A New Vision for SEDL

by Joyce Pollard
Published in SEDL Letter Volume IX, Number 4, November 1996, Technology Comes to School

A new CEO sees clients as the focus of SEDL's future

Reprinted online from SEDLetter Volume X, Number 1 (August 1997)

Client centered. Research and practice based. Collaborative and partnership driven. Comprehensive. The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) is undergoing a transformation with the leadership of a new president and CEO.

Still, these efforts will build upon traditions already in place in the 30-year-old education research firm and service provider headquartered in Austin, TX.

"SEDL will continue to offer reliable, trustworthy responses to K-12 education's most intractable problems," said Wesley A. Hoover, who became SEDL's president and chief executive officer in December 1996. "At the same time, we are rethinking and redesigning our vision of how we can best serve the educators, policymakers, and parents who are our clients."

As part of this reinvention, SEDL's staff and management are adopting a fresh set of values intended to preserve the best of the old even as it encourages the new. While the vision of the new SEDL is evolving and will continue to change, it will take four central directions. The new SEDL will be:

Client centered. SEDL's work in education research and development will focus on serving educators, school leaders, and policymakers who want to improve K-12 education in the South and Southwest. Programs will emphasize methods of strengthening learning opportunities for all students through a comprehensive set of services that concentrates the expertise of SEDL's staff "to full advantage of our clients," Hoover said.

"We will retain our position as a premier provider of services in the region that deal with the complicated problems of education," he continued. "At the same time, we at SEDL cannot identify these problems or find solutions on our own. Our clients are essential to this enterprise. We will work alongside educators, policymakers, and parents to identify the questions we should be asking and to seek the answers to those questions."

Clients will join SEDL staff in developing, testing, and applying new knowledge, Hoover said; they will work with the laboratory in disseminating educational innovations.

Under SEDL's definition, "dissemination" goes beyond distributing or publicizing new knowledge and programs, Hoover said. "Dissemination is about having people who can benefit from an innovation put that innovation to use. Research indicates that the people who will adopt a new program or practice should help develop it. They often apply a new program in original ways or expand its utility by enriching it with the wisdom arising from their experience.

"People in the schools and on the school boards, in education service centers or the state education agencies, have as much to teach SEDL as SEDL has to teach them," he added. "That's also why SEDL will become even more client centered than in the past."

Based in research and practice. SEDL will continue to look to research to bring sound programs and practices to its clients. Its 30-year history as a regional education laboratory equips SEDL with a background and an expertise in research methodology and evaluation. As a participant in a national network of education research organizations, SEDL can stay abreast of new findings and the best practices in K-12 schools as busy state or local educators cannot. Nonetheless, educators are essential sources of education research and development, Hoover pointed out.

"The laboratory will continue to be a place that respects ideas, yet those ideas can come from anyplace. They can come from local school districts or from teams of teachers who take their insights about how children learn and apply them in teaching programs that can be used in other schools," Hoover said.

Part of SEDL's job will be to track down these local innovations, filter them though SEDL's knowledge of effective education practice, and disseminate them to scores of additional schools and education service agencies.

SEDL's work with clients will also be based in practice, which means local educators will play "an increasingly important role in determining the direction of SEDL's work," Hoover said.

"There are a lot of good practices out there-they've already been developed," he continued. "Our job is to find them and uncover why the practices are effective and how they work. We'll develop frameworks to make the practices usable in new contexts. As a final step, we'll introduce new groups of people to these practices for adaptation in their schools and programs."

The goal of these endeavors will be to provide SEDL's clients with products and services that are useful and incorporate the best knowledge of effective education policy and practice.

Collaborative and partnership driven. "We will work with local folks in partnership," said Hoover. "Local folks can tell us what they know already and what problems they continue to face in improving schools and student learning."

Collaboration will be made possible by combining time-honored methods of on-site training, print publications, and conferences or meetings with new technologies such as the Internet, the World Wide Web, and videoconferencing. All these modes of communication are effective ways for people to get together, explore common concerns, and work together to resolve them, Hoover said.

In addition, SEDL staff will collaborate with other providers of education research and technical assistance services for the benefit of their shared clients. "We can and should work with other education service providers because each partner in these enterprises brings unique knowledge, talents, perspectives, and resources to the task," Hoover said. "Partners learn from each other and learn from our joint clients. That creates a win-win situation."

Comprehensive. Within SEDL itself, staff will begin to integrate their work on discrete projects to collectively address tough education problems. The laboratory already offers a broad set of services meant to advance education reform. SEDL specialists:

  • Design and deliver staff development for teachers to expand their knowledge of instructional innovations in mathematics, science, and reading
  • Conceive and present instructional strategies that can help teachers work with increasingly diverse student populations and integrate technology into classroom curriculum
  • Assist decision makers by informing them of new policy directions and community dialogues
  • Identify standards-based education practices that can build coherence in education systems, and develop standards for academic content and student performance in second-language study
  • Train local and state education leaders to mount local or systemic school reform, and teach dissemination strategies to researchers and program innovators
  • Facilitate family and community involvement in education by helping communities launch partnerships to improve schools, social services, and local economies
  • Develop school programs that broaden opportunities for students with limited English proficiency

"We're also planning new projects in evaluation, technology usage, information services, and professional development for educators," Hoover said. "The net result of these programs will be a comprehensive set of programs and services that will be of genuine utility to our clients. They can count on SEDL to provide a full menu of research-based support services to families, schools, and government in the South and the Southwest-and beyond."

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