Archive for August, 2010

Based on my experience and observations I have learned one or two things about discipline policies in schools. First, an effective discipline policy is often not mentioned by staff members because it is a non-issue. An ineffective discipline policy can dominate the complaints and become a demoralizing factor with any staff. It also does not serve as a model for students to understand that there are consequences for poor decisions.

The effectiveness of any discipline policy will rely on the person in charge of enforcing it. This is often put down as the function of the principal or, on the secondary level, an assistant principal. The enforcement or interpretation of the policy by that person goes a long way in making the policy effective or not. For that reason many schools have spelled out the possible infractions, as well as the escalating consequences for repeat offenses. This limits interpretation making it fair for all offenders. It also limits the pleading parents pointing out the Johnny did the same thing and received no punishment, and asking,”Why are you persecuting my child and letting Johnny go Scott-free?”

Until recently, most offenses were familiar to administrators. There were enough repetitive offenses to examine, catalog, and even predict things that kids would do, which would require consequences. Armed with such a list the best course of action would be to: list them out, assign consequences, develop a repeat offense clause with escalating consequences, publish the Discipline Policy, read it to all students, and finally send a copy to the parents, getting a signature indicating their understanding of the policy. All of that being done, all is right with the world or at least the world of school.

The Fly in the ointment; Technology has now arrived on the scene. It brings unpredicted behavior. It is wrapped in myths and misconceptions. The reality for administrators is that perception is reality for teachers and parents. If teachers and parents buy the myths than the administrator often bases the discipline policy on those perceptions, or misconceptions. This accounts for the development of other policies: Internet safety, Cyber-bullying, Banning the Internet, and Banning cell phones.

I am in not in any way minimizing the dangers of the internet. There is danger in the lack of understanding and in the misuse and abuse of any technology. But these issues cannot be solely addressed in one discipline policy. They are as much a matter of teaching and learning as they are a matter of disciplinary action.

Cyber bullying is extremely devastating, but it is a modern form of Bullying. It does not have to be a separate policy. Bullying is something every district should be addressing as early as possible. Being a good citizen extends to the digital world. We need to teach kids to deal with those issues that they need to know for their world. When I was a kid the computers we had, took up a room and ordinary people had no access, but we had bullies. The way it was handled then was to teach self-defense and tell the kid to stand up to the bully and try to beat the crap out of him (bullies often thought to be males in those days).

The issue of Bullying was brought to the forefront of Education after the Columbine massacre. I do not know if it was Cyber bullying or the regular version that set that into motion. I do not know if the percentage of cyber bullying exceeds the percentage of everyday intimidation by non-digital bullies. My point is we need to address the concept of bullying in any form and not concentrate or address one form over another.

The new debate is the removal of the barriers of walls, time, and distance. Technology allows bullies to intimidate students in other buildings and after school hours. This is not an easy issue for many administrators to handle. For others it is as simple as any other bullying issue. The student’s safety and security in the learning environment are paramount. If a student is being bullied by someone face to face or digitally because of their contact within the learning environment it must be dealt with by the administrator. That is one of the many things they are suppose do.

Another issue is the banning of all cell phones because students text during class. To me it is another short-sighted policy which can easily be addressed in a discipline policy. First, I taught on the secondary level for 34 years and for every class during each of those years, I established rules for the classroom. If I was teaching that level today, I would address the proper use and etiquette of the Mobile Learning Devise in the classroom. I teach college now and the first question I would ask myself if I have a student texting during my class is “what am I not doing to engage this kid in learning? It would be on me initially. If it continues after my adjustments then a discipline policy should cover a continued infraction. I would never ask an administrator to enact a school-wide policy because I could not enforce rules in my class.

Finally, my soapbox issue, the banning of the internet because students may access inappropriate material is another knee-jerk policy. I have discussed this issue in many previous posts. In this post however, it is purely from a discipline point of view. It is my contention that we must educate our students about the internet from early on. They need to be taught what is appropriate and what is not. We need to teach them good digital citizenry and then we may hold them accountable. Appropriate use of technology should be a part of any discipline policy today. The rub comes in kids understanding of appropriate use. As it is now many kids get their internet experience “from the Streets” because we are not addressing it in the schools at age-appropriate times. We cannot hold them responsible for what we refuse to teach.

Of course there is also the perception that children will be lured from the schools and be molested by an internet lurking child predator. This has happened and there is no denying that. It is also probably one of the biggest fears parents have in regard to their children. When we look at the real numbers of child molestation however, we need to understand it is more likely (about 90% likely) that a child will be molested by a family member or a close family friend. Are we addressing this in schools? I think it is not possible to Ban families.

Without a safe and secure teaching environment we cannot expect the level of learning we need to happen the way we expect. It requires thought and consideration to address the real issues to protect and discipline kids. This is a topic close to the hearts of many educators, and as such I expect a great many comments. I also realize that one’s position in the system will affect the perspective on this issue. I expect administrators’ comments to be different from teachers’ comments. Have at it folks, or should I say, have at me!

Read Full Post »

My 34 years as a secondary English teacher, as a well as working as a professor of students studying to be secondary English teachers has given me a unique perspective on our educational system. I know what people are like in the system, and I know what people are like who are joining the system. As an observer, I do not see our young teachers entering the system as many are expecting them to be. I love my students. They are bright and enthusiastic and they know content, as all recently educated students should. They are not however, the rising wave of technology integrating educators expected by many to take our students and our system through the 21st century. I often hear that, as the new crop of teachers enters the system, the older “burned-out” teachers will retire. This will allow the newer tech-savvy teachers to integrate technology into the system and all will be right with the world. What a crock that is.

Students entering college are a product of our secondary system. We are producing FaceBook-Savvy students with technology skills that amount to texting and downloading music. Those are not even skills learned in school, but mostly self-taught. Schools frown on texting, ban social media, and discourage listening to recorded music. When students arrive at colleges they are not all the Tech-savvy geeks that most people seem to think they are. They know more about some technologies than their parents, but what measure of mastery is that? Many of their professors are at best Power Point proficient or at least overhead experts. Obviously, this is not true of all college professors, but it may be true of more than most people would expect. Life-long learning is a goal to which many educators aspire for their students, but many do not model it in reality. It is more a case of do as I say, not as I do.

I to believed that youth was the answer to solving the slow movement of technology integration of education. With my involvement in Social Media I considered myself an exception. Considering my age and my awareness of technology beyond Power Point and Email, as well as my immersion in social Media I was way ahead of those other old folks. I was a believer and a supporter of the digital natives as opposed to the digital immigrants. The whole idea of digital natives and digital immigrants implied that the immigrants would die off (not literally) and the natives would take over the system. But alas, computers entered the system in the eighties and we are still talking about integrating Technology into education in 2010. (30 years, if you don’t have a calculator) When will the natives take over from the dying immigrants and save the system? It is not happening.

There are no natives or immigrants. There are only people who learn differently. Social Media has not arrived to change the world of education. I have two daughters who have grown up with Technology and are quite adept in its use. I often overlook the fact that my wife and I are educators who have always used technology and have modeled that for our girls for their lifetime. They are constantly using technology to learn. They are not typical, so that takes my personal family experience out of the mix of what one would expect from today’s students. Technology is not being modeled in schools. The internet is filtered for both students and teachers. Mobile learning devices are banned in many schools. Students are often not allowed use of their personal laptops in schools. Social Media is not taught as a tool for learning and collaboration, but addressed as a safety issue to be feared and avoided. This is not true in every school, but it is true in more schools than it should be.

We cannot wait for the digital natives to arrive and move the immigrants out of power to lead us into the future. There are no natives and immigrants, only learners. Some employ technology and some don’t. As Technology advances, as it inevitably does, the skills needed to learn and grow will need to be adapted. Teachers waiting for the new generation to take up that challenge will be disappointed. Using technology skills to learn, collaborate, communicate, and create are not in our biological makeup. If we are not teaching these skills, they do not happen. Today’s teachers need to be technology literate. They need not be experts, but at least they need to be aware of what will be required of their students insofar as technology skills required to compete in a technological society.
Please feel free to comment.

This is the video link that prompted this post. http://edupln.ning.com/video/nativeimmigrant-versus

Read Full Post »

There seems to be a whole crop of Building a PLN “how to’s” popping up all over. This will be another to add to the collection. Since I have developed my Personal Learning Network over years however, I hope to provide some insights that newbies or analyzers of PLN’s might not have a clue about.

Before tech was ever involved I developed a PLN based on face to face contact. This was limited to the people who I worked with within my school building or district. I was able to expand the contacts from my local network when I attended Education conferences locally, regionally or occasionally nationally. I was fortunate to get to go to certain Education conferences, an experience not always afforded classroom teachers. I would always share my findings with others when I returned from conferences. Since I saw tech in education as a way to move education along, I was thought of as a “tech guy”. I was not. I was a teacher using tech as a tool to teach. I learned what I needed to know to accomplish that. I was always an English teacher first. Keeping up with tech was easier back in the day. Stuff actually lasted more than a year. There was time to experience and adjust to a tech tool before the next tool came out. Every new tool had to be researched before being accepted after long periods of consideration. The internet did not change that process, but it did offer us a chance to explore other websites put up by teachers and vendors. It informed us of things available for a price.

With the advent of Social Media the development of The Personal Learning Network really  started to change in the look and feel of professional development. Web 2.0 tools also enabled a more rapid development. The only educators who noticed however, were those involved with Social Media, and that was not a large percentage of educators. It is a challenge to get educators to use technology, now the challenge is not only to use it, but additionally, to convince them of an educational purpose for Social Media.

I used email and list-serves early on for connecting with educators or topics to help me learn as a teacher. My first foray into Social Media was joining Linkedin. I found many EDU groups, but after joining and engaging people in these groups, I found that they did not completely meet my needs. I created my own groups to do that. I formed Linkedin groups for educators only. I kept out vendors, consultants, and curiosity seekers. I defined the discussions to be academically oriented. It worked. I have five educational Groups on Linkedin. The largest is over 1,700 members.

Linkedin was the first component of my technology-assisted PLN. It was not fast enough for me. The discussions were in depth and very helpful, but they took weeks to develop. Linkedin members visit their accounts less frequently than other venues. It was through Linkedin that I discovered Twitter. At first, I did not get it. I was following ten people and they were not always on the twitter stream, and they were socializing and not putting out educational links. I used my Linkedin connections to gather educators who used Twitter and this increased my people to follow. I concentrated on recruiting educators who engaged on Linkedin. I began expanding from there, concentrating on following educators who offered information. This accounted for the second component of my growing PLN. My Twitter component proved to be the best and fastest methods of gathering and sharing information.Adding to my 400 Linkedin connections Twitter now has 6,000 people following me.

There was now a stream of information coming to me on a daily basis from Linkedin and Twitter. The need to store and categorize all of this for future reference was now the primary goal. Two applications were suggested by my PLN, Delicious and Diigo. They offered many of the same bells and whistles, but I caught a conference where they did a workshop on Delicious, so my choice was made. I began bookmarking every website, video, application, podcast, webinar and article that came my way. I also began a network of people on my Delicious site since it too is a SM application. I accumulated over 400 sites on my own. My big “get” however is that I connected with 91 other educators giving me access to their bookmarks as well. Since we are all educators considering and saving good educational material, I now have access to 121,000 educational sites. This is now another component of my PLN. A search of a topic on Google may offer 5,000 websites on a subject. The same search on Delicious may yield 5 sites vetted and used by teachers. Saving time and gaining proven sites are two reasons to do delicious over Google.

As an educational professor I was able to provide all of this information to my students for their future use as teachers. My problem was that they were not ready for all of this at once. I needed to create a place to hold this stuff until they were ready to accept it. Beyond my current class, I also wanted my future students, of classes yet to be, to be able to access the same information. I investigated the world of Ning. It was not a mystical Asian fantasy world, but a collaborative community. I could store all of my Links and invite all of my students to join me in one location. It was a private site where we could collaborate in real-time as well as time shift. All the information that I was able to store, could be shared. This became another component of my PLN.

It was soon apparent that I needed to also create a site for all of the followers that I accumulated on my Twitter account as well as the connections from my Linkedin Account. I had a very strong feeling about sharing with the people who share with me. The idea of a PLN is a collegial relationship. It also underscores the fact that a PLN is not a passive endeavor,but one that must be actively pursued and maintained. One must work it to get value from it. All of this led to the development of another Ning, The Educator’s PLN. http://edupln.ning.com/ “The Educator’s PLN” is a source site for educators to access many sources, as well as new people, for their PLN”s. It is loaded with links, tutorials and videos, groups and blog posts dealing with education. In addition to the members to follow there are lists of educators to follow on twitter. These lists are fairly new and with one click, one can follow hundreds of valuable user-educators. This saves months of time compared to the old method of one person to follow at a time.This Ning site now has 5,000 collaborating educator-members.

Since many of the links people put out involve Blog posts it is easy to understand how many useful posts are repeated if they are deemed valuable. Educational Bloggers are quickly singled out and considered valuable sources. To get access to these Bloggers directly, I subscribed to their blog posts with Google reader. It delivers the latest posts directly to me. Another component of my PLN. By the way feel free to add my Blog to your Google reader.

This was the story of the development of my Personal Learning Network. It works for me. I developed it with tools I discovered and was comfortable with. It was on an as needed basis. There is no one place to go for a PLN. There is no Twitter PLN. There is no Linkedin PLN. There is no Ning PLN. Your PLN is built and developed and improved with various tech tools to extend your reach beyond the walls of your building.It is not about who has the biggest PLN. It comes with a price. People need to give information in order to get information from others. One can “Lurk and Learn” on the PLN until a comfort level is attained. The learning however, is deeper and quicker when one engages others in sharing and collaborating.

On a PLN people are accepted for their ideas and not their titles. One will often be asked to give an opinion. There are pitfalls. Some believe that they must always offer opinions, even if they don’t know enough about the subject to responsibly offer an opinion. Sometimes the answer must be, “I don’t know”. The other pitfall is to speak in 140 characters all of the time. The 140 limit forces one to be concise and to the point. The dark side is that some people begin to sound like a cross between a fortune cookie and Forrest Gump’s Mama.

Develop your PLN at your pace with whatever Tech you are comfortable with. Start with a social media tool to acquire information. Add a tool to save the information. Balance your time. At first the tendency is to spend a great deal of time. That pays off getting people to see you and recognize you. After things begin to happen, you will adjust the time on your PLN as needed. It is your PLN and your rules. You may add or drop people as you go. Strive to maintain those who offer quality information. Discard those who detract or distract from your goal of sharing and collaborating.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: