Archive for August, 2013

Social media has had an effect on almost every aspect of life in America. Like it or not, use it or not, agree with it or not, social media has changed the way we live our lives in America no matter what the generation is in which we reside. There are some aspects of our culture that are affected more. Certainly News, Entertainment, and Advertising are areas that all would agree have most dramatically been changed with the social media intrusion on our culture. The speed at which that change took place was accelerated by the quick adoption of strategies by those industries to harness the power of social media to advance their respective industries.

Now let us consider the education industry. There are still educators saying things like: We need to prepare our students for the 21st Century.” Students graduating for the last two years began their education IN THE 21ST CENTURY! The time for preparation has long past over a decade ago.

Social Media is a large part of the 21st Century, which is our present. Of course to understand and utilize social media to our advantage as educators, we need to call upon our knowledge of digital literacy. It is the very digital literacy that all educators will be held responsible to teach under the common core. Of course for educators to teach digital literacy and administrators to assess lessons on digital literacy, we must assume that our educators are digitally literate. The last thing we need to improve education would be illiterate educators.

What does it mean to be digitally literate? Trusting the ever-controversial Wikipedia, a product itself of social media, we have this: Digital literacy is the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. It requires one “to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms”.

Understanding the use of technology and teaching it is one thing, using it to advance educators and education is a step further. The idea of connecting educators digitally for the purpose of curating and sharing information, collaborating with other educators, creating lessons and methods for teaching and learning, discussing and exploring mandates and political edicts in a transparent way are all strategies that engage technology in a meaningful way for education. The technology has made what was never before possible, a commonplace occurrence among connected educators.

What is resulting from all of this seems to be different types of educators. Those who are digitally literate and using that literacy to learn and share with other educators. These are the connected educators. Relevance is a primary concern. They don’t want to read about change, they want to lead it, or at least be involved with it. They write blogs and Tweet rather than email. Those educators, who are somewhat digitally literate, but choose to be strictly consumers of information through technology are semi-connected educators. They want to be relevant, but are content with reading about what is relevant. They may use that information in face-to-face discussions. They read blogs and they email. The unconnected educator is more in line with the 20th century model of teacher. Access to the Internet is limited for whatever reason. Relevance in the 21st century is not a concern. Whatever they need to know, someone will tell them. If they email anyone, they will follow it up with a phone call to make sure it was received.

These are the results of the effects of technology on educators that I have observed.

These are just my musings that you may agree with, or dismiss at will. I do however travel in big education circles, and I do engage, and observe educators regularly about education as a profession and as a passion. I think many of my observations are more accurate than not.

October is going to be Connected Educator Month, #CEM. This initiative is so important that it is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Department of Education. I would urge all educators to take advantage of the sources, which will be provided to connect. Being a connected educator does not happen in a day. It is a mindset. It becomes a great part of who you are as an educator. It enables you to hone in on your needs as a learner. I could not recommend anything else more strongly. If there is one thing that could best advance educators and education, it is teachers and administrators becoming connected educators.


Read Full Post »

Over the years, as I have discussed collaboration in education with thousands of educators, there is one sentiment, or opinion of collaboration that has popped up among some of these educators that I just don’t get. Many of these educators have expressed to me the opinion that collaborative teachers who share personal sources such as lesson plans, personal websites, or even blog posts are not humble enough. They feel as if sharing on the Internet is like bragging about being better than other educators. They consider it to be gloating. Publicizing personal achievements to appear superior to other educators. That whole mindset seems counter to the idea of collaboration. It actually seems counter to a philosophy of teaching and learning. Maybe that’s why I don’t get it, especially coming from educators.

The whole idea behind being a connected educator is for educators to share sources that will benefit learners. It would be very limiting if the only sources educators shared were those developed by others, but at least they would appear to be humble. Would people really consider educators to be more humble, if they didn’t mention their own accomplishments? I often wonder why teachers are supposed to be humble anyway. What makes being humble so virtuous? Could this be one reason for the reluctance on the part of so many educators to connect and collaborate?

Arrogant, privileged, brazen braggart that I am, I would like to share a part of my accomplishments that I am quite proud of and that could benefit educators who take advantage of my sharing. The #Edchat Radio Show produced by the BAM Radio Network is a weekly show for educators. It is produced in the form of 10 to 12 minute podcasts, so that educators can play it on any device in a form and length that enables educators to take full advantage of time and place.

On a recent family road trip to college my daughter asked me to play an episode of the #Edchat Radio show so she could better understand what it is that I do these days. It was any easy request to fill. I had all of the shows on a podcast app on my phone. I connected the phone to the car radio and I became the voice on the radio for the road trip.

The purpose of the show is to share with the audience what transpired in that week’s #Edchat. The 7 PM chat is the one most often covered on the show, since it is the most popular and more heavily attended. However, when the noon chat produces an interesting and lively topic that is covered as well. Each show contains a guest. Sometimes the guest is just a chatter involved in that specific chat, or an author, or an education thought leader. The #Edchat moderator team guests as well: Steve Anderson, Shelly Terrell, Jerry Blumengarten, Kyle Pace, Jerry Swiatek, and Mary Beth Hertz. The constants on each show would be the hosts, myself, and Nancy Blair.

I love working with Nancy. She is an experienced educator, and now an education consultant with expertise in Professional Development. She is the detail person that I am not. She keeps us focused and on target. Nancy tends to smooth out my rough edges with a great depth of knowledge on any given topic.

I should make it clear that this entire project does not benefit us in any way other than a satisfaction that we are sharing the community’s ideas from each chat. There is no money to be had here. The idea has always been to share the #Edchat collaboration in as many ways as possible. We had the #Edchat live, and the #Edchat Archives, the #Edchat Facebook Page, and now we have the #Edchat Radio Show. The complete list of #Edchat Radio Show podcasts is available on iTunes. They are free and yours for the download.

As we drove the highways headed for college, I was listening to the shows with a fresh ear. It had been months since I listened to many of them and I was now listening as a consumer and not a producer. Each show was lively and very informative. What interested me most was how much each of the guests contributed. We had and hopefully will continue to have some of the most informed and collaborative educators who continually contribute the best portions of each of the radio show podcasts.

Of course the best outcome from this family adventure was that my daughter could understand what it is that I do in the world of connected educators. A vast majority of teachers that I taught with for years have no clue what that is. We need to share more of what we as educators do in any form that reaches an audience. If we need to do it humbly, that’s okay. If we can do it with confidence and pride, I think that may be better. I am proud of what I do and I love sharing it. But then again I am an arrogant, privileged, brazen braggart and proud of it.

Read Full Post »

I think everyone has certain phrases, or catchwords that tend to set them off. Some of us, of the more passionate persuasion, have phrases that send us over the edge. I am not talking about the conference clichés like “that’s where the tire meets the road” or “Let’s not kick that can down the road” and the ever-popular “I wouldn’t give your troubles to a monkey on a rock’. I am talking about phrases that are couched in the comfort of country-speak to conceal the true intentions of what the phrase represents. I attended a wonderful Edcamp this week where I shared and learned a great deal, but I encountered the frequent use of two such expressions in more than a couple of sessions.

If you need an explanation of what an Edcamp is, I will make an assumption that you are not yet connected, or at best a newly connected educator. Edcamps started a few years back and have become a growing movement for educators to personalize their learning of their much-needed professional development. The existing models of PD provided by the education system over the last few centuries don’t seem to be providing the necessary elements for success for educators. A growing number of educators have designed a new form of PD called Edcamps. Edcamp sessions are discussions of what the participants find relevant. There is no pre-set schedule of approved sessions. People volunteer to lead discussions on topics chosen by the attendees. There are no vendor sessions. There are only educators. If a session is not meeting an attendees needs they are free to move on to another session.

These Edcamps are a direct result of connected educators efforts. They are organized, advertised, criticized and evangelized all through the means provided by social media as it is used and refined by educators to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create within their own profession. It enables individuals to adjust and refine their learning to meet their specific needs. Connections made at the Edcamps provide ongoing support and a perpetual flow of sources to arm educators with the means necessary for their own learning and that of their students.

Ironically, when this concept was presented to a group of administrators at an ISTE Conference a few years back, it was not warmly received as acceptable alternative to the existing outdated models. The seemingly preponderance of concern was the lack of CONTROL. Administrators had no control, over the learning either as a group or for individuals who have the ability to personalize their learning. It baffles me how we individualize our students’ learning with IEP’s, differentiation, and accommodations, but when it comes to educating educators we strive to control the learning, so the group gets its proper dose. It doesn’t matter that educators learn; it only matters that it can be demonstrated that it was taught and everyone was exposed to that teaching. It is but a check on an administrator’s list. How often do we talk about assessing PD? How often do we study the effect of educator learning on student learning in specific schools?  What support do schools supply to educators to share and collaborate what they do learn in the form of PD?

An amazingly large number of educators fully see the urgent need and agree that we need to drastically change the system. Get ready for me to go over the cliff at this point. Many say however “WE NEED TO TAKE BABY STEPS”. Why??? We are not babies. We are among the most educated group of people this country has to offer. We hold advanced degrees. We are proven thinkers and learners. Taking baby steps implies a lack of consideration, a lack of understanding, lack willingness, a lack of confidence, a lack of urgency, and most obvious to me is a lack in taking full responsibility for change. Taking baby steps to me means moving slowly enough to gauge the reactions of others. It goes to that “Teacher mentality” of “educators make no mistakes in public”. The fear of failure is often the thing that produces failure. It is a combination of all of this that has allowed the national discussion on education to be taken over by non-educators. The very baby steps educators are taking to move from a 19th century model of education to a model for educating kids for their future has made educators targets and not innovators. Educators are being held accountable only for the shortcomings and none of the successes. If our baby steps take us 100 years to move into the 21st century, we will need to start all over again in the 22nd.

“Comfort Level” is another over-the-edge term for me. It is the one phrase I find to be the biggest obstacle to reform. Learning is not always easy. It can be fun, and engaging, but for many it can be hard. Something that is hard to do is rarely comfortable. When I hear an educator say that there is something that is not in their comfort level, I think that they are saying “that is more than I am willing to learn because it’s hard for me”. That is not a comfort thing; that is a learning thing. We can’t have educators, the very people we need to learn and maintain relevance, not be willing to learn because they find it hard, and not comfortable.

Connected educators and Edcamps are bold steps, not baby steps. Being a connected educator is not always comfortable, because sometimes it’s hard. We need more bold steps to take us forward as uncomfortable as that may be. We need bold leaders to take us forward. We have no time for baby steps because we are not babies. We are thinking, learning, educated educators and sometimes that’s hard and uncomfortable. Uncomfortable however, should never be a roadblock. We need to take strides with confidence not baby steps.

Read Full Post »

 I have spent a great deal of time communicating the need for educators to connect, communicate and collaborate in order to improve our education system and learning in our computer-driven culture. Many educators have boarded that train, but many, many more are still waiting at the station for a train that is easier to board and more comfortable to ride.

Maybe my efforts and the efforts of many other educators and bloggers have targeted the wrong group to affect a change in our education system. Maybe instead of pushing educators into the fray, we should be supporting other groups that will eventually pull educators into a systematic change. Connectedness is not a condition that is only available for educators to benefit. If educators fail to see the benefit of connectedness in our education system, maybe another group could be targeted for modeling the positive effects of connected learning. Maybe the model of the educators being the leaders for the learners needs to be flipped. What would happen if the learners connected to model the benefits for the educators?

Many educators might say that is impossible, and even laughable to think that is even a possibility in our system. Educators decide the “What and How” of students’ learning in our system and that will never change. Educators have always led the way for the students. So it is written, and so it shall be done!

That foundation on which our education system has been based lo these many centuries seems now to be on shaky ground. I attended an education conference in the Bahamas where I attended sessions delivered by students on student connectedness, enhancing, and even directing student learning. It was an eye-opener for many educators in the audience. I saw a keynote speech at an education conference in Indiana delivered by an eleven-year-old on the advantages of connectedness for students. This kid achieved more as a connected learner than many in the educator-audience even were aware to be possible. Major education conferences are including more and more student sessions exploring the possibilities of student connectedness, connected learning, and choices students have in this technology-driven culture.

Many educators are fascinated by these types of sessions. Many educators view these sessions as something unique. Many educators consider these kids to be anomalies in a system of passive, compliant students. Many educators are oblivious to change as it is happening.

I am not a big believer of the digital native theory. Kids, however, are more open than their educators to learn with technology. They may not be learning with technology in their schools, but they are willing and able to explore and learn on their own. Students are unaware of the excuses of lack of time, or lack of a comfort level used by many of their educators. Kids have vast texting networks that are potential Personal Learning Networks. They are already connected in many ways. Taking that connectedness and applying some collaborative and networking methodology could yield great learning benefits in many cases. The potential of connected learning is but a few steps away for kids.

In many cases creating a collaborative community of learners among students might prove to be an easier and more successful task than the efforts already expended on the same concept for the educators. There is no need to convince kids of the uses of technology, because they get it. There is no need to teach them the bells and whistles of every application, because they learn what they need by trial and error without fear of making mistakes, or breaking something. As a target group to learn through connectedness, students offer far more potential than educators.

Once we have achieved the ultimate goal of connecting all students to develop their Personal Learning Networks, they will begin to direct their own learning beyond the limitations of their teachers. The walls of the classroom, or the location of the school building will not limit students.

Educators who wish to remain relevant will need to play catch up. Educators who wish to gain the same advances in learning as their students may accept the benefits of technology while abandoning the excuses of time and comfort. Educators will be dragged into the progressive education movement rather than being pushed. The idea of students being able to circumvent their educators in a successful pursuit of education may drive educators into a culture they should have embraced from the beginning. Enabling, and, modeling the use of technology, and its ability to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create should be a primary goal in education. Teaching the skill of how to learn outweighs the idea of memorizing what to learn.

Could this happen? Probably not tomorrow, but it might eventually. If educators do not strive to be relevant, the outcome will be irrelevance. Students will need to circumvent an irrelevant education system at that point. Technology can and will provide the means to do that. Relevance: If we do not use it we will lose it!

Read Full Post »

I am planning on attending an Edcamp for leadership next week, which has caused me to reflect upon my administrator/teacher experiences of the past. There was once a time in education, not too long ago, that all discussions about education were led and controlled by those who led and controlled the very schools in which education took place. Building, or district administrators could pretty much control the flow of education information based on their personal education philosophies, as well as their exposure to the latest education ideas and methodology available to them. What was relevant and what was status quo? What was progressive education philosophy, and what was fad or trend? We counted on administrators to lead the way in informing us. That was in fact part of why they were hired and held their positions, to direct the educators below them. That was all part of the system.

This would work very well, as long as the administrator stayed informed, relevant, and was opened to sharing with a faculty open to that direction. This of course was the shiny side of the coin. The other side offered an irrelevant administrator steeped in the past centuries of education and leading the faculty to make no waves in an atmosphere of status quo.

In my career I served under both types of administrators. I thrived under the relevant and struggled with the supporters of status quo. One constant in education however, is that the career lifespan of most administrators is usually short. They move on in order to move up, so waiting them out became the desired answer for the bad, and the dreaded end for the good.

The problem for educators was in not knowing what was good and what was bad. Getting to the outside world of education conferences and collaboration did not come easily to teachers. It was expensive and periodic. Teachers were needed in the classroom, which limited their conference availability. This strengthened the teacher reliance on administrator leadership. There was very little transparency as we have come to know and appreciate it today.

Social Media today has changed this dynamic. An idea in education may come from any educator, regardless of title. Ideas are considered on their own merit and not just by who put the idea forward. Of course it does help if thought leaders support an idea. The point is that the thought leaders are teachers as well as administrators, and authors. It is the open collaboration, and transparency of ideas that test their viability. Teachers and administrators can openly question and discuss things on a scale never before afforded to us. We are not limited to the successes and failures of our own buildings, but we can sample responses and results on a national or even global scale.

This places greater pressure on the leadership in education to maintain relevance if they are to lead educators who now have the ability at anytime to call on experts and question authority. Administrators need to better reflect on ideas and involve a more informed faculty in decision-making. They should also keep in mind that the same collaboration of education ideas works equally well in publicly sharing accomplishments and failures. We all need to strive to be better in order to create and maintain positive digital personas based on our accomplishments and positive interactions with other educators. Our world has become much more transparent and in many ways much more democratic. We need more educators exercising their participation in this process.

Read Full Post »

The latest big thing in education is getting educators connected. The Department of Education is even declaring the month of October as Connected Educators’ Month to place an emphasis on and using, information, sources, and recruitment as key components in supporting a goal of connecting educators.

What is a connected educator? As a generalization, defining anything for educators is always a task, since educators try to make all definitions as inclusive and complete as possible to account for any contingency. It is as if someone can point out an exception to the rule, the definition must be flawed. As a result some bloggers try to qualify definitions in order to accommodate skeptical, or questioning educators. With that in mind, this is my definition of a connected educator. If it does not suit you make up your own. For me a connected educator is one who uses technology and social media to personalize learning for both personal and professional growth.

Of course someone will step up and say that we can do that face-to-face so we don’t need technology. Of course that is true, and that is the way that it was for many thousands of years, but we are no longer living with the limitations of past centuries. With the advent of the printing press, the radio, the telephone, the television, the calculator, the computer, and now the Internet, we have tools to get beyond face-to-face limitations. We can connect globally or locally without concerns for time or space. We live in an anytime, anywhere communication culture. Why would any educator dealing with thinking and learning not use that to his or her advantage, or the advantage of his or her students?

The big picture in being a connected educator is the idea that you as the educator are first connected to the general flow of information, and then secondly, focused on specific connections to drill down to the detailed needs specific to you, or your students’ needs. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are all applications that may be used to connect educators. Like it or not however, Twitter is the backbone of a majority of Personal/Professional Learning Networks for educators. Educators have taken Twitter beyond its intended use, making it a professional tool for collaboration. Approving or disapproving of the application is like approving or disapproving of a hammer or screwdriver. You can hate them all you want, but try building a house without them. Being on Twitter and following 200 sharing educators is a general connection that will meet general needs, and promote great reflection on education. Your Twitter timeline will flow with education sources and information 24/7. Information and sources are simply there for the taking. Using that timeline to focus on educators in your area of expertise will render ideas and lessons beyond general education philosophy to meet specifics in your area of study. If you teach English focus on English teachers. If you teach second grade focus on second grade teachers. There are thousands of connected educators in your specific area of expertise willing to share with you. Your task is to find them and connect.

I referred to Twitter as the backbone of a PLN because it is a constant flow of education sources and connections. You can literally post a question on Twitter and get answers back in seconds, if properly executed to a developed network of educators. To get beyond Twitter educators need to locate and follow Blogs that are in line with their needs. More and more bloggers are becoming our educational thought leaders. The benefit of blogs is that you may interact with the blogger, as well as the ideas in any post. Educators may question, test, and reflect on any ideas put forth in a post.

Ning sites are communities of educators with like interests. Joining any of these communities gives access to Blogs, discussions, videos, and groups specific to the needs of that community of educators. Ning sites are a great source for expanding connections

Skype and Google hangouts allow educators to select individuals for specific face-to-face interactions. Educators may connect with authors, experts, speakers, or other educators for personal, or classroom interactions. These interactions may also be recorded in order to be shared later. Making these connections lasting connections should be your goal.

There are several hundred education Chats taking place on Twitter each and every day. Participation in these chats enables educators the ability to exchange, consider, reflect, modify and adopt ideas from educators around the world. These chats are a great place to find, and connect with other educators based on the acceptance of their ideas as opposed to their title. Follow the chat hashtags.

Of course the irony of this post is that if you are reading it, you are more than likely a connected educator. You are also more than likely already familiar with all that I have said. There is however a purpose in sharing these ideas with you. We need to take these ideas to share with your non-connected colleagues. As we increase the number of connected educators in our connected community, we are increasing our knowledge pool. In doing so, we are getting more educators focusing on their needs in education. An idea not shared is just a passing thought. As individual thinkers we may be good, but collectively we are better. Convince a colleague to connect and we all benefit.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: