Archive for April, 2013

I recently participated in what might possibly be a one-time experience for an educator, an education conference in Las Vegas. Of course that probably doesn’t hold true for Nevada educators. Solution Tree Publishing sponsored the Leadership Now Conference in Vegas. It was a Quality event with high visibility speakers keynoted the event.

The speakers at the event were Solution Tree authors and each was a leading expert in their area of expertise. They were also all affiliated with the Marzano/DuFour group. This was a big showing of the PLC at Work institute. For the most part I happen to be a believer in most of what they preach, so I was quite happy with the topics presented.

Of course the backbone of most of what was discussed was the idea of collaborative learning communities within individual school districts. I love the idea and I believe in the concept that collaboratively we all benefit more in learning and teaching. I do find the idea of stopping that collaboration at the district level somewhat limiting however. We need global networks of collaboration. We should not stop at the borders of our own school district or just the network of a group of paying participants of some larger group. Collaboration through social media is free and global. We need to explore and use it to our best advantage as educators and as students.

The First keynotes by Robert Marzano and Richard DuFour lasted an hour and a half each. They were lectures with text-ladened slides to keep the audience (learners) on track while laying out the research and philosophy of the grand plan. There was a printed and bound compiled text of the presentations along with worksheets for the learners. I actually weighed it. It was THREE pounds.

The highlight for me was the keynote by Sir Ken Robinson. He did a keynote that covered many aspects of several of his TED Talk videos. Although I heard much of it before, it meant more live, presented in sir Ken’s unique blend of humor, irony and common sense. This was a vast improvement over the last time I saw him at ISTE with a disastrous panel presentation after what seemed like a ten-minute keynote. In contrast to that, Sir Ken’s Solution Tree retrospective presentation was one to remember.

The workshops following the keynotes were again 90-minute lectures with text-ladened slides that corresponded to the three-pound, bound, text workbook. The material covered in the workshops was essential. The research seemed sound. It was all a common sense approach to the complicated problem of education reform. Each workshop was a clear presentation of how we might best approach what we are doing now in education with what we might be doing even better.

I only wish that they applied the same amount of time, research, and development to their methods of teaching and presentation as they applied to their subject material. First rule of PowerPoint: Don’t read from text-ladened slides to the audience, even if it is from a book written by you, the presenter. To do such a presentation differently is not going to be an easy task and it will probably take several iterations of a presentation to eliminate so much text from slides, but it will help the learners or should I say audience. Although there is a certain element of entertainment in education presentations they are designed to inform and teach. That means the seats are filled with learners and not audience members.

The workshop leaders of the workshops that I attended were wonderful, knowledgeable, and experienced educators. Leaders included: Rebecca DuFour, Tammy Heflebower, Timothy Kanold, Anthony Muhammad, Phil Warrick, and Kenneth Williams. The workshops that were most striking and helpful to me however, were the workshops of Anthony Muhammad. He dealt with changing the culture of the school in order to affect any meaningful change in the structure of the school. I found him to be a shinning star in a room full of stars. He was dynamic, engaging, and most of all gave out meaningful ideas to deal with the real changes for education reform with the most “elephant in the room” problems. He later gave a rousing, closing keynote.

The low point for me anyway came when they had the panel discussion at the end of the sessions of the second day. It was not very well attended by the participants of the conference. The panel was made up of the key members of the Marzano group. Of course the lead panel members gave the longest answers. It was the questioning of the panel that struck me to be rather archaic in our world of technology. The audience was asked to write questions on a piece of paper that would be picked up and delivered to the moderator. There was no microphone stand for open questioning. There was no hashtag back channel screen. The moderator was not monitoring an iPad for questions. I guess this was made difficult because there was also no Internet service for the conference, which should be a mainstay of any education conference.

Criticisms aside, I found this to be a very informative conference. I wish it could have been live streamed to the many connected educators who were following the conference hashtag over the three days. I think the Marzano approach to collaboration and addressing the whole system in order to affect change is a sensible and sound approach. I would simply love to see an updated methodology in their approach.

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The term “innovation” has been thrown around through the halls of education for several years. Its creation in our education system is a stated goal by our Department of Education. It is a reason, although some would call it a justification, for charter schools being formed. Charter schools were supposed to lead the way to innovation for public education. A problem with innovation however is that we often do not know it when we see it.

The whole idea of innovation is that it is something new. The other part of that, which is implied, is that it is also a successful improvement. That may be the piece that prevents recognizing innovation in education. Teachers, when it comes to education, are a conservative group. Change comes slowly, and there is a comfort in holding on to what has worked in the past. This has long been reinforced by the many trends and fads in education that have come and gone. Teachers have been programmed to believe that whatever the change being mandated by the powers that be, it will be gone with the next change of power. “If we wait a little while, this to will pass” becomes the educators’ mindset.

The newness of innovation is probably its greatest obstacle to acceptance. Teachers generally rely on the tried and true methods, proven to work over a long period of time. Innovation requires a leap of faith on the part of educators that the innovation will be a success. Unfortunately for innovation, the conservative nature of educators does not support taking risks. It may have something to do with self-perceptions of many teachers that as “content experts” they shouldn’t make public mistakes. Supporting innovation that fails would be a commitment to failure in the eyes of many educators. Obviously, this slows innovation acceptance.

This entire process has been further complicated by the rate of speed that technology moves and affects change. Committees, research and approval are very big parts of change in education. Today however, change comes faster and more significantly than in years past primarily because of the advancements in technology. These advancements continue to move forward regardless of anyone’s committee, research, or approval.

Collaboration has long been an element of learning. The term social learning is now creeping into discussions more and more giving collaboration a facelift. Face to face collaboration is the oldest and most easily recognized form. It is also a positive reason for department and faculty meetings. When learning individually we are good, but more often than not, learning collaboratively we are better. Technology tools for collaboration have moved collaboration to the forefront.

Now, let us combine collaboration with technology and see if it fits into our education system. Technology has most recently provided many tools, or applications for collaboration. Social Media is not one tool, but rather a network of many that overlap and intertwine. Educators can: join a Ning community,and meet a colleague from anywhere, converse on that site, connect and collaborate on Twitter, continue face to face collaboration on a Google Hangout, or Skype, collaboratively create and publish documents, presentations, Podcasts and videos. The potential ability for educators to harness this power and use it to model and guide learning for their students is mind-boggling to me, as a 40-year educator. It is only surpassed by the idea that the same potential ability in the hands of the students will take collaboration, creation, and learning even further.

We have labeled this innovation the Personal Learning Network. It is what we use to connect educators for collaboration beyond their buildings, districts, towns, and countries. It is technology-driven innovation that may profoundly affect education in regard to collaboration and professional development. It connects teachers with students, administrators, thought leaders, authors, and experts in all areas. It enables collaboration and creation on every level for educators to learn and teach. We become connected educators giving us insights and relevance that has been enabled by technology.

This innovation has been percolating for several years now, yet it has failed to be accepted as innovation. There is a growing gap between the adapters, or the connected educators, and the unconnected educators. The continuous discussions of the connected are directed and led by thought leaders and collaborative reflections, discussions, and content. The unconnected educators rely on the past and whatever direction is given by the powers that be in their districts.

If innovation is something new than the idea of technology-driven collaboration in the form of a PLN is old news and no longer innovation. Since it is no longer innovative, maybe educators will consider it, as a possible next step in education that will enable needed change. The idea that educators may be anti-innovative is my only explanation as to why the idea of a Personal Learning Network has not yet moved educators to accept it as a method to move educators, and education to a better place.

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I just spent the morning viewing a livestream from an Education Forum from Education Week. For those who may be unaware a livestream is a live transmission of an event over the Internet. This was a forum that recognized Education Leaders. It was titled Leaders To Learn From 2013. I think what Education Week did was great and I hope not to diminish their contribution. I do have some observations that I would like to share.

My friend and colleague Kyle Pace, @kylepace, was the person who drew me to this forum. Kyle is a connected educator known to tens of thousands of educators as a collaborative, connected educator who engages people with knowledge and information in the realm of technology in education. If any educator deserves an award for collaborative leadership, Kyle would top my list of candidates. It is a well-deserved recognition.

What struck me about the other award winners recognized for their leadership accomplishments that other educators are supposed to learn from was that we as an education community have not heard from them before? I realize that not all educators are connected through social media. It also seems to me as an observer of social media in education that it is often more difficult for Administrators to connect than teachers. There are reasons for that, both real and imagined, and I understand that. It would seem to me however, that if collaboration is part of a reason for recognition, the award winners should demonstrate some proficiency in modern collaboration as educators.

I also attended a Discovery Education forum recently where a number of Superintendents were recognized. When asked about their professional Social media involvement and collaboration, each claimed Twitter accounts and some claimed to have blogs. Of course sitting with Josh Stumpenhorst, @stumpteacher, we were able to quickly fact-check each of their claims to discover that most of them rarely tweeted and few had Blogs.

In a time when mobile devices can vet any speaker in a few seconds, people should not speak out of hand. In addition to education leaders, all leaders should get the fact that they can, and will be held more accountable for what they do compared to what they say. The world and information distribution has changed. Their failure to recognize that fact is testament to their relevance in a technology-driven society.

I have made my views on sharing as a professional responsibility known in many previous posts. A question from Dean Shareski really summed it up for me in regard to professional collaboration. What would we say about a doctor who found a cure for cancer or even a partial pathway to that end, but failed to share it with medical colleagues?

If educators are doing things in a better way, why are they not collaborating using the methods of today? Educators may not have the Journal of the American Medical Association, but we do have Twitter and we do have Blogs. I am tired of educators who espouse technology for everyone else, but fail to employ it for themselves and their profession.

Many Administrators use the Internet to vet out teaching candidates. They get to Google information about individuals that they are legally precluded from asking about in an interview. If that has become the standard then let’s have at it. We should look at everyone’s digital footprint including administrators. What is their educational philosophy as it is stated in the digital world? What does their Professional Learning Network include? What is it they have collaborated on in the Social media world? How effective are they in the very collaboration skills that they claim to have? How reflective are they based on their public blog? Do they hold to their principles in their public reflections?

We are moving forward in the way we access and obtain information. If an administrator has not contributed and that information is not obtainable, then that may be an indication of ability, or relevance, or both. At the very least it should be a red flag. I am not suggesting that any administrator who is not on social media is a Luddite. I am suggesting that the best leaders in an age of technology are those who understand it as a result of effectively using it, as well as modeling it for those who follow. We need to consider relevant collaborative skills as a requisite for administrative positions if we have hope for changing the system in positive ways.


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An advantage that I have as one who is fortunate enough to attend many education conferences, or special education events is the contact I have with many of the thought leaders in education. Of course most of those folks do not think of themselves as thought leaders, but just educators. The fact is that we are often defined by the perception of others. This holds true for institutions as well.

I was invited to attend a special leadership event sponsored by Discovery Education. My association with Discovery goes back to a think tank group that they had formed last year on “Exploring Beyond the Textbook”. This year’s event, Future@Now announced that all educators were being afforded free access to Discovery Education’s Techbook. There were a number of featured speakers, mostly progressive superintendents who are all doing wonderful things in education in their districts. Of course the highlight of the event was a killer presentation by a third grader, Mary Moss Wirt, a Digital Learner from Cary Elementary School in North Carolina.

The very best part of this event for me however was at dinner the night before. I had dinner and a two-hour conversation with Dean Shareski on education. Dean is an educator and education technologist I have followed on Twitter from my first month tweeting. I have always found him to be thoughtful, innovative, reflective, personable, respectful, and an educator I would like to hang with. This night I did.

The question posed by Dean that intrigued me was one that educators hear time and time again: What do we say to people who ask; how is education working if the cashier at a fast food place cannot figure out how much change to give me?

This was not easy to hear as an educator because this perception is one that many people have. The perception is that since kids can’t count out change for a purchase, our education system has failed. My take on the question however was one I had not considered before until we needed to address it in this discussion. I told Dean that I felt that people were making a judgment about an education system that no longer existed. They were basing their assumptions on their father’s education system. It was a system designed for people to be able to count out change for customers. That is a task that is simple to people who are products of that system and it was a skill reinforced in many jobs in society at that time.

That same system however also created many technological advances. It produced technology that removes the mundane task of calculating change, as well as the possibility of making mistakes doing so. There is no need for a cashier to calculate change when the register does it faster and more accurately. It also allows individuals with lower functioning skills to move into positions that previously required a knowledge, if not mastery, of a fundamental mathematical ability. What people are now doing is looking into an area that no longer requires either limited, or for that matter, any math skills, and condemning the education system for not providing it with people who have mastered some math skills.

Come to think of it even people with math skills become complacent with the accessibility of tech tools to calculate. This is one area where the rule of, “If you don’t use it you lose it”, applies well. Then again, if you don’t use it because you don’t really need it, so what?

I think when we look to assess our education system; we can’t look to the system, as we knew it in past generations. In the world of today the needs are different. Higher order thinking skills, critical thinking skills, communicating skills, collaborating skills, creative skills all need to be emphasized. The ability to critically think in today’s society is more important than calculation skills accomplished by cash registers. The higher order skills are what will prevent our democracy from being driven by sound bites as opposed to thought and reason.

If someone needs to be in a position where fundamental math to make change calculations is required, they will have those skills before they are hired, or they will be trained after. If those skills were not required, why would we expect those workers to be required to have them? I am not bashing the Math people here. Yes, many people need math and advanced math is where STEM is taking us. I guess giving the correct change may be a first step, but it is not a step for everyone as a gauge of education. If perception is reality, let us make sure that people perceive things as they are in a technology-driven, ever-changing environment. We no longer live an Ozzie and Harriet world of the fifties.

If we want people to have skills and knowledge beyond the demands of their jobs than we need to create a culture of learning. We need students at the very least to be curious about learning, and at best have a love for it. Drilling and testing will produce neither. We need to shift the goal of education from testing to learning and align the public’s perception of education with the reality of education in order to gain support for a common goal.

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I recently bumped into a friend at an education Conference. This friend is what I consider a thought leader in education. He is a well-known speaker and author and a person who many educators deservingly look up to for both guidance and wisdom. I thought that I would take advantage of the encounter by asking for a guest post for SmartBlog on Education, an education blog with which I am associated. He must have been having a bad day based on his response.

“I am tired of teaching everyone”, he said.

Knowing how much this person always offers to all who listen, this reaction was out of character and a clear indication of a frustrating day. Sharing is a learned behavior. It is not a behavior common to everyone. It can be easily abused and discouraged. If a person shares and gets the feeling that his or her sharing is not appreciated or under-valued, that spigot of sharing may quickly be turned off.

My teaching career started about two days after the last Dinosaur died in the eyes of many. Back in the day there was not a great deal of sharing. People would share advice very quickly, but lessons were kept under lock and key of the filing cabinet. It was at the end of the year if one was lucky enough to know a retiring teacher that the sharing took place. If someone from your department were retiring, on the last day of their service there would be a gathering in their room. The File cabinet would be opened and the sharing would begin. Files, annotated books, tests, lessons, worksheets, overheads, and dittoes would all be bestowed onto the junior members of the department. The senior members actually got the empty file cabinets. The senior members of the department always had the largest collection of file cabinets.

That was then and this is now! Sharing has become part of the culture of teaching. It is the currency of social media. We can’t be just takers. If we are using social media to gain information, we should have an obligation to provide information as well. It does not have to be original. It can be something that we learned from others. In Twitter terms that would be a ReTweet or an RT. Never assume people know what you know. Always share information at all levels of expertise. Social Media has people from all levels participating in the exchange of ideas.

Every person has a different level of understanding and participation in social media. Some folks read more blog posts than others. Not everyone reads the same Blogs. If you find a good post share it. There are hundreds of thousands of educators on social media. Most Blogs do not have those numbers reading their posts each day. A good post needs to be shared. “A rising tide raises all boats.” The more we share, the better off our profession will be.

Also keep in mind that everyone has a different Personal Learning Network. No two people are following the exact same list of people on Twitter or LinkedIn or Facebook. If you see something of value, share it. Others may not have seen it. Even if they did, your emphasis on it may cause them to view it differently. Never underestimate your influence on others.

Education is about the free exchange of ideas. The exchange part is where the sharing comes in. Without sharing, there is no exchange. At one time content was a commodity that was doled out for a price by institutions that housed the texts that contained the content. That is no longer the case. A combination of content on the Internet as well as the advance of social media and it is a whole new paradigm. Of course this only works if exchanges of information takes place.

If we are to benefit from the Internet as a profession or a society we need to feel an obligation to be more than takers. We need to be makers and exchangers as well. We need to keep the exchange alive by not counting on the few, but by involving the many. We need to believe in the premise of Share and Share alike.

I am still waiting for that guest post that I requested.

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People who know me understand that I have hot buttons that set me off when it comes to certain topics of education. That would actually encompass a huge number of topics including the rights of teachers. As I scanned the news channels last week, I came upon a story covering a teacher strike in one of the urban districts of the U.S. The reporter covering the event kept repeating and repeating a single line during his coverage that just set me off. “These teachers care more about their jobs than they do about the kids”.

What is it that enables people to vilify teachers for placing the security of their families before the demands of their job? Of course the security of a teacher’s family must come before the demands of the job. Doesn’t everyone value their family and want to insure their safety and security as a first consideration in life?

The fact is that here are many teachers who grapple with this very issue throughout their career. Teaching is a noble profession that does require sacrifice on the part of each educator to do right by his or her students. It is that self-sacrifice and “teacher’s guilt” that has enabled some districts to take advantage of teachers in regard to labor issues since the beginning of public education.

As a generalization most teachers do not market themselves well. They do not expound upon their accomplishments. They view that as flaunting one’s self, and that is frowned upon by teachers. They do not like it when any teacher publicly claims credit for accomplishments. They consider it as bragging or showboating. Most teachers are humbled by public recognition. By and large teachers do what they do, not just because the public expects it, but it is they who expect it of themselves. That is their strength and their weakness. It is that very feature in teachers that enables a reporter to repeatedly state: “These teachers care more about their jobs than they do about the kids”. That question tears at the teacher more than it resonates with the public.

People have been convinced that the American Education system is failing our country. Too often we try to simplify complicated issues. There are many, many reasons why our education system needs improvement. An objective analysis of the issues is warranted and should be done. Tax reformers, politicians, and business people looking to profit in an education market however often obscure that needed objectivity. To sell the snake oil, they simplify the problem, and target a simple solution, the teacher. It is a travesty that the very group that is maintaining the best of a system, which is in need of repair, while being maligned and even corrupted by the interference of non-educators, has come under attack. Teacher morale is the lowest it has ever been. Teachers are leaving the profession and youngsters are hesitant to enter it. This will only add to the problem.

Teachers need to take back the discussion of education that has been hijacked by so many non-educators. They need to shout out their accomplishments. Administrators need to lead, as well as call out the praises of their teachers. Superintendents need to claim their leadership positions in education to stand against mandates being imposed that are detrimental to education and educators. We must have our leaders connect and collaborate on the needs and solutions for education and not have them dictated to educators by non-educators who are unaware. Public Education is very much in jeopardy if left to the politicians and profiteers. Timidity is not a virtue in a modern educator.

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I was recently contacted by Barbara Madden, a Missouri educator with a Mississippi dialect, who is conducting a survey of educators, who use Twitter for Professional Development asking for some feedback. Barbara had been in contact with a college professor who wanted to know the effect of Twitter as PD and it’s effect on student outcomes. That really got me thinking about PD and Twitter. I have heard many, many educators claiming that Twitter is the best PD that they have ever had. Others have said they learned more from Twitter than any graduate, or undergraduate education course they have taken. I would have doubts about both of those statements, or at the least questions about our higher education system if that were true.

Education has always been an isolated profession that called out for collaboration, but it did not have an effective way to collaborate. Department meetings and faculty meetings potentially provided limited collaboration. Education conferences were slightly more collaborative, but educators really had to put themselves out there to find ways to collaborate with other educators in an effective way. Collaboration is a very personal way for an individual to learn. It requires trusting other individuals, which is not easy for many, but it is also, for many people, the best way to learn.

Social Media is simply a conduit for connections. These connections then lead to collaboration. It enables connections to be made globally with ease and in numbers never before possible. It is this ease and quantity of connectedness that fosters collaborative learning on subjects that interest the connected participants. When educators are connected to other educators the natural discussion is education.

The way I look at it is that educators discussing education force each other to think and reflect on what it is that they do in education. Educators are a reflective bunch as a profession. It is the resulting change from all of this collaboration and reflection that enables educators to view what they have been staring at for so long with a new lens.

In addition to viewing things differently, a new level of relevance is added with technological advances being shared. Technology changes so fast that few can keep up with all that is going on. Collectively however, and through the power of collaboration, things are shared, discussed, and experimented with. This is all done with the safety net of collaboration. Failure becomes an option because do-overs become possible. It’s not about how many times you are knocked down, but rather how many times people help you back up. That is what educators do with Twitter.

If we were to measure anything, we would need to know what educators were like before Twitter to evaluate how they interact, reflect and teach or administrate after the Twitter immersion.

Can we measure how an educator views education differently after experiencing collaborative learning as a professional tool? If that experience changes that educator’s outlook, relevance, and educational philosophy, does it change that person as an educator? In what way do we measure that? How do we measure that in regard to its effect on the students’ outcomes? If a teacher is employing different methods of teaching that he, or she has never used before, how do we gauge that as effective or not? If a teacher has gained a better sense of confidence in the classroom, how does that translate to positives for students? Giving teachers the confidence in knowing that there are no longer boundaries to the questions they may ask, or the people they may ask them from may not be measurable. Twitter is more about ideas than titles. In the area of education Administrators, Authors, Teachers, Students, and Parents are all equals on Twitter. Exchange of ideas and experience is the currency of that medium. How do we measure the effect of that on education?

There is now a new gap in education. In a system riddled with too many gaps, this is not good news. Technology and social media specifically have provided tools that enable educators to connect, communicate collaborate and create. That ability makes a difference in individuals. It enables reflection and relevance. It is also creating two groups of educators, the connected, and the unconnected. The discussions of the connected seem to be focused on the future and moving toward it. The discussions of the unconnected seem to be steeped in the past with little or very slow-moving forward movement.

I do not think of Twitter as a tool for providing Professional Development, but rather a tool that enables collaboration. That leads to a curiosity, or more, a love for learning that takes some learners further down the road that all educators should be travelling. By any measure that must be a positive result for educators, that will impact their students in a positive way as well.

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