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Archive for the ‘Accountability’ Category

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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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.

choice

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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I remember way back in split roadthe 70’s, I think it was Time magazine that came out with an article listing the most difficult jobs in America. I remember it because at the top of that list was the job of an eighth grade English teacher. Time based its list on the number of decisions an individual had to make on the job. Of course as an eighth grade English teacher I felt Time was 100% right in recognizing my contributions to society.

Contrary to what many uninformed critics might say, teaching is a very difficult and time-consuming job. Teachers need to balance relationships of family as well as their relationships with students. Teachers need to balance family time and preparation time for students. Teachers have also in many instances been scapegoated as the root cause of a perceived failing education system. Teaching has been further complicated because of the rapid change occurring each day in our computer-based, digitally driven society.

All of these factors affect every teacher in different ways. The overall effect however seems that many educators feel that they have a difficult job that they are dedicated to, but they are constantly coming under attack from people who don’t get it. Many teachers have to follow mandates that they find fault in. They are being asked to meet demands without being afforded the time or preparation to successfully accomplish them.

Innovation is loudly called for, but support and time to develop that innovation is barely whispered about. Accountability and evaluation of teachers are still subjective concepts in many schools making them a possible threat with less progressive administrators. Innovation and experimentation can be a perilous road for a teacher to take in this current world of education. Failure, although a very strong basis for learning, is still viewed by many as something that must not happen at any cost, especially in teacher evaluations. In order to deal with all of these pressures one answer is to rely on things that worked in the past. Teachers may rely on what worked in the past without objection. It worked before, so it should withstand scrutiny again. The elephant in the room is that if we shift the goal of education from enabling real learning to obtaining better, standardized test results than test review will trump innovative lessons.

Teachers need to resist hunkering down in the successes of the past. This will not provide our students with what they will need for their future. Our learners are different. Our tools for communication, collaboration, and creation are different. Our society is demanding skills from our learners that are different. The world in which we now live is different from when many of our teachers became teachers. Things will continue to change faster than ever before in history.

We as educators cannot take the safe path of teaching from the past. Innovation is important, even if it is not wholeheartedly supported by our system. Professional development should be prioritized for teachers to evolve as constant and continuing changes take place. Teachers need to personalize their own learning, because few schools will provide what is needed to evolve professionally. It is not a comfortable road to travel. It requires time, persistence and commitment. It will involve both failure and success. It will require leaving comfort zones that are the biggest obstacles to change. It will not happen overnight. It is a continuing journey that will begin with taking a first step. As teachers we need to develop in spite of the system, or that will become the very goal of our kids.

We cannot seek safety in our teaching of the past. It would come at the expense of our students. We need to be innovative in our teaching. We need to be relevant in our learning. The system’s lack of commitment to real, respectful, thoughtful professional development, collaborative time, and innovation may be a deterrent, but it should not be the excuse not to innovate. We have the tools and abilities to circumvent that system until it has time to catch up if it choses to do so. We can never let our comfort zones take precedence over our students’ learning.

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

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