Archive for December, 2013

Of course the end of this year is about to slam us in the face with the fact that all of those well-intended resolutions, both personal and professional, for 2013 will no longer have the time to be fulfilled. Undoubtedly, we will feel really bad about it this year, because they were all great resolutions. As far as the professional resolutions go, many of the ideas may have come from connected colleagues and blogs, so they were very relevant as well, and specifically designed for 2013. Maybe there is a possibility that we can repackage a few for 2014.

Having an intention to do something is different from accomplishing that as a goal. Resolutions only require the intention to do it. If we want to increase the odds for success, we need to keep the resolution simple and limited. I am a big believer in the KISS method, (Keep It Simple Stupid). The intention of creating and implementing several new great ideas in the coming year may be more than most of us can handle. I would suggest that we resolve to design and implement ONE new thing in our world of influence. To accomplish more than that would be a bonus, but not necessary to complete our resolution list.

There are so many ideas that are flying around the connected educator hangouts, that selecting but one to act on should be a simple task. A difficult task to arrange would be to have everyone in the world jump as high as they could at the exact same time to see what effect gravity would produce as a result. That is a real challenge.

To ask every educator to select one new idea and implement it in the coming year pales in comparison to the mass jump. The total effect of such a singular accomplishment could take education closer to where it should be in addressing the real needs of students. The other consideration is that other educators often adopt successful, new ideas. The snowball-rolling-down-the-hill effect could result in that unattainable “Paradigm Shift” that we have heard so much about over the years.

In order for this to work, we need to make a selection for the right idea. That may require that we connect with other both connected and unconnected educators to find what new ideas have worked for them.

We can collaborate with other educators for specifics. We may need to connect our unconnected colleagues for help. We may want to keep up with Education Blogs for relevant posts because they are often the result of our thought leaders in education. We must be sure to connect our unconnected colleagues with those blogs as well. We can also access webinars that are becoming so prevalent on the Internet and share them as well. We can seek out education chats for relevant ideas for change.We can even take along an unconnected friend to a chat. Education communities on Ning sites are another great way to gain access to these new ideas. There may be a need to share those sites with the unconnected. If we are lucky enough to attend an education conference, we could access new ideas face-to-face with other educators. The digital Face-to-Face method would involve Skype, or Google hangouts. Both are easily shared with unconnected colleagues.

Once we determine the best new idea that we can embrace, understand, and implement, we need to put our energy into it. We need to commit. If it doesn’t work the first time through, we need to assess why, and make adjustments, and repeat as necessary. Once we have fulfilled our New Year’s resolution, we need to examine the process that got us there. If it worked successfully once, chances are it will work again. The best part is whom else we involved and benefitted in the process, even beyond our students. Happy New Year!

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Collaborative learning has always been with us. Educators have for ages shared ideas and methods with other educators that they came in contact with on a face-to-face basis. Most educators insist that face to face connections are their best connections. Unfortunately, for some educators, it is their only form of professional collaboration. Technology, however, has been a game changer in the area of collaboration. It has enabled at least hundreds of thousands, if not a million educators to connect in various ways to share and collaborate professionally, learning and growing in the process. This has become a growing movement recognized as connected educators. The U.S Department of Education has recognized and supported the movement for the last two years with Connected Educator Month. Although many are connected, a majority has yet to reap the benefits.

What has bothered me for several years now has been the lack of support by the State and National Education organizations for the connected educator. The conferences of these organizations do have some sessions on Personal Learning Networks and how to connect educators, but the need for more information on those topics always seems to exceed the supply of sessions at these conferences.

Two State conferences of ISTE affiliates that I am familiar with have gone out of their way for connected educator education. Both NYSCATE of New York, and ICE of Illinois have created booths and lounges to educate and connect educators on the advantages of being connected educators. NYSCATE even gave out mugs to those who connected to other educators on site.

The irony of this dilemma comes in the fact that all of the Education organizations are now very quick to develop hashtags for their conferences, in order to create a buzz, and branding for both the conference, and the organization among connected educators. They fail however, to support that connectedness at the conference itself.

Few programs offer Twitter handles of educators and speakers in their programs. Nametags do not contain contact info for connecting.

Friday night I put out a tweet that we should start a movement petitioning all education organizations to at least support connected education by including Twitter handles on Nametags at conferences. Educators are connected in many ways using a cadre of applications to do so. Twitter in my estimation has been in place the longest supporting and promoting connected educators in developing collaborative personal Learning Networks.

Three people who I respect and admire from my own PLN immediately jumped on the tweet pointing out that an endorsement of one application over all of the others might be unfair. I was surprised that anyone was even on Twitter late on a Friday night so close to the holidays. As educators I guess we strive to be fair to everyone even if that one is an application. Both Pintrest and FaceBook were mentioned as additional ways to connect, and we should not favor one over the other. I would add that LinkedIn and Plurk are also in the mix. There are any number of Social Media applications that afford educators the ability to connect.

I chose Twitter because it was the one application that has been used specifically for professional collaboration over the longest period of time, by the greatest number of professionals. I wanted organizations to be able, in a simple way, to support and promote connectedness with educators. My connected colleagues however do have a valid point. Maybe a better method would be to allow conference participants to place on their nametags their preferred method of connecting with the name of their choice. Educators should not have to ink in their own information. It needs to be recognized by organizations as a legitimate for of professionalism for educators. The unconnected educators need to be educated and convinced of the legitimacy of connectedness.

The larger picture here is to get these Education Organizations to support connected educators and not just use them. PLN’s will never take the place of conferences, just as computers will never take the place of educators. Our world is changing and to stay relevant we need to change as well. In the garden of ideas we must weed out the bad and fertilize the good, but we can never ignore the ideas that are popping up at a rate never before imagined. Collaborative, connected educators are making a difference and creating transparency in a system that before operated behind closed classroom doors. Sharing the good and shining a light on the bad benefits all educators and in turn all students. That deserves to be supported and promoted by our own professional organizations.


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On January 15, 2014 my Blog will be three years old. With this post included I have written 223 posts just for my blog. In addition, I have done several dozen guest posts for other blogs. On a week-to-week basis I strive to write something new about education, or at least a new take on an old subject, but there are some subjects that linger with very little change.

Social media’s influence in education is a great example of slow change under the influence social media itself on education. The acceptance of social media in our culture has allowed social media’s slow acceptance into our school system as a source of branding, collaboration, and communication. The idea of blanket banning of students and teachers from all social media, although, unbelievably, still existing in some less enlightened districts, has been a declining practice. There are far fewer posts about that narrowly considered practice. At least this is progress.

Technology’s acceptance in education however, seems to be a never-ending subject amongst bloggers. Many refer to the fear factor involved with educators and technology. I do not understand what there is to fear from technology. It is what we all depend on to drive our civilization at this point. It is part of our world, and will continue to be so into the future. Our kids will use it and rely on it more than we do, as we used it and relied on it more than our parents did.

There is no longer a choice as to whether or not educators should incorporate technology tools for learning into education. That boat has sailed, that train left the station, that genie is out of the bottle, and that horse got out of the barn. Time to close that barn door and get on with it.

If there is nothing to fear about technology, why are so many educators fearful of it? I have often read that there is a technophobia among some educators. Could it be a fear of being replaced by a computer? I doubt it, because educated adults, especially educators, should be able to recognize that as a myth perpetrated by science fiction. Computers cannot replace teachers, but they can make teachers more effective and efficient.

I think the real pushback on technology from educators comes not from fear, but rather a reluctance to give up time and effort to have to learn something else. Teaching is not an easy job to begin with. It requires not only subject or content knowledge, but education knowledge as well. It requires mastery of two areas and that comes with a price. It requires more than a specialized degree, but additionally, an ongoing struggle to stay relevant in a society that is undergoing continual change at an ever-increasing rapid pace. Learning about technology and how to incorporate it into learning specific to one’s class may be a bridge too far for many educators.

This dilemma, as pervasive as it seems to be, is not totally the fault of the educators. Many educators have taken to learning on their own. They have personalized their learning to address their needs, as well as the needs of their students. As educators we know that self-motivation in learning is not a common commodity. It also holds true for educators who are learners as well.

If our education system requires that our educators maintain their relevance through education than the system should have a responsibility to provide the support and security to do so in terms of time and access to learning. Professional Development needs to be more than an occasional workshop that can then be checked off of an Administrator’s list of things that need to be done for the year. PD must be prioritized and supported on an ongoing basis. It must be part of the workweek. In addition to providing access to new ideas, technology, and methodology, time must be afforded for educators to collaborate on what they have learned. Educators need time and support to put into practice what they need to learn.

In an ideal world every educator would pursue relevance on their own as life long learners. They would seek out the latest and greatest methods and technologies to enhance their teaching and all would benefit. All would be right with the world. Unfortunately for us, we do not live in that world. Educators are strapped for time and money as much as anyone else. Fear of learning something new is far less a factor than time or inclination to do so. If we want to incent people to learn more, we need to prioritize it with time and money. It always comes down to this.

Professional Development for educators for the most part has been left to the individual educators. The hours spent on PD are often mandated by the district, or state and described in teacher contracts, but the learning often comes at the expense of the educator. This is a model that does not work. We are a system obsessed with assessments, yet we fail to assess many of the things that would really make a difference. Try assessing the effectiveness of PD in a district. Is it making a difference to the entire system, or are only a few educators benefitting? If your system’s method of PD does not do what PD is supposed to do, than maybe you need to change the way you are doing it.

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From my introduction to Dan Pink through his book Drive I was amazed at how he could write a book about business that pertained so much to what educators do. It was not in the sense of how to create widgets, which is often a business approach to education, but rather what incents people to do what they do in the best way possible. It was more than just the best way to drive students, but the best way to drive educators to their highest potential as well. For that reason Dan has been recognized and engaged by national and international education organizations to address their memberships. I have listened to several of his keynotes with never a disappointment. In personal conversations I have found him to be a really nice guy. I sought him out at a recent trip to D.C. to ask him about his new book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others . I was hoping to find his latest book to be as educator-friendly as Drive.

1. You say that today, like it or not, we’re all salespeople.  Is that true even of teachers? 

On the first question, the answer is “yes.”  When you look at what white-collar actually do each day, it turns out they spend a huge portion of their time persuading, influencing, and convincing others.  It’s what I call “non-sales selling” or “moving” others. Money isn’t changing hands. The cash register isn’t ringing. And the transaction isn’t denominated in dollars, but in time, effort, attention, energy commitment and so on.

This is what teachers do much of their day. Think about, for instance, what a good algebra teacher does.  At the beginning of a term, students don’t know much about the subject.  But the teacher works to convince his or class to part with resources — time, attention, effort — and if they do, they will be better off when the term ends than they were when it began.  

2. You also say that sales has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous 100. How have the forces causing that change affected education?

The biggest change in the buyer-seller relationship.  One reason that selling has a bad rap because most of what we know about it arose in a world of information asymmetry — where the seller always had more information than they buyer and therefore could rip the buyer off. But today, information asymmetry is giving way to something at least close to information parity. That’s changed the game in ways we’ve scarcely recognized.  In conditions of information asymmetry, the operative principle is “buyer beware.” In a world of information parity, the operative principle is “seller beware.”

This has affected teaching in some interesting ways. One hundred and fifty years ago, we began to have schools in part because that’s where the information was and teachers were the mechanism by which students accessed that information.  Those conditions prevailed for a very long time. But now — thanks to the Internet, mobile phones, social media and so on — students have the same access to information that teachers do.    That means that a teacher’s job isn’t to transmit the information, but to equip students with ways to analyze the information, make sense of the information, evaluate the information.  What’s more, it has begun to change what happens inside the classroom itself as more teachers move to flipping the classroom — providing the lectures electronically and use class time for hands on work that computers can’t replicate.

3. What are the underlying principles of this new approach to selling — whether you’re selling your product, your idea, or yourself?

The result of the change I just described is that sellers — of anything — need a new set of skills. There is a rich body of research — in psychology, economics, linguistics, and cognitive science – that reveals some systematic ways to become more effective in moving others on a remade terrain of information parity.  The old ABC’s of sales were Always Be Closing. The new ABC’s of Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity. These three qualities are the platform for effectiveness. Attunement is perspective-taking. Can you get out of your own head and see another’s — a student’s, a colleague’s, a parent’s — perspective. Buoyancy is staying afloat in an ocean of rejection.  And clarity is helping students move from accessing information to curating it and from solving existing problems to identifying hidden problems.

4. On your concept of attunement, what is something a teacher can do to become more attuned with his or her students?

It’s important to understand at the outset why attunement matters so much.  All of us today have less coercive power. It’s tougher for bosses, teachers, parents, and so on simply to command something and expect compliance. The better approach is to understand another’s perspective in the hopes of finding common ground.

But that can be a challenge. One sturdy finding of the social science is feelings of power and acuity of perspective taking are inversely correlated. That is, feeling powerful tends to degrade our ability to take another’s perspective. This is important because teachers are often in a position of relative power with regard to their students. So being effective often requires beginning from a different position: Assume that you’re not the one with the power. This of it as persuasion jujitsu, where you enlist an apparent weakness as a strength. Start your encounters with the assumption that you’re in a position of lower power. That will help you see the student’s perspective more accurately, which, in turn, will help you move them. 

 5. What is one other tip teachers might glean from your book?

One of my favorites comes from a technique know as motivational interviewing. With this technique, you can deal with resistance by asking two seemingly irrational questions.  So imagine you’ve got a student that simply doesn’t do his homework. Instead of threatening him or punishing him or pleading with him, use the two-question strategy (which I learned from Yale psychologist Michael Pantalon).

The first question is this: “On scale of 1, with one meaning ‘not the least bit ready,” and 10 being ‘totally ready,” how ready are you to begin doing homework.

Chances are, he’ll pick an extremely low number — perhaps 1 or 2.  Suppose he answers, “I’m a 2.”

Then you deploy the second question: Why didn’t you choose a lower number?

The second question catches people off guard.  And the student now has to answer why he’s not a 1. “Well, he might say, if I did my homework, I might do a little better on tests.” “If I did my homework, I might learn a little more.” “I’m getting older and I know I’m going to have to become a little more responsible.”

In other words, he moves from defending his current behavior to articulating why, at some level, he wants to behave differently. Equally important, he begins to state his own autonomous, intrinsically motivated reasons for doing something. When people have their own reasons for doing something, they believe those reasons more deeply and adhere to them more strongly.

So on a scale of 1 to 10, how ready are you to use Pantalon’s technique? And why didn’t you choose a lower number?

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When it comes to an understanding of the term “literacy” most people understand it as the ability to read and write in an effort to communicate, understand and learn. That has been the accepted understanding of literacy for centuries. Of course with the advancement of technology in our world today that simple understanding of literacy has rapidly expanded. It has probably expanded so much, and so fast that most people have yet to grasp all of the new literacies that have come about in this technology-driven society in which we live. There is actually a growing list of new literacies.

The very tools that we used for centuries in support of literacy have disappeared under this wave of technology. The typewriter is no longer with us. Photographic cameras using film are becoming scarce. The print media itself no longer relies on huge printing presses. VCR’s, although state of the art at one time, are now DVR’s, even more state of the art. The world has been changed and continues to do so at a rate never before imagined. Technology continues to expand and catalogue all knowledge. The methods we use to access, curate, communicate, and analyze all of this information have undergone continuing change in the last few years.

We have come to recognize that technology has expanded our access to so much information, in so many different forms, that there is a need to recognize many other literacies beyond just reading and writing. In a technology-driven society being literate enough to only read and write may be enough for our kids to get by, but will they be able to compete, thrive, and succeed? Digital Literacy has blossomed with this digital age. It provides an understanding and ability to adapt and use digital tools to access, curate, communicate, and analyze information in this time of digital access. It also enables us to collaborate on a global scale. These are all necessary skills for success moving forward into the world that our kids will occupy.

Education has always taught literacy. Education’s function is to create a literate citizenry. In order to accomplish that, we have always used educators with credentials of proven literacy to educate our children.

That may not be the case today when one considers additional and necessary literacies that may or may not be being addressed in Higher Education, or in the professional development of existing educators. That is certainly true of digital literacy.

Does the hiring process of teachers and administrators call for a proven demonstration of digital literacy? Are schools directing and supporting professional development to address digital literacy for all of their educators. Are Administrators digitally literate enough to recognize a digitally literate educator during the hiring process? Does a school have a model of what skills a digitally literate educator should possess if not master?  Hopefully, those skills exceed the ability to do a Google search, or a Power Point demonstration. Even the CCSS recognizes the need for digital literacy and requires that it be demonstrated within the curriculum. Are all of our teachers prepared for that component?

A literate educator in the 20th Century is not the same as a literate educator in the 21st Century. Our education system is loaded with many 20th Century holdovers. Most are great people, and good teachers, but they are illiterate in 21st Century terms. We need not cast them aside. They are valuable and revered sources and educators. We need to support them with methods to upgrade their literacies. It must be a priority.

Additionally, we need to update our hiring procedures. We need to better define the educators we want. They need to be literate in every sense of the word. They need to possess multiple literacies in order to accommodate the needs of today’s learners, our kids. If we continue to support illiterate educators to teach our children, we can only expect our children to be illiterate as well. That is not properly preparing our kids for the world in which they will live.

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I have been involved with Education chats on Twitter from the beginning. I am a cofounder of #Edchat, so over the years I have gotten to know my way around chats. I delight in the fact that there is now a huge list of chats educators may participate in. The weekly chat list abounds with a variety of areas in education that would interest educators from almost any area of expertise. The best part about Chats is that if nothing is meeting your need, you may start your own chat to address it. Here is the current Schedule for the Weekly Chat List.

Every week #edchat offers up five education Topics to choose from on a poll open to all. The Top vote getter is the 7 PM topic, and the second top vote getter is the Noon Chat Topic. Each week however, I need to come up with five new topics that we have not yet discussed in the last six months. It is a chore. One method I use to come up with #Edchat Topics is to bounce into other education chats to see their topics of concern. Often times I just lurk, or I might interject a provocative question on the Topic to stir things up a bit. On occasion I find myself engaging in the discussion, pulled in by someone else’s provocative comment.

Yesterday, I found a chat that intrigued me, and a tweet from an educator that grabbed me, so I bounced in. The Topic was on student voice and students having more of a say in the decisions about their own learning. This is a very relevant topic in education today. What drew me in was an educator’s tweet:

I dont get overly excited about student control bc theyre still kids. They arent capable of knowing whats best. As a long time educator I recognize this to be partially true, and maybe someone needed to say it, but it is also a condition that we as educators have created in the system that may be in need of change. If we continue to say kids are incapable of knowing what’s best, and do not address it, does that condition immediately and completely change on its own when kids become 18? Although I attempted to engage this educator in a dialogue on this topic, the response was that it was a scary thought and barely a consideration because it was a ridiculous idea. With that response I knew I had nowhere to go, so I left the discussion. If it were an #Edchat I probably would have taken it on, but I am a believer in the idea that there is a 10 percent mark of people who do not change their minds regardless of the facts. This educator had all the symptoms.

This set me to thinking down two paths of thought. First, Why do educators, who are set in their ways, and unwilling to open up to a different perspective, engage in chats. It is good to have opposition to ideas. That opposition both tests and strengthens new ideas. It forces compromise or it debunks ideas that have no real foundation. The idea of the chats is to explore the options, and be open to alternatives. If everything worked, as everything should, there would be no need for chats. Let us recognize that change is inevitable in everything, and that it is better for us to control that change than to have that change control us.

The idea of these chats is to explore what we do, and see if we can do better. The idea of collaborative chats is that the participants are varied and many. This offers us a range of experiences gathered for a chat that could never before been done virtually. It is in the sharing of these varied experiences that we may glean the best of the best and root out that which is not working. For any of this to work however, we do need to come to the chat with an open mind willing to explore change.

Of course the more important take away for me from this engagement was that there are still educators out there who believe kids incapable of making decisions that affect their lives. Of course, if we program kids to believe only adults may determine what kids should learn and how they should learn it, we are not creating or even encouraging life long learning. We need to begin programming kids to make decisions from an early age. We as educators need to instruct, mentor, and guide decision-making in students until they can take it on fully on their own. Their decisions need to be real with all the rewards and all the consequences. The decisions need to be gradually upgraded and age appropriate, but by high school our students should be making academic decisions for overall courses as well as in class decisions. We as educators need to get from teacher centric lessons to student centric lessons giving weight to the decisions kids make.

Left to that educator that I encountered in that chat, kids would never make a decision because they are not mature enough to do so. The irony is that we demand mature behavior from kids every day, but we do not credit them capable of mature decision-making, because we rob them of that ability. Decision-making is a learned skill like any other and it is a life skill, yet we limit our children’s ability to make them even in the areas that affect them almost every day. We limit their decisions and turn them out into a society that demands decisions on a daily basis. Who benefits by this process?


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