Archive for September, 2013

There have been a great many comments and posts recently on both the successes and shortcomings of the BAMMY AWARDS. I was recognized at the ceremony as a Co-Founder of #Edchat and an innovator in education. There were some blatantly obvious mistakes made at that ceremony, but it should also be recognized that the entire event was set up to recognize and celebrate educators. I do not want to enter the fray on this, but I do need to take issue with one criticism that I have seen in a few posts that I think is off the mark.

If there is one subject I have consistently written about for years, it is the idea of what a modern connected educator is. If there is one thing we should strive for as connected educators, it is collaboration. It shares, questions, refines and improves ideas. Collectively, we are smarter than we are individually. Collaboration makes education more transparent. It enables educators to examine, and explore what is relevant in their profession. It highlights the best and exposes the worst in education. Connected educators are educators who engage in this collaboration with the tools of technology to efficiently maximize their collaboration in ways that were never before possible.

The Bammy Awards were set up to recognize and celebrate that very aspect of education, the successful collaboration of educators. Why then are educators criticizing the Bammys for recognizing connected educators?

Some blog posts were critical that this was a popularity contest with the most popular connected educators. If an educator is a successful collaborator in social media, he, or she will attract a following. That following however is based on the ideas that the educator shares, and not on who likes them personally. There are many educators who have social media accounts, but that does not make them connected educators. I have a list of over 200 superintendents on Twitter. Most have barely tweeted 100 times, and I suspect they were more for PR than for collaboration. They have followings as well, but that is not necessarily based on their collaboration and most are not substantial.

Many of the connected educators at the BAMMY AWARDS, which was probably less than 50 or 60, are educators who do more than just tweet for collaboration. Most of them Blog, some of them have written books, many have done webinars, speak at conferences, and conduct sessions at Edcamps. All of these actions are forms of collaboration, and the result will be a following of educators, who recognize and appreciate the value of each of the contributions of each of these individuals. These connected educators are going beyond what we have now come to expect from educators, doing exactly what we need them to do to improve our profession through collaboration. Why would anyone then question or criticize them for being too popular. Why would anyone want to discount the validation of these educators? The number of followers is the very measure that validates their efforts.

If we did not want educators to be recognized for their ideas and have people publicly stand behind them, we should not put any names on any work. If the rule is to be that we need to collaborate, but not be recognized for that collaboration, then we should all write and collaborate anonymously.  No names on books, posts, speeches or any work that is public collaboration.

Connected educators cannot control their “popularity”. This following or “Popularity” is a consequence of how their ideas are vetted and approved by other educators and in so doing, their names are recognized. This to me is a good thing. I can name the best people who can model what it is to be a connected educator based not just as my opinion, but one born out by other educators as well. It makes no sense to me to say that we need to recognize collaboration in education and then condemn connected educators for being successful for doing it. It is a fact in collaboration in social media that one measure of successful collaboration will be the “popularity”, or following of the collaborator.

We are each entitled to our own opinions on how we measure and value things. I am becoming more and more aware however, that the forms of measurement that we use for things may need to be adjusted, or even scraped, as we change the way we do things. I would offer that advice to both the organizers of the BAMMY AWARDS as well as their critics.

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At a recent education award ceremony, a prominent education leader being recognized began the acceptance speech by saying “I am not a techie”. At first I was a little upset, because these awards were for educators, and not technology educators. I had to catch myself and hold back my criticism, because I often use that same phrase with educators, but for a different reason. It is actually a symptom of a decades old and continuing discussion in education.

We are now living in a world that is technology-driven, requiring a minimum amount of digital literacy from anyone who hopes to function, if not thrive, in that world. Many educators do not feel that they are sufficiently versed in technology to adequately prepare their students for the world in which the students will live. Much of this is a result of the way technology has evolved in education. Technology was not integrated as a tool for learning from the start, but rather it was almost a mystical, or a magical thing that had its own department and staff, as well as specially trained teachers to work with it. In the beginning it was an add-on. It also started in the wealthier schools. Colleges were not adequately preparing pre-service teachers in the use or integration of tech. Some colleges struggle with the very same issues today. Technology and education were like trains on two spate lines of track.

Some tech blended in immediately with little resistance. When the first electronic four-function pocket calculators came out in the seventies, teachers could not buy them fast enough at a time when report card grades were due. The cost back then was about $100. The other quickly accepted tech was the word processor. This was probably because it closely resembled an accepted form of tech, the typewriter. The methodology in using a word processor is very different from a typewriter. I am willing to bet however, that there are still teachers requiring kids to do a rough draft, final draft, on paper in pen, and then to type that into the word processor.

Being an educator today requires that we be digitally literate. Beyond that we also need to have a basic understanding of these technology tools for learning. The ultimate plan for education is to have kids learn to intelligently communicate, critically think, collaborate and create in their world. The very tools that they will use today to do all of this are technological. The tools that they will use in their future will be even more advanced technology. Educators have a responsibility to deliver a relevant education to their students. That requires digital literacy.

I often had to debate some of my higher ed colleagues as I incorporated more and more technology into my education courses. Colleagues telling me that I was not teaching a technology course, but rather an education course often challenged me. I would insist that I was teaching an education course, and using technology tools for learning that the future educators in my class need to understand. However, in the minds of my colleagues technology and education were two separate entities.

If we are to accomplish the goal of educating our educators about digital literacy, we need to stop apologizing out of embarrassment for shortcomings. For an educator to say, “I am not a techie” and consider that ample reason not to use digital devices, or not to permit Internet access in a 21st Century classroom is depriving students of skills and sources that they will need for better understanding and a better ability to compete in their world.

That Award winning educator found herself in an auditorium of connected educators and made claim to not being a techie. She wrongly assumed that connected educators in that room were all techies. In fact although some were techies and some were geeks, most were just digitally literate educators; a goal that should be held by every educator who wants to be relevant and effective.

When I tell people I am not a techie, it is not because I fail to use technology as a tool. It is because at my age I learn about whatever it is that I need to know to stay relevant. I emphasize that digital literacy is not a generational thing; it is a learning thing. I am a life long learner and that requires digital literacy to maintain. Technology and education have merged in many ways. We cannot separate them out any longer. Educators should not need a degree in education and then another in Educational Technology in order to be a digitally literate educator.

Beyond the mindset we need to change the approach to professional development. We do not need to be teaching the bells and whistles of a technology application. We need to ask teachers what they are doing first, and then see if the introduction of an application will benefit that goal. Chances are good that it will. We need the Technology staff to understand pedagogy and methodology in order to incorporate technology into education more seamlessly.

We will not be effective as a profession of techies and teachers. We will succeed if we are all digitally literate educators. An illiterate educator is an ineffective educator. To better educate our children we need to better educate their educators.

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From time to time I am asked to answer interview questions for some organization, or upcoming conference, so that the interview can be shared with other educators. Many educators are asked to provide these videos as a common practice. It is not as timely, or spontaneous as SKYPE or a Google Hangout, but it is portable and controllable, so that makes it preferable too many people. They can edit and tie it into others and then send it out to their audience, or present it in a gala presentation for all to see.

Unfortunately, not every video interview makes it to the final production for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes only a snippet of a larger version makes it into the final production. For those of us who figured out how to make a video, and took the time to do so, it is always a little disappointing not to make it in the final production. My best takeaway is that I figured out how to use iMovie on my own to put it all together. Of course I should point out that this is but another connected learning benefit.

The organizers of The BAMMY AWARDS recently asked me to do such an interview tape. It was to be a rough-cut video that they would edit to professional status. It would include a quick introduction of myself, followed by my answers to three questions.

1 How has being a Connected Educator helped you in dealing with all the demands of an educator today?

2 Can you give a specific example of how being a Connected Educator has changed your practice?

3 What would you say to a non-Connected Educator to convince him/her of the value in being connected?

I pondered the questions, considered the creativity, checked out the App, found a relaxed setting, gathered costumes, screwed up my courage, and took the plunge. After a few starts and stops, I began to get the hang of it, and I was off on yet another thing that I was doing for the first time as a result of connected learning, and the support and encouragement from my social media colleagues. I even opened a YouTube account to house my production upon its conclusion. My 6 minute and 13 second production was uploaded to a predetermined file-sharing app, so that it could be edited by the BAMMY Staff before the big event.

I attended the Washington D.C. event awaiting the unveiling of the Connected Educator Production before the hundreds of educators in the audience. After all it was a red carpet, black tie affair, so I began to feel as if it was my personal premiere. The video came up on the big screen with the images of education thought leaders giving their answers to the very same questions that I had deftly dealt with. Of course they had no costume changes. That a little something extra that would most likely assure me the creativity award, if anyone were to give one. About three-quarters through the production, I was still on the edge of my seat knowing my digitized face should pop up at any second with pearls of wisdom cascading from my lips to the throngs of applause from the gathered crowd of educators. Then it happened. I did appear on the big screen. My heart stopped for about 10 seconds. Not that my heart stopped working for 10 seconds, but that was how long my appearance was in that very professional, and very impressive production – 10 seconds. My creative informative sage wisdom of 6 minutes and 13 seconds was edited down to about 10 seconds. The worst of it was that no one even knew I had three costume changes.

Of course I asked what happened of the folks in charge, and they had reasonable explanations for the cuts that they made and the pieces that they included. I had no recourse, but to accept my fate and go unrecognized for my video creation. That is when I realized I am a Connected Educator. I do not need an organization, producer, or publisher to share my ideas, works and accomplishments with other educators. I can count on myself to do that. I could also get it to a much greater audience with the added power of my Personal Learning Network and Social Media.

Without further ado, I would like to share with you, the very rough-cut version of “My Connected Educator Interview”. Please feel free to pass it along to friends and colleagues connected, or not. Please take special care to note the costume changes.

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It is most commonly known that the two things we should not open a discussion on at a friendly dinner party would be religion, or politics. These two topics stir up passions in people that may take some over the bounds set by acceptable civility at such gatherings. I have found myself a victim of this social imperative on a number of occasions. That is the price to be paid for being opinionated, and passionate about things.

Among educators, I would suggest that we add Awards and Lists to Religion and Politics as subjects that strike chords in people who cause them to cross over to the wild side. Whenever annual award presentations appear on the calendar the pro and con discussions begin. The merits and flaws of such ceremonies are debated in blog posts and tweets ad nauseam. Lines are drawn placing people on respective sides of what, at the time, seems like a very important issue. Actually, in the scheme of things that are of real important, it is actually a non-issue.

Often, a well-meaning effort to recognize the accomplishments of the few who stand up and stand out, are criticized or maligned to the point where people are discouraged from even suggesting to do such events. The irony is that those same critics of awards may also loudly complain about the lack of recognition for educators in the national discussion of education. I believe that any positive recognition any educators get, for whatever their accomplishments are, helps all educators. We might consider how that rising tide raises ALL boats here.

No criteria can be fair and all-encompassing for every educator in every category for whatever awards that are to be presented. Some deserving people will always be left off the winners’ list, and maybe not even nominated for a myriad of reasons. It is wrong however, to dismiss those who are nominated just because someone else may have been overlooked. (Interject here, if you will, the baby and the bath water analogy)

Lists of any kind are also big targets for many critics. I really do not like making lists of any kind. Some of this might be a result of the voluminous lists handed to me by my favorite list maker, my wife. Nevertheless, lists of things and people are a fact of life on social media. No matter how inclusive one is about the gathering of the list, someone or something is always left off. That is usually the first thing that critics will point to. Often they will name the very person, or thing left off the list that you are already kicking yourself about for leaving off. (Oh the sting of it)

Since we know lists of “Favorites”, or Top Ten, or “The Best Of” will always be with us, let us try to be less critical of the choices. We need to keep in mind that each person draws from a different pool of sources. Any particular list represents the best selection from that author’s pool of sources. Of course we all have better sources, so our choices would be similar, but different, and, of course in our eyes, much better. Don’t knock someone else’s list; just put out to the public your own list. Other people will judge any list’s value based on their specific needs. I both love, and hate lists.

In full disclosure I should tell you that I, and the entire #Edchat team are being considered for a BAMMY AWARD to be presented in Washington D.C. this weekend. We are being recognized for the impact #Edchat has had as an innovative tool for connected educators. The entire Black Tie, Red Carpet event honoring many, many educators will be live streamed. This is the 2nd annual Award Presentation to recognize Educators on a National stage.

If you are unfamiliar with #Edchat it is a weekly discussion of education topics held on Twitter twice each Tuesday. The #edchat Team of educators who make that happen each week includes: Shelly Terrell Sanchez @ShellTerrell, Steven Anderson, @web20classroom, Kyle Pace, @kylepace, Nancy Blair, @Blairteach, Jerry Blumengarten, @cybraryman1, Jerry Swiatek, @jswiatek, Mary Beth Hertz, @MBTeach, and Berni Wall, @rliberni. I hope I did not leave anyone off the list.

Whether we agree with the choices for the BAMMY AWARDS or not, it is wonderfully refreshing to see educators being held up in high esteem and honored instead of being vilified and torn down as has been the trend of late.

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One of my reasons for becoming active on Social Media was to engage people of influence in the discussion of education. I soon found out that there were several circles of influence that were driving the discussion, but educators had very little influence in any of those circles and Social Media had even less influence on them. Business people, politicians, and people were driving the education discussion interested in entering the education industry for profit. Educators, whether by choice or circumstance, were not involved in the very reform discussions that were affecting their profession. Although educators are educated and experienced in the area of education, education expertise was claimed and permitted for the most part by those without either.

Many of these people used Social Media to put out a one-way information campaign to support their ideas of reform. It was not a discussion of ideas, but rather a statement of position. Teachers were praised as they were targeted. The public education system was condemned as a failure and alternatives were presented as a better, and cheaper. Standardized testing became a goal in education and an annual Billion-dollar industry in short order.

Educators were openly discussing ways to improve education and continue to do so on Social Media. Twitter is a mainstay for exchanging sources and discussing ideas of educators to improve and expand teaching and learning. Few of the non-educator reformers were actively engaged in these exchanges. The power of Social Media has yet to be discovered or used by many. Recognition of the fact that many education bloggers, authors, speakers, and thought leaders engage in thoughtful discussion and reflection on education in social media is just not a reality.

It was in the face of all of this that I happened upon The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan tweeting on Twitter the other day. I was familiar with his tweeting pattern, since I have been following him for quite a while. I also follow his assistants and PR people. He and his team would often tweet out positive tweets about his initiatives. It was rarely an exchange with educators, but usually a one-way conversation. I was also aware that his follow list included politicians, business people and organization leaders, many referring to themselves as education reformers. He followed few, if any connected educators, which was very ironic, since we are entering the Connected Educator Month in October for the second year in a row. Here is how the exchange went:

arneduncan's avatar

Arne Duncan @arneduncan

  1. As a nation we’re still spending $7-9B each year on textbooks that are obsolete the day we buy them. Why?

tomwhitby's avatar
Tom Whitby @tomwhitby

@arneduncan If you need a list of great connected Educators to follow on Twitter, let me know. I can make it happen. #Edchat #CEM

arneduncan's avatar
Arne Duncan @arneduncan

@tomwhitby absolutely.

@arneduncan GREAT! First follow me,then follow this Comprehensive list of the Most Connected Educators. bit.ly/W818Tt #Edchat #CEM

@tomwhitby Done. Thanks for the suggestion Tom.

tomwhitby's avatar
Tom Whitby @tomwhitby

@arneduncan You are very welcome. 15-20 minutes a day on Twitter will give you the pulse of the connected educator community. #Edchat #CEM


The list I provided was a list of about 100+ connected educators that I exchange information with most often from among the 2,500 educators that I follow. Of course I have left off some educators who belong on that list, but that is a problem inherent with any made-up list.

The Secretary did as I had asked; He followed every educator and me on that list. He more than doubled his Follow list on Twitter. Educators immediately responded on Twitter in astonishment that The U.S. Secretary of Education was following them on Twitter. They were wondering why they were selected. Obviously, they were not following me, as closely as I was following them.

It was at this point that I began to see a problem. People were openly questioning whether or not Secretary Duncan was really going to engage educators. They were openly asking what they could DM the Secretary to affect the education discussion. They had expectations of the Secretary that they would not have of anyone else after just entering the culture of connected educators. They were already expecting too much. There is no tweet or comment that could so profoundly affect the education discussion to turn it all around making everyone hug and dance in jubilation.

To make this even more interesting some of The Secretary’s team tweeted me hoping that he hadn’t made a mistake connecting to educators who had a potential of haranguing him. I only hoped that I was right. I would hope that people would give The Secretary time to acclimate to the culture. He has not engaged with connected educators to any great extent and now he is connected to over 100 of the most active and most passionate. It could be the best effort yet to engage connected educators in the national discussion of education reform, or a disastrous conflagration. I am hopeful that the patience of these educators will allow Secretary Duncan to observe, enter and participate in the connected culture with the same respect offered to any other member of that community.

The connected educator List.

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I just finished an #Edchat that I left me with a feeling of not being able to add any authority to the discussion. For those unfamiliar, #Edchat is a weekly Twitter discussion on Education topics. This week’s discussion was based on this statement: There is a strong belief among some educators that poverty is the biggest factor in a failing education system.

It is difficult to have any discussion on this topic without people, including me, entering it with all of the biases built on myths and facts over the years. It is a mixture of biases not just of poverty, but race as well. It is not a comfortable place to be, since we are very aware of how incendiary these discussions can get with just a few poorly chosen words by well-intentioned people not thinking things through.

I am an average white guy who grew up on Long Island, New York in the 50’s in an all-white community that was designed to be just that, segregated. My college experience offered opposition to the Viet Nam War, and supported the Equal Rights Amendment in demonstrations that are now a part of history, and can now be only experienced through video clips on YouTube, or TV newscasts. I was a socially aware, late 60’s college student.

Nevertheless, I entered this Edchat discussion hoping to shed what little light I had on the subject of the huge effect that poverty has on today’s Education. To add to my total lack of credentials, I have never taught in a school that was considered to be in an impoverished community. In all honesty, when I devised this topic for the Edchat discussion, it was my hope that educators from poverty areas would join in to offer a credible voice on the subject.

It has been my experience that poverty comes in two large varieties, urban and suburban and they have both similarities and differences. Each community however, seems to have its own culture. How, and where education fits into that culture varies with every community. All are hindered by poverty and language barriers further hinder some. In a nation populated by immigrants, we are a host to many languages. If educators coming from English-speaking cultures to communities of non-English speaking students, that is a problem for education.

Many impoverished communities must deal with higher crime rates, as well as violence that are expressed with open gunfire. Communities are finding themselves under siege in many instances. How can Kids concerned about getting to school safely, making it through the school day there, and returning home safely, ever concentrate on learning?

The idea that the parents of poor students are sitting home all day without jobs is another myth. That prevents us from addressing poverty as a problem for education, and not as a bad result of some liberal social welfare programs. I was stunned to hear that the average age of fast food workers is 34 years of age. That tells me that people are trying to carry their families with jobs that are minimum wage dependent. How can anyone adequately support a family that way? It is however, the bulk of jobs that are available. Retail jobs, and service positions are also high on the occupation list for the poor. If most poor people are working, but not earning a living wage, that is another problem for education.

The very goal of what most educators strive for is that college education as the pot at the end of the rainbow. Educators see it as a way out for their students and can’t see why the kids drop out. If kids from poor families can hardly support the financial needs of a public school education, why would the goal of an over-priced college education be an incentive to graduate? The financial needs of the family often dictate the direction of the student’s need for education. That is another problem for education.

Research has shown us that nutrition and proper sleep are two components of a child’s home life that will determine his or her success in school. For a number of reasons, tied directly to poverty, this is rarely the case for students in poverty. This is yet another problem for education.

I have always supported the whole child approach to education expressed by ASCD:

Whole Child Tenets

Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.


Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.


Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.


Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.


Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.


All of these are necessary for a student to succeed in school. The first three of the five are a struggle for students in impoverished schools. That is a problem for education.

I do not disagree with the belief that the most important element in a student’s education is the teacher. The teacher however is not the only factor in a student’s education. There is no level playing field here. That is a problem for education.

Educators adhere to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains, but before schools in poverty can even get there, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a more-needed consideration. This is a problem for education.

I am the last person who should be talking about poverty, but I do feel confident in talking about education. As an educator it is obvious to me that unless we deal directly with the issue of poverty, we will never address the issue of education in any way to improve it. I have heard it said that if we factor out the schools in poverty, the U.S. education system is very good. A blind eye never works in the real world. If we don’t deal with the real issue we will continue with the real problems. This is the biggest problem faced by education. Nobody is pulling themselves up by their bootstraps in this world of poverty. That is a ridiculous expectation!


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