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Online learningIt is very difficult to give weight to anything these days except for the conditions that we are now living and dying under, especially as a New Yorker. Time does not stand still however, so we need to assess where we are in order to adjust and move forward. If this pandemic has taught me anything, this would be my lesson learned.

When it comes to the American education system, I have experienced it in many ways and on many levels. I have been a student, a teacher, professor, a supporter, a critic, a follower and a leader. Now I deal with education as a speaker, writer, blogger, and podcaster. My focus in life has always been in education. As a critic I often engaged in theoretical discussions of how we could improve the system if we blew it all up and started anew. These were obviously theoretical discussions since a national education system cannot be physically blown up.

March of 2020 changed all that. March 2020 is when the American education system was blown up. There is no mistake about that. Schools were shut down. Testing was cancelled. Teachers were told not to concern themselves with grades, and even sports were stopped. All school related events were halted. The system, as we have come to know it after 200+ years, was shut down. It was blown up by the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

There was only one possibility available to educators. They immediately ran to the alternative that was discussed for the last decade. We have the technology! Why not transition the entire system to remote learning? Let’s mandate remote learning. Administrators will lead remotely, teachers will teach remotely, students will learn remotely. We have talked about it for years, so why not? That seemed like a sound fix for the problem, especially if it was to be a short-term need.

Well, the fix was not so simple. Although we have talked a great deal about remote learning over the last decade, we haven’t really taught teachers to do it. Since the actual practice of remote learning has been limited, few students are proficient, or even experienced in it. Many teachers and students are not even comfortable with it.

As educators we have also learned that Maslow truly comes before Bloom in learning. We need to address the emotional and physical needs of students before any learning can take place. Unfortunately, in a highly stressed environment, we have added more stress on teachers and students. We have not created stability, but rather added to the chaos in a very chaotic environment. It is amazing that many, if not most, educators have risen above all of this to make the best of a very bad situation.

Educators at every level have strived to use the technology to collaborate in finding solutions and methods to help themselves and their students through this mess. They strive to collaborate through catastrophe. By experiencing the use of technology in learning, the teachers are as much students as the younger people they are charged to teach. This may go a long way in accomplishing what countless sessions of professional development could not deliver. Experience is always the best teacher.

We have very quickly identified many problems with remote teaching. The greatest problem exposed is the digital divide caused by the economic divide. Zip codes still determine quality of education even more in a digital system. There are many drawbacks in digital systems that were less of an obstacle in face-to-face environments. Absenteeism is a big problem in remote learning. Getting to kids of large families with only one digital device in the family is a big issue. Having kids supervised at home can be a problem for many as well. Giving individual time to each student digitally is another problem that needs to be addressed.

Teachers need to shift their focus from summative assessment for grading purposes to formative assessment for actionable feedback. Teachers need to understand that piling up more work does not translate to more learning. Administrators need to learn that leading is much better that mandating. Collaboration is key to learning. If you have a thought share it. An idea not shared is just a passing thought. Sharing and modeling best practices is not bragging. Yes, these are phrases used all the time, but that doesn’t make them less important or less truthful. They were true in a classroom setting and they are true online as well.

My fear is that, when we come to an end of this catastrophe, which we now find ourselves in, we will look to assessing remote learning with a skewed perspective. We have come to grips with the priorities of the brick and mortar environment of our education system and found them in need of realignment. Teachers are trained for the classroom. Teachers have been programed for an environment of control and compliance. Their experience and training have little to do with student voice and choice in learning. Collaborative learning too often takes a back seat to lecture and direct instruction. These are tailored to classroom learning and far less effective in remote learning.

We need an honest look at both the classroom model and the remote model for learning and adjust accordingly. Face–to-face relationships between teachers and students are the best conduits for learning. Developing skills in students to be self-motivated and tech savvy to research, curate, communicate and create, as lifelong learners should be the goal of every educator. In our computer-driven world this will happen online.

We cannot look at the remote teaching and learning that is going on during this crisis as the model for online learning. Most of the teachers and students thrown into this were not prepared for, or equipped for any of this to happen, much like our medical community in handling this virus. We need to return to a system that will now and forever support a professional development system that is continual, supportive, relevant and adaptive. We cannot expect our students to strive for the best, ongoing, life-long education possible, if their teachers, mentors, and role models are not striving for that as well. We cannot waste one of the rare opportunities that this horrible disaster may have afforded us. Let us consider blending the best of both systems to reprioritize our goals for education, as well as the methods that we may use to get to those goals. We must be proactive in improving our teachers, which will in turn improve our students. It is not a passive exercise. It will not happen on its own. It will take a new mindset and of course money. Education is the best defense our country can have. Its value is worth the cost.

With the cloud of the Corona Virus hanging over us and growing by the hour, it is difficult to see any silver lining. Health and safety are our greatest concerns. The stakes are high and the consequences may be fatal to too many. Anything I discuss here should not in any way diminish the seriousness of our condition. The consequences of our nationwide quarantine however, may be having a profound positive effect on our education system. From an education perspective, there may be a silver lining to one of the darkest clouds to ever cover this country.

In the past, many discussions by several education leaders have sometimes suggested the idea of education reform needing to blow up the current education system in order to affect any real change. In March of 2020 in response to a life-threatening pandemic, our education system, as we have known it for centuries, was blown up. Schools across the nation closed their doors, but required their teachers to try to carry on educating their students using online technology. Overnight, discussions, which were in many cases theoretical about online teaching and learning, became a reality. It was a “ready or not, here we come” event.

Educators, who were trained and programmed to teach face-to-face with students in classrooms with a support staff within a larger school building, found themselves alone at home face-to-face with a blank computer screen. This nationwide experience exposed and underscored a number of deficiencies and shortcomings in the system that can now be addressed in many positive ways. How we respond to what we now know may very well evolve the education system in ways not possible before the nationwide lockdown blew it up. From chaos we now have opportunity.

The earliest indications of our preparedness to meet the online challenge to educators underscored the gap that exists in professional development for educators. Teaching online is not the same as teaching in the classroom. Many educators have not been updated in the use of technology and more specifically, online instruction. Of course the system until now was not dependent on online learning, but technology implementation is essential in our computer-driven society. Now that we have exposed the importance of technology in education, we can use this experience to push for more required, universal, and effective professional development. We can also more convincingly support PD with time, money, and structured follow-up.

We are more aware of the basic needs of kids to have a better working knowledge of technology skills. It is an opportunity to evaluate and evolve how we introduce kids to technology and how we incorporate those skills to enhance their learning. We need to develop their ability to be self-reliant in their learning to become lifelong learners.

We are also more aware of the need for a dependable online infrastructure, one that offers access to all. The digital divide must be addressed. Zip codes can no longer be the driving force of quality education.

Social distancing is a new concept for our country. It should be called physical distancing to be a more accurate description. Online we have all gotten closer through connections with colleagues and students. The idea of sharing ideas, and sources has grown as a result of educators needing to quickly grow and communicate effectively online. Another benefit from this collegial connection is a new appreciation, if not discovery for some, of online content. The use of online sources can enhance a text-based curriculum, or even replace it.

In order to change any system the first changes have to be made to the culture. With schools shut down parents have become more involved with their kids’ education. What parents see and experience, with their children learning through technology, goes a long way in educating parents as to what education in today’s world is all about. Of course this does not work as effectively if there are no online connections between educators and students for parents to experience.

Probably the biggest takeaway from this crisis in education is the absolute need for social and emotional learning for kids. We need to address physical and emotional needs before kids can learn. Maslow must always come before Bloom. Priorities need to be readjusted. We see schools adjusting their grading policies. Maybe grades aren’t what we have believed them to be for centuries? It may be time to reassess and adjust. Many schools have cancelled their need to give standardized tests. Again, maybe they need to move down on the list of education priorities. Let’s take the opportunity to talk it through and consider our experiences.

After each and every catastrophic experience this country has endured, it has reassessed, adjusted, and made positive changes for the benefit of all. Beyond the obvious health and safety issues that must be addressed, we need to address the issues of education. The kids who we are educating today will make the decisions of health and safety moving forward. We can’t educate them with the knowledge and skills that brought us to this point. They need more knowledge and more relevant skills to get beyond our limited capabilities. They will be living in a different world. This horrible event that we are now facing has actually given us the greatest opportunity yet to evolve our education system. We need to reassess, reevaluate and prioritize. This opportunity is the silver lining of that very dark Coronavirus cloud hanging over us.

Stay Healthy!

With the rapid spread of the Corona Virus, there has been a clarion call for schools to close and immediately shift to online learning in the interest of health and safety. With all that has been written and talked about in regard to “online learning” over the last decade, the perception is that now is a great time to put tech to work and implement this modern methodology to address our current situation and limit face-to-face exposure in order to self-quarantine a huge portion of our population. Online learning will do all of this, and kids won’t miss a beat in their education. That is a great picture of progressive ideas in education coupling with the advancing strides of evolving technologies to carry us to the next level in the evolution of education. That may get us a short way away from the flying cars that we have always been promised for generations. Of course before any of this can happen we need to address several questions to determine the viability of this wondrous solution.

Is the infrastructure in place for online learning? In order for this to work, we need the teacher to be able to connect with the student. That takes computer equipment for both, as well as some capacity for connecting them. Of course that connection would need to be made for each and every student for which each teacher is responsible. Assuming that the schools are closed to teachers, as well as students, the school will have very little to do with what devices teachers or students have, as well as what internet accessibility is available. Schools having issued each student a computer would have more control.

Do the teachers have lessons prepared specifically for “Online Learning”? Teaching online is not the same as teaching face to face in the classroom. The class is far less captive with many more distractions in each student’s personal environment. The lessons need to be far more engaging. Feedback from every participant is more important with online learning. Summative assessment is essential and must be ongoing. Learning is not a passive exercise online. Interaction is the key. Teachers need to be more aware and more demanding of student participation. These are only a few of the needs that teachers must address in “online teaching”

Does each teacher have the mindset to be an online teacher? Being forced into a situation that effects one’s livelihood and challenges lifelong beliefs is not a good way to introduce a person to a new way to perform his or her job. A longstanding fear of educators is that some day they will be replaced by computers. Personally, I don’t believe that will ever happen, because education is best served through strong relationships of students and teachers. Technology however, will change the way those relationships take place. Forcing people into performing a job they don’t believe in cannot have a positive outcome for anyone. A majority of teachers have never been trained to teach online. They have been taught how to teach in a classroom. Kids sitting in rows where a teacher can see them is not the same as connecting with students online.

Will a knee-jerk decision for a quick fix to a problem with the Corona Virus have a lasting effect on education? My overriding fear about this situation that we find ourselves in, is the long-term effect it will have on education. If schools close and mandate online learning to carry them through the period of time such as this crisis requires, will the resulting failure of education be blamed on the teachers, the technology, or the folks who pushed for an ill-considered idea? I fear the teachers and technology will unfairly bear the brunt of the blame. Of course the folks who pushed the ill-considered idea are also the judges.

When will online learning be a reality? I truly believe we will move to a methodology that uses both face-to-face and online learning. This will only happen as teachers are taught what online learning is and how it works best. This is still a new and developing methodology. We also need to teach students how to use it before they are thrown into it. Most importantly we need to instruct parents on the benefits of it as well. They did not grow up with online learning, so they will need to be sold on its value. Before we can change the system, we need to change the culture. Mandating online learning before the infrastructure, methodology and mindset of educators and students are all in the proper place, the endeavor will ultimately fail. That would be a setback for an evolving education system.

The discussion around technology in education often revolves around what technology can or can’t do in regard to affecting kids’ learning. The fact of the matter is that technology in education only works for kids, if it works for their teacher.The best technology in the world will not be effective if the teacher is not a committed advocate for it. That commitment requires an understanding of how the tech fits into what it is the teacher is trying to accomplish. The marriage of those two requires an understanding of not just subject content, but an understanding of the technology and the students as well. It is far more complicated than throwing the tech at the kids and sitting back to record the miraculous results in a grade book.

Technology’s effect on education is difficult to assess, because it is not just the technology that affects the learning. If there are three teachers teaching the same subjects in a school and are given equal access to technology, how can the technology impact on learning be fairly assessed? If one teacher welcomes the tech and works to use it to its best advantage, while the other two teachers are less comfortable and less willing to fully commit, is the technology that is failing to help students learn? Two thirds of the students would be limited with their technology in this example. Even if there was a massive improvement in the third of the students who succeeded with tech, two thirds would fail to show improvement, yet all had equal access to the tech. Blaming the failure on the tech is much easier than saying teachers are not living up to their professional obligation. Maybe we need to use the technology to address the adult learning of educators before we can expect to fairly assess the effect of technology on student learning. That would be using Andragogy to promote Pedagogy. For a better understanding of Andragogy read this: https://tomwhitby.com/2015/04/13/the-importance-of-andragogy-in-education/ or https://tomwhitby.com/2013/05/03/pedagogy-vs-andragog/

Technology can be most effectively used for collaboration. Some of the most popular sites on the Internet are social media sites. These sites are designed for collaboration and collaboration is a key component in adult learning. Frankly, it is key to all learning, but adults seem to get it better.

My driving force, in all that I now do in education, hinges on one belief: If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators. Collaboration through technology seems to have been designed for educators to inform, if not educate themselves about their own profession. This includes how to use technology to learn more technology. How to develop a personal learning network through technology should be a course offered in every teacher preparation program.

Time and money have been reasons that prevented collaboration in past decades. Today, access to information on the Internet is anytime, anywhere. Cellphones are not phones, but rather small high-powered computers with phone capabilities. Access devices are now plentiful, and Internet access has expanded and become cheaper. Free access is offered in more locations than ever before.

The ability to collaborate and the time to access collaboration has become far less a roadblock than a few years ago. The next two questions might be: “How?” and “Who?”.

PLN4 PicTwitter is the backbone of my PLN. I developed it by considering my “Followings” as professional sources. I follow educators who inform, engage, inspire, or challenge me. I find them on Twitter as they contact me. I find them in education Chats. I find them from hashtags that I follow. I follow Bloggers, Podcasters, Thought Leaders, and Authors. I also check out Twitter Profiles to see whom those people follow. Easy Pickens! Checking Twitter profiles is helpful in focusing on the right educators as a source to address my interests and needs. That’s another aspect of adult learning. Twitter on the phone enables me to tweet anytime I find the time. Standing on the grocery line has now become more productive.

Twitter, although not designed specifically for educator collaboration, is actually the easiest way to communicate the very information educators need to share. Educators discovered Twitter and molded it for their own needs. Documents, audio files, videos, blog posts, webinars, podcasts, and pictures can all be reduced to links and communicated. The best however, is the sharing of original ideas. An idea, that is not shared, is just a passing thought. Twitter enables ideas to flourish, or, after undergoing some scrutiny by other educators, die. All of this is limited to tweets of 280 characters. The number of tweets is not limited, so stringing many tweets together enables discussion. This has developed into Education Chats on twitter. There are chats for almost any educator’s interest. Chats are also a great source for finding more educators to follow. Of course my favorite chat is #Edchat which I founded along with Shelly Terrell and Steven Anderson. It has run continually since 2009.

The design of this model of personalized learning does require that an educator must believe that learning does not stop after a degree is earned, a license is issued, and a job is secured. The profession requires relevance, but with changes happening faster than any time in history, maintaining relevance requires continuous ongoing action. This is not comfortable for everyone, but it has become a requirement of the profession. As adult learners we may be more comfortable with digital, collaborative if we are familiar with how adults learn. Educators are experts in how kids learn through pedagogy. How people learn as adults, andragogy, is a mystery to most educators.

Malcolm Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

 

Twitter is more than just a collaborative platform for educators. It has added an element of transparency to a profession that was closed and controlling for centuries. We can now see how other educators teach and what they do differently. Educators can feel free to talk about those things that had been in silos for generations. It allows ideas to be considered on their merits, as opposed to those that had been mandated from above. To state the obvious, if we are to evolve into the future, we must be willing to leave the past behind

One can create a personal learning network by using many tools. Technology has afforded us many choices of those tools. The problem is not the scarcity of sources, but rather the scarcity of educators availing themselves of those technology sources that we have. If collaboration and sharing is the key to relevance for educators than share these ideas with a colleague.

Change is inevitable and with the influence of technology it happens faster today than ever before in history. The first mobile phone call was made 45 years ago April 3, 1973, but the first true smartphone actually made its debut in 1992. In less than three decades we have redefined the purpose of a phone to be a mobile computer and camera with phone capabilities as one of its many functions. Beyond the communications industry technology-influenced changes have had a great effect on the film industry, the record industry, the typewriter industry, the media industry, the photography industry, and many, many more. In every case a reevaluation took place to assess what each industry had to offer and how technology could improve their product. Some industries benefitted greatly by the change. Unfortunately, many others were deemed obsolete in our technology-driven culture, causing their demise rather than their transformation.

The influence of technology has been slow in changing the industry of education. The idea of reassessing and reevaluating the product of education is difficult when the product is not something that is tangible. The other complication is the many facets of the education industry that need to be affected in order for the slightest change to take place in the final product that might be described as an individual’s education. There is no one silver bullet that will fix or evolve the education system. It will take many advances in many areas to improve the overall outcome of an individual’s education. The big question is: If we can’t do all the needed changes at once, where do we begin in order to start the changes?

Why not consider using technology to make an innovative change in the way we report on student assessment? We need to look at how we do it now and then see if technology can improve things. Of course it might be beneficial enough just to reassess the method that we have been using for centuries, whether or not technology may improve it. There are two things that schools do that cause unwanted stress in a family for many. The first is homework, often a struggle to get kids to complete. The second is the report card. I have often said that report cards are only provided for some parents to have bragging rights. Of the two, reexamining the why and the how of report cards might be an easier task.

Generally speaking, most schools work off of four grading periods of eight to ten weeks each for the year. At the end of each quarter a report card is sent home with the quarterly grade and the final grade is provided on the final report card. Many schools have some form of interim progress reports that teachers can send home between report cards. In addition to the grade there is usually a set of comments teachers choose from to report on a student’s behavior, attitude, work ethic, and if he or she plays well with others. All of this is a subjective assessment and rarely gives an accurate description based on the limited choices of the pre-determined comment list. A common comment is “Doing Satisfactory Work”. The question is does “Satisfactory” mean the same to the teacher as it does to the parent?

Everyone who is familiar with this system is also aware that there are some teachers who are easy graders, and some who are hard graders. If that is true, we have to wonder, if there are three teachers teaching the same courses on the same grade level with two of them easy graders and one a hard grader, are all students being assessed equally? Should teachers be identified as such to give parents a choice in scheduling their kid?

I also wonder if report cards were devised to assess the marking period, or was the marking period devised to accommodate the report card? Eight to ten weeks is a short period of time for an educator with a student load of 150+ to learn, and accurately understand, and assess each student to meet the demands of the required report card grade and comments? Most quarterly grades are based on averages of test grades. Are there a required, or minimum number of grades that teachers adhere to in order to determine that quarterly grade? Of course the biggest question is how much of any grade is objective?

All of these should be considerations before reporting a student’s progress in learning to his or her parents. After all, that is the purpose of the report card. I question whether the report card in its current form using the current procedures accurately reflects a student’s learning?

We have technology that can record and communicate any file including text, audio, and video. This enables teachers to not only report on their observations, but they can include the actual work that led to those observations. This may take longer than ten weeks to develop, but schedules can be changed. Developing portfolios are far better indicators of a student’s learning than subjective assessments from teachers with limited time and prescribed assessment choices.

Portfolios also provide for self-assessment giving great insight to a student’s learning to the teacher and parents. Grades are a promise of potential, while portfolios are proof of accomplishment.

Technology can be very useful in communicating great amounts of feedback to parents in a timely fashion. It also simplifies the task of developing an individualized learning plan for each student. Simplify does not mean it makes it simple. It is a complex plan that addresses strengths and weaknesses of each student and provides a path to use the strengths to overcome the weaknesses. Again this is not accomplished in a ten-week period.

Just because we have done the same thing since the 1800’s, doesn’t mean it is still the best way to do it. We have different tools today than were available in the 1800’s. We have different needs as a society than we did in the 1800’s. We live in a tech-driven world that affects our perspective and our culture. Employing nineteenth Century solutions in a Twenty-first Century world doesn’t make sense for an industry that deals with learning and relevance. Let’s reexamine quarterly grading periods, as well as the way we observe and report student learning to parents.

leadership-crisisAnyone who thinks that there is one answer to all that is wrong in education is at the very least ill informed. Public education has had hundreds of years to establish practices and procedures that would ultimately slow down any progressive ideas for change. This is the Kevlar vest against any silver bullet that an insightful, forward-thinking change agent might shoot. That seems to be the strategy to protect most bureaucracies, but that being said, there are still many good things happening within the education system.

Most change in education comes about through the leadership and passion of individuals within the system. More often than not, change is localized rather than a national movement. Too often, if the person driving that change is removed from the movement, then the movement itself is soon diminished and eventually forgotten. That might be the key for promoting lasting change. Do not put the responsibility for continuing change on the backs of one or two lead teachers. If change is to last, it requires support from the top leadership. Bottom-up change is great when successful, but how often does that happen without top-down support?

The best example I can think of is the Edcamp movement. It is a different approach to professional development. It is a model based on educators discussing specific topics that they are interested in learning more about, or topics that specific educators know quite a bit about and want to share that knowledge with other educators through discussion. Using discussion to collaborate is more in line with adult learning. It is also a model that is based on respect for what every participant brings to the table on the subject.

This model has been successful because administrators, as well as teachers, have supported it. The driving force behind the Edcamp model is the need that educators have to learn more about their profession in a world that is changing more rapidly than the education system can deal with. The goal of education is to educate kids to: live, learn, survive, and thrive in that ever-changing world. All of that considered, one would think, that this model of professional development would have been adopted nationally over this last decade of its existence. It hasn’t, and teacher dissatisfaction with conventional professional development continues to be a point of contention.

We acknowledge that professional development is much needed for teachers to keep up with the latest methodologies in education. Most districts require teachers to be involved with some minimum requirement of time for PD. That PD can be general to education or specific to a subject area, or a technology. Most districts provide PD for a day or maybe two to check off the “PD provided” box on their “to be done” list. The question I have is: do districts have the same PD expectations of their lead administrators?

Being an education administrator is a hard job. Most administrators come from the ranks of teachers and enter a whole new world of: business, public relations, labor management, budget control, public speaking, and leadership. Beyond all of that, they are considered to be the lead learners of the school district. It is a tough job balancing all of that and trying to keep up with what teachers are doing in their classrooms. It stands to reason that districts might not want to put another thing on their administrators’ plates, like a minimum PD requirement. Yet, when we consider what administrators do, why shouldn’t they be as relevant as the teachers that they lead?

I engage and collaborate with many administrators around the country and outside the USA as well. The administrators I have worked with have all been progressive, supportive, and open to change wherever they found it possible to be so. The question arises that if all administrators are like the ones I have worked with, why hasn’t the education system made positive changes by leaps and bounds? Maybe there are a greater number of administrators who are less educated about what should be relevant in education today. All of the bottom-up change from teachers will never stick without support by informed and relevant administrators.

We know we need to reform professional development in order to meet the need for educators to maintain relevance in a culture that is changing with the advance of technology at a pace never before experienced. We need to include the leaders of our educators in this ongoing need to keep up.

For decades I have said, “If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.” I now believe that if we are to better educate our kids’ educators, we need to first better educate their leaders.

As adults we generally learn about things that we need to learn about. Of course we also have an opportunity to learn about things we would like to learn about. We do not have anyone assigning us projects, or books or exams for which to prepare. The exception to that would be the job requirements in a job that we have chosen. Theoretically, we work in a job that has some personal appeal, and the required learning for that job is something that ultimately, we have chosen to accept. When what appeals to us about that job wanes, we hold on to that job only as long as it takes to find another with a better, more appealing position. The learning and application of that learning again is a choice that we make for that new position. The learning is relevant in our new role.

If all of this is true, then it should be evident that this is the life for which we are preparing our children. As a long-time educator, I am no longer convinced that we are adequately preparing our children with the needed skills to live, survive and thrive in their future life of that real world environment.

Additionally, I also question whether we, as education professionals, have been truly prepared for our present environment. Many of us grew up in a world where information came in printed form vetted by publishers. A world where TV producers vetted information produced for the airwaves. A world where opposing political views, for the most part, were discussed with words and not weapons. Yes, there were violent demonstrations, but nothing like the number of mass murder bombings of today. We trusted the printed word. We trusted the TV broadcasts. We, for the most part, trusted our political leaders. We trusted our institutions. We believed in the “tried and true”. With that as a background in our education, we now live in a world where little of that holds true. Any idiot can publish anything, truthful or not, and every idiot does. As adults, educated in an earlier time, are we prepared to learn and discern from the information delivered to us from news sources? In an age of instant access, are we skilled enough to analyze and understand what is being delivered to us second by second? Are we prepared to critically think about all that we are bombarded with daily? Are we prepared to accept that, just because things worked well in the past, they may need to be changed in this new world environment? What was once “tried and true” may now be tried, but irrelevant.

If the educators of our youth are struggling with skills required to strive and thrive in this, their own world today, how do they prepare children to learn, and adapt in the world in which these kids will be expected to live. A world that will advance even faster and more intensely than it is now. Technology only moves forward never back.

If we as adults have a say in what we want to learn, then why is this not what we are preparing our children to do. We assume that if we load them up with pre-selected content, that they will have enough preparation to handle anything in their adult life. Yes, we do need to give children a base of learned material from which they will be able to choose and make decisions, but we focus so much on building that base that we lose sight of why we are doing it. We never get to the part where kids pick what they want to learn, as well as how they want to go about learning it, and what platform to demonstrate their mastery of it.

The world in which our kids will live as adults does not look like the intellectually protected environment of the classroom. They will not learn things by subject categories in 45-minute segments. They will not have a person lecturing them on a given subject each and every day. They will not have the Internet, their main source of information, locked down or heavily scrubbed of sites. They will not have a prescribed set of standards to follow. They will not be limited by the shortcomings of anyone in charge of their information access. They should only be bound by their curiosity and love of learning, and not a lack of skills to retrieve, understand, critically analyze, and assess information.

Is this really the world that we are preparing them for? Are we stressing their curiosity? Are we challenging them to be critical thinkers? Are we enabling them with relevant technological skills to access, curate, communicate, collaborate, and create using information dealing with their passion? Are we allowing them to make mistakes and learn and adapt from them without consequences of punishment? Are we maintaining and advancing our own skills as professional educators to enable us to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world?

For some of these questions a very few educators can stand up and say, “Yes I do all of that”. Some educators could say, Yes, I do some of that”. We, as a system however, are falling way short in most of these important questions. What should our goal in education be?

We need to get our students in better position to make decisions in their own learning earlier on in the process and not assume that skill on graduation day. They need a greater voice in their own learning in order to own it before they leave our influence. They need to understand how to direct their curiosity to answer their own questions, to develop their own path, to address their own problems. We as educators need to shift the education dynamic of teaching kids what to learn to teaching kids how to learn. This is the best way we can provide for them a way to live in their world and not ours. Their world will come with all new rules and new problems that they will need to learn how to deal with in new ways unknown to us, their educators. Our goal should and must be to make our students self-motivated learners with all the skills needed to do that in their own world with their own tools for accessing information. Maybe instead of standardizing learning, we should work on standardizing teaching to be more openly supportive of teaching kids how to continue the process of learning in their lives beyond the classroom. If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

I recently attended the annual conference held by , the New York State ISTE affiliate organization. It is a favorite conference of mine, since I served as a board member of that organization for about six years. It is also both comprehensive and progressive in the way of education conferences. As with all education conferences it is easy to identify what trends in education have been most popular over the last year by the number of sessions being offered on any given subject. I was delighted to see that there were several sessions on Professional Development, which is what I believe to be a key in improving our education system.

I was pleased to hear that in the summary of these sessions that they would address the problems with professional development. In my mind I envisioned a list of the problems I hoped that would be addressed from a teacher’s perspective. I was sorely disappointed to see the focus on those problems in some of the sessions was from an administrator’s point of view. It was based more on delivery and less on quality or effectiveness. The list included: How to get teachers to sign up for PD, how to get teachers to fulfill seat-time requirements, how to assure that teachers taking online components were really who they said they were. I immediately thought about a doctor who placed all of the effort to addressing and fixing the symptoms of an illness and missing the obvious task of addressing the illness itself.

What was clear to me in most of the sessions was that there was little focus on the failures of the PD that was to be delivered. There was only one session that addressed an understanding of Andragogy, also referred to as adult learning, and how components of their program addressed it. This session presented a larger more flexible Internet delivery system. Delivering information electronically without considering adult learners as your students doesn’t work. This was the equivalent of delivering paper-printed worksheets digitally. The problems that come with printed worksheets travel well electronically. Just because a computer delivered it, it doesn’t make it better. Research tells us that lecture is not the most effective way to teach, so why would we think computer-delivered webinars would work any better? There was a limited amount of follow-up support, and that support had to be initiated by the teacher’s request. There was no mention of follow-up research to determine how effective the PD was in improving or even affecting student learning in the classroom. Of course I do not see this as a shortcoming of the educators who were charged with evolving this PD in their district. It was a short sighted direction to meet the immediate needs of their administrators to check off that box indicating that they offered PD to their teachers in terms they have come to understand after decades (maybe centuries) of the same old PD. Why do we question that teachers in overwhelming numbers list dissatisfaction with professional development as their number one concern?

The hard cold fact of the matter is that if we are to improve our education system, we must improve how we understand, deliver, and assess our professional development. That will not be comfortable for anyone in education. It will require commitment to time and money and that will affect teachers and administrators not to mention taxpayers. It is also why we haven’t made great strides in this area over the centuries that we have had a public education system.

We cannot assume that a four-year degree that addresses both mastering teaching, as well as additionally mastering a specific subject area, is enough to carry a teacher through an entire career in education. Many states require a Master’s degree, but many don’t. Of course that is only an additional two-year degree and careers are 35 to 40 years long.

I carried my concerns to another conference in NYC, The Software and Information Industry Association’s Education Business Forum (SIIA EBF). It is a great business education conference, rather than educators, it is made up of people representing the companies within the education technology publishers’ community. They provide the technology, systems, applications, programs, and consulting that schools purchase throughout the year.

I had dinner with an old friend whose career has been focused as a leader in professional development for educators. My question to him was based on my own concerns with PD in education. I asked, what should we do about the PD we are getting? His answer was simple, truthful, and I fear it to also be correct: Blow it up! We then spent our dinner conversation on WHY.

The bulk of “continuing PD” for teachers is a day or two during the course of the year, or during the summer, often to fill the gaps of the use of technology supported by the district. Additionally, teachers can take approved college courses or workshops that meet district requirements. Seat time is key to many of these courses in order to be approved. Seat time varies from place to place, but it all relies on a teacher being seated in a class for a specific number of hours and being able to certify it. With assessment being such a big part of what educators do, one would expect some assessment on what the teacher learned, or some assessment of the PD’s impact on that teacher’s students’ learning. For the most part that is not often done.

My friend at dinner pointed out that research shows successful methods of PD have common factors. Unfortunately, the first factor may make it a deal breaker for teachers and administrators. For PD to succeed, it must be at least fifty to eighty hours of continuous and continual instruction, practice, and coaching in order to attain mastery. This would require time from the teacher and money and support from the district. The obvious solution to this is to incorporate all PD into the job description of the teacher making it part of the workweek and supporting it with additional money for additional time and a professional coaching staff.

Further insight can be derived from The Learning Policy Institute: Effective Teacher Professional Development by Linda Darling-Hammond, Maria E. Hyler, and Madelyn Gardner, with assistance from Danny Espinoza

https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Effective_Teacher_Professional_Development_BRIEF.pdf

Elements of Effective Professional Development Using this methodology, we found seven widely shared features of effective professional development. Such professional development:

  1. Is content focused
  2. Incorporates active learning utilizing adult learning theory
  3. Supports collaboration, typically in job-embedded contexts
  4. Uses models and modeling of effective practice
  5. Provides coaching and expert support
  6. Offers opportunities for feedback and reflection
  7. Is of sustained duration

And here is another support from an older article that is still very relevant is: Teaching the Teachers: Effective professional development

http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/research/teaching-teachers-effective-professional-development

Paying attention to any part of these lists of recommendations could make a small difference from the status quo of the past centuries of practice for PD. The idea of blowing up the entire thing and starting over, with all of the considerations that we have come to understand work, would be the best thing we could do to improve on what we have.

As educators, we are a community of learners first, and teachers second. As educators, we collaborate, reflect, and improve. As educators, if we fail, we assess, correct, and move forward. Knowing who we are, and what we do, why do we as educators continue to put up with a failing Professional Development approach that handicaps our profession and limits our students? Let us consider, reflect, collaborate, and improve what we know and how we learn it to affect the greatest and best change for our students.

If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

In a recent #Edchat discussion we discussed whether or not schools should encourage teachers to use technology to reach out in communication with parents. I really did not think this would still be a relevant discussion in light of how we have all grown dependent on technology for communication, but evidently there are places where it is not yet fully endorsed.

Communication with parents is an important key to student success. Without it often times an “Us vs. Them” mentality can develop between teachers and parents which should by all accounts be a team like effort and not an adversarial relationship. There is no need for any parent to be surprised with a failing grade on a report card because there was no prior notification so the parent might have the opportunity to intervene.

Way back in the 20th century it was sometimes difficult to reach parents with communications limited to the US Mail or a landline telephone. People struggled with reachable hours because of work schedules of both parents and teachers. It often seemed to teachers that the parents of struggling, or failing students were always the most difficult parents to contact. The unfortunate result was that many teachers had to concentrate on trying to contact parents whose children had difficulties, while leaving little time to commend achievement of more successful students. Kids would dread a call from their teacher to their parents knowing that there was no such thing as a good call. Many kids also became proficient at hijacking the mail in a timely fashion.

Technology in the 21st century has given educators several benefits in their ability to effectively communicate with parents for good stuff, as well as possible deficiencies that may need a parent’s attention or intervention.

Letting parents into their world at school is not something most kids freely volunteer. Teachers using class websites featuring glimpses of what their class does is a great way to keep parents in the loop and highlight the wonderful thing kids accomplish during the year. It’s also a great place to post assignment deadlines for all to see.

Many teachers have had great success using Twitter to highlight student accomplishments to “following” parents. Many principals have had great success on a larger scale tweeting out accomplishments of their schools.

Of course a great source for parent communication would be the student information system used by the school. Many of them have a parent-messaging component to them, allowing any teacher to email parents directly through the system. No muss, no fuss. Many schools are unaware of the benefits that these systems have to offer. Schools also need to train teachers on these systems on a regular basis to cover changes in the system, and new personnel joining the staff.

Of course every teacher should have an email account through his or her school to use for parent communications rather than using a private personal account. Teachers must be informed that contact with parents about kids should always be done on a school account for legal protection.

The problem on a large scale is that many, if not a majority teachers, are not trained to understand the communication possibilities or responsibilities of using technology. At some schools they find it easier to deal with telling teachers to stay away from technological communications. Of course that will eventually come back to bite.

Professional development in this area is essential in today’s computer-driven society. Even the President of the United States uses Twitter for communication. Using technology is not an intuitive endeavor. It requires training. Thoughtful and responsible communicating is also not an intuitive skill. It requires training and understanding. There are also legal considerations that teachers must be aware of. It is best to have a trail of all communications for the protection of all concerned. All of these considerations bring a whole bunch of obstacles to overcome, but it is better to deal with them up front, than to try to clean up a mess created by uninformed users. A little learning is a dangerous thing.

Back to the #Edchat discussion: something developed from a comment indicating that teachers have an obligation to notify parents that their child will be receiving a failing grade before it becomes a written fact on a report card. The statement that bothered me the most was one made by a teacher in the chat and agreed to by some others. Admittedly, many years ago I repeated the same words. “Students earn their failing grades.” That statement assumes that the teacher did everything right and the student deliberately chose to fail. I guess that might be true in some cases, but I don’t believe it holds true for a majority of failures.

There are some teachers who fail to assess their students’ understanding through formative assessment as lessons progress. This is a fatal flaw in teaching. If we do not determine student understanding of the lesson from the beginning and into the middle, how can we expect understanding at the conclusion? Does the teacher’s failure to assess his or her own effectiveness in a lesson become the responsibility of the student? Yes, this is not always the case, but it happens more often than it should. Students placed in that situation are not earning their failing grades, but they will get them anyway.

Maybe by communicating with parents more fully, a teacher could gain insights into his or her students that kids don’t share in school. One thing I have come to understand about kids: they show one personality to their teacher and they show another to their parents. We need to see and understand the whole child and that can only happen by sharing information with parents. This too should be a subject of Professional Development. How do teachers communicate with parents to get unsuccessful kids to succeed?

If communication is the key to success, we need to make sure our teachers can successfully communicate. That requires that we provide and support relevant professional development to do that. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

Book:kindleI recently read a blog post about how teachers will never be replaced by technology. The author stated that technology was just a “tool for learning”. This had to be among literally hundreds, if not thousands, of similar posts and comments that I have read over the years. Since I was teaching from the early 70’s, I tended to agree with that way back then. Today, however, I am not so sure that technology in education hasn’t grown into something beyond a “tool for learning”. I often thought that the support garnered for this idea about a “tool for learning”, from educators was based in their fear from an unfounded belief by Sci-Fi authors who often suggested the replacement of teachers by technology in the future. Sci-Fi doesn’t always get it right. Where are the flying cars?

Tech has always been a factor if not the driving force in the advancement of culture. One of the greatest tech influences in education was Gutenberg’s printing press, followed by the chalkboard, audio tape, film, television and the personal calculator which all preceded personal computers in their various portable forms today. The implementation of the most recent devices however is where I believe many educators have tunnel vision on the influence of tech in education.

All tech has a limited shelf life. It is constantly evolving. Both its users and its developers influence this evolution. Society itself is the loudest voice demanding speed and efficiency in the way it communicates, collaborates, and creates. The tools for each of these components are constantly evolving at a pace we have never before experienced in history. This technological paradigm shift has created its own literacy. Literacy has always been a goal of education. It was necessary in order to communicate, collaborate, and create in order to further educate. The literacy required in any century was limited to the technology that enabled it, but that technology was often separate from the literacy. You didn’t need to know about how to print on a printing press in order to read a printed book. Writing implements were readily available in various forms in order to record thoughts, as well as communicate with them. The use was simple requiring nothing more than penmanship.

The rapid advancement of technology has changed this. Tech has evolved so quickly and so universally in our culture that there is now literacy required in order for people to effectively and efficiently use it. That rapid tech evolution however leaves many people whose age was not synched with that tech advancement in a learning gap. Kids growing up with the tech are immersed in it from birth and evolve their tech literacy with age. We have all seen the video of the baby trying to page swipe a printed magazine 

Unfortunately, lifelong learning is a goal that is often discarded because life itself gets in the way of continual learning. Consequently, most adults will always be playing catch-up with kids in order to stay relevant in a modern society. The gap is the problem for our education system since our educators are adults and our students are kids.

If we buy into the idea that technology requires tech literacy, then we must also accept that evolving tech requires an evolving literacy. This requires adjusting that which we have already learned, and change is difficult. It requires an ongoing development for professionals to maintain the smallest gap between what they know to what they need to know in order to maintain relevance in a rapidly changing environment.

  • Professional development can no longer be a haphazard choice by folks who don’t like making uncomfortable choices. Comfort levels are the greatest obstacles to change.
  • Professional development can no longer be just a check box on a list of things educators should do. It must be prioritized, supported and, most importantly, implemented.
  • Professional development can no longer be a “one and done” concept delivered once at the beginning of the school year. It must be an ongoing part of an educator’s job description.
  • Professional development must be supported with follow-through and follow-up. Supporting educators with both time and coaching to apply their professional development is essential for success.

Our society today does not collaborate, communicate, or create the way it did as far back as the 20th Century, so why would we teach using concepts and methodologies of the 20th and in some cases the 19th century? To succeed in our education system in the past, our students needed to be literate in reading and writing. Today, in order to use the tools needed to accomplish almost any task a society demands, the users must be technology literate. It is no longer a choice made by any educators whether to teach students to be technology literate or not. Educators have a moral obligation to educate kids in order for them to survive and thrive in a technology-driven society. School districts have a moral obligation to give their educators effective and efficient professional development to enable them to accomplish this.

Yes, technology provides “tools for learning” and teaching, which cannot replace a relevant teacher. The teacher/student relationship is credited for great strides in learning. That however may not always hold true for an educator who is no longer relevant because his or her district did not support its educators with ongoing and effective PD. Students properly motivated may circumvent teachers and self teach with the “tools of learning”. Irrelevant educators and a thirst for authentic learning may be that very motivation needed for some students.

We have the tools for all the professional development we need to provide. We can provide worldwide collaboration. We can provide individualized support. We can provide the ability to time shift things to accommodate personal scheduling.

We can’t provide progressive innovative thinking on the part of school districts. We can’t provide the supportive culture to promote educators seeking life long professional learning. We can’t provide educators with an open mindset opening them to the possibility of change. We can’t provide a promise that a commitment to change will be comfortable.

Professional development will not just happen on its own. The concept of personalized learning through collaboration in social media is wonderful, but it may never take off with a majority of educators. I haven’t seen great involvement in the last 12 years or so. The whole idea of learning is not a passive exercise. It requires work on the part of those providing the teaching as well as those benefitting from the learning. Reading and writing as a literacy was hard enough for many of us, and now we are seeing that there is a whole new literacy that needs to be not only learned, but taught by us as well. It is overwhelming. It is however an important and often unsupported part of the profession that we chose to enter. In order to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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