No one can deny the fact that we are seeing some pretty exciting changes in teaching, learning, and leadership. Advances in research, brain science, and technology are opening up new and better pathways to reach learners like never before. This excitement, in some cases, effects real change and has supporting evidence of improvement. In other cases, money is being dumped on the latest tool, program, idea, or professional development without ensuring that instructional design is up to par in the first place. Pedagogy trumps technology. It also goes without saying that a solid pedagogical foundation should be in place prior to implementing any innovative idea.


Let’s start by looking at practice from a general lens. To transform learning, we must also transform teaching. When looking at the chart to the right, where does your practice or that of your teachers lie? What immediate changes can be made today to improve learning for your students tomorrow?

Now let’s turn our focus to some more specific elements of instruction. It is important to take a critical lens to our work to ensure efficacy if the goal is to improve learning. With that being said, it is incumbent upon all of us to make sure that the current shifts to instructional design are resulting in better student outcomes. This is why a Return on Instruction (ROI) as described in Learning Transformed is so important both with and without technology:

“When integrating technology and innovative ideas there needs to be a Return on Instruction (ROI) that results in evidence of improved student learning outcomes.”

The key to future-proofing education is to get kids to think. If it is easy, then it probably isn’t learning. Challenging learners through complex problem-solving and activities that involve critical thinking is extremely important, but they also must be afforded opportunities to apply their learning in relevant ways. This does not have to be an arduous process that takes up a great deal of time. Below are five areas to look at when implementing any digital tool or innovative idea to determine whether or not improvements to pedagogy are changing. Each area is followed by a question or two as a means to help self-assess where you are and if improvements can be made:

  • Level of questioning: Are students being asked questions at the higher levels of knowledge taxonomy? Do students have the opportunity to develop and then answer their own higher-order questions?
  • Authentic and/or interdisciplinary context: Is there a connection to help students see why this learning is important and how it can be used outside of school?
  • Rigorous performance tasks: Are students afforded an opportunity to actively apply what they have learned and create a product to demonstrate conceptual mastery aligned to standards?
  • Innovative assessment: Is assessment changing to provide critical information about what students do or don’t know? Are alternative forms of assessment being implemented, such as portfolios, to illustrate growth over time?
  • Improved feedback: Is feedback timely, aligned to standards, specific, and does it provide details on advancement towards a learning goal?

Improving outcomes relies on aligning instruction to solid research, ensuring that pedagogical shifts are occurring, holding ourselves (and others) accountable for growth, and showcasing evidence of improvement. By taking a critical lens to our practice, we can determine where we are—and more importantly—where we actually want and need to be for our learners.


Eric is a senior fellow and thought leader on digital leadership with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE). Prior to this he was the award-winning principal at New Milford High School. He was a 2012 Digital Principal of the Year and has authored six books, including the best-seller Digital Leadership. Follow him on Twitter @E_Sheningeror visit

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