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Archive for July, 2013

I am participating in the national plan to promote Connected Educators’ Month (CEM) for this year. I was very honored to even be asked to participate on this committee, because I am committed to collaborative learning for all educators. I believe that social media and technology afford our profession the best opportunity to date in order to connect educators for collaboration and exchanging ideas to develop and maintain relevance as professional educators. Technology offers our best tools to enable, promote, and practice life long learning, the very thing that educators hold up as the “Holy Grail” for their students. As I have pointed out in many posts, Life Long Learning should also be the personal goal of all educators, and ideally everyone else in our country as well, even if that reality may be unrealistic.

The leaders of this planning committee have their hands full, trying to orchestrate an effective plan with input coming from more than 30 individuals. Each of the committee members has his, or her own vision of what Connected Educators’ Month should look like. Each of the members has strong opinions, each has a strong personality, and each is a leader in his or her area of expertise. Trying to include everyone’s position in one plan will be a herculean task, but it is certainly doable through collaboration.

My position on the committee is simple. I want to connect the unconnected educator. There are far more unconnected than connected educators. We as a profession are not taking advantage of our best opportunity to date to collaborate and advance our education system for the benefit of our kids and our country. We are not participating in great enough numbers to discuss, collaborate and improve our system. Educators have left themselves out of that discussion allowing the void to be filled by business people and shortsighted politicians.

My fear is that we will place an emphasis on adding content for connected educators and miss out on actually connecting educators. It is my belief that by connecting more educators, we will be adding content by the added participation of more collaborating educators. Adding content for those already connected has a limited impact on the unconnected educators. Using social media to advertise connecting more educators does not target the unconnected. They are not on social media to be affected by the advertisement.

If we are to connect more educators, we need to ask those connected to do more. We need them to model their connections. We need them not only to share their sources with the unconnected, but also to cite how Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or a particular Ning site provided the source. We need administrators to recognize, establish and support the positive effects of connected collaboration. Our professional organizations can give up a few iPad sessions to make room for connected educator sessions. Any conference requiring nametags can certainly have a field for the educator’s Twitter name. Twitter names should also appear on any printed media where educator contact information appears. We need to prioritize the need and the ability for educators to connect. The path to collaboration and connected educators needs to be made easier and seemingly natural. We need to go where the unconnected educators can be found and that is not on connected venues. If we believe in collaboration of connected education for life long learning than we need to promote connections for our educators, who in turn will educate and hopefully connect our students.

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I attended a wonderful conference this week in the Greater Clark County School District in Indiana, which is just on the other side of the Ohio River from Louisville Kentucky. They have committed to a huge undertaking of providing a Chromebook to every teacher and every student. Needless to say, many of these teachers came to this conference with Chromebooks in hand to get whatever they could before school begins for them in a few short weeks.

In addition to me, Shelly Terrell, @ShellTerrell; Kyle Pace, @Kylepace; Nick Provenzano, @TheNerdyTeacher; and Tim Gwynn, @Tgwynn were all invited as guest speakers. The entire conference was conceived and executed by Brett Clark, @Mr_Brett_Clark and his staff.

This was the first time I attended a conference where the goal was to equip and train an entire staff with technology tools for learning. I know I have read about it, tweeted about it, and have even written about it, but I have never seen it happen for real until this conference. It was a great opportunity to examine the responses of the teachers in both their excitement and their fears concerning this systemic change in their district, as well as each teacher’s personal career.

As to be expected there were different reactions from the staff depending on their familiarity and comfort level with technology. Some teachers were eager to go, others not so much. I was told that a number of teachers had yet to even remove their Chromebook from the box that it came in, and they obviously were not in attendance at the conference. That does not make them bad teachers. It does however point to a greater problem where an education system has failed to prepare, and maintain its educators in terms of relevant methods and tools for learning in a technology driven culture.

Most of our educators are experts in education, as well as content, and as such, many have been conditioned through school and culture to believe that the teacher cannot make mistakes in front of students. That mindset strikes fear in the heart of every teacher who believes kids are digital natives and know more about technology than any adult, especially if they will be required to use technology to teach. The convergence of these two myths is the biggest obstacle to integration of technology in education. Many teachers are further discomforted in their belief that they must know everything about the technology and all its applications before they consider taking it into their classroom. In reality, that will NEVER happen with the frequency of change in technology and all applications.

Another very big consideration when we talk about integrating technology into education is the change in the learning dynamic for teachers, as well as students. It requires a commitment to life long learning which goes beyond just the words. It also requires a commitment to personalized education, which, if not enabled by technology, its ability and impact are certainly enhanced by it.

Technology drives change. Change requires that we are flexible, and adapt as we go, which promotes more change. This will continue whether or not some individuals participate in that change or not. Individuals who do not adapt and change should never be our educators. The constant in education should be the learning and not the status quo. If society is moving to change at a rapid pace, then we need to develop in our children the skills and abilities to change as well, and that requires the same abilities in the educators who are charged with teaching our children.

Before we can get educators to accept technology as a tool for learning, we may need to change the culture of education. We need to address the fears of the educators that restrict their abilities to teach with relevance. In assessing the effects of technology we need to first assess if it is being used properly. Equipping an entire district with Chromebooks, or Ipads does not insure proper use. Training, support, collaboration, and encouragement will take a district beyond the limits of just purchasing and handing out the tools. It does not bode well for technology to assess its impact on learning if it is not being properly used with students.

I commend Dr. Andrew Melin, @amelin_gcs, Superintendent of The Greater Clark County Schools, and my friend Brett Clark for embracing the learning tools of our century in order to prepare their students for their century yet to come. They are both bold and courageous in this effort, which requires great resolve. I would encourage them to remember that we can better educate our students if we better educate their educators. We should never hold up our past as our children’s model for their future.

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The most important component of a Personal Learning Network is the quality of the educators one follows. “Who is it that I should follow?” is a question that I am often asked by educators. It is the focus of educators every Friday on Twitter as the #FF hashtags fly. The “#FF” stands for “Follow Friday”. Each tweet often carries a list of educators who have shown value as an education tweeter to someone. To often these are groups of tweeters without an explanation as to who these people are, or what they specifically tweet about in education. People are asked to blindly accept another educator’s recommendation to follow someone. I would prefer individual recommendations to explain why that person should be followed. What is important to keep in mind however is that one can unfollow as easily as one follows anyone. No announcement of unfollowing is ever made.

I recently wrote a post about how unconnected we educators really are: Twitterati: Progressive EDU leaders or outliers?  I chose Twitter as the focus for connectedness since I have come to believe that Twitter is a backbone to many of the leading thought leaders in the connected world of educators. Apparently that view is not shared by a majority of educators. A leading National Educators organization used that post as a springboard to poll its members on the subject. They generously shared the results with me. The majority (55%) felt Twitter was not important to create professional learning. Specifically in regard to Twitter: 29% Not at all important, 26% Not very important, 21% Neutral, 12% somewhat important, 12% Very important. I guess I was hoping that people saw its value, but could not find the time to use it. Based on this unscientific poll, educators fail to see the value.

About five years ago I proposed an idea to gift administrators with a working Twitter account loaded with connected educators, so that they could see the value first hand without having to use time in creating an account as an excuse. That may have been a bit pushy, but I am a New Yorker born & bred. The idea raised a few hackles. Today, Twitter has enabled tweeters to create lists of their followers. Many create these lists to share with others, or just to organize their accounts. I have gone through the 2,400 people who I follow to create a list of the most valued follows I have. Since no one can pay full attention to 2,400 follows with any consistency, I concentrate on my stalwarts, the people I count on for the red meat in education. I have about 100 of them. These are my personal thought leaders in my Professional Learning network. They offer ideas, question me, praise me, and share endlessly.

If one understands Twitter, one understands that the quality of the PLN is directly tied to the quality, knowledge, understanding and sharing of the individuals followed. Following the right educators will be the difference between expanding and progressing as an educator, or seeing Twitter as a waste of time, therefore the follow choices are a key to success.

Twitter is a simple concept. If you follow ten people you will only get content from those ten. If they are limited in scope of your follows then your scope will be limited as well. Following a larger more diverse group gets you more opinions and diverse ideas. If I were to provide a new tweeter with my Stalwart list of educators that I count on for my education inspiration and clarity, that tweeter would see education as I do, and take from it whatever it is he or she needs. By following each individual on that list their Twitterstream would overflow with education content 24/7. They in turn will be exposed to more recommendations that might more align with their needs. In the spirit of connecting more educators, and witnessing to the world about the importance of being connected to educators for caring and sharing, improving and moving, I offer this list: My Twitter Stalwarts. Follow each of them and drop off who you will, and you will be more connected to education thought leaders. Similar lists can be found on the profiles of Tweeters from the Twitter app. When you find someone who offers tweets that you value, find out whom it is that they follow. Please share your lists with others as well. Please, if you do an #FF tweet offer some credentials for your recommendation. The only way for connectedness to benefit educators is if we are connected. The way for connectedness to work well is to be connected to people who have the best to offer and are committed to offering it.

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Most professions have professional journals that address the current methods and innovations of that profession. They are used as way to announce to the profession what is going on in that profession, what is working, and what is not. Traditionally, these have been printed media coming out on a periodic basis. Many of the periodicals of education may be received by subscription by anyone. My experience, as a teacher, leads me to believe that most classroom teachers do not personally subscribe to any of these Journals, but a few may subscribe to a journal specific to their subject area. I would hope that administrators would make up the largest group of subscribers for these periodicals, but receiving them does not guarantee reading them.

With the advent of a computer-driven, digital revolution, the influence of these journals may have been in some ways diminished. Most of the content in these journals is written for one-way communication. Often if there is opposition to an article, the earliest appearance of that opposition would come in the next edition of the journal, if at all.

Enter the Blog Post! A Blog, which is short for Weblog, is a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer, according to Merriam-Webster. In the hands of an educator it may serve as a window to the classroom. In the hands of an innovative, progressive educator it may be a glimpse of the future. The advantage of blogs over journals is that the reader may immediately interact with the writer for all to see, and additionally comment. Blogs are not just content consumption, but rather content interaction.

When a particular blog strikes a chord among educators it generates additional blogs supporting, or opposing the original reflection. None of this was possible in the print media at the speed and intensity generated by blogs. It is also my opinion that, seemingly, often times, journals favor credentials more than ideas. Authors of articles are usually not the classroom teachers, but Administrators or researchers. They certainly have an important role in this, but a classroom perspective goes a long way to promote change with educators. Blogs give voice to that much-needed classroom perspective.

With all this wonderful stuff going on with education blogs, where is the influence changing education? How have the thought-leaders in education led us from the brink with their blogging conversations? Why have educators not glimpsed the future of education through the lens of the education blogs?

Technology and a lack of connectedness might be one answer. Blogs are delivered through technology. Those educators who employ the use of technology as a professional tool for communication and collaboration do not need an explanation of the importance of blogs to education. I do question however, if those, who are “connected”, represent a large enough segment of the profession to affect a systemic change? There are many, many educators who are not accessing technology as a professional tool for learning and lacking exposure to education blogs.

I think as a society we all benefit by blogging. It enables us to feel the pulse of innovation and reflect on needed change. This is something that we need to communicate to our students to carry to whatever field of endeavor they choose to enter. Blogging will be in the world for which we are preparing them. We need to share blogs with colleagues even if we need to reduce it to the confines of print media; print it out for handing out. We need to engage bloggers on their ideas and question their assertions to either strengthen their resolve, or defeat faulty reasoning. Engaging people in blogs is a method of getting involved in a movement for change, and moving forward which has not been afforded us before. It is a way we can actually participate in a discussion that may have a lasting effect. For blogging to succeed, we need to support, question, reflect upon, contribute to, and advocate for blogs. Sharing may not be a moral imperative but for educators it should be a professional imperative.

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My youngest daughter just graduated high school in June. She has always been an outstanding student and, as her dad, I welcome the chance to recognize that publicly. One of the high points of one of the speeches given at her graduation ceremony caused a huge round of applause from the audience, which was gathered for the outdoor event. Ninety-Five percent of the graduating class of over 300 students had been accepted to institutions of higher learning. Why would the cheers not abound? This is the exact statistic that politicians, business people, parents, and educators are all calling for in every high school across our land. Percentage of college acceptances has become a component in the way we assess successful schools.

My concern is that if our goal is to educate our students to give them a path to college, how are we preparing those who do not go to college? If they failed on the pathway to college program, have we adequately prepared them for a life short of a college education? That applies not only to those who were not accepted to college, but a great number of those who were as well. Many of those students proud of their acceptance to college upon high school graduation will drop out after the first year. If we have only prepared them for college and that doesn’t work out what pathway do they now step to?

Overcoming the impediments to completing college may not even be within the student’s control. The same politicians demanding a higher rate of acceptance to college are placing impossible conditions on the ability to obtain the money to attend those colleges. The economy combined with the rising cost of education place that very goal of every high school that every student is forced to strive for, out of range financially. If acceptance to college is the goal we can do it. If completion of college is a goal, we need to do much more work. Even with completed degrees in America at an all time high, we only have 30% of Americans with Bachelors degrees. That would mean 70% of America was prepared for a path that they never took. What were they prepared for? Did we offer any alternative programs? What will happen to about 200 of my daughter’s classmates?

Educators may not be addressing the needs of the non-college path students not because they don’t care, but because one thing all educators have in common is at least one college degree. Educators were successful in the education system. They realize and understand the advantages of attaining a college degree, but they may not understand the needs and skills required by non-academics to survive and thrive in a culture that holds college in high regard, but only 30% of its population is able to attain it.

With a majority of our kids not completing college, shouldn’t we consider examining our programs and considering options to address this reality? Should we offer more vocational programs, internships, and apprenticeships? Would educators view this as meeting a need, or would they see it as short-selling their students? Are the views and prejudices of educators concerning the importance of advantages in attending college holding us back? Everyone deserves a chance to obtain a college education, but unless we make considerable changes in financing education, college degrees will continue to go to a minority of students. The preparation for college may not be the proper preparation for a majority of our students, who will never complete college. If college is not a realistically attainable goal, why is it such a great part in assessing schools? Can we continue to cater to 30% of our students without addressing the real needs of the majority?

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“Preparing kids for the Real World” is a phrase that many educators and schools use without regard for the consequence of what they selectively choose as reality for their students. Both educators and institutions in many cases are still choosing for students by educating them traditionally, or more progressively using technology tools for learning. This probably begins with educators’ misconception of the real world.

We cannot prepare kids for the Real World when we still have a 20th century view of it. We are over a dozen years into the 21st Century and some kids in the system have another dozen years before they need their real world experience to hit the streets. That would take us a quarter through the 21st century. How time flies.

Yes, one can be a good teacher without technology. I will not dispute that claim. I believe it to be true. That however deals with a method of teaching, and not what needs to be taught. It is the how versus the what. If one buys into the preparation for the real world argument, teachers methodology choice should take a back seat to  how kids learn and what kids need to learn.

First, I must say that the real world for kids does not begin when they graduate. They are living in the real world now. Their world is quite different from ours. Their world is even more technology driven than ours. Schools cannot be protective cocoons holding our youth until they are matured and educated well enough to spread out their wings and take on the reality of the world. It makes a nice picture, but the subject today is reality.

I remember how Math teachers at one time used the slide rule for calculations. It was even allowed to be used in class, and sometimes on tests. Calculators had a tougher battle getting into classes. Even today many teachers ban them from tests. I wonder if the math jobs in the real world ban the use of calculators? I wonder if students familiar with computer programs dealing with advanced math are disadvantaged in the job market?

When private companies tell us that employees today should be versed in collaboration and be willing to work in groups to fit into the models and structures of modern workspaces in today’s businesses, does that ring true with our students’ education experience? Do educators and schools understand the needs of business in order to prepare students for it in the real world?

When employers are seeking candidates for writing positions in business, will they interview candidates with pen and paper writing samples, or will they ask to see finished writing projects with style and flair produced for print quality? Mechanics having the ability to rebuild a ’58 Chevy may be in high demand in Cuba, but, in the real world that we must prepare our kids for, this is less desirable than a mechanic who knows how to address the automotive computer world of repairs.

We live in a technology-driven society. Unless we choose to live in a commune in the woods or the desert, that will not change. Technology has permeated every part of our lives. It takes one lightning strike on your house to learn that lesson. In addition to all phones and electronics, even your home heating unit and ice maker will have computer chips that will need to be replaced.

Education as much as any other industry has been deluged with technological tools for learning, communication, collaboration, and creation. These tools represent and are used with everything that we teach and hold dear. Some are good and some are not. Our choice as educators should be between the good and the bad, the useful and the frivolous, the productive and the time wasters. As educators we no longer get to choose whether or not we use technology. If our goals, as well as we as educators, are to be believed, and we truly are preparing our students for the real world, we must concede that that world abounds with technology and there are no other choices. We would be more than remiss in our obligation as educators if we chose not to employ technology where it fits. There are times when it may not.

Now the questions arise, are our teachers trained and supported in technology use. Are the buildings adequately tooled for technology? Are administrators devising new, and updating antiquated policies to meet the challenges of teaching with technology? If we are not doing these things, are we then lying to our children when we tell them that we are preparing them for their future?

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Rock Star is a term attributed not only to Rock and Roll luminaries, but also to anyone who is an exceptional standout in a profession or a skill area. One cannot claim Rock Star status. Usually, others proclaim it, for you. One needs to be recognized by others in order to attain Rock Star status. It is more fan recognition of accomplishment than any real certified proclamation.

Recently, there have been a number of posts dealing with this pop culture adoration of educators at national and local conferences. As long as I can remember we have always had such people at conferences without the Rock Star label, but certainly with all the attention that would accompany it. I remember one statewide conference where Guy Kawasaki was to speak and the line to get in formed an hour ahead of time for a standing room only crowd. That was pure star power. Back then books, magazines, and journals determined the who’s who of the profession, leaning toward the authors, who were tagged as the conference stars. Adding fans to their readership never hurt an author’s standing.

That was then and this is now. What is different? Social Media should be blaring in your head about now. Print media has far less of an impact on our society today, while Social Media however, is having a profound effect. The education thought leaders, who use social media as their conduit to transmit their ideas and opinions to followers, have no control over who or how many followers they have. The only control they have is over the ideas and opinions they put out. If the ideas and opinions are good the following grows.

The first time I encountered my own popularity in social media was when I did a session in an Edcamp in NYC.  I expressed to my session that I wished we had a few more people. A woman in the back in a sincere voice said that her friend wanted to come to my session, but I was too famous. At first I thought the woman was just making a joke, but she underscored her sincerity. Frankly, I did not get it, but that has never been my issue. I will generally talk with anyone.

I think we all have people we look up to in our profession. At one time we were limited to physical meetings but now with technology tools of collaboration we are exposed to many times more thought leaders than ever before. We can have several people to admire and look up to. Part of the fun at Education Conferences is to see these people in real life. This is just human nature. I am still impressed with most of the people I held in the highest regard when I started out in social media lo those many years ago.

Where things go awry is when followers look onto their Rock Stars as unapproachable. This is not good for anyone. Most of the rock stars are uncomfortable with that, and the followers miss an opportunity to talk and exchange ideas. Whenever I am called a Rock Star, I feel a deeper sense of responsibility. I feel I need to think more before I speak and have something meaningful to say while I am out in public at these conferences.

Of course the other extreme would be the people who want to fault the Rock Stars for having attitude problems, flawed ideas, no sense of humility, and a million other personality blemishes just to diminish their accomplishments.

This pattern of behavior is not going to go away, so let’s get it out there and deal with it. The term today is Rock Star. Next year it could be something else, but there will still be thought leaders and luminaries in the profession, and they will be called something. Some people will look up to them, and others may look for faults. I am just glad that we are in a profession where these people exist. They make us think, react, understand, collaborate, and learn.

I chose what I wanted to do as an educator, and as a user of social media. I have no choice in how people view me, or label me. I have grown to have fun with the recognition. I can also get somewhat of a feel for the social media influence on an education conference by people’s responses to me at the conference. I have several Education groups on LinkedIn, The Educator’s PLN, and #Edchat on Twitter. I also host The #Edchat Radio Show, as well as Blog on My Island View. On top of all of that I am a contributing Editor to SmartBlog on Education for SmartBrief. For this I am often recognized and thought of by some as a Rock Star. Yesterday I was introduced as the “Godfather of Twitter”. (Not my words) I am also thrilled when my wife, who is an education Tech executive, refers to me as her husband @tomwhitby. People get it. Most have a sense of humor. We can’t take ourselves too seriously, or we won’t have as much fun. It is time to get over it. I can say this because I am @tomwhitby Damn It!

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