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Philosopher 2Often in teacher preparation classes students are asked to develop an education philosophy based on their course studies and observations, or student teaching experiences. For many of these students who go on the pursue careers in education, that might be the only time anyone asked for that philosophy. Of course the best time to develop any philosophy on one’s overall impact of a career may not be to do it before one enters and experiences the full force of that career over a period of time. This is a discussion I often had with my student teachers. They should develop an education philosophy, but it should never be etched in granite, especially with their limited teaching experiences. By the nature of the job, changes are to be inevitable, so self-reflection and flexibility are important elements that must be requirements of the profession at any level.

The reality however, is that aside from possibly in a job interview; few educators are ever asked about their personal education philosophy. This might be because it must require more than just a “Feel Good” one-sentence cliché. Education, which involves teaching and learning, is far more complicated than one sentence can explain.

I always felt that there were at least three factors affecting my education philosophy: my personal experiences, the culture of the school in which I taught, and prevailing education thought leadership. My ability to affect any of these three factors was limited but possible with some effort and more often work. The biggest deterrent is the time need to do this.

However, if I viewed my career as a passive experience, my education philosophy would be “catch as catch can”. I could go along with the status quo, making few waves and little innovation. I could simply follow directives, “go along to get along”, and limit my professional development to whatever my school prescribed.

The alternative however would take more effort and consequently it would be more work and time. I could reflect on my students’ summative assessments to adjust my methodology and seek to improve it, or abandon parts of it altogether. This would establish my choices for effective methodology.

I could examine and reflect on my school’s culture to determine if it is advancing, or stifling my efforts as an educator. To change a system, we need to first change the culture. My philosophy may include taking an active role in affecting change in my school’s culture in order for me to be a better educator.

As for following the lead of educators and sharing the latest education initiatives, I would need to work at connecting and collaborating with education thought leaders. In years gone by this was done through universities and journals, but real connections were limited. Today, technology provides, for those willing to work for it and use it, the ability to communicate, connect and collaborate with thought leaders for the purpose of creating a means to better educate our students.

As educators we have to decide on dozens of ways to effectively interact with kids including but not limited to:

  • Teaching methodology
  • Lesson plans
  • Homework policy
  • Attendance
  • Appropriate lessons
  • Interpersonal student relationships
  • Extra credit
  • Grading
  • Formative assessments
  • Summative assessments
  • Test preparation
  • Teachable moments
  • Classroom behavior
  • Bathroom breaks
  • Parent communication
  • Technology

How does one handle any of these without some thoughtful reflection on what each is and how does it fit in with what needs to be accomplished for kids to learn effectively and efficiently. Every educator should give thought to each and all of the elements that he/she is responsible for in order to do the best that they can. It is also NOT a “do it once and done” project. It is an ever-changing dynamic that will need to be revisited and reflected upon on an ongoing basis. Principals should know the education philosophies of their teachers. Principals need to support the school culture that challenges and supports their educators. They need to promote reflection and provide time in support of that endeavor. Maybe try having a faculty meeting with personal education philosophies as the main topic of discussion. There may be surprises both good and not so good as an outcome, but it will give a clearer picture of where the staff is as educators. At the very least it will enable people to better understand their own school culture. All of this should be included in a Principal’s leadership philosophy, but that’s for another post.

 

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Several decades ago I read an article that I believe was in Time Magazine on the most difficult jobs in America. The article defined a difficult job based on the number of impactful decisions a person had to make in a day. Listed, as one of the most difficult jobs, was that of an eighth grade English teacher. I was surprised to read that, but I was in full agreement, since I was at the time an eighth grade English teacher. A decision is made by considering the information available and making a choice, or taking a course of action. The best decisions can be made when the best and most complete information is available.

A glaring obstacle to change and hopefully improvement in our education system, which needs to be addressed, is that educators don’t always know what they don’t know, but make decisions with the information they have. Making decisions with limited information often limits the potential of progress.

If there is one fact that can be established as a result of the use of technology it is that technology promotes and accelerates innovation and change. The rate of change in our computer-driven society is happening at a pace never seen before in history. These changes affect almost every aspect of our lives. Keeping up with these changes has become a challenge for everyone. We can argue whether this change is good or bad, but the fact is that this change is real and ongoing, like it or not. Making decisions becomes more difficult because the information used to make the decision might be different within a year. This has been underscored time and time again when we consider industries like: typewriters, telephones, Kodachrome film, cassettes, record albums and the list goes on.

Teaching deals with information in all of its forms. Teaching kids how to curate, analyze, critically think, collaborate, communicate and ultimately create information is the goal of education. We are also trying to instill a love of learning and flexibility to change in order to promote life long learning in every student. In order to do that effectively and efficiently is difficult enough, but in today’s world we need to do that with as much relevance as possible. We need to be relevant today because our kids will be living in a world that will be more advanced than we are now as a result the effect of technological influences for change.

As a teacher of the 70’s I can say that it was certainly easier back then. Things were more rigid and more reliable. Change was slow. Teachers could teach the same curriculum year after year and be considered to be a dependable educator. This is not what we want for our kids today, but for the most part, this has changed, or at least we would like to think so.

If we want our educators to make the best decisions for our kids, we need to insist that they consider the best and most complete information available. We need to make decisions that are based on relevant information. Relevance has become a component of education in a system that is so affected by rapid change, a difficult task indeed.

Teachers may no longer earn a degree and expect that degree to carry them through a 30-40 year career without some additional form of training or education to retain their relevance. Does our present system promote or even allow for this? Do districts provide relevant professional development for their educators? Are the decision-makers, who are deciding on relevant PD, relevant themselves? If teachers are to make their own choices on PD, are they making the right choices? Do they select PD choices that are needed, but might be uncomfortable to do? Are they up to date on what areas in education are leading edge ideas? Are they aware of all of the choices available to them?

If we all agree that Professional Development should be prioritized, ongoing, and supported with time and money, than let us consider what PD we actually have. Relevance is a key factor in making PD decisions. A big problem with our current system may be that decision makers who need to make relevant decisions are themselves irrelevant. How can educators make decisions on the best PD to enrich them, when they are unaware of the PD strands that are current or even available?

It is a problem when we reach a point where educators don’t know what they don’t know.

Adult learning, collaboration, and social media should all be components of our Professional Development. Time for collaboration, common planning periods, and reflection time should be included in our Professional Development. Having staff members in some form supporting or coaching teachers developing and adopting new methodology should be included in our Professional Development. Moving from the 20th century teacher-centered methodology and mindset to a more student-centered 21st century approach should be included in our Professional Development. Supporting educators to believe they can expand and change with a supportive school culture should be included in our Professional Development. The idea that we are all life long learners becoming a belief and not just an alliterate phrase should be included in our Professional Development.

If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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I recently returned from my yearly trek to ISTE, one of the largest education technology conferences to be held annually. This year better than 22 thousand educators were in attendance in Chicago for three days. While there I spoke to many educators about their experiences and noted some common threads in their responses. Of course this was very unscientific, but for me some things were painfully obvious.

The ‘Wow factor” was common to many of their comments. I understand that the tech companies tend to highlight their latest bells and whistles for education conferences, but many of these educators were being impressed with the bells and whistles of years gone by. I understand that teacher attendance at conferences is usually not budgeted for in school budgets, so many educators do not usually, or should I say rarely attend National conferences, but there are other methods of maintaining relevance as a professional educator. Those educators who attended ISTE on their own dime should be commended. Of course this should not be the sole responsibility of each educator, but rather a shared responsibility with the school district. This unfortunately is not something that a great many districts even consider.

Of course there was another common comment that was all too often given up by educators: “ Oh, my district could never afford this technology stuff”, or other similar comments in regard to funding tech initiatives. How we fund our education is in large part the greatest factor to what each district has to offer. Obviously this is now a leading issue of many states being voiced and exposed by statewide, educator-supported demonstrations. Hopefully, some states will pay attention to the very people who should be making education decisions.

The third observation that I made was the idea that almost all education and tech conferences support the separation of tech and education. To me this is the greatest deterrent to changing how we view education. We no longer have a choice as educators to include technology in how we approach learning. Our students will be expected to utilize tech in almost every aspect of their professional careers and at almost every level, even for jobs we don’t know yet exist. The majority of their future positions may not even yet exist, but I am confident that technology will be a good part of those as well.

Of course a good teacher doesn’t need technology to teach. A good teacher can be effective with a stick used to scribble on a dirt floor. That however would only impart knowledge to their students. How those students would then curate, collaborate, and communicate that information to create, will require the use of technology provided by their computer-driven society in which they must live, survive and hopefully thrive. Of course some will go off to live in tech-free communes somewhere in the backwoods of America, but that will never be the majority.

Is our education system, as it stands today, meeting the needs of all of our kids? That is a question that has no clear answer. If you point to statistics using learning within schools providing access to tech, I would say the numbers are a little squishy. It will be pointed out that some school has x number of computers and it is only doing marginally better than another school with far less tech. My questions would be what is the teaching culture like? What is the teacher training like? What is the preparation and planning time like? What is the administrative support like?

There is a big difference in providing tech to a teacher who is prepared and enthusiastic for its use, then to a teacher who doesn’t like tech, is uncomfortable using it and is more comfortable with a 20th century approach to education. Just measuring the boxes put in the classroom is not an effective measurement of the impact of technology.

If we are ever to change the education system that we have in place now, we need to first change the culture of education. We need to educate educators regularly to maintain relevance. Technology and innovation both foster rapid change. If we are not educating educators accordingly, they will lose relevance. We need to promote the idea of life long learning, not just for our kids, but for out adults as well. That is the world that we now live in. Change and the ability to adjust to it is a key to learning and maintaining relevance.

Technology and education are no longer separate entities. They are intertwined because of where and how we live and will continue to live going forward. Education will use technology as a tool for curation, communication, collaboration, and what we always strive to accomplish, creation. The skills preparation in school will then reflect the needs of the community. In order for our students to understand this, we need to get our teachers and their administrators to get it first. That is the best way to prioritize and budget for effective and efficient ways to approach both content and skills development for our kids. All of this will require a change in the way we approach professional development. We need a nationwide, holistic approach, rather than the scattered patchwork approach, varying from district to district that we have supported for centuries and continue to support. If we are to better educate our kids, we first need to better educate their educators.

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I recently read yet another article that questioned the effect of using technology in education. I believe it stated that there are 3.6 million educators using edtech as the basis for the post. The post itself was well done, but throughout my reading I was troubled by what defined an edtech-using educator. How is it determined that an educator is truly an edtech user?

I have been in meetings where educators had to fill out questionnaires asking about their technology experience. They claimed to be technology-using educators based solely on their use of Power Point for lectures. Technically using Power Point for a lecture does require technology, but that is like claiming to be a social media guru after using Facebook to only follow some family members who post their family vacation pictures at every opportunity.

If we were to do a survey of ten educators who claim to be edtech-users and six of them base their claim on power point lectures alone, and two use tech to send digital worksheets to their students, and the final two educators have students using tech apps for collaboration, curation, communication and creation of content, we could confidently claim that Edtech is not having a great effect on learning. It would be effective for probably less than 20% of the students. The next obvious question would be, how much of an effect is tech having on learning in the classes of those final two educators alone? I imagine the resulting percentage would be a much more positive influence than the other classes, but we lump everyone together.

If we are to establish data on the effects of technology in education, we need to first establish a valid method of evaluating the information from a level playing field. We need to evaluate the experience of the educators claiming to use it. Teachers, who have been identified as users of tech to teach need to, at the very least, be digitally literate. Consequently, we first need to define what is meant by digitally literate. It should not require that a person needs expertise on every application available, but it does assume at the least a comfort with some tools for collaboration, curation, communication and creation of content, the very things we want our students to learn. How many schools can claim a majority of their teachers and administrators have such a comfort level with technology?

In order to determine the effect of technology on learning for students, we need to establish the effects of technology on teaching for teachers. Let us collect data from tech-savvy teachers who model tech use as much as they would hope for their students’ use to be. We need to clearly state what we expect a technology-literate educator to be. It is no longer acceptable to allow educators or administrators to determine what they are minimally going to commit to when it comes to learning tech for professional development. We have reached a point where what was minimally accepted even five years ago is not acceptable now. We must have higher standards for educators if we have certain expectations for students. The education system does not create what society demands for students to survive and thrive in this technology-driven world. It does however need prepare kids for that very life.

Of course this will never be a popular position to take with most educators. They have all attended school for years to prepare for their positions. Their preparation to become an educator was left in the hands of the colleges and universities under the scrutiny of accreditation organizations. The question is how do those institutions stay relevant in an ever-changing technology-driven world?

If the demands of the world that we live in keep evolving and changing at a pace never before experienced in history, we need to adjust what we are doing to meet those demands. We cannot count on 20th Century methodology to prepare our kids for 21st Century demands. Before we redefine what we expect from our students, we need to first redefine what we expect from their educators. If we need to determine if technology is having a positive effect on learning, we need to determine if it is being equally provided to students by educators who have a thorough understanding of technology and are flexible enough to meet the inevitable changes that technology fosters. As always, if we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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A lingering general question hanging over the heads of all has been what effect does social media have on our society? That answer has never been so evident as it has been today as social media tools have been placed directly in the hands of the President of the United States, as well as foreign operatives. Social media is a very powerful tool that can have a lasting effect on what people do, and how they do it. Placing those social media technology tools in the hands of some of the most educated members of our society who have the greatest effect on future generations has had somewhat mixed results.

Education as a profession needs to recognize and accept the fact that we live in the 21st century and social media enables change that can happen much faster, and affect greater groups of people than any technology of the 20th Century, including radio and television. Change has always come slowly over the centuries and that was what we expected, change happening slowly giving us more time to adjust and adapt. Technology has changed that paradigm. Change is coming more quickly than many can adapt to and creating an uncomfortable situation for any profession that has been slow to change.

Social media enables collaboration, which for adult learning is the key to success for most adults. The best form of collaboration comes through conversation, which is often enabled by various social media tools. The key to accepting social media as a tool for learning comes in the term “Social”. This requires involving other people in order to have a conversation. This requirement precludes the use of social media being a passive endeavor. It takes time to learn the tools, time to learn the culture, and time to learn the strategies to effectively learn through social media. All of this discourages people from even attempting to change what has made them comfortable in their profession. It requires effort, time, and work.

This lack of engagement may be harmful to the profession of Education for two reasons. First, without social media access to collaboration, educators would be limited to face-to-face collaboration, which is provided by the everyday interaction with colleagues within a local area. It may be effective, but it is very limited when compared to the global collaborative opportunities and varied perspectives provided through social media. It is also limiting in the amount of experts in various aspects of education compared to that which are available provided by social media. Educators can use social media to hand-pick educators with like interests, and goals. Social media enables educators the ability to develop personal learning networks with hundreds of collaborative collegial sources to educate, critique, react, and generally engage for the goal of learning and collaborating professionally.

The second and maybe more important harm comes from the educator not modeling for students the need and the tools for collaboration as we move further into their future. The world in which our students will need to live and thrive will change even more rapidly than their educator’s world is experiencing today. Educators need to prepare their students with the skills and abilities to collaborate and learn long after the students leave today’s halls of academia. These skills and abilities will require digital literacy, for that will be required to use tools for communication, collaboration, consumption, curation, and creation.

There is no longer a debate as to whether or not social media is here to stay. There is no debate that collaboration is a leading method of learning. There has never been a debate over the need for professional development for educators to maintain relevance in their profession. Considering the seeming acceptance of all of this I question why there is still such hesitance on the part of so many educators to engage more in collaboration through social media? Limiting educators to the 20th century methodology of face-to-face collaboration is far too limiting in light of the potential of the collaboration possible using tools from social media.

School administrators need to re-evaluate policies dealing with social media in education. Educators need to become more digitally literate in regard to their own personal and professional learning. Providers of professional development need to promote more digital connections among educators to develop and maintain collegial sources for professional learning. Educators need to be more open to students’ use of technology for collaboration.

Failing to recognize the changes in the world and the effect of those changes on education and learning is a mistake that we can ill afford. Accepting the changes requires work on the part of every educator to learn, adapt and use tools that they may not yet be familiar with or may change along the way. This is hard and a true deterrent to real change. Our administrators and leaders need to take steps to support educators in making these changes. They may need to open some minds to incorporate that innovation that so many of our leaders say they want in education.

To better educate ours kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

 

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think-blogThis year I made a few changes to my WordPress Blog site. I removed all of the ads that WordPress placed on it and I now use my name as the domain name to more easily traffic readers to the site. As I did these things at a minimal cost, I questioned whether or not it was worth the effort. I questioned if any of the time, effort or money that I have committed, and continue to put in to all of this, is really worth it. Does the average person even know or understand what a blog is? Do professionals understand how blogs influence their profession? Are teachers using blogs as both relevant reading and writing tools? Are students using blogs to create their voice? Do people in general see any importance in blogging to reflect, question, criticize, or improve the world in which we live? Do blogs have a value in our world today that is at least understood, if not appreciated, by those who should? Does the access to blogs require too much tech savvy, critical thinking, and a mindset different from the 20th Century to prevent the acceptance of blogs as a change force in our 21st Century world? Will a large enough group of people even read this post to make a difference or will people need to print it out to share copies with others?

As a professional:

Since Blog posts require a little bit of “tech savvy”, I think many of today’s educators who blog are members of the larger connected community of educators. That community is collaborative through social media, and often those digital connections carry over to more face-to-face collaborations at education conferences and meet-ups. These connected communities represent many of the education thought leaders and authors guiding the direction of education today. Bloggers interact with educators digitally as well as their real world colleagues daily. Their reflections often mirror these interactions in their blog posts. The musings and conversations of the connected community often precede the faculty room and faculty meeting conversations taking place in schools by months. Of course the mainstream media often picks things up after they have been implemented. All of this gives Blog posts a relevance that is not seen in print media.

Blogs are interactive and relevant. Teachers have an opportunity to comment and interact with the authors and thought leaders giving them voice in the direction that education will take. In the past that educator’s voice has been too often absent over the shouts of politicians and business people

As a teacher:

Blogging is a great tool for teaching writing, reading, critical thinking, reflective thinking, respect for opinions, respectful argumentation, and relevance. As our society becomes more and more connected and collaboration is recognized, as a needed skill teachers will need to address these skills to prepare their students for a world where blogs are more commonplace than they are right now. More and more of our youth get their news from the Internet, yet we have failed to teacher them how to discern truth and fact from fabrications.

Students given an opportunity to establish a blog will tend to learn the skill of writing more willingly and quickly because they are writing for an audience of more than just the teacher. They have an authentic reason to learn and write. They establish a voice and look to use it as often as possible. None of this however is intuitive for most kids. The motivation for blogging can be strong, but the skills need to be taught by relevant educators who understand the power of authentic learning and the pressing need for 21st Century skills the tech-driven society in which our students will be forced to live, learn, compete and thrive.

As a student:

Blogging can open up the world for kids. It has the potential to give them voice in pursuit of their passions that are all too often suppressed by the system in which we educate them. Blogging can connect them with others who have similar interests. It enables students to direct their own learning by interacting and collaborating with others. Students can take ownership of their learning through blogging, a dynamic not available until the 21st Century.

As a member of society:

Of the many lessons we might have learned from the Presidential election of 2016, my main takeaway is that people will never ever gather and sift through information as they did up until and including the 20th Century. The 21st Century has provided a new way to get relevant information on a minute-to-minute basis. Blogs are a great part of that information gathering. Are we prepared as a society to face this new dynamic with the skills to navigate it effectively? Are we digitally literate and skilled enough to sift through the crap to determine the facts? Are we preparing our kids to do the same? If we are to better understand blogs and blogging and all it offers both good and bad, we need to teach about blogs and with blogs. We cannot expect our country to make its decisions based on sound bytes and tweets. If blogs are the way our society will be getting our information, then we better know how to best master that medium. We have too much at stake as a culture to have our citizenry manipulated because we never taught our children the skills needed to cope with information distribution.

There are many new things that are evolving in our world. We must keep up with the change in order to stay relevant. The best way may be to subscribe to blogs within the areas of our concerns. We can involve ourselves in the conversation by commenting respectfully on blogs for pros or cons. The ultimate mastery is to write a blog to share personal ideas and points of view to gauge how they stand to scrutiny. We can take critical analysis and adjust. We can only do all of this however if we first recognize the role of the blog and teach about it to our kids. Yes, we need the classics, but we also need relevant and real information, as well as the ability to discern it, if we are to survive and thrive.

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Key & keyhole with light coming from it

The flipped classroom, maker movement, project-based learning, blended learning, student centered learning, hour of code, collaboration, direct instruction, and lecture, there are passionate teacher advocates supporting each of these methods as the best way for kids to learn. I am sure that there are some additional methods or movements that I have not mentioned.

Each of these methods to teach can be effective with many groups of students. The burning question should be however, which is the best way to affect the greatest education reform? The focus for change in education seems to be in finding a way to best teach our students. The focus is targeting student learning. That assumes that once that method is found all will be right with the world of education and PISA be damned.

I think that may be the wrong focus for reform. I believe that if we want to affect the greatest number of students by the way they are taught, we need to better educate their educators about the way they teach. A combination of several methods might be the best path for students to learn. This would require a teacher to have knowledge in several methods. The focus should target on what and how we teach teachers not students. There are hundreds of thousands of educators who are familiar with many of these, if not all of the mentioned strategies here. Many are aware through their social media connections. The problem is that there are millions of educators who are far less connected, informed, or educated in these methods. Many of the uninformed educators may be far less connected to communities where discussions and collaboration with these topics go on daily.

I am becoming more of the belief that, at this point in time, we are not going to get all educators connecting, collaborating and creating through digital connections with other educators around the world. We do need to look at the benefits of these digital connections and find a way to create that resulting collaboration within the schools in which our teachers work without digitally connecting, those who will not connect.

Collaboration has become an integral part of professional development. We need to not only endorse collaboration, but we need to support it. It is a key to adult learning and teachers are adults. We must approach all PD through Andragogy, an adult’s learning, and not pedagogy, a child’s learning. Teach adults as adults. https://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/the-importance-of-andragogy-in-education/

There is not a college or university in the world that can graduate teachers with all that they will need to know to carry them through a thirty-year career as a teacher. The world and everything in it changes too rapidly for that to happen. Learning has to be ongoing. The term life long learner does not only apply as a goal for kids. It is essential for anyone wanting to exist, strive, survive, compete, and flourish in a modern tech-driven society. This especially applies to those who teach others who will need to do the same.

If standards have to be drawn up for education, why not have standards for PD? The biggest problem with the implementation of common core, beyond the testing aspect, was the fact that there was no support for PD. Each school was left to its own devices. Some schools did well with it, others not so much. This was another example of a non-funded mandate gone awry. Any national initiative in education it would seem would need its teachers on board and fully aware of their goal.

Until we recognize that the greatest effect that we can have on education is by continually educating our educators to the constant and continual changes occurring in their profession, there will be little change in the progress we hope to make in education. We have now and will continue to have 20th Century educators trying to teach kids to live and learn in a 21st Century world.

Professional Development must be part of a teacher’s job description. It should not be solely on the backs of teachers to find it. Schools on a regular basis, and not just one, or two PD Days a year should deliver PD on a regular basis each week. Faculty and Department meetings should be more than a mandatory gathering to talk about schedules and policies. Teachers must be given collaboration time to connect with colleagues to implement changes. The best people need to be placed in supportive coaching positions to help facilitate, and reinforce these changes.

Change is difficult and uncomfortable for everyone. People need help to accomplish it. Comfort zones are the biggest obstacles to change. If change is what we need and want for our education system, then we need to put things in place to make that happen. Doing PD as we have done for the last two centuries doesn’t seem to be working. This is the one thing that most educators agree with. If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

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