Beth Holland

Food for thought…

Leave a comment

To Ensure Success, First Define the Black Box of Innovation

In the readings for my Evaluation course, a concept struck me: when something fails, do you blame the theory or the implementation? I think that in education, great concepts often get abandoned because of poor execution and a lack of understanding about the implementation. Researchers Leviton and Lipsey describe this as not knowing the inner workings of the “black box.”

I first read about the notion of “the black box” in the context of the economics and education last fall. Economic researchers frequently write about inputs and outputs. They examine what goes into the black box of schools in terms of time, money, or resources and then measure what comes out – student test scores, teacher evaluations, etc.  However, economists rarely open that box.


The same thing happens with schools when they look to implement a new program. In their 2012 article, Theoretical Frameworks to Guide School Improvement, authors Evans, Thornton, and Usinger explain that most educational reform efforts occur absent a defined theory of change.  Instead, schools and districts implement new plans or programs without defining why they believe that these change efforts should work; what they hope to achieve; and how they might measure success. In other words, they often take a black box approach.

For my dissertation work, I have to define the theory of treatment for my intervention study so that if something goes wrong, I will know if the problem lies in the theory or the execution of my design. To do this, I have to define the logic behind my assumptions, the causal or correlational relationship between variables, and the literature to support my claims. This latest blog post at least helped me to wrap my head around the concept and the process.

>> Read the article on EdTech Researcher.

Leave a comment

What are the important skills, behaviors, and attitudes that students need to become contributing global citizens?

This is the question that I chose to tackle this month for the Global Search for Education’s Global Blogger Series. In many ways, it spoke to me as part of the larger question that I am addressing in my dissertation research at Johns Hopkins – systemically innovating American public school districts to better prepare students to meet the intellectual demands of the knowledge economy.

However, to date, most of my research has focused on student skills. In 2003, economists Autor, Levy, and Murnane published a paper about the changing task composition of the labor market as a result of computerization and globalization. As computers became cheaper, smaller, and faster, they could replace many of the routine tasks that people had previously completed. (Think about ATM machines, credit card readers on gas pumps, data entry positions, etc).

In his book Raising Innovators, author and Harvard Professor Tony Wagner, claims the world needs “problem seekers.” So if we want our students to have these new skills – to seek out problems, to find novel solutions, to analyze and synthesize information across sources, to communicate and collaborate using the available technologies across distance and time (those all come from Levy & Murnane’s paper, Dancing with Robots) – then we also need to consider their attitudes and behaviors.

The most important attitude that our students may need to become contributing global citizens is empathy. How can we expect them to seek out problems and design novel solutions if they cannot connect with the individuals whose problems they need them to solve? Our students need to be able to deeply engage with others and embrace their perspective. And as educators, we need to give them the initial experiences on which they can then build new knowledge and understanding. (I credit Christine Boyer for that sentiment.)

Finally, as Tony Wagner said, we need to instill in our students the behavior of problem seeking. Our students need to be able to act to actually do something in the world around them. In a global society, we need students who have determination, persistence, and the internal motivation to seek out solutions to problems that we have never seen before, with technologies that have never existed, and in a world that none of us as educators, parents, and adults have ever experienced.

Today, I am wrapping up a three-day EdTechTeacher workshop with an amazing group of elementary teachers from across the United States and abroad. On day one, we came to a consensus about one critical fact: it’s not about me. As educators, we also need to develop the skills that our students will need, to engage in empathy with our students to deeply understand their reality, and to become problem-seekers ourselves to help prepare our students for the global world that they will enter, and hopefully, improve.

>> Make sure you read the rest of the answers from the other Global Bloggers!


What are the best ways a teacher can demonstrate leadership in the classroom?

As part of this month’s Top 12 Global Teacher Bloggers series, hosted by CM Rubin World, I decided to tackle the question “What are the best ways a teacher can demonstrate leadership in the classroom?as the blogger-at-large. Over the past few weeks, one distinguishing factor has surfaced as I’ve worked with a number of educators from across the country: empathy. The best teachers demonstrate empathy in their classrooms.

Empathy for Themselves

“Future You will really appreciate it if Current You takes notes.” I often say in workshops. Despite our efforts to encourage students to capture their learning, teachers regularly skip this step in their own professional development. However, the true leaders, the teachers who will take what we uncover during our workshops and implement new ideas in the classroom, are those who engage in reflection when given the opportunity and make deep connections between the workshop content and their own classes.

Empathy for Students

Several weeks ago, I had the privilege of working with a group of teacher-leaders in a school in Providence, RI. This group wanted to push their thinking forward and really examine the role not only of technology in their classrooms, but also of how they could shift their curricula given the abundance of information now available via mobile devices. Though their students each had an iPad to support their learning, the teachers also benefitted from a Macbook. During the workshop, I explained that I did not want the teachers to use any tool that the students could not readily access – namely their laptops.

As we explored the concept of workshop archiving and note taking strategies, one gentleman came to an amazing revelation: he had never considered organization from the perspective of his students. Most times, he prescribed solutions based on what was convenient for him without considering the fact that his students navigated between seven teachers and seven different routines on a given day.

Last October, Grant Wiggins published an account from a veteran teacher who shadowed a high school student for two days. The teachers who take the time to see school through the eyes of their students assume a new level of leadership in their classrooms.

Empathy for Colleagues

I worked with a wonderful assistant (Dee Kosik, @koscikd) last week during our Summer Workshops in Atlanta. Any time a teacher had a question or needed additional instruction, she immediately provided the requisite support. On the second day, I asked her to stop doing so.

As educators, we want to provide assistance and ensure success. However, we are so used to providing answers that we forget what it feels like to develop as critical thinkers and problem solvers. By having empathy, we remember what it was like to struggle and then achieve the desired skill or concept. We want our colleagues to have the same sense of success while still mitigating some of the frustrations associated with learning. By approaching each context with empathy, we are modeling the perseverance that we hope our colleagues – and students – will attain as they gain the confidence to implement new ideas in their classrooms as well as the pedagogical approach to serve as a facilitator of inquiry rather than a disseminator of information.

In many ways, it comes down to the age-old adage: great leaders lead by example.