Archive for September, 2012

This is a difficult subject to write about without being labeled smug, arrogant, conceited, or all three, but that is a risk I take. The Bammy Awards took place recently. If you never heard of The Bammy Awards for educators, there is good reason. They were invented this year. From the Bammy Awards site  we have this: “The Bammy Awards acknowledge that teachers can’t do it alone and don’t do it alone. The Awards aim to foster cross-discipline recognition of excellence in education, encourage collaboration and respect in and across the various domains, elevate education and education successes in the public eye, and raise the profile and voices of the many undervalued and unrecognized people who are making a difference in the field.” This was a first time event sponsored by BAM radio. “The Bammy Awards is organized by BAM Radio Network, which produces education programming for the nation’s leading education associations. BAM Radio is the largest education radio network in the world with 21 channels of education programming available on demand and hosted by the nation’s leading educators and advocates.”

I was doubly honored at the Awards in its first year. I was asked to present an award in the Most Outstanding Education Blogger category, and I was recognized along with 19 other Bloggers as Outstanding Education Bloggers to be recognized by the Bammy Awards. The stage was filled with educator bloggers who I read, respect, and from whom I try to recruit guest Blog posts for SmartBlog on a regular basis. A great number of those recognized are regular contributors to SmartBlog for Education.

Connected educators from around the world would recognize the twitter names of those honored. These are their real world names: Adam Bellow, Angela Maiers, Chris Lehmann, Deven Black, Erin Klein, George Couros, Joyce Valenza, Kelly Tenkley, Joan Young, Kyle Pace, Lisa Nielsen, Mary Beth Hertz, Nicholas Provenzano, Patrick Larkin, Shannon Miller, Shelly Blake-Plock, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Shelly Terrell, Steven Anderson, Eric Sheninger, Joe Mazza, and Tom Whitby. I know and respect each of these people as individual educators. They each continually contribute and share ideas to move education forward.

And now to the point, I asked most of them a single question that has always plagued me ever since I became connected. Do the people in your own district know who you are in the connected world? With few exceptions the answer is “No, they have no idea”. The very people, who connected educators look to as the contributors of ideas to the global discussion on education, are not recognized by their own peers. They have to fight in their own districts for the same things we all fight for. Their notoriety and celebrity in the connected world carries no weight whatsoever in the unconnected. They struggle to get permission to attend the very education conferences that they power with their presentations. They are looked up to by connected superintendents, yet may go unrecognized and undervalued by their own principals. How did we get here? What is it about being an unconnected educator that sets out a different set of values than those for connected educators? What makes a person valued in one education setting and unrecognized in another? What makes the connected world of educators so different from the unconnected?
I also recognize that the conversations are different between connected and unconnected individuals. Often, the unconnected need to be brought up to date on many things, which usually cannot be accomplished in one conversation. I was stunned that at a recent faculty meeting where people (unconnected) were intrigued by this new idea of a flipped classroom. “What’s that?”

It is upsetting to me that there are two conversations going on in education. There are two sets of values now in education. Of course, I am counting on the readers of this post to be connected and understanding and appreciating all that I have said. The sad truth is that a majority of our colleagues don’t get it and never will until they become connected. Being connected is an opportunity for educators to learn and maintain relevance. It is not arrogance or conceit to think this way, but rather the result of a technology-driven world where collaboration through social media can be a tool for the common good. We need to work harder at getting people to connect, if we want to move forward at a faster pace to reform. I also like the celebrity sometimes.

Read Full Post »

Dell Computer has sponsored four education Think Tanks over the last year, or so, and I have been fortunate to participate in three of them. At each get-together educators, education related organizers, education industry executives, and most recently students, were brought together in an open discussion on the weighty topics of education and education reform. All of the discussions were video-taped, and live-streamed, and even animated on a mural to a viewing audience. The final production was archived to a special website maintained by Dell. During these discussions the participants were even tweeting out discussion ideas in real-time, which reflected out to the growing community of connected educators on Twitter. Transparency abounds at these Dell Computer think tanks.

Each of the groups is given four to six general topics of concern in education to discuss for about forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the members are all invited guests, they are usually intelligent, passionate, and well-versed in aspects of education specific to their profession.

What I love most about this latest group, and others similar to it, is that if you put a number of intelligent and reasonable people together in a room to come up with a goal for the common good, the results are usually positive and helpful. This is a real teachable-moment lesson for all of our politicians in Congress today.

Dell has provided a great platform for getting to the heart and identifying some of the pressing problems of education through the eyes of these educators, but it doesn’t provide a means of enacting solutions to those problems. If it were a question of educational problems being identified and solved by educators within the education system, there would be far less a problem. But, like all complex problems, there is more to it than that. Progress is being stymied by the 6 “P’s”. By this I am not referring to the military expression “Proper Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance”. I am talking about Poverty, Profit, Politics, Parents, Professional development, and Priorities preventing progress in Public Education.

Profit is a big deterrent for change in the system. Most educators agree that high stakes, standardized testing is one of the leading problems with the system today. The idea of changing that anytime soon is remote however. The leading education publishing companies are making a BILLION dollars a year alone on creating and maintaining standardized tests. The profits are even higher in the area of textbooks, so progress in that area, even with the advent of the Internet and endless sources for free information, will show little change soon. Of course these companies all have lobbyists working on the next “P” Politicians.

Politicians are very much influenced by money. Some may even distort the facts to support the interests of their financial backers. Since education itself is a multi-billion dollar industry, that until recently was not, for the most part, in the private sector, it has become the goal of some politicians to put more schools into the private sector. This has made public education a political football. Education for Profit is the new frontier. Along with that comes an initiative to publicly praise teachers, while privately and politically demonizing them. For too many individuals the words Education Reform are code words for Labor, or Tax reform, or both.

Business people and politicians are quick to solicit the help of Parents. Parents, who are familiar with the education system of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the very system under which most of us were educated, are easily duped into trusting the lies of standardized testing. The belief that test results are an indication of learning, and that if the scores are low, it is the fault of the teachers, is a concept delivered by politicians and profit conscious business people. This is a concept that is easily believed by those who are less educated about education. We need to educate parents that although it is true that the teacher can be the biggest influence in a child’s life, the teacher is not the only influence. This less emphasized fact, that the teacher is not the sole influence in a child’s life, brings us to another “P”, Poverty.

If we factored out all of the schools in our education systems which are affected by poverty, we would have a great education system. Poverty however, represents people. Children in poverty have many things acting upon them and probably the least influential is the school system. A child who is hungry cannot learn. A child who is sleep-deprived cannot learn. A child who is fearful cannot learn. A child who is not healthy cannot learn. A child who is not in class cannot learn. What does a standardized test mean to these children? How can we hold the child responsible for those test results? How can we hold the teacher responsible for that child’s test results?

And finally, we arrive at the last “P”, Professional development. To be better educators we need to be better learners. We live in a technology-driven culture that moves faster than any we have ever known. We need to educate our educators on how to keep up to be relevant. Professional Development must be part of the work week. Skills have changed in the 21st Century, but many who are responsible for teaching those skills have not changed themselves. They need education and not condemnation.

My final “P” is for Priority. If education was more than a lip-service commitment from the American people, we would not be having these discussions. We tied education to taxes and that will never bring us together on needed solutions. That is the very reason National Defense has less of a problem. If we are determined to fix education, than we will need to fund it differently. Public education is our National Defense. It is too important to privatize for political gain or profiteering. Educators need to educate Parents, Politicians and Business People about education and not the other way around. Educators must also educate themselves on what education is, as we move forward, because it is, and from now on will always be a moving target.

As always this is just my humble opinion.

Read Full Post »

SKYPE is an application that allows your image to be broadcast to another computer anywhere in the world. It is great for Skyping authors, experts, or even NASA scientists into a classroom. An entire class can “Skype” with another class anywhere a computer has a feed. The potential for lecture, collaboration and learning is unlimited. I thought it might be interesting to share the Skype experience from the point of view of the presenter.

I was fortunate and honored to be asked by the organizers of Edcamp Atlanta to Skype into their Edcamp for a Q & A session. I know many people have been in a room when someone Skypes in, but I thought I could share the experience from the other side of the camera. Skyping in as a speaker is not the same experience as a Skype call with a friend.

The first consideration on the call is the Time Zone. Proximity plays a big part in the need to Skype in the first place. Obviously, if you could be in a place in person, there would be no need to Skype. Time differences can be a big part of the planning for the call. I prefer Skyping west as opposed to Skyping east. California calls are always easier than those early hour Skypes to England.

The next consideration is what to wear. A big plus with Skype is that the only concern needed is for what shirt to wear. Theoretically, a Skype call could be done trouserless, because the camera only gets the upper part of your body. That narrows the decision to shirt and hair. The shirt decision is easy, but to wear a tie or not to wear a tie is always a question. My answer is consistently to not wear a tie. Hair is another story altogether. You don’t want to resemble Clint Eastwood as he addressed an empty chair in his now infamous YouTube video from the RNC. Come to think of it, he might have been better off Skyping that presentation.

Once you are settled with the final decisions, it is time to place your fate in the hands of others. They will make the call to connect, and then the fun begins. If you are Skyping to a room of people, the sound and picture coming from the simple computer alone will not be enough for them to see and hear. A large screen and a sound amplifying system will need to be brought in. Along with that comes the IT guy who must hook it all up. Of course you need to be connected for all of this to happen, so the setup is taking place on the screen before your eyes as well as the audience. Sound Check! Sound Check! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5……

Once the picture and sound are up and running and the audience has a perfect view of you the IT guy goes back to his office. What IT guys usually fail to do however is position the computer that you are feeding into, so that you can see the audience that you are addressing. With luck you might have a partial view of the group, but invariably it is always askew. If you are really not lucky, it may be facing the wrong direction altogether.

Now it is time to address the audience. Again with luck on your side, there might be a few people visible, but they are at a distance. Many of the cues that you would get from an in-person presentation are not visible on a Skype call. The worst part however is the Question and Answer portion. People do not interact with the TV version of a presenter as they do with a live presenter. Again, the cues from a live back-and-forth interaction are just not there. The sound system can also be a killer. If the moderator is using a microphone that echoes in the venue, then you have less of a chance of clearly hearing the questions being posed. There is a great possibility that you are answering a question that was never asked.

The very worst thing though is when you use a line in your Skype presentation that always elicits a certain response in a live presentation, but here, in the world of Skype, nothing happens. Of course it can’t be the fault of the line that you used, because it always worked live, so the only answer is that the audience can’t hear you.

The question: Can you hear me?

The answer: Yeah, we can hear you just fine!

So much for my career in standup comedy.

I am most thankful however that in my Skype presentation to the Atlanta Edcamp, as I sat in my neatly ironed Hawaiian shirt and pajama pants, shoeless, and sockless, none of these things happened. It was a flawless presentation on connectedness for educators followed by an active exchange of questions and answers.

I am most grateful and honored to have been asked by the good folks of Atlanta Edcamp to participate with them in this wonderful professional development endeavor. I truly hope I didn’t disappoint.

Read Full Post »

I was a public-school educator for 34 years. While I recognize many of public education’s shortcomings, I am a staunch supporter. More than ever, I believe that this country needs its citizenry to be more than just educated, but also critical thinkers and lifelong learners.

Our country is a representative democracy dependent on leadership, and the direction for our country is placed in the hands of our elected officials who are our politicians. In our government, all leaders are politicians, but not all politicians are leaders. That would make a majority of our government officials, politicians and not leaders. Ideally, leaders make decisions based on the needs of the people. Politicians see the same problems and make decisions based on their needs, or the needs of their political party, or the party’s special interest supporters. This holds true for both political parties.

I first became aware of the charter school movement in 2004. It was my understanding that it was determined that public schools were not meeting the needs of students and people wanted an alternative, but they felt locked in to the public school system. Private and parochial school tuition were out of reach for many of these families. If I was understanding this correctly (not always a given), it seemed to me that the movement was taking place in urban districts, or more to the point, districts that were impacted by poverty.

An easy solution would be to attract businesses to move into the multi-million-dollar arena of education. Profit could be a great motivator to the right people in order to deal with these issues. To make it more attractive many of the restraints placed on public schools were waived for charters. The reason given was that these restrictions stifled innovation and charters needed to innovate. They never relieved the public schools of those same restrictions, but still blamed them for lacking in innovation.

Of course the cost of education could be reduced with the elimination of some of the more expensive components. The cost of educating students with disabilities is always a high-ticket item, so some charter schools develop admissions’ policies or other requirement that may exclude this student population. This may be different in individual states today.

Teacher unions ensure fair pay and reasonable working hours for teachers, but charter schools can work union-free. To further make the transition easier, many politicians and business people began to target teachers and unions as the primary reason why these schools were failing. The perspective of the politicians was probably to get the costs down to make the problem more profitable for business. It had little to do with addressing the needs of schools in areas of high poverty.

Urban schools in areas of poverty have unique problems in great numbers. Most teachers are not prepared in their teacher courses to deal with the problems that they face in these schools. Problems of poverty, absenteeism, safety, hunger, violence, lack of support and overcrowding are not the topics of undergraduate education courses. They are also not the problems addressed by politicians and businesses. Business plans do not address tackling problems of education, but rather problems of profit.

In my limited and admittedly biased view of charter schools, I see them as massive siphons. They siphon money from public schools. They siphon young teachers to burn them out with long working hours and high demands. They siphon the good will and support of the public for public school teachers. They siphon any initiative to address the real problems of poverty on education. Of course this is a generalization. I am sure that there are some charter schools that are doing the right thing. If in comparing apples to apples, charter schools are not doing any better than public schools, why not concentrate on solving the problems of the public system instead of complicating the system for the sake of corporate profits?

Of course this is my limited understanding of public vs. charter schools. This is a topic that does not have a shortage of opinion. Please feel free to add yours here.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: