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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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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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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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If there is one thing that I am sure of as an educator it is that rapid change greatly affects both what and how we learn. If there is a second thing that I am sure of as an educator it is that the evolution of technology is the driver of rapid change throughout our culture. Both of these factors in education and our culture lead me to question if teachers are being properly prepared to teach students whose learning is affected by so many different influences? The past learning experiences of educators are so different from the current and evolving experiences of their students that relevance as an educator is extremely important. Do today’s teachers understand the learning needs of today’s students?

A generational gap is a world of difference in terms of technology. For this reason I feel that many educators are products of a 20th century education that limits them as educators in the 21st century. Of course there are educators who have continually, professionally developed to stay relevant, but maybe not in enough numbers to make a great difference.

In the 20th century information was for the most part slower to change and often controlled by a small group of power brokers. News came from newspapers and magazines that were limited to publishing cycles and editors. The media was dominated by three networks which were limited by news cycles and strict editorial boards. Censors were assigned to every entertainment show to regulate the perceived moral agenda. Encyclopedias took years to amend and edit with an additional year to physically publish and were limited in circulation by high costs to the general public. Most households had telephones, but not a private line for each household member. The challenges of rapid change were not yet in place even though the stage was being set.

The Vietnam War began to awaken changes in the way we viewed the news. Journalists used more media tools in their reporting. Photos and film began to be broadcast in the news cycle, which was at a family-gathered dinnertime for most Americans. Students were moved by what they saw and many began to demonstrate against the government in numbers never before seen. These demonstrations then became media news as well, which exacerbated the anti-war movement. It took years of this to bring the war to an end, even with the help of the existing technology, which was controlled by forces heavily influenced by the government.

This was the way it was until the introduction of cable for more choice in entertainment and 24 hour news reporting. Gaming came along with Pong and later Donkey Kong, followed by The Oregon Trail. Calculators became portable and electronic. Life was good and teaching was pretty much focused on lecture and direct instruction because that was how it was always done. It worked because that was all we knew. The teacher stood in the front and students sat in rows.

The Internet was about to take a wrecking ball to that whole mindset prevalent in that century in that world.

Now we arrive in the 21st century with all of its technological advances. The Internet provides access to most of information ever to be established in the world. It provides access to entertainment that is often uncensored and unfiltered. Smartphones, which are not really phones, but powerful computers with phone capabilities. People have 24-hour connectivity to any person or source for the purpose of collaboration, curation, or simple communication. Computer-generated games that are realistic and intelligent, that may be played collaboratively and simultaneously with people around the world.

What does all of this have to do with our students today is the question that we need to address. Students today have grown up after all of these changes have taken place. Their world is different than many of their educators. It is also continuing to evolve even at a faster pace than ever before experienced and it will continue that way into the future.

Today’s students have grown up immersed in technology. They have had access to computers their entire lives. Their smartphones have more power than the computers that were used to put a man on the moon. Students are entertained by shows that they can select from literally hundreds of choices, most uncensored. Their news exposure is 24 hours a day from many sources. They can follow blogs that speak to their interests. They have mastered social media. They are comfortable collaborating with others. They are comfortable creating their own information in the form of text, music, audio, or video. The most important part of this is that their computer is their publisher. They need no adult permission to publish whatever they want to a waiting world on the Internet. They accept failure in games as a challenge to overcome in order to win. They can access any information at anytime to question any facts adults may throw at them. The most important point here is that they can also learn in spite of an irrelevant educator. Information once controlled by academia is now free and easily accessed.

Educators should view these technology skills as assets to be supported and enhanced. Critical thinking should be a key to accessing the valid and valued information needed. Collaborative learning should be the focus before lecture and direct instruction. Students who have great choices in their everyday lives should have more of a say in their own learning. Student voice is essential for students to own their learning. Mentoring students in using their technology skills to curate, communicate, and create content is a more effective way to learn than to simply consume teacher-selected content.

Educators need to understand that they are teaching kids to live in a world that is not yet here. We are not slow to change any longer. Developing students who are flexible and willing to continually learn is the best we can do to insure their future. Teaching kids how to learn is more important than to teach them what to learn. They will find on their own what it is that they personally need to learn. Preparation for that point in time is what we need to teach them.

As I watch these students from Parkland, Florida, I am more convinced that this is the way we must teach. These kids are not “Actors” as some suggest. They are articulate, intelligent, technology savvy students who have a need to learn, create, collaborate, and communicate. They do it so well; it causes 20th century thinkers to question their validity. They are real, and now have a cause and a purpose with the skills to present it to their country.

I am not saying that all teachers are not doing their best to teach. I believe that most are doing their very best. I also believe that in a world where change is so rapid, the tools that educators have been prepared with may no longer serve that purpose. We need to continually train educators more than one or two days in a year. Irrelevant teachers are the fault of the districts in which they work. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first 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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Couple assembles ikea furniture - which gender does it better

During a recent snowstorm I found myself perusing a list of recorded television shows on the DVR. While watching an episode of Bull, a show about scientific jury selection, or possibly jury manipulation, there was a term used by Dr. Bull that I had not heard before, “The IKEA Effect”. It was explained by the main character that it was a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they created. Of course this was a fictional TV show, so I had my doubts. I looked it up to confirm if it existed and sure enough, I found it to be a real thing.

On a personal level I found myself in agreement through my own experience with furniture that I had put together in the past, whether bought through IKEA or anywhere else it might have been purchased. Of course my personal reflection on this was not limited to furniture assembly. I also began to think about lessons, courses, and curriculum that I had developed or helped develop over my career.

As an educator I found that the things that I personally developed meant more to me and seemed more effective than things developed and contributed by others. This was probably because I had a clear understanding of the focus and intent of my own ideas. I was also clear about the whys and wherefores of changes that I may have made through reflection and results of formative assessments. I was also aware of the blemishes I would hope no one else would see. Although I have no personal experience with it, I imagine many educators may not feel the same types of connections with boxed curricula now being adopted by some schools.

The question I now have is, does this hold true for students as well as adults? I know that when my students were involved with the development of their own projects, as well as the rubrics that would be used for their assessment, they felt empowered in their own learning. They were very involved with the development of writing portfolios and often expressed a feeling of ownership for their own learning. These were feelings that kids do not get from lectures.

With all of this being considered, I wonder why there is still such resistance to teachers having a greater voice in what and how they teach. Additionally, why are so many teachers resistant to giving students greater voice in their own learning. As individuals I believe the more we have a say in what we do and how we do it, the more we take ownership of what we do. If teachers own their own teaching, would they not have a greater interest in its outcome? If students had a greater voice and choice in their learning, would their ownership of that learning not serve as a motivation to further expand their learning?

Our purpose in education should focus on enabling teachers to teach and teaching students how to learn. This should rely heavily on self-motivation, so that teachers own their teaching and students own their learning. Forcing tasks, information, lessons and curriculum that have little relevance to teachers or students impedes their ownership and only confuses or stifles teaching and education. Enabling more voice for teachers and students should be a key for 21st Century education.

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