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Archive for the ‘PD’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It has been quite awhile since I have written a post. I think I might be in a state of depression as a result of my addiction to television News shows and the recent development of an affliction that I refer to as “screen screaming”. Getting beyond the political turn of events of recent history, I also find myself frustrated and depressed over the slow pace of change in education that we have witnessed since the turn of the century. Why is it that so much of what education thought-leaders have been advocating for, in order to dramatically change the education system for the better, has yet to take root in any significant way? Many of the practices that have been identified as stymieing the system are still common practice in too many school systems today.

The big question that educators often ponder seems to be: In this age of technology and innovation does technology improve student learning? Of course that is a big question with research supporting both sides of the argument. I think however that there are other questions, which must be answered in order to gauge the effects of technology our education system.

My first question is: What has technology affected in the everyday lives of educators and support staff that improves their conditions? I tend to use my own experience and observations in addressing this since I began teaching in the early 70’s, before any real significant influence of technology on education, calculators not withstanding. Tech has certainly improved and simplified the ability to record data over the years, freeing up time for teachers. Of course that free time might be lost if teachers are loaded up with new additional stuff to record on students. Tech has given educators an ability to increase their connections with other educators through social media and collaborative applications to exchange ideas and share sources. Certainly this collaboration could be a positive influence and a great source of professional development if promoted and supported by an innovative and creative administration. It is impossible to get “out-of-the-box” teaching and learning when teachers are restrained by “in-the-box” management.

Technology has changed the dynamic of curating information for teachers and students. It gives access to information never before so readily available, or so easily curated. Technology also enables users the ability to publish acquired information in various formats for consumption by others. Additionally, it offers a means in many cases to analyze data in ways that could not be done so easily before technology had become so ubiquitous.

Communication has been upended by technology. There are many ways for people to communicate. We have gone way beyond the dial up telephone. Not only can we communicate with voice, but we can also transmit documents, files, videos, audio files, and live streaming. Gutenberg and Bell would most certainly be impressed.

Access to all of these wonders of technology requires a different mindset than that of the early 20th century. It requires the ability to be flexible and adapt to the constant changes that come with technology. It requires one to commit to being a lifelong learner. It also requires a strict adherence to critical thinking in order to recognize, that which offers value from that which is crap.

Now let us consider what teachers need to survive and thrive in their world today in order to be relevant to their students in what they must teach and the methods they use in the time that they have to deal with their students. Technology affords them time-saving methods to deal with the required bureaucratic minutia. It also offers the ability to maintain relevance in the tech-driven, fast-paced, changing environment of information exchange. Access to information at anytime is also a tech-added benefit for teachers. 24/7 communication access can also benefit educators accessing their administrators, collegial sources, students, or parents.

Now let us consider what students will need to know in order for them to survive and thrive in the technology-driven world that they will occupy, as opposed to the world that their educators grew up in. We want kids to be able to communicate, collaborate, curate, critically think, and most importantly create while using Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic.

All of this is now happening and will continue to happen in a world that is technology driven. We do not get any say in how much technology will continue to change and drive change. We can only prepare for the inevitable change by developing a generation of flexible life long learners who can assess and adapt to new information.

If my observations are even somewhat accurate, why is our education system so slow in developing methodologies that are supportive of teachers learning and using technology with their students? Why aren’t educators learning along with their students the very things they were not exposed to as they grew and learned? Why are we not concentrating more on student-centered learning, as opposed to Teacher-driven teaching? Why are we not focusing more on collaborative learning as opposed to lecture and direct instruction? Why aren’t districts more in tune with supporting collaborative learning for their teachers in obtaining relevant professional development to teach kids for their own future?

Well, now that I sat down to write something on education, I find myself again screen screaming, but this time it has nothing to do with partisan politics. I guess the idea of comfort zones, traditions, and closed mindedness are just as frustrating when we recognize where we should be going, but only a few are willing to take a chance on innovation. Maybe politics and education have more in common than I thought. Just because you have always done it one way doesn’t mean it must continue that way. When the world around you changes, pay attention. If we are going to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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