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Archive for the ‘Accountability’ Category

Online learningIt is very difficult to give weight to anything these days except for the conditions that we are now living and dying under, especially as a New Yorker. Time does not stand still however, so we need to assess where we are in order to adjust and move forward. If this pandemic has taught me anything, this would be my lesson learned.

When it comes to the American education system, I have experienced it in many ways and on many levels. I have been a student, a teacher, professor, a supporter, a critic, a follower and a leader. Now I deal with education as a speaker, writer, blogger, and podcaster. My focus in life has always been in education. As a critic I often engaged in theoretical discussions of how we could improve the system if we blew it all up and started anew. These were obviously theoretical discussions since a national education system cannot be physically blown up.

March of 2020 changed all that. March 2020 is when the American education system was blown up. There is no mistake about that. Schools were shut down. Testing was cancelled. Teachers were told not to concern themselves with grades, and even sports were stopped. All school related events were halted. The system, as we have come to know it after 200+ years, was shut down. It was blown up by the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

There was only one possibility available to educators. They immediately ran to the alternative that was discussed for the last decade. We have the technology! Why not transition the entire system to remote learning? Let’s mandate remote learning. Administrators will lead remotely, teachers will teach remotely, students will learn remotely. We have talked about it for years, so why not? That seemed like a sound fix for the problem, especially if it was to be a short-term need.

Well, the fix was not so simple. Although we have talked a great deal about remote learning over the last decade, we haven’t really taught teachers to do it. Since the actual practice of remote learning has been limited, few students are proficient, or even experienced in it. Many teachers and students are not even comfortable with it.

As educators we have also learned that Maslow truly comes before Bloom in learning. We need to address the emotional and physical needs of students before any learning can take place. Unfortunately, in a highly stressed environment, we have added more stress on teachers and students. We have not created stability, but rather added to the chaos in a very chaotic environment. It is amazing that many, if not most, educators have risen above all of this to make the best of a very bad situation.

Educators at every level have strived to use the technology to collaborate in finding solutions and methods to help themselves and their students through this mess. They strive to collaborate through catastrophe. By experiencing the use of technology in learning, the teachers are as much students as the younger people they are charged to teach. This may go a long way in accomplishing what countless sessions of professional development could not deliver. Experience is always the best teacher.

We have very quickly identified many problems with remote teaching. The greatest problem exposed is the digital divide caused by the economic divide. Zip codes still determine quality of education even more in a digital system. There are many drawbacks in digital systems that were less of an obstacle in face-to-face environments. Absenteeism is a big problem in remote learning. Getting to kids of large families with only one digital device in the family is a big issue. Having kids supervised at home can be a problem for many as well. Giving individual time to each student digitally is another problem that needs to be addressed.

Teachers need to shift their focus from summative assessment for grading purposes to formative assessment for actionable feedback. Teachers need to understand that piling up more work does not translate to more learning. Administrators need to learn that leading is much better that mandating. Collaboration is key to learning. If you have a thought share it. An idea not shared is just a passing thought. Sharing and modeling best practices is not bragging. Yes, these are phrases used all the time, but that doesn’t make them less important or less truthful. They were true in a classroom setting and they are true online as well.

My fear is that, when we come to an end of this catastrophe, which we now find ourselves in, we will look to assessing remote learning with a skewed perspective. We have come to grips with the priorities of the brick and mortar environment of our education system and found them in need of realignment. Teachers are trained for the classroom. Teachers have been programed for an environment of control and compliance. Their experience and training have little to do with student voice and choice in learning. Collaborative learning too often takes a back seat to lecture and direct instruction. These are tailored to classroom learning and far less effective in remote learning.

We need an honest look at both the classroom model and the remote model for learning and adjust accordingly. Face–to-face relationships between teachers and students are the best conduits for learning. Developing skills in students to be self-motivated and tech savvy to research, curate, communicate and create, as lifelong learners should be the goal of every educator. In our computer-driven world this will happen online.

We cannot look at the remote teaching and learning that is going on during this crisis as the model for online learning. Most of the teachers and students thrown into this were not prepared for, or equipped for any of this to happen, much like our medical community in handling this virus. We need to return to a system that will now and forever support a professional development system that is continual, supportive, relevant and adaptive. We cannot expect our students to strive for the best, ongoing, life-long education possible, if their teachers, mentors, and role models are not striving for that as well. We cannot waste one of the rare opportunities that this horrible disaster may have afforded us. Let us consider blending the best of both systems to reprioritize our goals for education, as well as the methods that we may use to get to those goals. We must be proactive in improving our teachers, which will in turn improve our students. It is not a passive exercise. It will not happen on its own. It will take a new mindset and of course money. Education is the best defense our country can have. Its value is worth the cost.

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With the cloud of the Corona Virus hanging over us and growing by the hour, it is difficult to see any silver lining. Health and safety are our greatest concerns. The stakes are high and the consequences may be fatal to too many. Anything I discuss here should not in any way diminish the seriousness of our condition. The consequences of our nationwide quarantine however, may be having a profound positive effect on our education system. From an education perspective, there may be a silver lining to one of the darkest clouds to ever cover this country.

In the past, many discussions by several education leaders have sometimes suggested the idea of education reform needing to blow up the current education system in order to affect any real change. In March of 2020 in response to a life-threatening pandemic, our education system, as we have known it for centuries, was blown up. Schools across the nation closed their doors, but required their teachers to try to carry on educating their students using online technology. Overnight, discussions, which were in many cases theoretical about online teaching and learning, became a reality. It was a “ready or not, here we come” event.

Educators, who were trained and programmed to teach face-to-face with students in classrooms with a support staff within a larger school building, found themselves alone at home face-to-face with a blank computer screen. This nationwide experience exposed and underscored a number of deficiencies and shortcomings in the system that can now be addressed in many positive ways. How we respond to what we now know may very well evolve the education system in ways not possible before the nationwide lockdown blew it up. From chaos we now have opportunity.

The earliest indications of our preparedness to meet the online challenge to educators underscored the gap that exists in professional development for educators. Teaching online is not the same as teaching in the classroom. Many educators have not been updated in the use of technology and more specifically, online instruction. Of course the system until now was not dependent on online learning, but technology implementation is essential in our computer-driven society. Now that we have exposed the importance of technology in education, we can use this experience to push for more required, universal, and effective professional development. We can also more convincingly support PD with time, money, and structured follow-up.

We are more aware of the basic needs of kids to have a better working knowledge of technology skills. It is an opportunity to evaluate and evolve how we introduce kids to technology and how we incorporate those skills to enhance their learning. We need to develop their ability to be self-reliant in their learning to become lifelong learners.

We are also more aware of the need for a dependable online infrastructure, one that offers access to all. The digital divide must be addressed. Zip codes can no longer be the driving force of quality education.

Social distancing is a new concept for our country. It should be called physical distancing to be a more accurate description. Online we have all gotten closer through connections with colleagues and students. The idea of sharing ideas, and sources has grown as a result of educators needing to quickly grow and communicate effectively online. Another benefit from this collegial connection is a new appreciation, if not discovery for some, of online content. The use of online sources can enhance a text-based curriculum, or even replace it.

In order to change any system the first changes have to be made to the culture. With schools shut down parents have become more involved with their kids’ education. What parents see and experience, with their children learning through technology, goes a long way in educating parents as to what education in today’s world is all about. Of course this does not work as effectively if there are no online connections between educators and students for parents to experience.

Probably the biggest takeaway from this crisis in education is the absolute need for social and emotional learning for kids. We need to address physical and emotional needs before kids can learn. Maslow must always come before Bloom. Priorities need to be readjusted. We see schools adjusting their grading policies. Maybe grades aren’t what we have believed them to be for centuries? It may be time to reassess and adjust. Many schools have cancelled their need to give standardized tests. Again, maybe they need to move down on the list of education priorities. Let’s take the opportunity to talk it through and consider our experiences.

After each and every catastrophic experience this country has endured, it has reassessed, adjusted, and made positive changes for the benefit of all. Beyond the obvious health and safety issues that must be addressed, we need to address the issues of education. The kids who we are educating today will make the decisions of health and safety moving forward. We can’t educate them with the knowledge and skills that brought us to this point. They need more knowledge and more relevant skills to get beyond our limited capabilities. They will be living in a different world. This horrible event that we are now facing has actually given us the greatest opportunity yet to evolve our education system. We need to reassess, reevaluate and prioritize. This opportunity is the silver lining of that very dark Coronavirus cloud hanging over us.

Stay Healthy!

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As adults we generally learn about things that we need to learn about. Of course we also have an opportunity to learn about things we would like to learn about. We do not have anyone assigning us projects, or books or exams for which to prepare. The exception to that would be the job requirements in a job that we have chosen. Theoretically, we work in a job that has some personal appeal, and the required learning for that job is something that ultimately, we have chosen to accept. When what appeals to us about that job wanes, we hold on to that job only as long as it takes to find another with a better, more appealing position. The learning and application of that learning again is a choice that we make for that new position. The learning is relevant in our new role.

If all of this is true, then it should be evident that this is the life for which we are preparing our children. As a long-time educator, I am no longer convinced that we are adequately preparing our children with the needed skills to live, survive and thrive in their future life of that real world environment.

Additionally, I also question whether we, as education professionals, have been truly prepared for our present environment. Many of us grew up in a world where information came in printed form vetted by publishers. A world where TV producers vetted information produced for the airwaves. A world where opposing political views, for the most part, were discussed with words and not weapons. Yes, there were violent demonstrations, but nothing like the number of mass murder bombings of today. We trusted the printed word. We trusted the TV broadcasts. We, for the most part, trusted our political leaders. We trusted our institutions. We believed in the “tried and true”. With that as a background in our education, we now live in a world where little of that holds true. Any idiot can publish anything, truthful or not, and every idiot does. As adults, educated in an earlier time, are we prepared to learn and discern from the information delivered to us from news sources? In an age of instant access, are we skilled enough to analyze and understand what is being delivered to us second by second? Are we prepared to critically think about all that we are bombarded with daily? Are we prepared to accept that, just because things worked well in the past, they may need to be changed in this new world environment? What was once “tried and true” may now be tried, but irrelevant.

If the educators of our youth are struggling with skills required to strive and thrive in this, their own world today, how do they prepare children to learn, and adapt in the world in which these kids will be expected to live. A world that will advance even faster and more intensely than it is now. Technology only moves forward never back.

If we as adults have a say in what we want to learn, then why is this not what we are preparing our children to do. We assume that if we load them up with pre-selected content, that they will have enough preparation to handle anything in their adult life. Yes, we do need to give children a base of learned material from which they will be able to choose and make decisions, but we focus so much on building that base that we lose sight of why we are doing it. We never get to the part where kids pick what they want to learn, as well as how they want to go about learning it, and what platform to demonstrate their mastery of it.

The world in which our kids will live as adults does not look like the intellectually protected environment of the classroom. They will not learn things by subject categories in 45-minute segments. They will not have a person lecturing them on a given subject each and every day. They will not have the Internet, their main source of information, locked down or heavily scrubbed of sites. They will not have a prescribed set of standards to follow. They will not be limited by the shortcomings of anyone in charge of their information access. They should only be bound by their curiosity and love of learning, and not a lack of skills to retrieve, understand, critically analyze, and assess information.

Is this really the world that we are preparing them for? Are we stressing their curiosity? Are we challenging them to be critical thinkers? Are we enabling them with relevant technological skills to access, curate, communicate, collaborate, and create using information dealing with their passion? Are we allowing them to make mistakes and learn and adapt from them without consequences of punishment? Are we maintaining and advancing our own skills as professional educators to enable us to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world?

For some of these questions a very few educators can stand up and say, “Yes I do all of that”. Some educators could say, Yes, I do some of that”. We, as a system however, are falling way short in most of these important questions. What should our goal in education be?

We need to get our students in better position to make decisions in their own learning earlier on in the process and not assume that skill on graduation day. They need a greater voice in their own learning in order to own it before they leave our influence. They need to understand how to direct their curiosity to answer their own questions, to develop their own path, to address their own problems. We as educators need to shift the education dynamic of teaching kids what to learn to teaching kids how to learn. This is the best way we can provide for them a way to live in their world and not ours. Their world will come with all new rules and new problems that they will need to learn how to deal with in new ways unknown to us, their educators. Our goal should and must be to make our students self-motivated learners with all the skills needed to do that in their own world with their own tools for accessing information. Maybe instead of standardizing learning, we should work on standardizing teaching to be more openly supportive of teaching kids how to continue the process of learning in their lives beyond the classroom. If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

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I recently attended the annual conference held by , the New York State ISTE affiliate organization. It is a favorite conference of mine, since I served as a board member of that organization for about six years. It is also both comprehensive and progressive in the way of education conferences. As with all education conferences it is easy to identify what trends in education have been most popular over the last year by the number of sessions being offered on any given subject. I was delighted to see that there were several sessions on Professional Development, which is what I believe to be a key in improving our education system.

I was pleased to hear that in the summary of these sessions that they would address the problems with professional development. In my mind I envisioned a list of the problems I hoped that would be addressed from a teacher’s perspective. I was sorely disappointed to see the focus on those problems in some of the sessions was from an administrator’s point of view. It was based more on delivery and less on quality or effectiveness. The list included: How to get teachers to sign up for PD, how to get teachers to fulfill seat-time requirements, how to assure that teachers taking online components were really who they said they were. I immediately thought about a doctor who placed all of the effort to addressing and fixing the symptoms of an illness and missing the obvious task of addressing the illness itself.

What was clear to me in most of the sessions was that there was little focus on the failures of the PD that was to be delivered. There was only one session that addressed an understanding of Andragogy, also referred to as adult learning, and how components of their program addressed it. This session presented a larger more flexible Internet delivery system. Delivering information electronically without considering adult learners as your students doesn’t work. This was the equivalent of delivering paper-printed worksheets digitally. The problems that come with printed worksheets travel well electronically. Just because a computer delivered it, it doesn’t make it better. Research tells us that lecture is not the most effective way to teach, so why would we think computer-delivered webinars would work any better? There was a limited amount of follow-up support, and that support had to be initiated by the teacher’s request. There was no mention of follow-up research to determine how effective the PD was in improving or even affecting student learning in the classroom. Of course I do not see this as a shortcoming of the educators who were charged with evolving this PD in their district. It was a short sighted direction to meet the immediate needs of their administrators to check off that box indicating that they offered PD to their teachers in terms they have come to understand after decades (maybe centuries) of the same old PD. Why do we question that teachers in overwhelming numbers list dissatisfaction with professional development as their number one concern?

The hard cold fact of the matter is that if we are to improve our education system, we must improve how we understand, deliver, and assess our professional development. That will not be comfortable for anyone in education. It will require commitment to time and money and that will affect teachers and administrators not to mention taxpayers. It is also why we haven’t made great strides in this area over the centuries that we have had a public education system.

We cannot assume that a four-year degree that addresses both mastering teaching, as well as additionally mastering a specific subject area, is enough to carry a teacher through an entire career in education. Many states require a Master’s degree, but many don’t. Of course that is only an additional two-year degree and careers are 35 to 40 years long.

I carried my concerns to another conference in NYC, The Software and Information Industry Association’s Education Business Forum (SIIA EBF). It is a great business education conference, rather than educators, it is made up of people representing the companies within the education technology publishers’ community. They provide the technology, systems, applications, programs, and consulting that schools purchase throughout the year.

I had dinner with an old friend whose career has been focused as a leader in professional development for educators. My question to him was based on my own concerns with PD in education. I asked, what should we do about the PD we are getting? His answer was simple, truthful, and I fear it to also be correct: Blow it up! We then spent our dinner conversation on WHY.

The bulk of “continuing PD” for teachers is a day or two during the course of the year, or during the summer, often to fill the gaps of the use of technology supported by the district. Additionally, teachers can take approved college courses or workshops that meet district requirements. Seat time is key to many of these courses in order to be approved. Seat time varies from place to place, but it all relies on a teacher being seated in a class for a specific number of hours and being able to certify it. With assessment being such a big part of what educators do, one would expect some assessment on what the teacher learned, or some assessment of the PD’s impact on that teacher’s students’ learning. For the most part that is not often done.

My friend at dinner pointed out that research shows successful methods of PD have common factors. Unfortunately, the first factor may make it a deal breaker for teachers and administrators. For PD to succeed, it must be at least fifty to eighty hours of continuous and continual instruction, practice, and coaching in order to attain mastery. This would require time from the teacher and money and support from the district. The obvious solution to this is to incorporate all PD into the job description of the teacher making it part of the workweek and supporting it with additional money for additional time and a professional coaching staff.

Further insight can be derived from The Learning Policy Institute: Effective Teacher Professional Development by Linda Darling-Hammond, Maria E. Hyler, and Madelyn Gardner, with assistance from Danny Espinoza

https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Effective_Teacher_Professional_Development_BRIEF.pdf

Elements of Effective Professional Development Using this methodology, we found seven widely shared features of effective professional development. Such professional development:

  1. Is content focused
  2. Incorporates active learning utilizing adult learning theory
  3. Supports collaboration, typically in job-embedded contexts
  4. Uses models and modeling of effective practice
  5. Provides coaching and expert support
  6. Offers opportunities for feedback and reflection
  7. Is of sustained duration

And here is another support from an older article that is still very relevant is: Teaching the Teachers: Effective professional development

http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/research/teaching-teachers-effective-professional-development

Paying attention to any part of these lists of recommendations could make a small difference from the status quo of the past centuries of practice for PD. The idea of blowing up the entire thing and starting over, with all of the considerations that we have come to understand work, would be the best thing we could do to improve on what we have.

As educators, we are a community of learners first, and teachers second. As educators, we collaborate, reflect, and improve. As educators, if we fail, we assess, correct, and move forward. Knowing who we are, and what we do, why do we as educators continue to put up with a failing Professional Development approach that handicaps our profession and limits our students? Let us consider, reflect, collaborate, and improve what we know and how we learn it to affect the greatest and best change for our students.

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

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In a recent #Edchat discussion we discussed whether or not schools should encourage teachers to use technology to reach out in communication with parents. I really did not think this would still be a relevant discussion in light of how we have all grown dependent on technology for communication, but evidently there are places where it is not yet fully endorsed.

Communication with parents is an important key to student success. Without it often times an “Us vs. Them” mentality can develop between teachers and parents which should by all accounts be a team like effort and not an adversarial relationship. There is no need for any parent to be surprised with a failing grade on a report card because there was no prior notification so the parent might have the opportunity to intervene.

Way back in the 20th century it was sometimes difficult to reach parents with communications limited to the US Mail or a landline telephone. People struggled with reachable hours because of work schedules of both parents and teachers. It often seemed to teachers that the parents of struggling, or failing students were always the most difficult parents to contact. The unfortunate result was that many teachers had to concentrate on trying to contact parents whose children had difficulties, while leaving little time to commend achievement of more successful students. Kids would dread a call from their teacher to their parents knowing that there was no such thing as a good call. Many kids also became proficient at hijacking the mail in a timely fashion.

Technology in the 21st century has given educators several benefits in their ability to effectively communicate with parents for good stuff, as well as possible deficiencies that may need a parent’s attention or intervention.

Letting parents into their world at school is not something most kids freely volunteer. Teachers using class websites featuring glimpses of what their class does is a great way to keep parents in the loop and highlight the wonderful thing kids accomplish during the year. It’s also a great place to post assignment deadlines for all to see.

Many teachers have had great success using Twitter to highlight student accomplishments to “following” parents. Many principals have had great success on a larger scale tweeting out accomplishments of their schools.

Of course a great source for parent communication would be the student information system used by the school. Many of them have a parent-messaging component to them, allowing any teacher to email parents directly through the system. No muss, no fuss. Many schools are unaware of the benefits that these systems have to offer. Schools also need to train teachers on these systems on a regular basis to cover changes in the system, and new personnel joining the staff.

Of course every teacher should have an email account through his or her school to use for parent communications rather than using a private personal account. Teachers must be informed that contact with parents about kids should always be done on a school account for legal protection.

The problem on a large scale is that many, if not a majority teachers, are not trained to understand the communication possibilities or responsibilities of using technology. At some schools they find it easier to deal with telling teachers to stay away from technological communications. Of course that will eventually come back to bite.

Professional development in this area is essential in today’s computer-driven society. Even the President of the United States uses Twitter for communication. Using technology is not an intuitive endeavor. It requires training. Thoughtful and responsible communicating is also not an intuitive skill. It requires training and understanding. There are also legal considerations that teachers must be aware of. It is best to have a trail of all communications for the protection of all concerned. All of these considerations bring a whole bunch of obstacles to overcome, but it is better to deal with them up front, than to try to clean up a mess created by uninformed users. A little learning is a dangerous thing.

Back to the #Edchat discussion: something developed from a comment indicating that teachers have an obligation to notify parents that their child will be receiving a failing grade before it becomes a written fact on a report card. The statement that bothered me the most was one made by a teacher in the chat and agreed to by some others. Admittedly, many years ago I repeated the same words. “Students earn their failing grades.” That statement assumes that the teacher did everything right and the student deliberately chose to fail. I guess that might be true in some cases, but I don’t believe it holds true for a majority of failures.

There are some teachers who fail to assess their students’ understanding through formative assessment as lessons progress. This is a fatal flaw in teaching. If we do not determine student understanding of the lesson from the beginning and into the middle, how can we expect understanding at the conclusion? Does the teacher’s failure to assess his or her own effectiveness in a lesson become the responsibility of the student? Yes, this is not always the case, but it happens more often than it should. Students placed in that situation are not earning their failing grades, but they will get them anyway.

Maybe by communicating with parents more fully, a teacher could gain insights into his or her students that kids don’t share in school. One thing I have come to understand about kids: they show one personality to their teacher and they show another to their parents. We need to see and understand the whole child and that can only happen by sharing information with parents. This too should be a subject of Professional Development. How do teachers communicate with parents to get unsuccessful kids to succeed?

If communication is the key to success, we need to make sure our teachers can successfully communicate. That requires that we provide and support relevant professional development to do that. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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Book:kindleI recently read a blog post about how teachers will never be replaced by technology. The author stated that technology was just a “tool for learning”. This had to be among literally hundreds, if not thousands, of similar posts and comments that I have read over the years. Since I was teaching from the early 70’s, I tended to agree with that way back then. Today, however, I am not so sure that technology in education hasn’t grown into something beyond a “tool for learning”. I often thought that the support garnered for this idea about a “tool for learning”, from educators was based in their fear from an unfounded belief by Sci-Fi authors who often suggested the replacement of teachers by technology in the future. Sci-Fi doesn’t always get it right. Where are the flying cars?

Tech has always been a factor if not the driving force in the advancement of culture. One of the greatest tech influences in education was Gutenberg’s printing press, followed by the chalkboard, audio tape, film, television and the personal calculator which all preceded personal computers in their various portable forms today. The implementation of the most recent devices however is where I believe many educators have tunnel vision on the influence of tech in education.

All tech has a limited shelf life. It is constantly evolving. Both its users and its developers influence this evolution. Society itself is the loudest voice demanding speed and efficiency in the way it communicates, collaborates, and creates. The tools for each of these components are constantly evolving at a pace we have never before experienced in history. This technological paradigm shift has created its own literacy. Literacy has always been a goal of education. It was necessary in order to communicate, collaborate, and create in order to further educate. The literacy required in any century was limited to the technology that enabled it, but that technology was often separate from the literacy. You didn’t need to know about how to print on a printing press in order to read a printed book. Writing implements were readily available in various forms in order to record thoughts, as well as communicate with them. The use was simple requiring nothing more than penmanship.

The rapid advancement of technology has changed this. Tech has evolved so quickly and so universally in our culture that there is now literacy required in order for people to effectively and efficiently use it. That rapid tech evolution however leaves many people whose age was not synched with that tech advancement in a learning gap. Kids growing up with the tech are immersed in it from birth and evolve their tech literacy with age. We have all seen the video of the baby trying to page swipe a printed magazine 

Unfortunately, lifelong learning is a goal that is often discarded because life itself gets in the way of continual learning. Consequently, most adults will always be playing catch-up with kids in order to stay relevant in a modern society. The gap is the problem for our education system since our educators are adults and our students are kids.

If we buy into the idea that technology requires tech literacy, then we must also accept that evolving tech requires an evolving literacy. This requires adjusting that which we have already learned, and change is difficult. It requires an ongoing development for professionals to maintain the smallest gap between what they know to what they need to know in order to maintain relevance in a rapidly changing environment.

  • Professional development can no longer be a haphazard choice by folks who don’t like making uncomfortable choices. Comfort levels are the greatest obstacles to change.
  • Professional development can no longer be just a check box on a list of things educators should do. It must be prioritized, supported and, most importantly, implemented.
  • Professional development can no longer be a “one and done” concept delivered once at the beginning of the school year. It must be an ongoing part of an educator’s job description.
  • Professional development must be supported with follow-through and follow-up. Supporting educators with both time and coaching to apply their professional development is essential for success.

Our society today does not collaborate, communicate, or create the way it did as far back as the 20th Century, so why would we teach using concepts and methodologies of the 20th and in some cases the 19th century? To succeed in our education system in the past, our students needed to be literate in reading and writing. Today, in order to use the tools needed to accomplish almost any task a society demands, the users must be technology literate. It is no longer a choice made by any educators whether to teach students to be technology literate or not. Educators have a moral obligation to educate kids in order for them to survive and thrive in a technology-driven society. School districts have a moral obligation to give their educators effective and efficient professional development to enable them to accomplish this.

Yes, technology provides “tools for learning” and teaching, which cannot replace a relevant teacher. The teacher/student relationship is credited for great strides in learning. That however may not always hold true for an educator who is no longer relevant because his or her district did not support its educators with ongoing and effective PD. Students properly motivated may circumvent teachers and self teach with the “tools of learning”. Irrelevant educators and a thirst for authentic learning may be that very motivation needed for some students.

We have the tools for all the professional development we need to provide. We can provide worldwide collaboration. We can provide individualized support. We can provide the ability to time shift things to accommodate personal scheduling.

We can’t provide progressive innovative thinking on the part of school districts. We can’t provide the supportive culture to promote educators seeking life long professional learning. We can’t provide educators with an open mindset opening them to the possibility of change. We can’t provide a promise that a commitment to change will be comfortable.

Professional development will not just happen on its own. The concept of personalized learning through collaboration in social media is wonderful, but it may never take off with a majority of educators. I haven’t seen great involvement in the last 12 years or so. The whole idea of learning is not a passive exercise. It requires work on the part of those providing the teaching as well as those benefitting from the learning. Reading and writing as a literacy was hard enough for many of us, and now we are seeing that there is a whole new literacy that needs to be not only learned, but taught by us as well. It is overwhelming. It is however an important and often unsupported part of the profession that we chose to enter. In order to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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PD CLASS 1950sIf a doctor, who is faced with a patient exhibiting multiple symptoms of an unknown disease, were to address each of the symptoms rather than addressing the disease itself, he/she might find the outcome for that patient to be disastrous in the long run. The patient might have had the symptoms lessened, but the disease would eventually win out with a poor outcome for the patient.

Our education system is extremely complicated. There are many parts to that system, many of which have undergone change based on cultural and scientific influences. Many problems of today’s education system did not exist in past generations or even the most recent past decade. With so many facets, many in a state of flux, it is impossible to point to one solution that will fix all that is wrong with the education system and also expect it to work forever. The best strategy might be to identify those problems that can have the greatest impact on change. Of course many educators might find it difficult to reach agreement as to which problems should be first addressed, depending on their own biases and experiences with teaching and learning. The opinions of other stakeholders in the system further complicate this including: administrators, students, parents, and taxpayers. The question we first need to address, if change can happen in a positive way to improve education in our country, in my opinion should be about educating educators.

Teachers in the system come from varied backgrounds with varied levels of education. They are from varied races and have varied life experiences as well as varied professional experiences. With these vast differences in those who are responsible for educating our kids, can we say that all of these educators are using the best practices, and methodologies to get the most out of those students they are responsible for?

Using the term of “standardization” is a slippery slope. Too often, when we talk about standardization, we also imply a rigidity that prevents us from revisiting any component of that standardization to test its relevance. This requires work to re-evaluate and change and re-educate large numbers of educators if any component of the system loses its relevance. Some changes are obvious when we consider technology. Consider the demise of: typewriters, mimeograph machines, record players, VCRs, cameras, projectors, telephones, and filmstrips. All of these, as well as many others, were recognized as ineffective tools for education and were replaced by more efficient and effective tech tools. Upgraded and improved tools are also continually replacing these new tools.

Now let’s consider our educators with their varied experiences spread out over their generations of experience. Do their current practices include: problem based learning, project based learning, student voice and choice, student centered learning, voluntary homework, formative assessment, flipped learning, design based learning, the use of rubrics, authentic learning, school culture, new education technology, and many more methodologies?

Do we have a responsibility to make sure our educators are as relevant as the technology they are required to use? Do we have a responsibility to make sure any school we walk into in our country has educators who are versed in the most recent and effective methodology in their field of education?

A common complaint among most educators is their dissatisfaction with the professional development provided to them. The requirements for PD differ from state to state and town to town. Some schools support PD within the culture of the school. Other schools rarely address PD beyond what the state may require.

“A Level Playing Field” is a really overused expression, but it seems to fit in what is needed to improve deficiencies in our education system. If we truly want to improve the education of our students, we need to first improve and support the education of their educators. The practices of PD over the last decades have failed to do so. The speed at which change takes place is faster than ever before in history. We need to account for change and adjust accordingly to maintain relevance in our community of educators. If we want “The Best Bang for the Buck” PD is the key. If we fail to prioritize professional development, we are not prioritizing education. All that political rhetoric about improving education is a hollow promise of something that politicians have little understanding, but that is nothing new for politicians. They too should consider some improved form of professional development for their own profession.

Prioritizing PD will be costly to implement and maintain but it is an investment in our system. It is not just throwing money at a problem without a plan. We need not standardize curriculum if continually educate educators in best practices. Yes there will be fads in educational approaches that we will need to root out, but will have a better ability to judge such things as more educators are engaged in the leading ideas of their profession.

For the best and most effective changes in our education system we need a bottom up movement to improve Professional Development. We need to teach educators as adults who learn as adults learn. We need to respect them for who they are and what life experiences they bring to the table. We need to teach them things today that they can use in class tomorrow. We need to recognize their goals and help achieve them. We need to provide practical and relevant solutions to help their teaching as well as their learning. We need to provide coaches on the school staff to monitor guide and reflect along with our educators to reinforce and support their efforts.

Without a new and supportive approach to professional development for our educators, we will continue to struggle. After two centuries of a scattered approach to PD without consideration to adult learning, we are not far from where we were back in the 18th century with the exception maybe of improved bells and whistles. Educating educators in better ways and supporting that learning is the best and most effective way to improve the education of our children. Rather than standardize curriculum and testing, let us consider standardizing a thoughtful, supportive, national approach to professional development for educators. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

 

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