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Archive for the ‘Literacy’ Category

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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Steamboat-WillieLike many people my first foray into the virtual world of connectedness was through Facebook. I connected with family and friends. This led me to consider making some professional connections out of necessity. I began my connected collaboration as an educator over a decade ago. I realized as an adult learner that I learned best through collaboration and that collaboration could only take place if I was in some way connected with other educators. I feel that I had grown to a point where my teaching colleagues, whom I had face-to-face contact with, seemed to somehow no longer have answers to my questions. It was apparent to me that their own profession was getting away from many of them. They depended too heavily on what was taught about education years ago rather than what was currently being taught. They had no connection to the latest and greatest in education. Their knowledge and experience was losing relevance. My building connections no longer served me well enough to meet my needs. I needed to expand my collegial base to more educators who were more in tune with education demands of the 21st Century. My building limited me.

I began connecting with educators virtually on LinkedIn. It was considered a social media application for professionals. I found that I could create groups of educators that had interests in education similar to mine. Educators would come to these groups to discuss topics that we were all interested in, but were not being discussed in faculty rooms or faculty meetings or not even in the provided Professional Development sessions. My frustration with this however was the time involved waiting for people to get back to me. Discussions were not in real-time. Questions were answered when participants returned to the discussion. Through LinkedIn I discovered Twitter.

Twitter was more in real-time. I followed educators wherever I could find them. I used Twitter only for educators. The interactions took place in real-time, so there was instant gratification. I began to identify which educators had expertise in specific areas. My problem was getting together with the right people who were interested in what I was interested all at one time. That is why #Edchat was started. I could come up with a Topic of interest for discussion that was not being discussed in schools, but had great impact on educators. The topics were well received because they began to be referenced in Education Blog Posts. The Twitter Chat model flourished creating hundreds of education chats here and around the world.

My big takeaway from Twitter was that people were accepted for their ideas and not their titles. Teachers, administrators, authors, politicians, and thought leaders are equals on Twitter.

Through Twitter I was exposed to many relevant Blog Posts. I was amazed that educators were sharing great ideas on blog posts it opened an entire community of education thought leaders to me. I followed many of them on Twitter for further one-to-one interactions. I discovered that Blogs were interactive. I could engage bloggers not only to agree, or disagree, but also to expand their ideas. These discussions of great ideas ran through a number of connected venues, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Blog Posts. These connected discussions proceeded any discussions of similar ideas taking place in school buildings. Edcamps, One-to-One initiatives, Flipped Class, BYOD and connected collaboration were all topics discussed and vetted long before they were even recognized in the brick and mortar world of education.

It was through these discussions and interactions that led me to a path to begin my own Blog. That was a scary step that in hindsight helped me grow more as a professional than any other individual step I have taken. It has forced me to question more, investigate deeper, reflect more thoughtfully, and share more openly. The Blog was well-received and brought requests from many educators for connected face-to-face connected collaboration. This led me to both SKYPE and Google Hangout. This was a further expansion of my connected network of educators, but the ability to see the person I was connecting with was the new dynamic.

One element of my real world connectedness that I was privileged to have, was my attendance at local, state, and National conferences. Most teachers in our education system do not attend conferences because most school budgets do not make allowances for teachers to attend them. I presented and held office in organizations in order to meet that goal to attend as many conferences as I could. A great benefit of conferencing is the networking done to make real connections. Each year educators can meet other educators for professional exchanges and if they are fortunate enough to go a second year, they can renew those connections as long as their connections were fortunate enough to attend the second year as well. Connected educators have no such constraints. They are connecting and exchanging with conference participants before, during, and after the conference takes place. They are also sharing the conference content through their connectedness with educators who could not attend the conference. Virtual relationships are made face-to face as conference participants actually meet up with their connected colleagues. Social media for professional relationships has added a whole new level to any antiquated model of educational conferencing.

Now, here is why I refer to this connected journey model, which I have openly shared, as “whistling in the wind”. This is what is referred to as a PLN, a Professional Learning Network. I have modeled here how professional connectedness can benefit any educator, yet a majority of educators fail to take advantage of what is being offered. Is it because they did not get this information in their teacher preparation program in college? Is it because they have no time to spend beyond their workday to make professional advances? Is it because they lack a digital literacy to do the basics of social media interaction? Is it because they are not what they profess that they want their students to be, Life Long Learners? Is it because they feel that their college preparation was enough to carry them through a forty-year career without needing to learn, change, and adapt to a quick-paced, ever-changing, digital world?

I do not expect anyone to accomplish what I have done in my journey to connectedness. I have been doing it for over a decade. I do expect however or at the very least hope that, as professionals, which we claim to be, educators begin their first steps to connecting and proceed at a pace slightly out of their comfort level. Comfort levels are the greatest obstacles to change.

The world we first learned in is not the world that we teach in and it is sure as hell not the world our students will occupy to thrive and compete. If our comfort zones take precedence over our students getting a relevant education, we are failing as professional educators. The fact remains however that it is a great struggle to get educators to connect and grow. Most educators will not see this blog post, let alone interact with it to defend their on of non-connection. Those of us who are connected may need to do a better job of modeling, and speaking to the benefits of connectedness for the sake of our colleagues and our profession. As I have always said, “If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.”

 

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One undeniable fact Polar bear on Iceabout teaching is that teachers not only need to be masters of content within their subject area, but they must also be masters of education as a subject. Another undeniable fact is that neither of those subject areas looks the same as when any teacher first mastered them. One effect of the integration of technology into our society is that change in almost everything is happening at a pace never before experienced by mankind. As much as some people may yearn for the simpler times of the past, life will continue to move forward as the natural order of society requires.

The influence of additional information on any subject may often affect how we deal with that subject. In our history, once we had more information on the effects of smoking, smoking habits of millions of people changed. Once we learned what we now understand about the benefits of physical activity, several sports related industries were spawned. Once we learned what we now know of communication, several music and print industries disappeared while being replaced with better in many ways. If we do not take time to understand new information and how it interacts with what we do, we, as a profession, may go the way of typewriters, photographic film, super 8 film, 8 track cassettes, landline telephones, or block-ice refrigeration.

I always viewed education as a preparation for students to learn enough content and skills to use for creating their own content in whatever field they decided to enter. Teachers residing in schools were the keepers of information. Schools determined who got what information and when they got it. Information for kids was determined and dispensed by the teacher. Control and compliance were the keys to the information and allowed for the orderly distribution of content. This was education or centuries.
Now, with the advent of technology and the unlimited access to what often appears to be limitless information, as well as access to untold numbers of people through social media, there is a great change for those who understand it. There is also a great change for those who do not choose to understand it. The cold hard fact here is that technology is now providing us with the tools for “Do It Yourself Learning”. It is not the “mail order courses” of days gone by. It is a real way for some students to circumvent the system that is in place and at their own pace and their own direction learn what they choose to learn. All of this can be delivered in whatever form a student determines is in his or her learning preference, text, video, music, or live face-to-face interaction. There may come a time for some that they will learn in spite of their teachers not teaching them what they need in the way they need it.

In the past I have always said that a computer could never replace a teacher, because learning was based on relationships. Today, I am not so sure. In a profession that is information-based, we must acknowledge that information undergoes change. What we knew a short while back may no longer be relevant in a rapidly changing world. Both areas that teachers are required to master, their subject content, and education have both undergone change no matter when it was any teacher mastered them. Staying up-to-date, relevant, on information in your own profession is a moral imperative. We can’t expect what we learned as college students to carry us through a 30 or 40-year career.
Time and money are often the reasons educators give for not seeking to develop further professionally. They are powerful reasons indeed, but not insurmountable. A fear of technology by many is also offered up as a reason for lack of development. I have come to believe that these are just the excuses, while the real reason for the lack of professional development for educators is the comfort of the Status Quo. Comfort zones are obstacles to change. It may be change itself that most are fearful of. We can’t all agree that change is needed in education, and then refuse to change as individual educators. The system can’t demand change of teachers without examining its own professional development programs that have been so ineffective over the centuries that PD has been offered. Colleges can no longer continue to produce teachers based on a twentieth century model of a classroom teacher.

Anyone entering teaching as a profession must do it with the awareness and a commitment to life long learning, because the teacher you come out of college as, is not the teacher your students will need. It will forever be a changing and evolving position. Teaching is not an easy job. It requires teachers to be uncomfortable with change for a lifetime. However, if we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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snapshot-cameraIn a world where we emphasize branding systems, organizations and even people with all the positives, while downplaying all the negatives, it becomes very difficult to get an accurate picture of something so obscured with both what is real and what is hype. Nowhere is this more evident than at any public occasion where a school/district administrator describes his or her school’s/district’s success in being a model of 21st century learning. It is on such occasions that buzzwords and acronyms play such a significant role in confusing the picture of where we really are in education.

I am always wary of any administrator’s description of programs within their schools as if one successful program supported by a few progressive and passionate educators in a school is typical of all that is going on throughout the district. I am equally wary of teachers in public sessions presenting progressive lessons supported with technology and student voice as typical lessons employed by all of their fellow educators in their school or district. This is also a practice of our professional organizations in Education. They promote themselves as leading edge tech drivers for learning, while their sponsors, tech companies, drive most of that and not their members, educators.

We should all share with others great things that we are doing in education. These are the very things needed to inform and inspire others to step up as well. We should not however sell it as the norm for the school unless it is. More often than not however these are exceptional examples for a very good reason: others are not replicating them.

Of course the obvious question, to me at least, is: If this description of progressive, tech-supported, collaborative, student supported learning is so positively impactful in describing a school or district, why aren’t we pushing for it through our policies, professional development, and money? Why are these things still the exceptions to the rule in education? If the control and compliance strategy of the 20th century is not what is being touted as an exemplar for 21st Century learning presented to the public, why is it still so prevalent in the system? Why are we not reframing our definition of an administrator and teacher to be digitally literate? Why are we not giving voice to all constituents in a school community? Why are we not promoting a school culture that supports collaboration and technological competence for all life long learners that includes all administrators, teachers and students? Why are we not providing authentic, respectful, differentiated Professional Development to our educators?

We should have pride in our schools. We should share with people the wonderful things that are being accomplished. Teachers should share their most successful lessons with other educators. If however we take those snapshots of great things and convince or even imply to people that this is the way all learning is taking place for the sake of branding, it is a step too far.

There is a need to assess exactly what the skills are of our educators of varied ages who have come from various backgrounds and experiences in order to provide what each individual needs in PD. There is a need for every school to examine what their school culture is, in order to align it with what they want it to be. There is a need to define what a 21st Century educator is in order to move a majority of educators out of their 20th Century mindset.

When someone is painting a picture of his or her contribution to the learning of his or her students, it should be limited to that alone. Teachers and administrators should not imply and we should not assume that their snapshots of their classes or projects are the feature film of the entire school’s learning environment. Their accomplishments and those of their students however should be a model to get schools to evolve to a place and time where it is representative of the entire school’s learning environment.

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I was afforded a great opportunity yesterday. After a large local education conference, I attended a get together of a number of people who had gone through or are presently participating in the same masters program for educational technology that I had completed in 1991 from Long Island University. It was a social gathering but the topic of every conversation was of course education.

The group was made up of men and women all working as educators, but very knowledgeable of the effect of technology on student learning. They were all at least familiar with the latest technologies, if not proficient in their use. What seems to have been a thread throughout many of their discussions was the struggle or at the very least the frustration that they had with convincing colleagues of the value of tech in the process of learning. This was especially true of the decision makers in their buildings or districts.

I do not question any educator’s goal to offer the best opportunities for their students to learn. Where we differ is what those opportunities should look like. While some may be conservative in their methodology, I favor working with the tools students will be required to use in the world they will live in. I will not teach kids to be ready for the world I once lived in. It seems counter-productive.

Relevance is very important in this discussion. Change takes place so fast today that educators who are standing still with their learning about their own profession are actually falling behind, widening the gap with their more connected colleagues. Technology is continually evolving and we will never keep up with all of its changes, but we need to at the very least be aware of enough information to make considered decisions on the direction and use of technology in learning. Sometimes technology will not be the answer.

The goal should always be about the learning, but technology confuses the issue. Technology is costly, and it requires training both the teacher and the student. It also evolves, changes, or disappears altogether. Replacement or updating is never-ending. This is not a model that the education system was built on. Back in the day when one bought a textbook it remained unchanged for decades and everyone could read, so there was little training required. A percentage of wear and use took its toll, so there was some replacement needed. This is not true of tech with maybe the exception of the overhead projector. That is 80-year-old technology that has changed very little and requires little or no training as long as someone knows how to change the bulb.

Transparency in education has become both a blessing and a curse in education. Learning was once delivered in silos that were based on control and compliance of students and teachers alike. Technology again has dramatically changed that dynamic in education. Collaboration, both local and global, has torn down those silos for educators who have embraced it

There are still graduate and undergraduate teaching programs that are rolling out educators without even an adequate appreciation of technology in education let alone a mastery of it. School districts make major purchases of technology, but cut out the professional development needed to use that technology as a cost-saving initiative. All of this adds to the gap between educators who are successful in teaching with tech and those who hang on to methodologies and pedagogies of the past out of necessity, because it is all that they know. Administrators are not immune from this learning gap. Their deficiencies however have a more profound effect because of the education decisions affected by their lack of tech knowledge. Digital literacy is a necessary element of the teaching profession, but you don’t reach a point of being digitally literate and then stop. It requires continual learning because it is continually evolving. Of course placing decision-making power in the hands of those who are digitally literate may compensate for this. The question then becomes: ” Is their digital literacy relevant?” An educator who can do a PowerPoint presentation may be digitally literate in terms of PowerPoint, but what about iPad, chrome books, Google Docs, social media, and several other applications or technologies influencing learning today. Relevance counts!

If we are not going to adequately teach all educators what they should know of technology, then, as a fallback position, we should at least support and listen to those educators who do know of its benefits and drawbacks in making education decisions. Of course the best road to take is one that leads us to continual, authentic, relevant, and respectful professional development.

If we then evaluate the effect of technology on learning we might get a more accurate picture of successes and failures. The educators using it would be more informed and better prepared making educators more supportive of tech overall. Here is a similar post on this subject: Why Do We Separate the Teacher From the Tech? If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

 

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After being involved in social media for over a decade, I have made a few observations that might be helpful to folks who use social media, more specifically Twitter, to develop and maintain a Personal Learning Network. I started my Twitter account with a plan and focus to use it to develop collegial sources for my professional learning. That may be different from why most people sign up for Twitter, but that is an educator’s perspective that may not have been imagined by Twitter’s founders.

Using Twitter for professional learning requires a collaborative mindset. Being collaborative requires more than just consuming ideas from others. It requires sharing, commenting, reflecting and sharing again. This requires work. Twitter for professional learning is not a passive exercise. It does require time and effort. The rewards and benefits however, can more than outweigh the effort.

The key to having valuable and relevant information arriving on a Twitterstream is totally dependent on who is being followed. In order to get thoughtful and credible information tweeted to one’s timeline, thoughtful and credible educators need to be followed. Who one follows is the single most important factor in succeeding at professional learning when using Twitter. Maintaining and upgrading that follow list takes time and effort. Each of those follows is a person. People vary in their involvement in anything from time to time. They may lose interest, becoming inactive for a period of time, or maybe forever. One’s follow list needs to be constantly updated to accommodate those who drop off the stream.

Additionally, an educator’s interest may begin to branch out. In my time on social media the iPad, smartphones, 1:1 laptops, 1:1 chromebooks, Flipped classrooms, STEM, Rigor, and many other initiatives were introduced to education. With each of these introductions new educator experts emerged. All had to be added to my follow list if I was to maintain relevance. As initiatives develop in education new people most familiar with those initiatives need to be followed. Educators who are vocal and knowledgeable while involved in Twitter chats are another group from which I add follows. People who engage me in thoughtful education tweets are also most often followed. I usually look at a perspective follow’s profile to assure their educator credentials before I commit.

It is easy to get a follow list much larger than one can handily manage with all of these follow considerations. To simplify and organize tweets, chats, hashtags and groups of follows, I employ TweetDeck. Hootsuite is a similar tool. I am able to create dedicated columns that follow specific hashtags, groups, or individuals in addition to separating out my Twitterstream, Notifications and Direct Messages. Each of these designations gets an individual column.

Being a collaborative educator in the 21st Century requires that an educator be connected to other educators. With the tools of technology available today educators are only isolated by choice. Since most districts do not send a majority of educators to national, statewide, or even local education conferences, the virtual connection is the best alternative. Technology today enables that to happen. It is however incumbent on each educator to work to make those connections. It requires a collaborative mindset as well as a willingness to learn. It requires educators to be what they profess to their students, “You must be a Life Long Learner!”

The time investment to accomplish this can be as little as twenty minutes a day. The warning here however is that often times a learner may actually get caught up in the learning and spend more time than planned on a given topic. Social media opens educators to the pedagogy, and methodology of others. It offers transparency to policies. It questions the status Quo. It forces reflective thinking. It acts as a megaphone for new ideas. It gives educators a voice in the discussion of their own profession. None of this will happen however unless an educator comes to the table with a collaborative mindset and a willingness to spend time collaborating. Educators should never expect less from themselves than they expect of their students. A good teacher is also a good learner, and a good learner can always become a great teacher.

 

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