that into our leadership learning spaces and what we saw was without even trying that filtered into our teacher learning spaces, if we didn’t do that then I guess the conversations that shift it from there whether we’re starting on ambassador program or all of the other advance programs that we started to create.  We would not have gotten as far as we did had we not done that.

The principals needed to have ownership of what change look like.  Our school board needed to have ownership of what does it look like when I’m collaborating on something and I’m not emailing the document to a lot of people and it changes every time I email.  We needed to build those ideals into spaces beyond our classroom and I think you have to really sit down with your community, with your teams and work out a plan or figure out how you’re going to do that.  I mean, ours was done that way by design and I would not have done it any other way.

Will Richardson :  I’m wondering how you build your own capacity, your personal capacity.  I mean, obviously you have a pretty rich connection into social media.  You have a presence online.  You’ve been working with technology but obviously the world is changing pretty quickly so how do you keep up?

Rafranz Davis:  Honestly, I came in this way.  I came from a pretty incredible pre-service teaching program and as a part of that program.  I was in a federally funded grant program called The Teacher Quality Grant.  We were paired to our teachers from my pre-service stays.  I was working with teachers who had a great deal with more seniority in the classroom.  We were collaborating on lessons.  We were actually building interactive content for Math.  It was paid for us to attend conferences and we were also encouraged to present that conferences and to work with and learn from others.  I was doing that since before I ever step foot into the classroom as a teacher.

I don’t know a world where I’m not connecting, where I’m not reading books, where I’m not doing research, participating in action research, just taking on the disquiet and learning from others but I think that the other part is you also have to extend beyond what your domain is.  It would be easy for me to only learn about the technology tools but I can’t do that.  I have to learn about the big picture of education so being on Twitter is one thing but connecting to people and reading what people write, that speaks beyond just the tools itself to speak to a culture shift or at the leadership.  I had to do that and I do that consistently.

Will Richardson :  Now, I know you’re also really interested in diversity in terms of how that looks in schools and how that looks in terms of ideas and I think that the whole diversity question has become pretty interesting over the last year or so, especially here in the United States, just specifically in your online world and your social media world online, how do you build diversity in those conversations and in those interaction because I think that that’s something that a lot of people struggle with, number one and number two, leads us to some pretty difficult realities as again, I think of evidence lately.  Give us some advice on how do we keep diversity in the mix not just in terms of race and gender and those types of things but certainly in terms of opinions and world view and all that kind of stuff.

Rafranz Davis:  I try to keep around me, when I say around me, specifically online, my online around me.  I like to keep people that come from different point of views, spaces at all times.  I’ve always been probably vocal, more vocal than I should be in a lot of cases I’m sure.  I’m sure someone has that opinion but I think that the conversation of diversity, I think people are always on the cusp of talking about it but never really having it’s space to talk about it but I just take from my grandmother on calling the spade a spade.

The minute you go into a space and you say, “Wait a minute.  Whose and who’s not in this room and should be?”  That’s when either people will join in because it’s a conversation they’re already thinking about or people are going to get really uncomfortable and you know what?  They need to get really uncomfortable.  I connect with people like Jose Wilson, Brad Stevens and the entire educolor community and have really, I guess taken the inspiration from people who do this work consistently to what this is look like in my learning space, what should this look like in all of our learning spaces and being honest.

I created a community here in our district of learners.  That was not as diverse and I talk about it and I said, “Wait a minute.  I wrote a small snippet of a book about this but then I didn’t do it right in my own school district.  Here is where I made those mistakes and here is how we fix it.”  I think you have to definitely keep people around you that are committed to the cause but at the same time, I’m not afraid of people being uncomfortable.  I don’t care.  You need to be uncomfortable.

Will Richardson :  That must be an important experience that you want kids to have as well or a disposition at least?  I wonder how do you bring that in the classrooms and how do you think technology can amplify that or serve that purpose?

Rafranz Davis:  Yeah.  I’m again, fortunate to have always been in pretty diverse school districts and what I found with the kids, the kids are already doing it to a point.  They’re friend groups so there are points of who they connect with them pretty wide open until you get to events academic classes.  Those are predominantly built with mostly white students.

From an adult standpoint, when you have to look at who’s in those classes and how are we decide who get into those classes or why aren’t other students taking those classes.  That’s one thing.  We can help facilitate more of that student to student interaction and communication if we do it right from the jot.  The other part of that is I work with a lot of teachers and schools that the diversity is just not there so that’s where they have to do Skype in the Classroom or Google Hangout with other classes to learn about, not to fix.

Oftentimes you see the rich influence school, adopting a school in Africa and then it beomes a big deal and they’re sharing how we connected with these students who are not like us and that’s all fun and good but at the same time, maybe you shouldn’t take the lens of I’m going to fix these things for this school that is much less fortunate to.  I want to connect with this school and learn with and from them.  I think that we need to do more of that which is why we do encourage our classrooms to connect and learn from and learn with and not just connect to fix.

Will Richardson :  I mean obviously as someone who is vested in technology and learning context, I’m sure you look into the future and wonder what the world of technology is going to be and how it’s going to change how we learned.  Do you have any thoughts on that?  Any predictions or sense of what the next five, 10, 15 years are going to look like?

Rafranz Davis:  I actually worry a little bit and only because I want to make sure that we continue to have conversations about Math and Science and Science in particular and access and opportunity in particular.

There’s a lot of conversations that have happened over the last year we’re recognizing that we needed to make sure that our force of communities had access, our force of communities had connected to the course work, the plans, the learning that they needed and I hope that regardless of what is happening with us on a national political landscape that we have within us the knowledge that we need to do this work and that it continues.  We’re not going anywhere.  We’re still here and as long as we’re still here and committed to this local change then we can still continue to push forth closing these gaps that exist but the minute we give that up and the minute we forget our part, that’s the part that scares me.

Will Richardson :  Do you see technology for learning as more of an opportunity or a challenge for schools?

Rafranz Davis:  I think it submits to both.  My school district is definitely a challenge and a challenge in the sense of we don’t have device access for all of our students.  We have teach student computers.  Our kids go home.  Some of them have laptops, some of them don’t.  A lot of times in this conversation, you hear about other schools that have done it, the Wi-Fi busses, the one on one and you hear about those schools that have the technology and now what?

We’re still at the part of getting the technology piece in order but there are a lot more schools like mine that we don’t hear from or hear about and we can’t forget that this still exist.  As we talk about funding and how we make that happened, I hope that it keeps schools like mine still in the conversation because we’re still working on getting it.

Will Richardson :  If you had it, what would be the greatest opportunities do you think?

Rafranz DavisOur student understanding that the world is bigger than the zip code they live in and I say that with the deepest sense of sincerity.  We have kids that had never been outside of Lufkin, Texas.  They never step foot or connected to anyone outside of Lufkin, Texas that think that the answers that they need are what are in the textbooks that we pay for, not realizing that there’s a lot more to those story that are not in those textbooks.  I think that that information gap is the one that I want to close more than anything, not just for our students but also that their parents and the community at large.

Will Richardson :  I guess just we can finish up with this but I guess along with that is the idea that kids really need to be learners now, right?  That it’s not just about having access to the information and the teachers and whatever else but that they have to have this into skills and literacy and dispositions to make sense of that access.  I’m sure that that’s a big part of your push to provide access and get technology into your schools.

Do you see that as something that is separate literacy instruction or is it something that’s you make throughout the school district or how do you see that come playing out that idea that kids developing as learners as much, if maybe not even more as they’re developing being learned?

Rafranz Davis:  I think it’s a separate literacy honestly and I say that because I talked about my nephew when I first started talking about it he was eight and making puppets.  Now he’s extended his knowledge base is insane.

YouTube is like his greatest teacher.  It is.  If he wants to know, right now he’s making Star Wars characters out of yarn and it looks like he bought those suckers at the store.  He was making them because his teacher in their class, they were studying propaganda and in one class, they were talking about commercialization and selling a product and what that looks like and the influence of media on their purchasing and interesting conversations that they’re having so the challenge was to create something and convince their other classmates to buy it.  Out of his brain, he’s like, “I’m going to make this yarn Star Wars characters.”  He started making them.  My sister is telling me yesterday and he’s setting up at home.  Well minds you, the assignment was given I don’t know, maybe a few days ago.

There were no parameters with what they needed to do with the assignment but in his mind he was like “I need to make a commercial.  I need to make an ad for this.  I’m going to make and out that motion in video.”  He sets up at the background in the house with greenery.  He takes a wooden crate.  Make a stand for his iPad because he doesn’t have one.  He puts like an old calculus textbook of mine and a calendar to hold the camera, the iPad in exact location and starts making his movie and my sister, of course is in shock in disbelief and I’m on the other, in the Face Time going, “Are you kidding me?”  This is not even in his assignment.  He’s doing it because he’s just so passionate about it but these are things that he’s learned over time from watching other people or from interacting with YouTube or whatever the case maybe.

I think that given the kids technology is one thing but the difference that he has versus a kid who just got an iPad from school is I didn’t put any filters on that iPad to block out the world from him.  We teach him how to interact with the world, what do you do with content that is probably inappropriate for you, what happens when you encounter and he has and then at the same time, he also has at his fingertips, whatever tool that he need to continue to learn and be creative and explore that and it’s not a hindrance.

Given the kids again, the technology is one piece but if they don’t know that I can take this and I can run with it and I can connect with others and learn beyond what my teacher has set for me to learn then it’s just going to be a digital device with their textbook downloaded to it if that make sense.

Will Richardson :  It does and I think that that’s a great story to end our conversation on.  Listener  friends, I really want to thank you for your time and continued success in the work that you’re doing to change your school district.  It’s exciting times and challenging times at the same time but we wish you a lot of success.

Rafranz Davis:  Thank you so much.

 

Will Richardson :  Thanks again for listening to this episode of the Modern Learners Podcast.  I hope you enjoyed it and don’t forget, if you want to continue the conversation, just send on over to our private modern learners Facebook group or to modernlearners.com for more information about teaching and learning in a rapidly changing world.  We’ll see you again next time.

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Bruce Dixon

Modern Learners and Change School co-founder Bruce Dixon has spent the bulk of his career developing programs that assist governments to make effective use of technology across their education sector. His strategic work has enabled governments to better manage large scale personal technology deployments, and ensure outcomes that drive both school improvement and ultimately transformation.

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