Archive for October, 2016

decisionsDuring the last year, or for as long as this election has been running, I have had a growing concern. I listen to interviews of voters in our democratic society and wonder how well we have prepared our citizens to actually make considered and responsible decisions. I realize that emotions may weigh heavily on decisions we make, especially in election years, but decisions should initially be, at the very least, critically analyzed, and based on facts rather than opinions or pledges, promises, and propaganda. With so much indecision, as well as a mass misrepresentation of facts in this election on both sides, I question how much we have addressed decision-making in the education of our kids over the centuries. Beyond just this election, this would hold true when applied in any situation requiring a decision. My concern is that our education system may, in great part, be failing to give decision-making its proper priority in the system. Is creating learners capable of responsible and considered decisions a true goal of education, and is it supported with action and not just discussion?

Teachers have always asked for autonomy in teaching their subject areas, a position I always support. The argument is that the teacher is the content and education expert and quite capable of making the decisions for what is appropriate for their students. Teachers want to be the decision-makers for what kids will be taught. Administrators have their perspective as well. Mandates, regulations, and standards are all the considerations for their decisions. Additionally, parents have a say with their decision-making: support of the budget, their kid’s schedule, and the overall direction of their kid’s education and life.

Everyone wants their say in a kid’s education, but what about the kids? The path to sound decision-making should be a practice of our students in regard to their own learning. Decision-making should be involved in the content delivery that teachers provide within their courses. Decision–making should be a practice in what path students choose in their academic journey. For too long these decisions have been made by educators for kids. Teachers decided curriculum for students, and what methodology worked best for them to learn. We must accept the fact that the ability or skill for decision-making doesn’t happen on its own. It is also a skill that is refined with maturity as much as practice. It would be foolish to assume the youngest of our kids are capable of making life-changing decisions, but making some decisions is better than making no decisions at all. We need to start this early and increase the decision options as kids mature.


A Problem-based curriculum allows for decision-making. This includes failure as a teacher. The wrong decisions have consequences, but what better place to fail than within the safety of the classroom with a teacher to guide kids back from a wrong direction. If a teacher needs class rules and regulations to guide the learning environment maybe the kids could make the decisions of what rules to use after discussing the needs and reasoning behind each rule. The teacher should not just dictate rubrics to the students. Many teachers include the students in deciding what rubrics are needed for their work. Students should decide what work they want to use for their portfolios. One idea for high school students might be to have a required (already decided) course to specifically deal with decision-making. This will come at a time when these students will be entering into a whirlwind of decision-making concerning real life choices dealing with their future.

Sound, responsible, fact-based decision-making as a mastered skill should be a goal in education. It cannot be assumed that education itself will develop that skill. I have met many educated people who must be told what to do and how to think, with little interest, or possibly ability to make their own decisions. Since we base the governance and safety of our country on the decisions our citizens make, it is in our best interest to have our citizens well versed in decision-making skills.

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profesionnaldevelopment2-785x428Recently, as I was tweeting about the need for teachers to be more aware of what was going on within their profession an unexpected tweet response came from a connected educator who I greatly respect and hold in high regard. He tweeted that he was tired of the teacher bashing. I was upset for that was the furthest thing from my mind as I tweeted my opinions out.

I have always supported teachers and have a record of doing so during my very public run in social media for the last decade. It is my belief that those who would limit or even dissolve public education for the sake of advancing a for-profit alternative have scapegoated teachers in recent times.

There are few things wrong with the education system that can’t be improved by properly educating and supporting teachers who are already working in the system. The exception to this of course is the problems specifically related to schools in areas of poverty, both urban and rural. These schools have problems that will require more solutions than supported professional development can provide. The problems: personal, political and cultural of these schools may be helped by supported PD, but the foundational issues need more political solutions.

Probably the biggest problem teachers have is the rapid rate of change that occurs in our computer-driven culture. Things change so fast, that we are now faced with “data obsolescence”. That which we believe to be true today, may not be true, or might be replaced by another fact or improvement in the upcoming year. Unless the very system that educates our population keeps up with these changes in a timely fashion it will itself in time become irrelevant.

The model of professional development that the system relies on most heavily is the same system that has been in place for at least century. Educators can get PD from in-house programs by consultants or peers, college courses, and conferences. Some schools have prescribed topics for PD others allow a more personal selection for educators. Most of these courses rely heavily on pedagogy to deliver the content. The problem that I see with this model is in two parts.

Using pedagogy to teach seems the right way for educators to teach because they have all been educated on what it is, and how to use it for teaching. It makes sense educators are masters of pedagogy, the method of teaching children. Therein lies the rub. Professional Development is the teaching of adults, not children. Andragogy is required for teaching adults who have different goals, needs and motivations from children.

Adults learn best through collaboration (I believe most kids do as well.). The best tool for collaboration is discussion. Adults come to the table with life experience. Many educators getting PD may be more experienced than the person providing the PD. Adults need to be respected as adults and not children. Adults are goal oriented. They know much of what it is they need, or at least seek, to know, and they want to learn it today in order to use it tomorrow. Adults are relevancy oriented; if it doesn’t fit their needs they will be less interested in learning about it.

All of this suggests to me that a Power Point presentation delivered by someone who may be lacking knowledge of effective Power Point delivery fails to meet the needs of adult learners. Here is a quick video taken at a public school’s system-wide professional development session. This came at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Is this the way we should teach adults, or anyone for that matter? https://youtu.be/eAy3vJn4pbs


The second area of professional development that concerns me is the relevance of what educators learn. We know change now comes faster than we have ever experienced in history before and, if technology has its way, that rate of change will always increase in speed. In order to keep up with change in education someone needs to be involved with it, where it is happening, or at least connected with those who are. Most educators lack the time or the inclination to do so. Most efforts to get a majority of educators connected and collaborating have failed to capture the intellectual drive of a majority of educators. There are districts however, that have placed amongst their faculty teacher coaches who support the learning teachers need with support time and direction.

After a decade of trying to get all educators connected and collaborating, I have come to recognize this probably will not happen. However, if we can’t get the entire faculty of a district connected to the thought leaders in education, than why not connect them with colleagues who are connected educators? These coaches may provide relevance, collaboration and support that are not evident in conventional PD delivered by most schools. It gives educators time to get comfortable with connecting with others. Even if adults know what it is they want to learn as a goal, too often they don’t know what it is that they don’t know. They have not been connected to the very people driving the latest thinking in education. The ideas that are being discussed in the connected community of educators are not yet being discussed in faculty rooms of the unconnected. Teacher coaches are connected and they can provide relevant new ideas to the less connected majority.

To many, the idea of teacher coaches is still an experiment. These coaches are often regular teachers with a penchant for technology and a collaborative mindset. They are often on split schedules as a part-time teacher and a part-time coach. We need to establish these coaches as a firm position in schools. They need to be trained in both technology and adult learning. Their class load will consist of adults and their schedules must be flexible in order to teach, collaborate, and nurture their students. This will prioritize relevant professional development incorporating it into the job description of educators. It will be part of every educator’s workweek.

Many of the problems in education can be eliminated or at the very least improved by properly providing, supporting, and maintaining respectful, relevant and collaborative professional development. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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