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  • Writer's pictureAllan J. Mucerino


Updated: Mar 22, 2018

Silver bullets can solve big problems through simple means. Quick-fix leadership, also referred to as hit-and-run leadership, is all about silver bullets.

Thanks to NCLB and other misguided education policies wrought with unintended consequences, many educators felt pressured to turn around failing schools and districts with silver bullets. Computers rush to mind as one such example. Silver bullets worked for the Lone Ranger. But an education leader isn’t a swashbuckler and shouldn’t act like one. Allegedly the Lone Ranger preferred silver bullets because they reminded him that life is precious and, like the bullets, shouldn't be wasted.

Those of us who have resisted quick-fix solutions to complex problems such as mitigating the effects of poverty on learning, do so because we too believe life is precious and shouldn’t be wasted.

We are agents of sustainable change and aim to create the conditions for success in our schools. While there are many, the primary condition is the design structure and concomitant culture that strives to equally engage all levels and types of learners (and companion system to ensure timely interventions may be implemented before students fall hopelessly behind, day after day and year after year, until finding themselves a product of an ineffective and structurally defective design). Clearly external factors influence student outcomes, mightily in fact, for both good and bad, but school (learning) is the one constant that must not vary. What does a culture that equally engages all levels and types of learners look like? It's student-centered and revolves around frequent and common formative assessment and collaboration. Teachers have the freedom to create learning opportunities and the time and support to create and plan those lessons without missing instructional days. Teachers meet weekly, at the least, to monitor student achievement, share instructional strategies, and devise implementation strategies for students ready to move ahead and those falling behind.

Leaders are immersed in the process and work with teachers to find solutions to implement the strategies. Isolation in any form, including teaching or learning in isolation and teaching concepts isolated from content, does not exist in this culture.

Schools are big enough to have multiple instructors teaching the same content and grade level, but not big enough to lose track of students. Teachers are not expected to differentiate to such a wide breadth of learners that the extremes are poorly served. Depth and complexity, not acceleration and coverage, are valued and supported by the community. Equally valued is collaboration among students. 21st Century principles abound and manifest themselves in a “Maker” environment with the digital tools, community infrastructure, and the maker mindset to support its practice. I envision K-8 STEM magnet schools (that continue in 9-12) where students routinely engage in design and engineering practices. Students have access to online networks that make it easy to share, critique, and compare ideas, designs, and project information around the world. Technology is not itself an agent of change (a silver bullet), but merely a tool among many, fully integrated into teaching and learning.

University of California, Davis Professor Lee Martin (2015) presented seven reasons (with references cited) why joining the Maker Movement brings value to a school:

  1. Making aligns with the curricular demands of schooling, in particular the engineering practices seen in NGSS (Quinn & Bell, 2013). Alignment between learning activities and learning outcomes is a commonsense and effective way to increase learning (Krajcik, McNeill, & Reiser, 2008).

  2. Making gives youth access to sophisticated tools for building and for thinking. Transformative digital tools have been shown to empower youth to engage in new forms of thinking, including computational thinking (e.g., Blikstein, 2008; Resnick & Silverman, 2005).

  3. Making involves creating things, seeing how they perform, and sharing them with others. Research has shown that, in Papert’s (1993) words, learning ‘‘often happens especially felicitously when it is supported by construction of a more public sort ‘in the world.’ Okita and Schwartz (2013) note that production can lead to powerful forms of learning driven by recursive feedback, where people learn from the actions of their creations.

  4. Making is playful and highly tolerant of errors. Playfulness begets experimentation, which leads to the development of conceptual knowledge and promotes adaptability in the face of challenges (Hatano & Inagaki, 1986). Failures, small and large, can drive learning, as they bump people out of routines and into a reflective mode that can prepare them to learn more (Kapur, 2008; Koschmann, Kuutti, & Hickman, 1998).

  5. Making advocates a growth mindset, where, given effort and resources, anyone can learn the skills needed to complete any project they can imagine. Learning environments that advocate a growth mindset encourage persistence, challenge seeking, and learning (Dweck, 2000).

  6. Making environments typically give youth substantial say in what and how they make. Learning environments that support youth autonomy and control of their endeavors are more motivating, support engagement and persistence, identity development, and the growth of resourcefulness (Azevedo, 2011; Barron, 2006; Ryan & Deci, 2000).

  7. Making occurs within linked learning communities, spanning in-person and online contexts, and involving people of a wide range of ages and knowledge. Such environments help youth integrate their interests with robust social support to create powerful contexts for learning (Heath, 2012; Ito et al., 2013).

Structured learning environments where students can explore ideas, concepts, and content has been an extension to education, instead of education itself. Those of us who value 21st Century learning should center our focus on designing schools that blend rigorous academics with real-world exploration and demanding technical education, with personalized student supports to ensure we leave no child behind.

…..and leave the silver bullets to Kemosabe.


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