Archive for February, 2015

I often wonder how we can get an accurate picture of what and how educators are teaching today. We have more, and better technology than we have ever had to record and analyze data, and yet we still do not have a clue as to what is really going on in the average classroom. The pictures that we get, or the stories that are told, seem to focus on the best and the worst. Too often superintendents spin the best, and the media spins the worst. We need to remind ourselves that any story about what is going on in education is just a snapshot that is representing a very tiny portion of the big picture.

There are too many education leaders who when talking about their schools tend to focus on the best and most innovative representations their schools have to offer. Intentional or not, this creates an impression on their audience that the entire school is filled with the best and most innovative educators. That may actually be true in some instances, but my guess would be that it is a very much smaller number than such stellar tales would lead us to believe.

Of course the idea is to offer real life examples that can be used as models for exemplary teaching. I get that, but too often these stories create an impression that these models are typical, rather than exceptional. I too am guilty of putting a positive spin on the effects of such things as technology in education, student voice, student-centered learning, self-directed PD, connected learning, and open source access. I recommend blog posts that model not only the benefits of these methodologies, but give shining examples being used today in classrooms, as if that is the norm. The fact is that the very reason these are highlighted is because they are exceptional and not the norm. It is important that these stories are shared as examples and models, but I truly believe that we need to maintain our perspective as to where they fit in the bigger picture of education.

In our latest desire for innovative education, many educators are sharing their best and most innovative lessons with their principals. The principals in turn share their best and most innovative teacher stories with their superintendent. The superintendent then takes the best of the best from all of those stories to share with the public in order to create that positive vibe for the district that everyone loves. This is good PR.

The PR process however may be creating a picture of education that is not easily lived up to. People walking into a school on any given day may be expecting great innovative, tech-supported lessons in every class only to be greeted by sit and get lectures with all kids seated in rows and quietly taking notes.

Whenever I entered a school to observe a student teacher from our teacher preparation program, I would try to walk through the school to observe at a glance what other classes were doing under the guidance of veteran teachers. It was a cursory observation at best, but there were observable differences.

My students would often have me observe them doing a student-centered lesson that usually involved group work and technology. Of course they knew what my preferences were and they believed in “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”. I was not tyrannical, but I was partial to innovative lessons. I was rarely disappointed in what they did, or attempted to do. In my walk around however, I was too often struck by the fact that, I observed a majority (not all) of the teachers relying on sit and get methods with kids sitting complacently in rows.

Now we have entered into an era of Do It Yourself PD. As much as many educators talk about connectedness and all of its benefits, I see very little evidence that supports connected learning is being adopted on any large-scale by educators. Judging from books, articles, speeches and posts, educators should be in a constant state of collaboration on a global scale. Again, we are creating a complete picture of education PD that is based on a few snapshots, rather than an accurate, realistic view of what is. We do need to tell stories and model where we should be going, but we can’t give the impression that we have already achieved that goal. We need schools to do an honest assessment of what they are doing in order to determine where they need to change and improve. We can’t improve without recognizing where we need to improve. Change will best be served with both top down and bottom up improvements working for the same goal. For that to happen we need better transparency, honesty, and accuracy. If we better understand what we are actually doing, we will better understand what we need to do in order to improve.

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There are now hundreds of Education Twitter chats taking place around the world at almost any time of day or night. To follow any chat in real-time all one needs is the hashtag (#). The hashtag is the key to the chat. Using TweetDeck, Hootsuite, or some other third-party application it is easy to create a column that will follow only the hash tagged tweets of the chat. That will focus on and deliver each of the tweets in the chat in the order that they are posted.

Of course in a chat that may have fifty to a hundred participants it is impossible to follow every tweeter’s tweets. Very much like any face-to-face social gathering of such numbers of people, one would only engage with a few chatters at a time and focus on the topic of discussion within that group. I enter chats with the intent of engaging a few people with my point of view on the topic to challenge and test my own ideas, as well as the ideas of others. Many chats archive the entire chat so people can go back to see whatever it was they thought they might have missed from others.

My personal preference is to participate in chats with one topic to be explored in-depth as opposed to chats, which program 5 or 6 questions in a one-hour slot. My feeling is that the chat never develops naturally with predetermined questions. The participants may just be getting started when time demands a change to the next question. Maybe it is a control thing on the part of the moderators of those chats. It does keep things moving in the chat, but it seems more forced and less organic. There are many however who thrive in that format. As long as topics are being explored the format of the chat is less important. We can never answer for how other people learn and participate.

In a single question chat the participants are more reliant on moderators to feed off of and restate questions and ideas. It is more of a practice in the art of discussion and less formula.

The purpose of any chat is to get a more in-depth discussion and reflection on a given topic. Hopefully, the most successful chats will generate Blog Posts with further reflection and clarity. The people attending these chats often have a specific interest in the topic. The use of Twitter as the platform for education chats enables not only anyone interested in the topic, but also people whose area of expertise might be that specific topic. Keep in mind that twitter has a global reach, so the only possible barriers to anyone’s participation might just be time zones. Many authors, speakers, bloggers, and thought leaders will often participate in chats.

Regardless of titles there are many chatters who offer great ideas, or challenges during chats. It is great to assemble educators who have a common interest to express their ideas on that interest. They are the very people who one needs in a Personal Learning Network to continue following and interacting within meaningful ways. Every chat should offer up some new people to follow on Twitter, or to engage further in Google Hangouts or Skype calls.

The one long-standing criticism of Chats is that they have a tendency to become echo chambers of like-minded people. I would agree that educators do have a common interest, but it has been my experience that they rarely agree 100% on anything. Everyone has his/her own slant on any given topic. Some even abandon their personal beliefs to stir the pot with opposing views. This is where experienced moderators prove their worth in chats. I do not prescribe to the echo chamber argument.

New chatters are usually hesitant to get involved at first. They sort of lurk and learn the culture of the chat. They try to figure out the leaders and just try not to get overwhelmed because of the rate that most of the tweets fly by. It can be quite intimidating. Most chats start off slowly as people begin to gather. It usually takes 5 to 10 minutes to get going. Some chats have people introduce themselves others just dive right in. There is one distraction newcomers should be aware of. Hashtags for chats are used for any tweet that may be related to that general hashtag. For instance a hashtag widely used for any Tweet dealing with education is #Edchat. People use this 24/7. That means that during the #Edchat Chats tweets my come in that have nothing to do with the topic being discussed. Knowing this before the chat helps filter through the noise.

To bullet point the chat strategy:

  • Set up a column to follow the Chat
  • Enter the chat to engage a small number of people and not the auditorium.
  • Identify the moderators for guidance
  • Follow on Twitter the most interesting participants to add value to your own PLN
  • Do not get distracted by off-topic tweets
  • Engage clearly and succinctly
  • Reflect on your experience

Now all you need is find a chat to engage in. There are chats for educators in various States within the US as well as many other countries. There are chats for specific grades, subjects, courses, and interests. Of course the Granddaddy of chats is #Edchat which takes place twice each Tuesday. The first #Edchat is at noon eastern time and the second #Edchat is at 7 PM Eastern time with a different Topic. The #Edchat Topics are decided by a Poll each week. Please Join Us!

Here is a list of all of the Education chats taking place globally on Twitter.

All Chats

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Almost daily someone comes out with a plan to do something different in education to make some progress in reforming the system. Most of these changes require that teachers or students make the change. The truth is that until we change the culture, there will be little change in the system.

In thinking about how we approach, analyze and evaluate things, it seemed to me that the people held most accountable were the students and the teachers. They were the most visible and easily assessed, because they, as groups, are asked to perform under scrutiny while their efforts are observed, recorded, analyzed and critiqued.

I have been saying for years that if we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators. In order to do that, districts need to offer some type of support for that to happen. With all that is being required of teachers today, there is not enough time for them to plan out and develop the best methods of professional practice in addition to adding their needed relevance in professional development. Things are changing way too fast. If that development is an expectation of a district or school, the responsibility for it to happen should fall on that district or school.

Why not apply the same standard of observation of students’ work, and teachers’ lessons to every school’s Plan for Support. Let’s call for more transparency from our administrators. If a teacher’s support for a student’s success is as important as research tells us it is, wouldn’t the same hold true for an administrators support of a teacher, or even the entire staff?

Many, many schools will talk about their support for students and staff to be placed on websites and brochures. Those are words written in general terms, which in many cases are just painting a picture of wonderful teachers, happy at work for the benefit of wonderful happy students. It is public relations. The reality in many cases is support for teachers is whatever the state requires for professional development, as well as a place to pick up forms to be filled out for credit.

Why not really commit to something; a real plan. Write it out just as a teacher is required to write out lesson plans. Put the plan into words on a document stating specifically what is being done in your school to support any teachers’ development. Do it step by step to include everything. What are the goals and what is the plan? Call it the Professional Support Plan. Make it public for all to see. After that, observe it. Analyze its effects. Reflect on results. Modify the plan where it is needed for better results. This should be a main objective of some administrator. Hold someone accountable for the success of support for the staff. Break down the “Us vs. Them” mentality and establish that we are educators all, and we are in this together.

Many reading this will say, “we do that already”. If that is the case then roll out that existing Support Plan Document and run it by your staff. See if they think it is an effective plan. Get a little collaboration on a document that could have a profound effect on the school’s staff. It might be possible that something was left out of the current plan, or maybe it lacks relevance because it was developed in the 90’s. Years in the 21st Century may see changes that might have taken Decades in the 20th Century.

Support, Transparency, Collaboration, Communication, and Creation are the things we need our educators working on today, since they are the very things we need to teach our kids for tomorrow. We have demands of our students and teachers that force them out of their comfort zones. It may be time to ask more of our administrators. They need not do more, but maybe they need to do better. We need to break some comfortable patterns of the past for more effective plans for the future. In order to change the system we need to first change the culture. Twentieth Century methodology is far less effective in meeting the needs of 21st Century students and teachers. We need to upgrade.

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I was somewhat disturbed about a recent post by a friend and connected colleague concerning the state of Twitter and its use by some individuals in what is now fast becoming the education social media culture. My friend seemed to be longing for the “good ole days” of Twitter when it was smaller numbers and people knew their place in their interacting with others. I remember those days as well, since I was on Twitter years before my friend. I think my perspective and take-aways on this are a little different.

I see the benefits of having a collaborative tool like Twitter to improve the profession of teaching. Twitter enables educators to easily and quickly exchange content in the form of links to other educators. The very things that need to be exchanged for collaboration include: articles, posts, movies, podcasts, websites, whitepapers, videos, interviews, and now even books. Twitter is not the format that one uses for exchanging ideas requiring deep thought and reflective exchanges. Twitter does however enable educators to drive traffic to places where those exchanges may take place. I personally do not consider Twitter as a form of Professional Development, but rather a bulletin board that directs folks to the places that they can get personalized professional development. It is that ability for educators to self-direct their intellectual growth and skill improvement that has led me to push to grow this social media culture for many years now.

Back in the day before Twitter there was little transparency in education. Teachers were trained in education courses from colleges, many of which were slow to change from 19th and 20th century models of teaching. They were then placed in a job that was governed by the culture of the school to which they were assigned. Collaboration, to whatever level it existed, was limited to a building or district. Those educators who were invited to attend them attended education conferences. It was also a matter of whom the budget allowed for conference attendance. The speakers at these conferences were often administrators who brought along their lead learners to share their best and most progressive lessons in sessions with others. Keynotes or highlighted session speakers were often celebrities, authors, administrators, consultants, vendors, or even politicians. Social Media has changed that for educators. Educators, many of whom gained prominence by sharing with others through social media, are dominating today’s conferences.

Sharing Is Not Bragging. The whole condemnation of self-promotion is a little ridiculous since to a degree everyone on social media self-promotes in order to get their message out to a larger audience. Using your voice to a limited audience seems counter productive. There are some who do it too often, but it is a public platform. We can’t regulate what others tweet. Of course the irony of many bloggers writing about, or condemning self-promotion is that they often self-promote within their own blogs or tweets to drive traffic to their posts. It is the best way to share ideas with a larger audience. Yes, there are “Rock Star” educators on Twitter, but that more often comes from sharing great ideas. If I might indulge in some self-promotion here; I direct you to A Rock Star, not by choice.

I hate that we have, what I refer to as, Drive-by presenters at conferences. They fly in for a session or keynote and fly out immediately after their delivery. The fact of the matter is that they did share needed info with a larger audience and as much as I hate their not sharing further with more personal interactions with conference participants, they do offer what people often need to hear. That is the goal we want to achieve.

My friend also seemed to be down on those who only RT tweets. Re-Tweeting serves several purposes. First it allows novice tweeters to somewhat engage in Twitter as they learn the culture. I RT frequently when I find great tweets so that my followers, who may not have gotten that tweet, may benefit from it. Yes, there are some who never get beyond the RT phase of tweeting, but that is their choice and loss. We need not judge them for that. I also discovered the power of an RT lies in how good the original Tweet is. If one RT’s really smart Tweets from really smart people, She/he is credited for that tweet and those smarts, as well as the original tweeter. It does build a following, but if it is not followed by original thoughtful tweets, that following may be short-lived.

One other thing that we must all keep in mind is that Twitter is Social Media. That word “social” opens the door for folks to talk about whatever the hell they want to talk about. Most of my followers know my Friday’s are Pizza and wine nights. That has nothing to do with education, but everything to do with me. Twitter is based on relationships. Often those relationships come with more than just exchanging links.

An important fact that my friend overlooked in the post is that we each have a responsibility to pick and choose that we trust to follow in our personalized learning networks. That is what makes them personalized. I would suggest to anyone who uses Twitter, that if for any reason someone does not strike a chord with you, UNFOLLOW him or her. I would also caution you to maintain people who disagree, as opposed to those who are just being obnoxious. That disagreement will promote deeper reflection on the very things you need to reflect on. That is why I read posts that I do not always agree with.

The very strength of Twitter comes from it being open. It affords access and transparency to education that has never been afforded before. It is also new to many educators who need time to adjust and fit in. We best serve our followers by modeling Twitter the best way that we can, but we can’t tell others what they must do to fit in. Eventually, everyone will get it. We must be tolerant of those who get it but choose to game the system. This sounds like real life outside the classroom. Control and compliance don’t seem to fit into social media. What is different is that we can pick and choose who to follow and how much to engage them. It’s all about the personal learning. By the way this is just my opinion and has no direct bearing on whatever you choose to do in your social media interactions.

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