Back to Basics: Focusing on the Foundation of Teaching and Learning

Jun 15, 2020

Weston Kieschnick didn’t enter the world of education through a traditional route. In fact, he originally planned to pursue law enforcement on a federal level. But while participating in a ride-along one day, he had an epiphany. What if the best way to help people was to reach them before they touched the criminal justice system? What if he could make a difference by ensuring that kids had reliable adults—parents, teachers, coaches—to count on?

So often, we have this perception that, if we throw stuff at the problem, the stuff will solve the problem. It won't.
- Weston Kieschnick

This was the first major pivot in Kieschnick’s career, but it wouldn’t be his last. As an educator, his ability to distill key information and engage learners of all ages was recognized by administrators early on. So, after less than two years in the classroom, he was tapped to take on a bigger role. Thus began his transition, from teaching high school students to focusing on their teachers.

Today, he spends the bulk of his time teaching and supporting educators as a coach, speaker, author and senior fellow at the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). Still as passionate as ever about cultivating meaningful relationships, he also continues to work with kids as a high school football coach. EdSurge spoke with Kieschnick to learn about the issues he sees in schools today and hear how he aims to get to the heart of what really works in education.

EdSurge: In your book “Bold School,” you recommend combining old school wisdom with new school technologies. What do you mean by that?

Kieschnick: When I talk about old school wisdom, I mean those instructional strategies that we know work. We have to make sure that we don't throw out the baby with the bath water. So often, we have this perception that, if we throw stuff at the problem, the stuff will solve the problem. It won't. It will simply magnify what already exists.

If great things are happening in the classroom, and you throw technology at it, it's going to magnify the greatness. If less than great things are happening, it will magnify those as well. We’re educating more kids, with greater rigor and from more diverse backgrounds, than ever before in our nation's history. We’ve got a great foundation. So, how do we take the next step?

One solution is to take a frequently used, high-yield strategy like reciprocal teaching or problem solving and utilize technology to elevate it—not replace it—and make it more effective than it's ever been before. For example, how can we use a tool like Kahoot! to elevate questioning? How do we integrate something like WeVideo to teach problem solving and make it better, more effective, more efficient?

You’re a proponent of school transformation. What outcomes do you look for as you go through that process?

It’s about the return to teaching and learning. For the longest time in education—the past 15 to 20 years—we've been trying to use assessment solutions for pedagogy problems. We have been operating within this mindset that, if we just test enough, we'll be able to identify the problems and then make them go away.

One of the things the COVID-19 pandemic revealed is the assessment culture we’ve created in our schools. When I talk about transforming education, I'm talking about that culture. We have developed a toxic culture of assessment whereby we've drifted away from the reasons why schools exist in the first place. Our whys have to be about teaching and learning, and they have to be about skills.

Weston Kieschnick is an award-winning educator, best-selling author, TEDx speaker, coach, husband and father. He is the author of Bold School, Breaking Bold, co-author of The Learning Transformation: A Guide to Blended Learning for Administrators and the creator and host of Teaching Keating, one of the most downloaded podcasts for educators and parents on iTunes. He has worked in collaboration with innovative tech and publishing companies (Google, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Apple) to redefine teaching and learning in the digital age. As such, he’s advised educators from every state in the US and more than 30 countries around the world. Districts where Mr. Kieschnick has designed content, implemented initiatives and trained educational leaders have been recognized by the Learning Counsel as being among the top 10 in the nation for their work in blended learning. You can find Kieschnick’s work published in EdWeek, EdTech Magazine, The Spark, and featured on TED, the 10-Minute Teacher, The Innovator's Mindset Podcast, Teaching Tales, Kids Deserve It and LeadUp Teach.

How do we grade remote learners? How do we make sure kids aren't cheating? Should kids be allowed to fail? When we arrived in a state of pandemic, guess what. Kids figured out that their school systems are not grading in a way that they can fail anymore.

We're seeing a decrease in student motivation because our students figured out that the grades don't matter right now. When you develop a culture that is all about grading and assessment, you also develop a culture where removing those things leaves kids demotivated. That's exactly what's happened.

One of the productive things that I hope comes out of this time is that it allows us to refocus and reengage in a more meaningful conversation around the foundation of teaching and learning. That it’s not about getting grades from the gradebook; it's about skills. It's all about teaching the right skills.

As we discuss the challenges of remote instruction, let’s touch on blended learning. How is it impacting our students now, and how is it going to carry them into the future?

We have this misunderstanding that, because our kids are digital natives, they already know how to use all of this technology. I love to quell the notion that our kids are digital natives. They are not. Yes, they've grown up with technology, but they know how to use technology for basically two things: to socialize and to entertain. That's the extent of their digital nativity.

Our kids are not digital natives in the sense that they know how to use these tools to be productive and to collaborate in meaningful ways. They don’t have a clear understanding of what they are being asked to do or how to resolve problems that arise. That's why immersing our kids into these technologies is so important. Students need certain skills to be incorporated into the curriculum, and they also need to know how to use these tools alongside those skills to solve real world problems in rigorous learning environments.

And educators have to think differently about instructional design. First and foremost, we have to ask ourselves for the desired outcome. Second, what highly effective instructional strategy will help us meet that learning outcome? Then, what digital or non-digital tool will support that strategy to make it more effective and efficient so kids can meet that rigorous learning outcome? Once those three things are in place, we develop our instructional plans. Then, we use assessment frameworks to make determinations about whether or not what we've designed is even any good.


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