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Archive for March, 2011

I attended two back to back educational conferences this week. One was a vendor supported conference for invited administrators held in NYC, and the other was a teacher sponsored Unconference at Rutgers University. Both conferences expected an attendance of about 300 participants and neither saw that happen. I came away from both conferences with useful information, but only one offered more inspiration.

For those of you who are unaware of what an Unconference is, you are not alone. I reinforced this lack of awareness with every conversation I had with any administrator I conversed with at this first get together.  Since I was headed to the second conference, or unconference at the conclusion of the first, it was a natural addition to any discussion I had. Most of the administrators were unaware as to what an unconference was, or that it even was a developing form of Professional Development. They had no idea that so many unconferences are cropping up all over the country.

At the Administrator conference I felt very disconnected. I knew some of the people from Long Island since I had spoken at some of their events. There were no other attendees that I had any connection with at all. The exceptions to that were Eric Sheninger and Pat Larkin, both of whom I am connected to in my PLN and both of whom were going to the same unconference that I was at the conclusion of the first. The last person that I was connected with on my PLN was the Keynote speaker Chris Lehman. The four of us found ourselves sitting together at lunch.

Chris was one of two Keynote speakers at the NYC conference. If you have never seen a Chris Lehmann speech, make it a point to do so. As a matter of fact here is a link that will get you to a video-taped speech to view after you have finished this post. Chris Lehmann Keynote NYSCATE 2009

There was a vendor floor where snacks were provided and people networked before the second Keynote. David Pogue, the NY Times Technology editor, was the second keynote. He did an entertaining speech about technology that had nothing to do with education. He was knowledgeable, affable and humorous, but his speech never made a connection with education.

I do not mean to be critical of either the NYC or NJ conference since I did come away with some food for thought from both, but I feel a need to record some observations and make some comparisons of both events. Now would be the time to interject the “apples and oranges” comparison. Yes, I understand that they were different types of educational events.

The administrator event started at 9:30 AM and ended with a box lunch at 12:30. I think the Box lunch at the end was intended to get everyone together to exchange ideas, but most were gone by the time that was to take place. I guess it was also an opportunity for administrators to get back to their districts to complete their work day.

An unconference is a direct result of Social Media. Educators who were connected virtually had a need to meet in a real world setting. The Unconference is set up by volunteers. It is usually free to attendees and it must be held on a weekend. The presenters could be any educator who has something to offer. No one is locked in to a workshop. People come and go during the course of a session. This particular unconference started at 7:30 AM and went to 5PM. This was my fifth unconference in the last year. One unique thing about these unconferences is the connection between the attendees. Many are virtually connected mainly through Twitter. Blog posts are another connection. Attendees know the views of other attendees through their Blogs. The whole unconference has a feeling of camaraderie experienced at no other type of educational conference. Those few attendees, who came unconnected, leave with an appreciation and need to virtually connect at the conclusion of the event. These unconferences are instilling, or in some cases re-igniting a love for learning. We are leading people down the path of lifelong learning again.

This is where my mind plays its little game. I had thoughts of those leaders in the Middle East who led their countries the same way for generations. They were, if not uncaring, at the very least unaware of the needs of the people. The ruling class failed to keep up with the influence of Social Media affecting change on the population. The ruling class continued in the same old way as their people changed predictable habits. The ruling class was unaware until the end. My concern is what will fill the void? Being as old as I am I can vividly recall the time we invoked some sayings of the 60’s. “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem”. “If you can’t move forward, move out of the way”. No, I am not saying Administrators are Tyrannical leaders. I am saying that as leaders, if they are not relevant, they are not effective leaders. Additionally, this is not an age issue it’s a relevance issue.

As always comments are welcomed.

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I am growing tired of the call for the ouster of older teachers and the elevation of the younger. I am of the older generation (some might say very older) after a career in education spanning four decades. I was also a victim of budget cuts during that career losing my job at the end of every year for my first nine years in three school districts. After 34 years, I am no longer in Public education, but I am involved with Higher Education. My assignment is to train and observe Pre-service teachers, student teachers. In that role I get to travel from school to school and observe educators on all levels.

I teach and observe student teachers for a living. I know that my students have observed over 100 hours of lessons by teachers in the field prior to their becoming student teachers. Additionally, they must show mastery in a program of courses in both philosophy and methods in Education. This is all in addition to the courses required in their content area. By the time these students have an opportunity to stand as teachers in a classroom they will literally have hundreds of thousands of pieces of information floating through their heads, being arranged and rearranged depending on the situation in the classroom at any given point.

I remember reading an article in Time Magazine in the 60’s that rated the most stressful jobs in America based solely on the number of decisions that had to be made in the course of a day. I expected Air Traffic Controller, or Brain Surgeon to be at the top. I was pleasantly surprised to see my own occupation at the top of the list. It was very specific; an Eighth Grade English teacher was listed. That was me, and it was true.

Experience is the best teacher in life. When observing student teachers, I often note that the mistakes being made will be eliminated with teaching experience. So often these student teachers are pumping and processing so much information through their brains that it is amazing to me that they don’t crash at the end of every class. I guess that can be attributed to the energy of youth. As experience mounts up, the brain begins to file away and store those thousands of pieces of information which are repeated over and over each day, so that the teacher no longer needs to bounce that around in the brain. many things become an automatic response. This frees up the experienced teacher to focus more on more important decisions for motivating kids to learn. As a general rule, my personal measure is about ten years in teaching before I consider a teacher truly experienced. Of course any teacher with less than ten years experience will loudly disagree.

These experienced teachers are the foundation of each school’s culture. They become the mentors of the younger teachers. They are advisors to the administrators who often come and go in a never-ending cycle. They are connections to parents whose families have moved through the school over the years. They are the keepers of the keys. This is not how they are being portrayed by politicians and people with agendas for education. These experienced teachers are becoming targets. They are being demonized as the bad teachers, the burn-outs. The only hope, we are told, is the new youthful teachers entering the system. We are told that if cuts must be made, and they must, we need to base it on merit and cut the old, bad teachers, and keep the good, young teachers. We cannot consider any loyalty or obligation to any employee, even if they were loyal to the school district for years.

This has nothing to do with good or bad, young or old. It has everything to do with a political agenda. Older teachers are more experienced and better educated, making them more expensive. Younger teachers are eager to volunteer, less experienced, less credentialed and ultimately less expensive. You have to see where this is going. It is about the MONEY. Politicians want the ability to cut the least number of people with the most impact on the budget. There is little thought given to the educational impact. Having the ability to cut the older teachers is also the best way to push through other needed reforms like: Larger classes, elimination of collective bargaining, reduction of the arts, increasing the impact of high stakes testing, and fewer extracurricular activities. These may all be good for the budget, but not great for kids needing to be educated.

We should all be for maintaining good teachers and removing those who may not be making the mark. We have procedures in place to do this. (Please refer to an earlier post, Tenure’s Tenure ) What needs to be worked on is a program for Professional Development that enables every teacher the ability to stay relevant and knowledgeable about the tools and methods of their profession. It cannot be a voluntary or incentivized program, but an ongoing required program scheduled for all educators to participate. It must be a priority, if we are to improve the quality of education. This requires an investment in Education and not budget cuts and reductions in staff and services. We need an explanation as to why we give $40 billion in incentives to an Oil Industry that shows $100’s of Billions in profits every year while we are cutting back teachers and programs to educate the very people who we will need to call upon to lead us out of this mess.

 

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