Transparency as Pedagogy

“A Floor, But No Ceiling?”  Sure…but what about walls?

I had an interesting conversation this morning with our Admissions & Marketing Director and one of our 21st Century Learning Teachers…

We believe we are striking out on a relatively uncharted path when it comes to 21st Century Learning because we believe it is the (only) best way forward to improving the quality and relevance of what we do.  There are many facets to this approach which have been blogged about by me and certainly much better and with much more detail by others (start with our own school’s blog for 21st century learning and dig as deep you wish).  One important component of the paradigm shift is the emphasis on transparency. What does it mean to be transparent?  Transparency can mean more than one thing, but you cannot tear down the walls and expect that people will only peer in.

This came up because we are struggling to apply a 20th century media release to a 21st century school.  It was simple to know which students could be included in newspaper and bulletin articles and which could not.  It was simple to know which names you could publish with a photo and which had to be left nameless.  When “media” was exclusively print, it wasn’t complicated.  And even when websites were created, they were largely static and so it wasn’t much different.  But now?  What happens when a student wants to comment on a teacher blogpost?  What happens when a student’s voice is captured in a podcast?  What happens if in order to participate in a 21st century learning experience you have to be part of a global conversation?

What I think it boils down to is this…transparency is no longer an expression of customer service or an opportunity for savvy public relations.  Transparency is now pedagogy – and that is where the paradigm shift occurs.  When you tear down the walls, you encourage interactivity not just because it is fun to know that other people may see or read or hear or watch what you are doing, but because their feedback to your work becomes part of the process of doing your work.  Transparency becomes pedagogy.

There are implications and they are not all easily resolved.  Take for example the digital portfolio.  We are piloting a digital portfolio program in all of our grades, but focusing in particular in Grade K, 5, & 8.  In each grade, however, the emphasis is on allowing students (in a developmentally appropriate way) to be co-creators of their digital footprint – they help decide what are the authentic artifacts of their best work that should become part of their permanent record.  Those artifacts will look dramatically different for different students at different grades for different subjects.  But if one goes all the way, they also become part of the public record.  Are we ready to honor the moral imperative of sharing?  Are we ready to view the authentic work of children not our own and not worry about how it compares to our own?  (Am I as a Head of School ready for all the unintended consequences of such a thing?)

The reason why the answers should be “yes” is because it is inevitable – this is where the world is heading.  The reason why the answers should be “maybe not” is because we are human – change is scary.  And so we continue to talk and share and read and teach and ultimately to lead.  The future is coming and it will be a transparent one whether we think it is a good idea or otherwise.  The schools which will ultimately viewed to be successful will be the ones who were ready for the shift when it occurs.  Let’s be ready.

In other news, I am off with members of our leadership team to the PEJE (Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education) Assembly in Baltimore on Sunday.  PEJE brings together every strand and flavor of Jewish Day School education and its Assembly typically draws the best and the brightest from education at large.  I am looking forward to a stimulating conference and to sharing the new ideas I am sure will impact my thinking moving forward.  I plan to take advantage of the opportunity to explore how to best utilize Twitter so for the tens of you following me @Jon_Mitzmacher don’t be surprised if my tweeting activity suddenly mushrooms.  Let the twitterscape be forewarned!

Author: Jon Mitzmacher

Dr. Jon Mitzmacher is the Head of the Ottawa Jewish Community School. He was most recently the VP of Innovation for Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.  He is the former Executive Director of the Schechter Day School Network.  He is also the former head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School, a K-8 Solomon Schechter, located in Jacksonville, FL, and part of the Jacksonville Jewish Center.  He was the founding head of the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas.  Jon has worked in all aspects of Jewish Education from camping to congregations and everything in between.

6 thoughts on “Transparency as Pedagogy”

  1. A wonderful, transparent look at your thoughts on running a digitally open school.
    Two things generate questions (not fears) for me:

    Re: student work becoming ‘part of the public record’.
    When a student helps create a portfolio, what if that same student decides to delete it? Or their parents want it removed? Do we have a right to archive it? Should we be thinking about archiving it? How far back will employers look when choosing a future employee. What expectations will teachers have based on seeing previous years’ work of a student? (This could be a good thing.)

    Re: Interactivity beyond the walls:
    What if parents leave critical feedback that isn’t framed in a positive way? What if parents offer their opinions on other students’ work or compares student work? What if community members disagree with the opinions of students? What if community members don’t like an assignment given and want you to make the teacher change it? What if student blogs are quoted in the local newspaper?

    I think there are some easy and some challenging answers to these questions, but some are uncharted territory. Your approach of being as open as you are, (I love the blog: and plan to share it with staff), is inspiring. I think the answering of some of these questions in advance might be good, but a great approach is to be open and discuss them as they arise. Creating a policy based on every problematic scenario would be a nightmare and would be restrictive rather than beneficial. Having an appropriate use policy with expectations of appropriate behavior is, on the other hand, something that can help us chart our own path as we navigate the excitingly open world our schools are heading into!

    Thanks for inspiring a lot of thought in this area, again… great post!

  2. I’ve come across these issues at several staff development and strategic management meetings lately. I feel sure they will ‘crop up’ again, and again. I do think that we may be at a point where we will have to revisit our ‘professional personas’ – in other words, teachers can no longer assume that they are above critical review of what they deliver. In my opinion, that’s a good change.

    The ethical concerns will no doubt be met as well.

  3. I appreciate your openness in discussing the issue of transparency and privacy. As a parent who embraces 21st C Learning, I am torn between recognizing that it is important and ‘right’ for us to share what we are doing with the outside world and concerns about the potential dangers that could directly impact our children. I look forward to learning more!

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