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Archive for the ‘Skills’ Category

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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Two of the most common excuses for not doing something new in education are time and money. They are probably the same excuses for not making change in any profession. People seem to understand and accept these excuses because they themselves use them whenever needed. These excuses are used so often for so many things, that they have come to mean, “I really don’t care to change the status quo, and it is too much trouble for me to do so”.

Many educators through the centuries have observed and commented that the teaching profession is an isolated profession. Many educators, then and now, feel alone in their efforts to educate kids. They often reflect on their efforts, accomplishments, and failures, without the ability to share with a variety of others within their circles in order to improve. Educators were limited to their buildings for collaboration, which occasionally might widen out to include other educators in their district, but that was often less likely to occur. Of course collaboration on a greater scale would take both time and money, and that has rarely been a priority in most schools.

Collaborative learning has always been with us from the beginning of learning, however, it required that the learners occupied the same space at the same time. In a modern world, where people tend to spread out and separate, the boundaries of collaboration, time and space, began to impede professional collaborative learning for educators. It required effort, time and money to get people together for substantive collaboration. Professional organizations stepped up to fill the collaborative void with annual conferences, but these conferences cost money and took away precious time to attend. Budgets were created to support administrators’ attendance, but teachers were more problematic becoming less of a priority to attend. Conferences, dependent on vendor support, soon recognized the benefit of administrator attendance, since administrators were the movers and shakers of the purse strings of schools. The result of all this supported a proportionally greater number of administrators over teachers’ attendance at collaborative conferences. The collaboration among teachers was limited.

It has often been said that if you fill a room with very smart people, the smartest mind is the room itself. We all benefit through collaboration. We each help define, refine, challenge, and support ideas collectively until we settle on a final idea. We all contribute to that process to some degree.

Collaboration is also a preferred method of learning for adults. We are studying adult learning more and finding a difference between adult learning, Andragogy, and child learning, Pedagogy. Since educators are child experts, many wrongly assume that all individuals learn according to pedagogy. Adults however are motivated differently with different needs. Collaboration and problem solving suit adult learning best. This misconception forcing pedagogy on adult learning has had a profound effect on how we handle PD as discussed in a previous post, The Importance of Andragogy in Education. I found one of the best explanations of adult learning in this article: “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit. 

The real game-changer for collaborative learning is technology. With the introduction of social media applications, we have the ability to connect with anyone at anytime. The cost is minimal and the time is adjustable. Time and money excuses no longer serve the status quo when it comes to collaboration. What that means in terms of education is that educators are only isolated by choice. As I have said in the past, any educator has the right to choose to live in a cave, but they don’t have the right to drag students in there with them.

Connecting for collegial sourcing is becoming a standard for educators. Educators in greater numbers are connecting to build Personal Learning Networks through technology. What was once a method of the tech-savvy educators is now becoming a staple of the profession. Of course when the objections of resistance are answered, objectors will come up with new objections to stave off their involvement. Many teachers now say, I am doing well enough with my kids, I don’t need to make connections.” Those teachers will need to live with that decision, for they may never get beyond “well enough” with their students. Imagine telling parents that you will teach their kids well enough?

Of course we know the biggest obstacle to change is leaving that place we all love to reside in, the “comfort zone”. Educators do not have that as an option as professionals. As professionals, we deal in content and fact. Technology is changing both at a rate never before experienced. If we do not keep up with these changes we become irrelevant. What can an irrelevant educator accomplish? Most importantly, an educator’s comfort zone must never take precedence over a student’s education.

The latest and greatest excuse is that face-to-face connections are the best. Connecting down the hallway is better than connecting around the world. I do not entirely disagree with that. If the connection with a person down the hall works then use it. My question is why would anyone interested in learning limit his or her collaboration to only his or her own building? As good as any building’s staff may be, why would one not want to expand collaboration and share with the world. Remember that collaboration works two ways. It is not always what you can get. It is also about what you can give. I believe as educators we all have a moral imperative to share.
Technology provides the means to collaborate on a scale never before available. It requires some effort on the part of educators to happen. It requires a mindset that our 20th Century education has never prepared us for. Connectedness becomes a way of life for an educator, but this does not happen overnight. We need to take it one step at a time, as we need it. We can now take control of our own learning. None of this will happen however, unless that first step is taken. If you don’t know or can’t decide on a first step, talk it over with someone. It’s collaborative learning. By choosing not to engage in order to be connected, educators today make a conscious choice to be isolated. Yes, Isolation is a choice. It is not the choice of a Life Long Learner. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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We are often bombarded with many posts and articles about the successes and failures of technology in education. Too often these assessments are based upon the technology as if it were the only factor having any effect on the students in the classroom. Of course this overlooks something that has been pounded into educators’ heads for years: The greatest influence on students in the classroom is the teacher. That holds true with or without technology in the classroom.

The environment for learning is created in the classroom by the teacher. The teacher determines the tools selected for learning in the classroom. The teacher determines how much time each subject gets and what should be emphasized over something else. Yes, there are restraints and mandates placed on every teacher by administration, but the majority of the individual learning environments that directly affect students, are environments made by classroom teachers. Whenever I read an article, or post, pointing out the failures of technology in the classroom, my first question is: How well was that teacher trained in the use of that technology and its new methodology in the classroom? My second thought is: was that technology mandated to be there without teacher buy-in, or support? Without both of those requirements being met, coupled with what we know of the teacher’s impact on students in the class, how could technology ever be successful?

Adding technology into a curriculum is not a passive exercise. It requires a teacher to not only understand the basics of the tech, but an understanding of whatever new pedagogies and methodologies accompany that tech. Using technology in the classroom is more than just going from a number 2 pencil to a ball point pen.

I have had too many discussions with adjunct professors/teachers who have just been thrown online to teach courses that they have only taught in the classroom for years, because that is now the direction colleges/schools are being directed to go. Little thought on the part of these colleges/schools has gone into what it means to teach online. What methodologies need to be refined or changed? What training a professor/teacher needs in the use of new and devolving technology seems to be an afterthought if a thought at all. Teaching online seems to be a politician’s choice of solution to getting a bigger bang for the tax-generated buck. Many politicians are legislating requirements to teach online with no support for the teacher training needed to support a successful program. There is always the “They’ll-figure-it-out mentality” that seems to drive most change in education. It’s a cheaper, more sellable solution to the problem, but a digital worksheet is still a worksheet. We need to teach using methodologies of the 21st Century to take our best shot with 21st Century tools for learning, collaboration, curation, communication, and creation.

We need to be more critical of the studies that we see on the use of technology in classrooms. We need to ask if and how the teachers were trained in that technology and all it entails. We need to examine the mindset of those educators as well. Are they supportive of tech in the classroom, or do they view it as an added burden that they were never prepared for. Not every educator is prepared to accept technology as a tool for learning. These attitudes have profound effects on results.

Teaching is complicated. It might be argued that teaching is more of an art than a science. Complicated tasks are not easily assessed. With so many variables for success in education, how do we get it right? We cannot accurately assess the effect of technology in the classroom without considering the teacher responsible for implementing and using that technology. We need to consider implementation, training, and support, as well as ongoing professional development of staff as the technology evolves, changes, or is replaced. All of these are factors we need to consider and evaluate, if we are to truly determine the effect technology is having on learning. If we are serious about better educating our kids, then we better get more serious about educating their educators.

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Over the many years that I have been in education and around educators, I have never been able to understand why so many educators, so willingly and publicly, argue for their limitations. Why do they insist, as educators, on stating aloud, “ I don’t get technology and I am not going to start now”?

I taught many in-service courses to educators that required computer use. On many, many occasions educators sitting at their computers would say, “I can’t do this”. My response was simple but crude; I would turn off the computer of the person who had made that statement. After protestations about my action, I would explain that they had convinced me by their statements and attitude that they could not do the assigned task using the computer. I simply accepted their argument about their lack of ability to learn through technology. That was when the light bulb floating magically over their heads would light up. Actively trying and overcoming failures was the key to accomplishing the goal. They most often renewed their efforts after rebooting their computer.

Learning with or about technology for those who have not grown up with technology is an uncomfortable thing to do. It forces people to make mistakes and adjustments in order to learn. The idea of an educator making a mistake in regard to either teaching or in their own content area was something that could not be accepted according to most teacher preparation programs of the 20th century. That may be why so many people openly claim to be unable to “get it” when it comes to technology, rather than to bravely face the demons of discomfort.

Technology and tides stop for no man/woman. Technology that affects almost everything we do today is not going away. It will continue to evolve at even faster rates and have an even greater effect on the speed at which change takes place.

Educators today in addition to everything else they need to know must be digitally literate, because in the world in which their students will live, digital literacy will be essential to survive and more hopefully thrive.

A digitally literate educator is a relevant educator. Educators who are not digitally literate are not bad people. They may also be good teachers. However they may not be providing everything their students will need to meet their personal learning goals for their technology-driven world.

Educators do not need to argue for their limitations. There is no limit to the number of people, who for their own reasons, will do that for them, whether it is true or not. Ironically, politicians with their own multitude of shortcomings probably head that list of finger-pointers. Educators need to be aware of how the world has changed from the 20th century that has heavily influenced so many of our educators. Technology’s integration into learning is no longer a choice that educators have to make. Technology is with us to stay. As uncomfortable as it is, educators need to step up and stop making excuses for their digital illiteracy. Schools need to support professional development to get all educators up to speed on what they need to know. It will be an ongoing need since technology will continue to evolve. If we expect to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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Anyone who is familiar with what I write about should recognize that I stress the importance of relevance as educators in order to teach in an ever-changing, rapidly paced, computer-driven society. That message goes across well with most connected educators for they seem to be the educators who are more comfortable with the tools to make all that happen. They are the educators who view tools of technology as the very tools that generations will be using for collaboration, curation, communication and creation. However they are not the educators that I need to reach with my message. The folks I want to get to with my ideas are the unconnected, those who do not maintain a presence in the connected world of educators. These are folks who would not have access to my blog let alone care to even read it.

To have my message at least viewed by as many different educators as possible, I tend to do guest posts for many education organizations. Edutopia is a great organization that I have been associated with for about a year now and I am proud and honored to have my ideas expressed on that platform. One thing that many organizations do to guest posts is to re-title them to fit that organization’s style. They have every right to do so, and I do not object to that. This sometimes works well and other times not so much. A lesson I learned early on in blogging was that if you want to make a point about Education Technology, never put it in the title of the post. The term “EdTech” is a red light for many educators. It is better to have a non-threatening title and mention it after the first paragraph or two has already sucked them in. NEVER tell them that you are going to talk about EdTech. Somehow that has become a threatening term to many educators.

The construction industry seems to have learned this lesson years ago. They stayed away from Techy titles for the development of their tools. They had: The electric saw, the Power drill, the hydraulic hammer, and the automatic screwdriver. There seems to have been less intimidation in those names. It was a simple adjective in front of a familiar noun. Their labor force saw the benefits of the advanced tools for construction and embraced them. They became more efficient and effective in their jobs.

If the goal of education is to teach kids skills to effectively and efficiently collaborate, curate, communicate, and create with the tools that they will be required to use in their time, then educators will need to, if not embrace, at least accept the need to understand and use these tools of technology today. If the term EdTech gets in the way, let’s eliminate it. We have educators who hear about EdTech conferences and they refuse to consider attending them. Their impression is that EdTech conferences are for Computer teachers.

Education is about using skills and information to create knowledge. The tools required to do that are not stagnant. They are continuously evolving and they are the very tools that teachers need to use to provide a relevant education to their students. It is about education, that is the big picture. Technology is only a component, but it is necessary to maintain relevance in a computer-driven society.

I remember a keynote speech from an upstate New York Superintendent. He explained that a local manufacturer visited him one day to talk about why he could not hire local graduates in his factory. The manufacturer explained to this Superintendent that he could not even hire lathe operators from the graduating class because they were not prepared. He invited the Superintendent to visit his factory to see things for himself. In preparation for his visit the superintendent stopped into the “Shop classes” to make sure that his students were indeed being prepared to use lathes. The teacher took him to the lathe area and had students demonstrate their skills as they stood next to and operated the lathe. Satisfied with what he saw and armed with this information the superintendent headed off for his visit to the factory. Upon his arrival he informed the manufacturer that his students were being well versed in the use of the lathe.

It was then that the manufacturer took the superintendent to the lathe area in the factory. It was a control room with dials lights and gauges. Within that sealed room was a young girl in a white lab coat; she was the lathe operator. Both the Superintendent and the teacher had lost their view of what was relevant for a lathe operator.

We need our educators to be better prepared for what the needs of students will be. If we need to drop off the term EdTech for this to happen than so be it. Terms should not get in the way, but they do. We need to be better communicators if we are to maintain any relevance in a profession that demands it to prepare kids for what they will need.

Here is my reminiscence of education originally titled: A Baby Boomer’s View of Education. The re-title is The Longer View: Edtech and 21st-Century Education. Which of the two titles would be more inviting to an unconnected educator?

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 “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.” St. Jerome

After years of teaching in many buildings and several districts, I have acquired a number of observations on how teachers view and rate administrators. Of course everyone’s view is skewed by each person’s idea of how an administrator is supposed to provide leadership, as well as what amount of an administrator’s job should be administration and how much should be education. It has been my experience that more often than not an administrator’s worth is judged on faculty morale and school discipline within a building, or a district in the case of superintendents. Lack of student discipline and low faculty morale are too often indicators of poor leadership. These symptoms tend to expose the obvious poor leaders, who hopefully are not a large part of the system.

In my opinion the bigger issue is less obvious, how should we differentiate and improve between successful levels of school leadership? What are the differences between good, better, and best? Assuming the poor leaders stand out, how do we get good leaders to be better, and the better to be the best?

Getting educators to agree on generalities is not difficult, but getting them to agree on specifics is often a difficult, if not an impossible task. Most educators are thoughtful, reflective, and fair-minded when it comes to evaluating people, even administrators, since evaluation is part of their job when it comes to kids. Teachers often give administrators a wide berth either because they are kind and non-critical of authority, or compliant. Maybe more honest feedback to administrators from their staffs would affect a more positive change in the system.

School Culture is probably one of the greatest influences on the learning that takes place in any school. It is that institution’s attitude toward learning and respect for its learners. A good admin will recognize this, as well as the fact that it has the potential for coming from the bottom up as much as from the top down. A better admin will not only recognize this, but will use that culture in branding the school to the outside world. Not only is it important for a school to do a good job, it is also important for an admin to tell everyone about it. The best admins not only recognize the culture and use it in a positive form of marketing; they will feed into and nurture that culture to maximize its positive effect on staff and students alike. This then carries over to the parents involving the entire community in learning and supporting the education community.

Observations are rarely comfortable for teachers and too often a time-consuming necessity for administrators. A good admin will use it as a tool for improvement, and not a club to intimidate teachers. A fair assessment of pre-determined objectives during a lesson is a mark of a good administrator. To pay attention to pre and post conference meetings to set goals and offer constructive feedback is a higher-level observation is the mark of a better admin. Of course the more collaborative the observations, as well as using lead teachers as models, or exemplars the more comfortable teachers become with the process. They feel as if they are part of the process instead of being a target of it. Thoughtfully sharing teacher successes with the faculty is often the mark of a great administrator. This enables the admin to nurture support and improve the performance of the staff.

Of course there is the idea that the head of any school system or building should also be the “Lead Learner”. With all that is required of modern administrators and the drain on their time, this part of the job is often overlooked. Any admin should recognize the need for at least one lead learner in a building, an individual with insights into the workings of relevant teaching and learning. They recognize the need for someone who the staff can go to for modeling the latest and greatest in the profession. The better admins are those people who are the go to people for how to approach learning in relevant ways. Of course the best admins are not only lead learners, but they take every opportunity available, as well, as to create opportunities to share and collaborate on learning with the staff. They model their approach to learning every day. They innovate ways to involve and lead their staff in teaching and learning.

Relevance is another very important measurement in being an effective administrator. Most administrators are products of a 20th Century education. Too often many administrators base their education philosophies on their college training, which is usually steeped in 20th Century methodology. That works well if the school itself has a staff that employs 20th Century methods. The problem arises when we consider that we are teaching over a decade into the 21st Century. 21st Century learning uses different tools, and different methodologies from that of the 20th Century and it is the 21st Century and beyond that we are preparing our students to live in. Using 20th century measurements to assess 21st Century teaching and learning may not be the best way to assess how much learning is going on in any given school.

Relevance has become a key issue in education today. In a computer-driven society change is constant and rapid. To keep up with change and maintain relevance Administrators along with all other educators need to expose themselves to the latest theories and methods within the profession of education. Of course the poorest of Administrators will stand out like dinosaurs holding on to centuries past in education, but lets get to the rest. The good admins recognize rapid change and support technology, and recognize that things must change from the 20th Century. Better admins are reading and sharing Blog posts, supplying relevant PD to support the technology brought into the building. The best however, are not only connected educators, they Blog, provide time for teachers to collaborate, plan for the tech in their building with ongoing PD and coaching, model the use of technology in their interaction with staff and students. They are immersed in 21st Century learning and all that it involves: collaboration, communication, curation, creation, critical thinking, reflection, authentic learning, problem-based learning, and project-based learning. The very best lead their staff by providing more sources and opportunities to connect, reflect, and collaborate further.

Being an administrator today is a most difficult job. It would be highly unusual for any administrator to have all of the best attributes, but it does serve well as a goal for which they should strive. Why not reflect on what we do, and how we do it. If we are good let’s strive for better. If we are better let’s fight on to be the best. It doesn’t have to be all at once. Let’s do it one category at a time. Motivating others is an important skill for a successful administrator, but the best administrators are self-motivators as well. But then again, what do I know; I am but a retired English teacher?

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