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Archive for December, 2014

Anyone who is familiar with what I write about should recognize that I stress the importance of relevance as educators in order to teach in an ever-changing, rapidly paced, computer-driven society. That message goes across well with most connected educators for they seem to be the educators who are more comfortable with the tools to make all that happen. They are the educators who view tools of technology as the very tools that generations will be using for collaboration, curation, communication and creation. However they are not the educators that I need to reach with my message. The folks I want to get to with my ideas are the unconnected, those who do not maintain a presence in the connected world of educators. These are folks who would not have access to my blog let alone care to even read it.

To have my message at least viewed by as many different educators as possible, I tend to do guest posts for many education organizations. Edutopia is a great organization that I have been associated with for about a year now and I am proud and honored to have my ideas expressed on that platform. One thing that many organizations do to guest posts is to re-title them to fit that organization’s style. They have every right to do so, and I do not object to that. This sometimes works well and other times not so much. A lesson I learned early on in blogging was that if you want to make a point about Education Technology, never put it in the title of the post. The term “EdTech” is a red light for many educators. It is better to have a non-threatening title and mention it after the first paragraph or two has already sucked them in. NEVER tell them that you are going to talk about EdTech. Somehow that has become a threatening term to many educators.

The construction industry seems to have learned this lesson years ago. They stayed away from Techy titles for the development of their tools. They had: The electric saw, the Power drill, the hydraulic hammer, and the automatic screwdriver. There seems to have been less intimidation in those names. It was a simple adjective in front of a familiar noun. Their labor force saw the benefits of the advanced tools for construction and embraced them. They became more efficient and effective in their jobs.

If the goal of education is to teach kids skills to effectively and efficiently collaborate, curate, communicate, and create with the tools that they will be required to use in their time, then educators will need to, if not embrace, at least accept the need to understand and use these tools of technology today. If the term EdTech gets in the way, let’s eliminate it. We have educators who hear about EdTech conferences and they refuse to consider attending them. Their impression is that EdTech conferences are for Computer teachers.

Education is about using skills and information to create knowledge. The tools required to do that are not stagnant. They are continuously evolving and they are the very tools that teachers need to use to provide a relevant education to their students. It is about education, that is the big picture. Technology is only a component, but it is necessary to maintain relevance in a computer-driven society.

I remember a keynote speech from an upstate New York Superintendent. He explained that a local manufacturer visited him one day to talk about why he could not hire local graduates in his factory. The manufacturer explained to this Superintendent that he could not even hire lathe operators from the graduating class because they were not prepared. He invited the Superintendent to visit his factory to see things for himself. In preparation for his visit the superintendent stopped into the “Shop classes” to make sure that his students were indeed being prepared to use lathes. The teacher took him to the lathe area and had students demonstrate their skills as they stood next to and operated the lathe. Satisfied with what he saw and armed with this information the superintendent headed off for his visit to the factory. Upon his arrival he informed the manufacturer that his students were being well versed in the use of the lathe.

It was then that the manufacturer took the superintendent to the lathe area in the factory. It was a control room with dials lights and gauges. Within that sealed room was a young girl in a white lab coat; she was the lathe operator. Both the Superintendent and the teacher had lost their view of what was relevant for a lathe operator.

We need our educators to be better prepared for what the needs of students will be. If we need to drop off the term EdTech for this to happen than so be it. Terms should not get in the way, but they do. We need to be better communicators if we are to maintain any relevance in a profession that demands it to prepare kids for what they will need.

Here is my reminiscence of education originally titled: A Baby Boomer’s View of Education. The re-title is The Longer View: Edtech and 21st-Century Education. Which of the two titles would be more inviting to an unconnected educator?

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I watched a Ted-Talk recently where the speaker addressed innovation in education. The focus of the talk was on a proposed solution to the problems in education. It boiled down to a lack of innovation in education. The speaker correctly pointed out that classrooms in the US have not substantially changed in a century. In talks that I have done, I often make the same point. I show a slide of an operating room from the early 1950’s and then a slide of one in this Century. The changes are breathtaking. In comparison I then show a slide of a 19th century classroom followed by a typical classroom today. In the latter slide the desks lack inkwells, but the rows, as well as most of the surroundings remain the same. The impact of those pictures causes laughter from educators, which seemed to come from recognition, embarrassment, nervousness, frustration and resignation that this indefensible condition is not changing any time soon.
The Ted-Talk speaker went on to suggest that a solution would be to bring into the education system more individuals with less of an education background to present and introduce more innovation. She also pointed to what she referred to as the successes of Teach for America in doing just that. Of course the successes and failures of Teach for America would be the stuff of another post, so I will not enter that quagmire here. My objection to the speaker’s position is that we need not bring in outside innovators to the education system in order to insure innovation. Educators are among the smartest and most educated people in America. Many educators are natural innovators. The success of many educators is a direct result of their innovation in the classroom. It is not for lack of innovators that the system has not sufficiently evolved over the Centuries to adjust and remain relevant; it is the system itself that limits change.
As I speak to many new teachers around the country about their teacher preparation, I am struck by how underprepared many of these kids were when they were sent out to seek employment. It almost seems that the plan is to teach the same basic pedagogy and methodology to be used within a walled classroom that has been employed over the centuries. The hope seems to be that when the student gets a job, his/her employer will mold them into master teachers. To an extent that is true, because the culture of any school or district has a great influence over the development of a young teacher. Schools with effective mentorship programs have a very positive effect.
Often however, those school cultures are steeped in traditions. The long-standing position is usually: this is the way we have always done it, so we will continue to do so. I have seen many pre-service teachers held back from implementing new proven innovative lessons just because it had never been done in that school before and people feared possible consequences. That is not a culture open to any innovator. Compliance is also a big part of many school cultures. Students must be compliant to the teacher, and teachers must be compliant to the administrators, and the head administrator must be compliant to the board. So it is written, and so it shall be done! This is hardly an atmosphere for any innovation to be successful wherever the innovator comes from.
In the history of charter schools they were supposed to be incubators for innovation. The reason charters were exempt from so many mandates, rules, and requirements was to allow innovation to flourish. Of course innovation takes time and time is money, so given the choice between profits or innovation the bottom line must produce a profit. It is just business. So much for Charter school innovation.
Teachers themselves are not blameless in this system of stagnation. Too many are comfortable with what they are doing and how they are doing it. Innovation requires people to leave their areas of comfort. Many hold to these comfort zones even at the expense of the education of their students. If the ways of old were good enough for the teacher, they should be good enough for the student. The focus of teaching kids to live in their world moving forward to their future is lost to accommodate teachers comfortable with their own past. No, this is not true of all teachers, but it should not be the position of any teacher or administrator.
Now we come to standardization. That in itself suggests that innovation has little place in a system that is trying to get everyone on the same page. Of course innovation can address that and it would probably help educators reach their goals more effectively and efficiently if it were supported. The standardized tests however that are a mandated result of standardization are used to force teachers to comply with the tried and true methods of test preparation at the expense of time for any innovation. To insure that teachers adhere to the testing priorities, someone decided to tie teacher evaluations to student performance on standardized tests. That “advance in education” was not innovation’s finest hour. Again, this is yet another counter-productive move in support of innovation in education.
When it comes to innovation in education, there are many educators who have great ideas that could effectively change the “what” and “how” of learning. Many teachers are well aware of the myths of education that are so blindly believed and supported by non-educators, as well as those in control of the system. To effectively innovate in an antiquated system, we do not need outside innovators, but rather our own educated innovative educators to enter the discussion of education. We need a system that not only asks for innovation, but one that welcomes and supports it. We must change the culture before we change the system or it will not matter whom we go to in order to find innovation for relevant education.

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 “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.” St. Jerome

After years of teaching in many buildings and several districts, I have acquired a number of observations on how teachers view and rate administrators. Of course everyone’s view is skewed by each person’s idea of how an administrator is supposed to provide leadership, as well as what amount of an administrator’s job should be administration and how much should be education. It has been my experience that more often than not an administrator’s worth is judged on faculty morale and school discipline within a building, or a district in the case of superintendents. Lack of student discipline and low faculty morale are too often indicators of poor leadership. These symptoms tend to expose the obvious poor leaders, who hopefully are not a large part of the system.

In my opinion the bigger issue is less obvious, how should we differentiate and improve between successful levels of school leadership? What are the differences between good, better, and best? Assuming the poor leaders stand out, how do we get good leaders to be better, and the better to be the best?

Getting educators to agree on generalities is not difficult, but getting them to agree on specifics is often a difficult, if not an impossible task. Most educators are thoughtful, reflective, and fair-minded when it comes to evaluating people, even administrators, since evaluation is part of their job when it comes to kids. Teachers often give administrators a wide berth either because they are kind and non-critical of authority, or compliant. Maybe more honest feedback to administrators from their staffs would affect a more positive change in the system.

School Culture is probably one of the greatest influences on the learning that takes place in any school. It is that institution’s attitude toward learning and respect for its learners. A good admin will recognize this, as well as the fact that it has the potential for coming from the bottom up as much as from the top down. A better admin will not only recognize this, but will use that culture in branding the school to the outside world. Not only is it important for a school to do a good job, it is also important for an admin to tell everyone about it. The best admins not only recognize the culture and use it in a positive form of marketing; they will feed into and nurture that culture to maximize its positive effect on staff and students alike. This then carries over to the parents involving the entire community in learning and supporting the education community.

Observations are rarely comfortable for teachers and too often a time-consuming necessity for administrators. A good admin will use it as a tool for improvement, and not a club to intimidate teachers. A fair assessment of pre-determined objectives during a lesson is a mark of a good administrator. To pay attention to pre and post conference meetings to set goals and offer constructive feedback is a higher-level observation is the mark of a better admin. Of course the more collaborative the observations, as well as using lead teachers as models, or exemplars the more comfortable teachers become with the process. They feel as if they are part of the process instead of being a target of it. Thoughtfully sharing teacher successes with the faculty is often the mark of a great administrator. This enables the admin to nurture support and improve the performance of the staff.

Of course there is the idea that the head of any school system or building should also be the “Lead Learner”. With all that is required of modern administrators and the drain on their time, this part of the job is often overlooked. Any admin should recognize the need for at least one lead learner in a building, an individual with insights into the workings of relevant teaching and learning. They recognize the need for someone who the staff can go to for modeling the latest and greatest in the profession. The better admins are those people who are the go to people for how to approach learning in relevant ways. Of course the best admins are not only lead learners, but they take every opportunity available, as well, as to create opportunities to share and collaborate on learning with the staff. They model their approach to learning every day. They innovate ways to involve and lead their staff in teaching and learning.

Relevance is another very important measurement in being an effective administrator. Most administrators are products of a 20th Century education. Too often many administrators base their education philosophies on their college training, which is usually steeped in 20th Century methodology. That works well if the school itself has a staff that employs 20th Century methods. The problem arises when we consider that we are teaching over a decade into the 21st Century. 21st Century learning uses different tools, and different methodologies from that of the 20th Century and it is the 21st Century and beyond that we are preparing our students to live in. Using 20th century measurements to assess 21st Century teaching and learning may not be the best way to assess how much learning is going on in any given school.

Relevance has become a key issue in education today. In a computer-driven society change is constant and rapid. To keep up with change and maintain relevance Administrators along with all other educators need to expose themselves to the latest theories and methods within the profession of education. Of course the poorest of Administrators will stand out like dinosaurs holding on to centuries past in education, but lets get to the rest. The good admins recognize rapid change and support technology, and recognize that things must change from the 20th Century. Better admins are reading and sharing Blog posts, supplying relevant PD to support the technology brought into the building. The best however, are not only connected educators, they Blog, provide time for teachers to collaborate, plan for the tech in their building with ongoing PD and coaching, model the use of technology in their interaction with staff and students. They are immersed in 21st Century learning and all that it involves: collaboration, communication, curation, creation, critical thinking, reflection, authentic learning, problem-based learning, and project-based learning. The very best lead their staff by providing more sources and opportunities to connect, reflect, and collaborate further.

Being an administrator today is a most difficult job. It would be highly unusual for any administrator to have all of the best attributes, but it does serve well as a goal for which they should strive. Why not reflect on what we do, and how we do it. If we are good let’s strive for better. If we are better let’s fight on to be the best. It doesn’t have to be all at once. Let’s do it one category at a time. Motivating others is an important skill for a successful administrator, but the best administrators are self-motivators as well. But then again, what do I know; I am but a retired English teacher?

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