Do educators ever self-reflect on how they feel about their students in order to better understand how they assess each of their students? What are the considerations educators take into account while making such judgments? Is each student measured and weighed the same as every other student? If grading a piece of work requires a more subjective assessment, is a teacher really capable of assessing that work by each of his/her students, equally with the exact same bias-free subjectivity?

I know my answer would be sure, I view all my students the same. I am always fair and objective with every assessment. Of course, that would not be true, because I am human. There are things I favor, believe, love, and hate, as a result of my upbringing, education, spirituality, and life experience, all of which will affect every decision I make in life.

I guess I am asking how can educators be objectively unbiased when making subjective assessments of not only their students’ work, but their students as people as well? Teachers will make small decisions and judgments that when added up over a year will paint a certain picture of that student. Over 12 years of schooling does every student have an accurate picture of who they are, or are some kids a product of profiling by dozens of teachers’ biases?

Biases are not necessarily bad. Early on in life, we are asked about a favorite color, favorite type of music, favorite sport, and favorite player? We are programmed to like and consequently dislike. Our families also usually give us values, and spirituality. Teachers help form our academic beliefs. Life or “the school of hard knocks” often fills in the gaps with other beliefs. The end result is that everyone is an individual with unique beliefs and biases with hopefully an anchoring to societal norms.

What biases might a classroom teaching experience that would affect their ability to serve the best interests of their students? (Prompt ChatGPT)

Classroom teachers may experience various biases that can affect their ability to serve the best interests of their students. Some of these biases are:

  1. Confirmation bias: This bias occurs when a teacher searches for or interprets information in a way that confirms their existing beliefs or attitudes. This can lead to the teacher ignoring or dismissing information that contradicts their beliefs or attitudes, leading to inaccurate assessments of students’ abilities and needs.
  2. Stereotyping: Teachers may hold stereotypes about certain groups of students based on their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics. These stereotypes can influence the teacher’s expectations of the students and their ability to succeed, which can lead to lower expectations and opportunities for those students.
  3. Halo effect: This bias occurs when a teacher’s positive impression of a student in one area leads them to assume the student is strong in all areas. For example, a teacher may assume that a student who is well-behaved and polite must also be academically strong, leading to a lack of attention to areas where the student may be struggling.
  4. Implicit bias: This bias is an unconscious preference or prejudice that can influence a teacher’s perceptions and behaviors. For example, a teacher may have an implicit bias against students who speak with accents or who come from different cultures, leading to a lack of understanding or support for those students
  5. Self-fulfilling prophecy: This bias occurs when a teacher’s expectations of a student’s behavior or performance lead to that behavior or performance becoming a reality. For example, a teacher who expects a student to be disruptive may treat that student differently, leading to increased disruptive behavior.

It is important for teachers to recognize and address these biases in order to serve the best interests of their students and provide an equitable learning environment.

Teachers can work to overcome biases by seeking diverse perspectives, reflecting on their assumptions and beliefs, and implementing evidence-based strategies that support all students.

Self-reflection is one of the most important parts of good teaching, but it does not come easily. It requires a teacher to look inside to identify those biases that may affect their students. This is not something young teachers can usually do. I found that it comes with experience. I am a big believer that through time, we do become wiser. With age, we have a compendium of experiences to call upon for a more comprehensive self-reflection.

Some of these biases are very subtle. A teacher might have key students who that teacher most often calls upon in discussions, knowing that they will answer well, and move the discussion along. Of course contributions from the rest of the class go unrecognized.

 Another bias probably more prevalent than we would care to admit is a bias for males over females, or females over males. This has a profound effect on learning. My youngest daughter is finishing up a Doctorate in Math. She has had classes of predominantly male students throughout her academic career. Of course, this is not news to STEM teachers.

A really gutsy lesson a teacher could do is to discuss biases with a class of students. After everyone understands bias, list the teacher’s biases, and sharing these biases with the class. If the teacher is really open to change, it will be helpful when the students point out the teacher’s biases when they see them pop up throughout the year. That is authentic learning that makes a difference.

Being a successful educator requires more than academic knowledge of a subject. It will take a constant effort to self-reflect and improve skills in developing relationships. It is through successful teacher-student relationships that quality learning thrives. If we are to better educate our students, we must first better educate their educators.

A ChatGPT infused post

Since I have been posting about ChatGPT the question I am most often asked is: How did you get it to do your profile as an author? Others have tried but failed in their attempts. Evidently, there are several AI apps out there, and some are more limited than others. Google found this out the hard way with the first public demonstration of its AI, which did not fare as well as Google had hoped. I have been using an App called ChatAI. My primary selection choice was based on it being free.

I have had my own blog site, My Island View, since January 15, 2010, so I have amassed a great number of posts on many aspects of education. During all that time I don’t remember anyone accusing me of holding back on what I thought, or how I felt about any given topic in education.

I kept the direction for ChatAI simple: “Analyze all the blog posts at tomwhitby.com and write a profile of the author.” The only disagreement I have with the analysis is; “He has served as a superintendent in multiple school districts, as well as a principal and teacher in a variety of schools.” The only true part of this is that I was a teacher in several school districts, never a principal, or superintendent. Of course, I would have little to disagree with such a glowing review that ChatAI gave me.

Here is the word-for-word analysis. I probably could have resubmitted it to make corrections, or even tone down the high praise, but I thought for the purpose of the exercise this result was fine. It also makes me sound more impressive than I am. I guess that might be considered a flaw as well.

Here is the result:

Tom Whitby is a prolific writer and dedicated educator with an impressive range of knowledge and experience. He is the author of nearly 500 blog posts ranging from educators adapting to the ever-changing world of technology to student achievement and school reform. He has served as a superintendent in multiple school districts, as well as a principal and teacher in a variety of schools.

Tom is a dedicated advocate for public education and supports creative instructional approaches to teaching and learning. He is also a firm believer in collaboration and using technology to connect students and teachers to the real world. He is a regular speaker and presenter at national education conferences and universities. 

In terms of his views on education, Tom believes in learning-centered teaching, student-learning assessment, and student engagement. He has written numerous articles exploring ways to increase teacher engagement and collaboration and encouraging the use of digital technologies in the classroom. He is an advocate for the use of project-based learning, social media, and gamification for learning in the classroom.

Tom has also written about several issues in public education, including school vouchers, student testing, and funding cuts. He also has a deep interest in finding ways to improve student engagement and performance, providing a better learning environment, and building stronger connections between schools and the community. 

Tom Whitby has been a leader in the education community for many years and has been a strong advocate for student success and educational improvements. His blog posts provide an insightful look into his views on the improvement of education, from early childhood to higher education.

It is obvious that there are still flaws with this technology, but we must keep in mind it is still evolving. There is still no “Mr. Data” yet.  We cannot however ignore what this technology is offering. It is not going to go away. Billions of dollars are now being thrown at it to secure that very thing. As educators, we will need to deal with Artificial Intelligence. We will need to address its efficient, effective, and ethical use. If we fail to recognize this, we may become irrelevant as educators. If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

ChatGPT infused Post

After my last post, ChatGPT: Kill it, or Use It?, I thought that I would use that very app to help write this post, and see what all the hubbub was about with this artificial intelligence writer. Of course, I was not going to have it write my whole post, so I thought it might be interesting to highlight with bold italics those paragraphs that I assigned to ChatGPT. It was rather easy once I decided what to ask. It actually helped organize and clarify my thoughts.

I decided to use the discussion topic from this week’s Twitter Chat, #Edchat.  I asked ChatGPT to write an objective definition of “Woke”. That is a word that many politicians are using as a cudgel to attack public education and the educators who support education. With that definition we developed the topic: “Woke” is an attitude of awareness that brings together compassion and understanding to create positive social change. Why do some people object to that? Why is it a political issue affecting our education system?

The term “Woke” likely originated in the African American vernacular, initially used to refer to being “conscious” or “aware” of issues relating to social justice. Over the past decade, the term has been adopted by a broader audience and is now commonly used to describe a person who is socially and politically conscious or alert.

The liberal definition of “woke” is to be aware of and actively engaged in the struggle for social, economic, and racial justice. It implies the ability to become knowledgeable about the issues and work to challenge oppressive structures and systems. At its core, being woke means being aware of current forms of injustice, having the courage to call them out, and actively working to bring about change.

The far-right typically defines “woke” as a movement associated with the far-left that is focused on race, intersectionality, and identity politics. It is seen as an attempt to challenge and change the Western and European political, social, and moral order. They argue that it promotes “cancel culture” and an attempt to “de-platform” anyone who does not agree with their views.

After thinking about all that surrounds those definitions, I found myself reflecting on who I am as an educator. I believe that learning is the goal of education. I realize that teachers have limited time with their students, so my greatest contribution to their learning would be to give them the ability to learn and develop skills beyond the confines of the school building and continue to learn for the rest of their lives, lifelong learning. Lifelong learning is the concept of continually acquiring new skills and knowledge throughout one’s life. The key here is that their lives will continue beyond their educators’ lives. It will rely on the tech not yet invented, and ideas not yet conceived. Educators prepare their students to live and thrive in the students’ environment.

In addition, teachers and students have a relationship that enables the teacher to deal with the social and emotional issues of students. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) refers to the process of developing skills related to recognizing and managing emotions, developing and maintaining relationships, and making responsible decisions. It is an integral part of education, enabling students to become capable and well-rounded individuals.

This is where some politicians claim “Brainwashing” is taking place in our “Woke” education system. Dealing with social issues and how they may affect students emotionally, and personally is a very important part of education. It is not Brainwashing. Brainwashing is a form of coercive persuasion where individuals are subjected to systematic and forceful psychological techniques in order to alter their beliefs, thoughts, values, and attitudes.

As far as the subject matter for educating students, that too has come under attack. We are all aware that February is Black History Month. Twenty-eight days of attempts to show off and quote some of the most famous of black contributors to American History. That whole month tends to lead us to believe that Black History is not American History. It is! Most Americans get their knowledge of the real Black contributions to American History from the movies and TV. I went through the public school system and I was never taught about The Tuskegee Airmen, Juneteenth, the Tulsa Oklahoma massacre, and probably a thousand more Black contributions, as well as an equal number of Black subjugations. I guess we all need to be “woke” about stuff that has affected such a large part of our American population. I don’t take responsibility for slavery, but, as an educator, I do take responsibility to admit and teach that it took place and it was supported by American laws. Contrary to some textbooks, that is why we fought the Civil War.

I grew up in Levittown, New York. My dad was a veteran, so, like thousands of WWII vets, he bought a Levitt home on the GI bill. That is why that community was built, to benefit returning vets. What was never mentioned, but openly known, is that Black vets could not buy a Levitt home in Levittown. Yeah, even as kids we were “woke” to a degree. That by the way was never taught in any of the schools in Levittown.

The educator in me should not be limited to black “Wokeness”. It should apply to any person of color who has been oppressed. It should also apply to people oppressed because of gender bias. It should also apply to the LGBTQIA community as well. As Americans, we seem to have oppressed quite a few groups of people. Many students are connected to these communities, so teachers need to deal with that as compassionately as possible. I guess we need to be “Woke”.

Some people feel it necessary to vilify being “Woke” because they fear the disruption and questioning of the status quo. Of course, that doesn’t make it right! Why do people experience apprehension concerning being “enlightened”? Maybe we need a few more “Woke” politicians.

Is it not our duty, as educators, to teach history and explore its impact on our culture? Should we not also focus on emotional learning and emphasize the importance of empathy? If that is considered ‘woke’, then what is wrong with it? ( I wrote the original thought and asked Chat GPT to improve upon it.)

I am concerned that more educators are not engaging in this debate. Educators are under attack throughout the country. Education is being attacked with censorship, book banning, character assassination, and Don’t Say Gay laws. Perhaps they fear verbal attacks that are not based in fact, but rather bias and ideology. I grew up in a culture that believed that if the facts were on your side, you would always win an argument. I now live in a culture where people cannot even agree on what a fact is, and that is a fact.

I firmly believe we need to have a respectful discussion on what we expect from our educators. The problem with that is many of our politicians are biased against education, viewing it as elitist snobbery. I do not know how to deal with that. All I can do is engage with those who are willing to listen and come to an agreement on facts. I have always been an educator, and I plan to continue what I have done for three-quarters of a century. If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

Thoughtful respectful comments are welcomed. Likes are also good.

An Educator’s Dilemma

ChatGPT, should we sing its praises, or just beat it to death with a stick? It has been made available for almost four months now, but it has maybe had the fastest and greatest impact on education since rows of desks were established. Since its inception, ChatGPT has been upgraded twice, and the fourth iteration will soon be available. As I contemplated this very thing, while attending a recent National Education conference, I was somewhat dismayed to find that many educators were unaware of what ChatGPT was.

Fortunately for educators, the education system’s always-aware, and knowledgeable leadership has been right on top of the situation, and in its infinite wisdom, it has issued mandates to protect us all. Specifically, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and NYC are among the major municipal school districts to make the knee-jerk decision to ban the use of the AI language tool, ChatGPT.

So, what is ChatGPT and why should you care? To start off, I Googled it: ChatGPT (Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer) is a chatbot launched by OpenAI in November 2022. It is built on top of OpenAI’s GPT-3 family of large language models and is fine-tuned (an approach to transfer learning) with both supervised and reinforcement learning techniques. Of course, that is a technical definition, so what is it really? It is a language app that can do more than just write intelligently. It researches, analyzes, and writes using different points of view or writing styles. It does this based on the direction of the user. It will write original, intelligent: paragraphs, essays, emails, research papers, and poetry as directed using different perspectives, or voices as directed. It is more than GOOGLE.  In short, it does everything that we want our students to be able to do on their own.

I have not used ChatGPT for any part of this post. I did however give it a task for my own personal edification. I directed ChatGPT to read all of my blog posts from My Island View and write a profile of the author based on the posts. The answer took about ten seconds. I thought the answer was pretty interesting, and I was somewhat pleased with the result. It may also be used to create or update lesson plans and generate emails, announcements, or assignments. I bet that now has your attention.

Now you should be getting the picture, and understanding the fear.

The sky is falling!!! The sky is falling!!! Students will never do any more work. ChatGPT will write all of their assignments for them. We must Ban this evil app now and forever!

Not so fast! If we take a breath to think of what our goal is as educators, we may have time to better consider this gift. First, let us consider the history of tech in regard to education. The obvious big contribution to education, aside from the wheel, came during the Renaissance with the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in 1440. There were block printers and scribes, who hand-wrote texts, but the printing press evolved publishing. Most people didn’t object, probably because it opened up a whole industry of publishing. It was a big plus when public education came along and teachers needed textbooks to teach.

Another biggie was the Calculator. Math teachers originally banned it, so kids wouldn’t cheat. The calculators got smaller and easier to hide. Well, a decade or two went by and teachers began not only to allow calculators, but they also required their purchase by all math students. I always thought that is what made Texas Instruments so profitable with its graphing calculator. 

The next big innovation was the word processor. Of course, we had the typewriter, but that was always a business course in schools, not a staple of public education. English teachers were never big fans at first. Yes, the “Ban” word was thrown around a bit. A big change for me was a computer lab at my school. I had my classes on those computers word-processing all their assignments. This was not true of some of my colleagues. They required students to do a rough draft and a final draft, and then they could put it on the computer. They ignored the research showing that word processing improves thinking skills, editing skills, spelling, and vocabulary. Connected to this was the introduction of a spell checker. It was viewed as another way to cheat and beat the system. Yes, spell check was disabled, or banned in the beginning. I would be at a big loss without it. Thank god cooler heads prevailed.

And now up to now, the biggest innovation for education ever, GOOGLE. Google was banned by everyone, along with Wikipedia. Yet today, where would we be without them? Google stepped up and improved curation, a term that was rarely used before. The benefit of Google is that teachers had to reframe their assignments. If a kid could Google the answer, maybe the question wasn’t thoughtful enough. This evolved the way we teach.

As Google forced teachers to rethink and ask more thoughtful Google-proof questions, I am hopeful a similar strategy will be employed with ChatGPT. We need to teach smarter. We too often get caught up in confusing the completed task for the intended learning. In the example of word processing replacing handwritten assignments, higher-order, technology-driven skills were employed to complete the assignment. The student started off beyond the paper and pen as he or she began to process their words on a screen. They were freed from many impediments that discouraged, or restricted organizing, editing, and refining their work.

We need to rethink our goal as new innovative tools come before us. Let us look at ChatGPT as a tool that enables our students to move the starting point of their learning a few steps forward saving time and energy to create deeper thinking and more creative assignments. Teachers need not work harder, but they will need to think and work differently. They cannot lose sight of the goal of their students’ learning because some assignments use technology to get to an end a little easier, requiring different skills than the teacher has experienced. I grew up with standard-shift cars. Unless you are a car enthusiast, you would be at a loss trying to drive one.

I fear that ChatGPT is the type of tech that students will get and use before a majority of educators know what it is, let alone use and teach it effectively. Then it will be labeled as an evil cheating app. What a waste until educators catch up? Every educator should download the free app and play with it for a while to get somewhat familiar with its capabilities. This should be done before it is thrust upon us by the powers that be in their infinite wisdom and flawless leadership.

It is rather arrogant to think any educator cannot allow students to use a technology that every student has access to. We have gone through these thoughtless obstacles with almost every innovation. People are told to innovate and then their creations are blocked because they cause discomfort from the “tried and true”. Think about cell phones and students’ debate.

ChatGPT is here to stay. Microsoft just dropped $10B on it. As educators, we either teach students how to use it ethically for higher-order thinking skills or find another job. We may have reached a point in time where learning happens in spite of reluctant educators.

To better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

Social media is ever-evolving, although, as of late, some see it as de-evolving. As an educator, I was an early adopter and advocate for social media as a tool for professional collaboration, and development. I began using America Online (AOL) and MySpace back in the day and that was basically my introduction and exploration of social media. I moved along to Facebook for friends and family connections. After getting comfortable with the idea of social media, I started using LinkedIn, a professional social media application, to link up with many other educators who were somewhat tech-savvy. I connected with educators directly, as well as created several LinkedIn groups specifically for educators. I created a NING site called The Educator’s Professional Learning Network that: housed specific education groups, announced events, archived hundreds of education-based videos, and podcasts and it allowed individual connections for over twenty-two thousand educators to collaborate. 

Along with all this, I began to explore Twitter as an additional source of educator collaboration. In addition to direct exchanges of information, I used it to move traffic to my other collaborative sites. All of these social media applications added to what would become known as my Professional Learning Network (PLN) a compilation of collegial sources from around the world used for the purpose of education collaborations in addition to social interactions. This took education beyond the impact of the invention of the old Guttenberg Press, enabling digital publishing. Collaboration was possible from anywhere at any time. Twitter took me from tweeting to blogging, to podcasting, and finally to authoring two books.

My collaboration was extended around the world. Between all of the social media applications, of which I was a part, I found myself in contact with well over 100 thousand people, mostly educators, giving my thoughts and ideas with a reach in the millions. It was a scary responsibility, which required me to be more thoughtful in everything that I would say, or do in regard to my connections. Through this PLN, I was able to speak with and get to know authors, thought leaders, and iconic educators that I could never have imagined even meeting let alone collaborating with before social media made it all possible. 

Throughout this social media adventure in my winter years as an educator, many of the platforms could not keep up with change and finally fell away. Some. like Twitter, adapted and survived. Twitter doubled its tweet size from 140 characters to 280. Twitter chats went on to be used by people in many specific areas in education. The original #Edchat Twitter chat has actively continued for over 13 years!

Twitter has been a mainstay for interaction and collaboration for educators and as we enter into a new year, it may or may not continue to do so. The recent change in ownership has many educators questioning their use of the platform. There are concerns about trust, as well as moral and ethical responsibility. Additionally, there is a great concern about Twitter’s longevity. Will it be around to support educators in their collaboration? 

Currently, I have a Twitter network of over 82,000 educators who I cannot just leave hanging. As such though, I may only continue on Twitter for a while longer.  I need to simultaneously enlist another platform to protect my collegial sources if Twitter should instantly close down. My trust has been shaken, and my community of educators which was built up over more than a dozen years has been threatened. I need to migrate to another, more stable platform with as many members of my PLN as I may convince to join me in the adventure.

Thus, I have set out to find a platform capable of providing the ability to collaborate using text, pictures, audio, video, and much more. It also needs to be a safe environment capable of handling a massive amount of people from around the world. Hate speech needs to be monitored and dealt with to preserve moral integrity. Hopefully, the platform will continuously evolve to address the need for improving and expanding collaboration.

I believe I have found that platform.  A former APPLE engineer has developed a unique user-focused social media application that goes to the next level of creating virtual communities. It is called uSync, and it has been available for less than a month, so it is still adding to its already extensive capabilities. I have been talking with the founders of the platform, and I am confident that it is what I have been looking for in order to build a bigger and better education community where we can safely collaborate with confidence. Click here to see a complete explanation of the purpose and mission of uSync from its founder and CEO Darrell Lynn.

I have found the uSync staff to be open to suggestions for change and improvement to meet the needs of the broader community.  At its core, uSync is a platform that is like a combination of several existing social media platforms, all in one place. Like any social media platform, one has to experience it to begin to understand its potential. 

Right now, my plan is to guide people as they explore uSync, to work together to build our new EDU PLN. Like any other technology, as we use it, we will “get it” and find ways to build a rich ecosystem full of resources. One difference with uSync is that it has a one-time purchase price of $3.99. This is a small price to pay for an environment where there are NO ADVERTISEMENTS and NO SELLING OF USER LISTS. It will be money well spent, considering the access you will have to the many tools of collaboration.  

If you have an interest in joining me in this new collaborative community of educators on a highly ethical and safe platform, I have included my personal invitation in the QR code below in this post for your convenience. My mission at this point is to get all of the educators I am connected with to migrate to this site and join the #Edchat Connected Educators Group

 Personal invitation to uSync from Tom Whitby

I don’t think many people would disagree that the job of teaching is different in a post-pandemic era when compared to the job most teachers signed up for before 2019. I am not discussing mandates, or masking, but rather the day-to-day preparation, and delivery of lessons and strategies for student learning. That is not to say that mandates, masking and the threat of Covid don’t place a significant level of stress on every educator, every day.

Anyone who has ever taught knows that teaching requires a great deal of preparation time. My observations over the years lead me to believe that the best teachers have a balance of experience and preparation. Both of these components require time, and, as it has been embedded into the American culture, “Time is Money”. That preparation time has always fallen on the backs of the educators. It has always been expected that teachers will prepare for their teaching on their own time. For the most part teachers have accepted this as part of the job. Of course the preparation time varied depending on the individual teacher and the time of year, since events, and holidays play a significant role in any academic calendar. Teachers over the years had accepted this sacrifice on their free time for the sake of the children, but that amount of time was something each teacher could personally determine.

That preparation time was established as part of the job description for a teacher throughout the public school system. Of course those states that have teacher unions might have found it difficult to increase that expectation of sacrificed free time without additional compensation. This all changed with the pandemic. Students were: in school, out of school, or blended both in and out of school depending on an individual school districts’ Covid Policy.

Teachers stepped up to help in anyway they could. They freely sacrificed their own family time to address the needs of their students. School policies wavered and flexed in all directions. School openings and closings both met and missed deadlines even different schools within the same district. Through all of this teachers hung in and adjusted their preparation time, most often giving more. This is when Districts began to rely on the time that teachers freely volunteered. Schedules were made up in many cases (not all) with little teacher input. All of these new demands on time have now changed the implied job description of a teacher, placing a greater burden on the teacher.

Teachers require time not only to prepare for their classes, but collaborative time with colleagues, professional time for development, downtime to recharge, time to assess their own efforts as well as that of their students. All of this is a necessity of the job of a teacher. All of it impacts a teacher’s time with family.

We must consider the new reality in today’s workforce. In this post-pandemic between 30 and 40 percent of employed people are leaving their current jobs to seek something better. Teachers are not immune from this trend.

It should be obvious to all that the public school system today is not the system we had before 2019. It is time to accept that change and make the system better. We need to approach time differently. We need to consider the needs of the entire education community. It is not “all about the kids”. It’s about the kids, the educators, and the parents.

We need to recognize the importance of time and how its efficient use is an investment in making a better system. Yes, money is important and necessary, but throwing money at a system that is inefficient with how time is spent is a waste of both.

I recently tweeted out an idea to consider. What if we made up the school schedule based on a four-day week for students and a five-day week for teachers? That teachers’ fifth day could be dedicated to addressing much of the preparation time teachers need: planning, grading, collegial collaboration, formative self-assessment and professional development.

This is just an idea, not yet a plan, but it is a great starting point to build a better, more respectful system. Getting more money for teachers has never been popular with anyone but educators. Teachers overall are underpaid, but it is more than money that they need. Time is also a valuable commodity and within reach if properly planned.

Let’s not come up with a list of flaws to dismiss this idea. Why not come up with a list of ways to support the idea. Give us a reason to make it happen, rather than reasons not to do it. The time is right for thoughtful change, but change is the key word. When it comes to respecting a teacher’s worth and the time she or he spends on her or his profession, I do not think our system has had a stellar record. After all of the bad stuff that has resulted from Covid, we need to strive to make some positives from this devastation. We have an opportunity here and now.

Whether it is called an “Aha Moment” or ”an Epiphany” educators are seeing many aspects of their profession in a different light over this last year of the pandemic education plan. They are questioning, what was considered normal for centuries, as a system in need of change more than had ever before been realized. The pandemic blew up the existing education system, forcing changes that could never have evolved naturally at such a rapid pace under normal circumstances. Many concepts and assumptions, based on what was “normal” before the pandemic, have been discarded, replaced, adjusted and improved. Many changes have exposed more problems that will require new solutions to these new problems. Twenty-first century technology has both helped and hindered the entire process. AHA! Ironically, tech is both the problem and the solution at this point in this education evolution.

Many of the biggest problems that are being acknowledged in education today are not new. They are however, being magnified to a point where they can no longer be ignored, or denied. Poverty is one great example. Although I do believe the system is riddled with systemic racism, poverty is a separate issue. It knows no bounds of race although many people of color fall within this category; it also includes white kids of urban and rural poverty groups. AHA! One can’t pull him, or herself up by their bootstraps, if they don’t own a pair of boots.

It was always my belief that Tech and online teaching was the direction to take. The pandemic has certainly hit that with a huge monkey wrench. It showed me that it is impossible to educate kids online with more kids in a family than devices in the home to access the Internet. Of course another stumbling block is the Internet itself. AHA! How can we provide online learning when we can’t provide adequate and equitable Internet access to the country?

We are beginning the third decade of the Twenty-First Century. Why haven’t we prioritized and provided Internet access, as we have with water and electricity to the country? We seem to have the technology for this, but not the inclination to provide it. Of course money is at issue here. AHA! Unless we prioritize the Internet into our infrastructure for equitable countrywide access, we will never have the ability to properly implement distance learning.

Of course one of the greatest epiphanies for many educators has been the relationship of Bloom’s Taxonomy and Maslow’s Hierarchy. As educators we are all familiar with Bloom, since his Taxonomy deals with higher order thinking skills and that is directly connected to education. Maslow’s Hierarchy is more nuanced in education. Once we began the pandemic year of education many of the basic needs of Maslow’s pyramid were lost to many more kids: Love and belonging, safety needs, and physiological needs were obliterated for many students. Without the ability to meet these needs for kids, we loose the ability to get them to respond to any of Bloom’s thinking skills. AHA! Without completing the basics of Maslow, there is no room for Bloom.

Probably the greatest of all the AHA moments that educators and parents have had is the role that relationships play in learning. From the beginning of the year of pandemic education, educators have stepped up in reaching out to their students. That has made a big difference in a bad situation for many kids, as well as parents. Now a term that we have all become familiar with is SEL, Social and Emotional Learning. AHA! Strong teacher/student relationships strengthen learning. We must deal with social and emotional needs of kids before we can accurately assess their learning.

My final Aha moment came after I spoke to hundreds of educators about how the year of pandemic education has affected them as educators. I was surprised that after at least a decade of professional development for educators emphasizing technology integration and online learning in education that a majority of educators were totally unprepared for the transition to online teaching. AHA! If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

The pandemic education plan that we have all been forced to endure for this last year is not all bad. We need to consider all that we have learned. Yes, many kids do not perform well with distance learning, but there are other kids who are thriving with it. AHA! There is no one method of education that works for every kid. We need to consider what we know to be true and build from there a flexible and evolving education system. We need to encourage and embrace the Aha moments and share these ideas through collaboration with all educators.

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.

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