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If there is one thing that could be said of what I do professionally it might be that I do get around to many education conferences. This past month I attended two International conferences ISTE14, BLC14 and one Indiana regional conference, the Greater Clark County Schools Conference in Indiana. All of these conferences were outstanding in their offerings to educators. I usually comment on the structure and quality of the conferences, but today I think I need to address the educators who attend these conferences based on some recent observations. What set me to thinking about this post were two separate comments from very different educators.

A short time after attending ISTE14, I flew to Boston for Alan Novmber’s BLC14 conference. It was there that I saw a keynote by Michael Fullan, a Canadian education researcher and former Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. From that speech my main take-away was that in education today Pedagogy is the foundation and technology is the accelerator. For me that was a statement that was clear, concise, and right on the money.

After a one-day layover at my home, I was off to the GCCC14. It was the 2nd annual conference created and directed by Brett Clark of the Greater Clark County Schools. I landed in Louisville Kentucky, which is just over the river from my Indiana destination. A GCC educator, JT who was transporting me to my hotel, picked me up. I met JT when he performed the same task last year. He is quite an affable fellow and easy to talk with. On our ride we talked about this year’s conference compared to the last. JT shared a conversation he had with a colleague about the conference. His friend asked if JT was going to be at the “day-long computer training”. Obviously, some Indiana educators did not view the Michael Fullan keynote on livestream. Unfortunately, it is an attitude or a mindset that is shared by more educators than just those in Indiana. Many conferences are viewed as computer training and not education methodology or pedagogy.

It is the way of learning that should be the focus of education conferences and the goal for the attendees. The technology should always be secondary. We should first explore the place collaboration has in learning before we talk about the tools we need to collaborate. We should explore the need and benefits of communication and understand where and how it benefits students in their everyday lives before we explore the modern tools that enable and enhance communication. We need to understand the differences and the effects between lecture, direct instruction and authentic learning before commit to developing a year’s curriculum. Understanding the need for formative assessment is essential to determining what tools we will use to assess formatively, as well as what adjustments we need to make when we get that information. Let us get a full understanding of summative assessment to determine whether to use tools for testing, or tools for digital portfolio assessments.
Conferences should be more about the learning first and then balanced out with the tools to make it all happen efficiently and effectively. These conferences are not about computer training, but about learning and education.

As Chris Lehmann said at the GCCC14 conference, we don’t teach math, English, or social studies, we teach kids. Conferences should not be viewed as computer training, but rather teacher training. They teach teachers the ways of education and all of the necessary, modern tools to enhance authentic learning to attain the teachers’ intended goals. Connecting with the educators from each conference is an additional way of continuing the education discussion beyond the conference. It helps create collegial sources to be called upon at anytime for clarification, validation, new ideas, sources, or just to say hello. It makes no sense whatsoever to meet great people with great ideas at a conference and never to connect with them again.

Educators should come to conferences eager to learn about their evolving profession. It is not a stagnant profession. There are constant changes and developments that happen at a pace never before experienced in education. We need these conferences to offer a balance of pedagogy, methodology and tools for educators to learn, understand, develop, and evolve. We also need educators to connect in order to live the change and not just experience it at an annual conference. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

Have you ever been witness to a time capsule being opened?  If you are not familiar with such events it is very simple. People select items that represent their culture or personal lives, and place them in a container to be sealed up for a long period of time. After a few decades the container is opened up at some sort of ceremony and people look at what was the height of technology, and life, decades ago. I guess we older folks get to appreciate those types of events more than the younger people, because the items in the time capsule usually do not need to be explained to us, as they need to be to the younger generations. I guess the fascination with time capsules is dependent on the apparent and dramatic effect technology has had on the culture represented by the encapsulated items which were selected.

It is one thing to study and talk about how technology and learning has made great strides in the field of medicine, but it is another conversation entirely when one experiences finding blood-letting tools in a time capsule. It prompts a great conversation that is lost in a textbook version of such events. It usually elicits from the youth questions like “What the hell were they thinking?” Of course the field of Medicine has probably developed faster and in more directions than any other field. I used to do a presentation where I would show a slide of a 19th Century operating room, followed by a picture of an operating room of today. The contrast was inimitable. Since this was a presentation for educators I showed a picture of a 19th Century classroom, followed by a class of today. It was the laughter of the audience that was inimitable at that point. There was little change. The upsetting point here is that if I were to do that presentation again, it would probably still hold true for the slow change in too many American classrooms.

As I engaged some of my connected colleagues in Edchat last week, we were discussing how the education system pays lip service to asking for innovation in education and for teachers to be innovative, while at the same time putting in place policies and mandates to stifle any such notion a teacher might have.

I pointed out how we are supposed to be teaching our kids how to be effective, competitive, and educated in the world in which they will live, while using tools for communication, collaboration, and creation that will exist in their world.

One Connected colleague pointed out that there is one school, or it might even be considered an education franchise school, that prides itself in the fact that it teaches its students without the use of any technology whatsoever. I guess that school franchise really holds 19th and 20th century methodology in very high esteem. Many of us are products of that methodology, so I guess there is a comfort level for some. I do often wonder why an educator’s comfort level should supersede the real world needs of his or her students.

Looking to the past in education and creating my own mental time capsule, I remember when calculators were not allowed in schools. The slide rule was okay. I remember the blue spirits ditto machine with a hand crank. I remember real Blackboards. I remember fountain pens, the Osmiroid Pen in particular. I remember desks with inkwell holes in the upper right corner. Again I am an old guy and this was my past.

What would go into an education time capsule today? Maybe a “Cellphones Banned” sign. Possibly, Oregon Trail would go in. Certainly those four computers, covered with dust at the back of the room. Definitely we would include the overhead projector that is now 75 year-old technology. Maybe we should also consider putting “sit and get” methodology in the time capsule. Let’s include the idea of teaching in silos as a concept. What about adding the concept of desks in rows. Why not add the idea of a content expert at the front of the room filling the empty vessels of student minds? This might also be the right place for standardized tests. If we were to put all of these things into a capsule to be opened two decades from now, would we ever want to bring any of them back into the class? Maybe, Oregon Trail.

We need to reach out to those who are still teaching kids from the 20th Century perspective. We need them to commit to being learners again. Learning is ongoing and it must be a way of life for an educator. A relevant educator must continually learn to stay relevant. We can’t have time-capsule teaching in an ever-developing culture. At what point will we stop and look at what we are doing and say, “what the hell were we thinking”?

This year ISTE put on what appeared to me to be the biggest education extravaganza to date. The number of participants was said to be somewhere between 20 and 22 thousand educators. I never verified that number but based on the food lines it seemed likely to be true.

Of course there was apparently a huge number of connected educators in attendance. I say apparently, because in reality I don’t believe it was so many. Many connected educators volunteer to do sessions. Many are also bloggers. A natural gathering place for them to gather, interact, and network is at the Bloggers Café, or the PLN Lounge. Twitter has added a whole new dimension to these education conferences where educators connected to other educators through various Social Media can meet up face to face. This enables real-time collaboration with people who have had a virtual relationship with each other for a while. Even if there were a thousand connected educators meeting at the Bloggers Café all at once (and there weren’t), It would seem to those gathered that the entire conference was connected. Of course this ignores the 21,000 other educators who were not connected.

I guess my take away for this is that being connected networks you with more people to have a good time with, as well as extend collaboration, but a majority of educators have yet to discover this. One would think that would be a lure for more educators to connect, but of course the only people who recognize these benefits are those who are connected. I imagine most of the people reading this blog are connected as well, so I am probably and again spinning my wheels on this subject.

I found this year’s conference to be a bit overwhelming. To me it seemed that many of the events and some sessions were trying very hard to create an atmosphere that was experienced with smaller numbers from previous conferences. That intimacy however, was lost with the numbers of participants this year. There were some invitation only sessions, as well as paid sessions with smaller numbers that I did find more enjoyable, but again, I attend many conferences and do not view them through the eyes of a new attendee. I might be too critical here.

I loved the fact that connected educators were actively backchanneling sessions and events. Tweets were flying over the Twitterstream as the #ISTE2014 hashtag trended on Twitter. Photos were much more prevalent in tweets than in past years, because that process has been simplified. That picture process has both good and bad aspects attached to it. It is great to see the session engagement. The pictures from some of the social gatherings however, may paint a slightly distorted view of conferencing by educators. It may give an impression that the social events outweighed the collaboration and interaction. The social events were fun, but it was as much a part of networking as any of the conference.

The vendor floor was beyond huge this year. It was quite the carnival atmosphere at times. If anyone would benefit from collaboration at these conferences it would be the vendors. There is a great deal of redundancy in education products. I wish more vendors would take a pass on the bells and whistles of their product and talk more about pedagogy and how their products fit in, as well as how they don’t. That requires an educator’s perspective, and not every product designer seeks that out. Those that do seek that perspective however seem to attract me more than the others.

One vendor had a closed booth with dollar bills being blown around inside. People lined up for a chance to step inside to beat the airflow for the dollars. The attraction was obviously the lure to get folks in, but who paid attention to the product? There were some products that I will address in a subsequent post, which I rarely do. These products were exceptional and should be recognized.

As ISTE came to a close this year, my reflection was that bigger is not always better. I was also mystified by the choices in keynotes. If one was to judge by the tweets about the keynotes, one was somewhat of a miss, one was on the mark, and one left many wondering why it was a keynote at all. I must admit that I did not view the keynotes in the lecture hall, but on screens in the gathering places in the conference. I enjoy the keynotes better when I can openly comment and yell at the screen if I have to. It would seem that I was not alone in these endeavors.

It should be noted that ISTE this year did have people’s Twitter handles on their name tags, an innovation. Of course mine was messed up, but who am I to complain? Now I wish they would take another suggestion and do an unconference, or Edcamp segment in the middle of the conference. This would allow educators to further explore those subjects that they learned about in earlier more conventional sessions. It would also break up the “sit and get” mentality of a conference. It would take as little as an hours worth of sessions.

For as much as we hear that we need and want innovation in education, I would expect to see it first in Education conferences. They are hyped to be conferences led by the innovators in education, but there is little that changes in conferences from year to year. We are still sitting through lectures and presentations with limited audience engagement. We are not yet directing our learning, but attending sessions devised and approved a year in advance. I realize that change is hard and takes time, but our society is demanding that we as educators do it more readily and now. We need to change in order stay relevant. How does an irrelevant education system prepare kids for their future?

A few years back I spoke at a conference and experienced first hand what a backchannel was. Twitter is probably the best tool to do it. I did write a post on that experience back in November of 2009 and later reposted on my blog, Twitter’s Effect on Presentations and Presenters.

Backchanneling happens when someone on Twitter uses a hashtag to tweet out to followers what is happening at a conference, or more importantly, what is being said by a speaker at a conference session. THE BACKCHANNEL by Cliff Atkinson is a great book source for understanding the process.

ISTE 2014 will take place at the end of this week. The numbers of attendees will probably approach 20,000. Although that sounds like a huge number of people, it only represents a very tiny number of educators nationwide who get to attend such national education conferences. The attendance of connected educators however, has had a great effect on the transparency and sharing of these gigantic education events through social media, specifically, Twitter.

The Twitter Hashtag has played a huge role in sharing out the conference experience. Since most educators will not be attending the ISTE 2014 conference, many who are connected will rely on their connected colleagues, who will attend, to tweet out the happenings of the event. Those tweets will go from the broad events to individual sessions as well. Although ISTE 2014 is one of the most connected of education conferences, backchanneling is becoming evident at even the smaller local education gatherings. It is a key in sharing at local Edcamps

Conferences have taken notice of this new layer of experience and assign hashtags for the conference, as well as some specific sessions. Experienced connected educators in sessions will make up and share a hashtag on the spot at the beginning of the session. To broadly follow the ISTE conference this year, you need only to create a Twitter column on Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to follow the #ISTE2014 hashtag. There will be several thousand tweets coming out with that hashtag to keep you informed of: personal encounters, celebrity sightings, quotes, new ideas, new products, and even social events taking place. There will be pictures, videos, podcasts, diagrams and graphs. All will be tweeted out with the Hashtag #ISTE2014.

Probably the most sought-after tweets will be those coming directly from sessions. Thought leaders in education presenting their ideas and having people right in the room tweet out what is being said, as it is being said. This is sharing at its best. If the vast majority of educators cannot experience an education conference first hand this is not a bad second best.

As a community of connected educators we need to think of our Personal Learning Network members as connected colleagues. Those educators fortunate enough to have any experiences that cannot be afforded to all, and are willing to take the time to share, are truly collaborative colleagues. These hashtagged tweets have a range in the millions. That is a Public Relations Gold for any organization with a success.

Of course there is a downside. If something does not go well, that is tweeted out as well. It could also be a professional setback for an unprepared presenter. The Twitter Backchannel Buzz could affect the subsequent enthusiasm for any future conference by a particular group. It also underscores those conferences that are attended by the connected community of educators.

I have always believed that we as educators have a professional and moral obligation to share. In so doing, we can build a stronger and better profession of educators. If you have never done it, try following the backchannel for this year’s ISTE Conference by following the #ISTE2014 hashtag. If you attend the ISTE Conference, tweet out as much important stuff as you encounter using the #ISTE2014 hashtag. We can engage fellow educators in the conferences, which they have been blocked from because of location, money, or even an unawareness of what these conferences have to offer. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

I have written about why I feel Tenure is important and how it is used as a scapegoat for inadequate follow through on the part of many administrators in Tenure’s Tenure. I guess it comes as no surprise that I am appalled at the recent decision in California against Tenure.

Of course the statement that upset me the most came from the presiding judge. Judge Treu wrote, “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently in California classrooms,” I do not know what defines a “grossly ineffective teacher”. I know how I might define it, but it would have nothing to do with standardized test scores of children. Even under my personal definition, I would think it would apply to an insignificant number of teachers, many of whom could be brought up to competent levels with properly supported professional development.

Based on articles that I have read since the judgment, the number of “grossly ineffective teachers” in the poorer districts referred to by the judge may have been made up on the spot by a conjecturing witness. Fuzzy Math: guesstimate that struck down California’s teacher tenure laws.

The fact of the matter is that a teacher’s role in a child’s education is very significant. It is not however, the sole influence on that child’s education. This is especially true of children in schools in areas of poverty. The unfortunate truth is that before we can apply Bloom’s taxonomy in many schools, we need to first apply Maslow’s Hierarchy. If kids are coming to school stressed because they are hungry, tired, undernourished, and concerned about their safety, there are no teachers trained well enough to convince those kids to put all that aside for the sake of schoolwork.

The issue with schools in poverty areas both rural and urban is not the teacher quality as much as it is the poverty itself. Poverty brings with it issues in schools that no amount of high-performing teachers can fix.  Teachers are beaten down in their attempts to teach in these schools. Toxic cultures have evolved as a result of fighting the good fight and being defeated by social prejudice, poor infrastructure, and lack of support. These are reasons for high turnover rates of administrators and teachers alike that are commonplace in schools in poverty areas. These are many of the reasons teachers do not actively seek positions in these schools. None of this failure has to do with Tenure. None of this failure has to do with a made up number of 3% of highly incompetent teachers.

Lets make up our own numbers and blame 75% of the do-nothing, ineffective and incompetent politicians who do not address the very issues of poverty that actually are the real reasons for schools in areas of poverty not performing in the same realm as schools in affluent areas.

The idea that teachers are the key to getting all kids thinking and learning at the same level of competence throughout the country is ridiculous. If we can’t even attempt to standardize the environments and conditions in which kids learn, how can we expect the results to be the same nation-wide?

Tenure is only a guarantee of due process. It is not a lifelong commitment. Incompetent teachers can be fired as long as we have competent administrators providing due process. Too often administrators blame the law rather than their inability to follow it.

Without due process teachers will serve at the whim of whatever politicians are in control. Whatever trend school boards, or state legislatures buy into could be thrust upon teachers to teach or else. If the school board is of the opinion the Earth is only 9,000 years old and wants that taught in the schools, who could stand up to that at the risk of loosing a job? If books are banned by a board, who stands against that? If policies are changed in favor of budget over safety who advocates for safety?

Without due process in times of economic considerations, teachers who earn the highest wages are considered the biggest liability. Being an economic cutback is hardly a just reward for years of service. All of these factors do not create a profession that would attract and maintain the brightest and best this country has to offer. Doing away with due process is the best way to weaken an already shaky profession. Half of all teachers entering the profession leave before the fifth year. Some of the most successful and experienced teachers are leaving for consulting positions after years of teaching. The very reason many of the most experienced leave is the current atmosphere of teachers being vilified, and not even involved in discussions of reform. The profession needs to attract more and maintain what it has, and not drive people away.

Rather than talking about easier ways to eliminate teachers, why not find better ways to teach, support, and maintain them. Why not focus efforts on affecting the hard things to fix, the things that have a real effect on education and learning. Poor schools are a symptom of poverty, not the other way around. Let’s deal with poverty, as an issue and education will improve. Fixing education will come at a cost to us all and not just a cost to teachers. We can’t reduce taxes as we improve education. Great education is a long-term goal investment that, unfortunately, exists in a short-term goal-oriented society. Public education is what will keep America safe with informed citizens able to critically think, analyze, process, and create. We can’t afford not to support it.

Maybe, Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court should look at politicians who obstruct any programs to address the issue of poverty as an attack on education and an obstruction to “a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education”. This might have a more positive effect on education than attacking due process, tenure laws. To paraphrase or rather reuse the words of the judge, there is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective politicians currently in the California legislature rooms.

 

On June 6, 2014, almost 100 educators from all over the U.S. arrived at the United States Department of Education to participate in the first-ever Edcamp to be held there. Most of these educators paid their own way to attend incurring a personal expense of time and money, two days and $500 to $900, depending on where they came from.

The question comes to mind, why would any educator give up personal time and money to attend an event at the U.S. Department of Education? Actually, the organizers were limited in the number of educators that could be accommodated, because of space and security issues. There were over 1,000 requests to participate the day after the EdcampUSA was announced. This was a huge number when we consider that many educators are in the closing weeks of their schools and could not apply.

Most of the participants had attended previous Edcamps, and many had organized their own local Edcamps. There have been well over 500 of these conducted in the US and some in other nations. Edcamp is being recognized as a grassroots professional development movement for educators. This was suggested to the US DOE in order to involve them in some way in the movement. The whole idea of doing an Edcamp at the DOE was probably an effort not only to inform the DOE, but also to seek some form of validation for trying to fill a professional development need that is felt by so many educators today. It was also a statement that educators are very interested and invested in improving their profession by taking up that cause without any help from the very system for which they work.

My hope was for the DOE to become more than aware. I hoped for the participation of top policy makers in the sessions to observe first hand the discussions of educators and their efforts, needs, and desires for real education reform. Edcamps are known for their frank and experienced views on the problems in education. These are views that take place through a lens of experience and not theory.

My view however was not to be realized. The DOE did assign a few people to attend the sessions. Some rotated in and out during the course of the day. The policy makers however did not participate in any numbers. There were a very few at the beginning of the day, but after just two sessions they went on to other obligations in their day.

The chief liaison person, Emily Davis, who headed up the Edcamp on behalf of the DOE, was an educator working as the Secretary’s direct assistant in such matters. She was a great contributor, and participant. It was her first Edcamp and she participated with excitement and enthusiasm, as well as awe, throughout the entire day. I know that she will enthusiastically report the success of the Edcamp at the DOE, but I admittedly wanted more. I wanted the Secretary and other policy makers to experience an Edcamp as opposed to receiving a feedback report. That desired involvement however, was not to be. We were granted a very quick visit and a limited photo-op with Secretary Duncan before the opening session.

I know we often refer to Edcamps as a place for professional development to take place, but it is not PD in the conventional sense of the term. It is more of self-examination of what we do to bring learning to students. Some of it is steeped in tradition, education as it was in the 19th & 20th Centuries. Some of it is very progressive, involving the latest technological tools for learning. It is also an examination of pedagogy. It is an open reflection of the educator’s role in education today. It is an experience that gives direction to educators as to how to direct their professional development to achieve the outcomes discussed in these sessions. It is an eye-opener for many, and an expansion of progressive ideas for others. All of it is based on education experience and pedagogy of educators. These are not opinions of politicians, business people, or for-profit reformers.

The Edcamp itself was very exhilarating. It is always great to respectfully test someone’s ideas on education, as well as having your own ideas tested. It was that open transparency in examining the problems and possible solutions that I wished could have been experienced by some of the people who are in a position to make education policy.

I always come away from these experiences wondering after all this is said and done, what is the next action to be taken by all who attended. I think the educators there came away with a number of ideas to implement. I am not sure what the next steps from the DOE will be. That, after all, was the reason for locating this Edcamp at the DOE in the first place.

The DOE’s awareness of Edcamps is a big step. The positive force of social media that was evident at the event was another lesson for the DOE. I would also hope that the dedication of educators to unselfishly sacrifice for their profession was another lesson learned. I know that the members of the DOE are often targets for the wrath of frustrated educators, but that is not part of Edcamp. Hopefully, that was learned as well, so that, if this ever happens again, policy makers will engage rather than just do a quick walk through and photo op.

BTW: If you get an opportunity to attend an Edcamp, jump on it!

I just finished reading a post from my good friend and co-author of The Relevant Educator, Steve Anderson. His recent post, “Why Formative Assessments Matter” got me thinking about assessments in general and how often they are misunderstood and often abused by well-meaning educators.

We have all been taught that there are two categories of assessment, Formative and Summative. Formative assessment is done during a particular lesson to gauge student learning and understanding as the lesson progresses. This often takes the form of quizzes, but there are less formal forms that are as effective. The summative assessment is usually, but not always an exam of some type. It is to determine how much the student learned and understood from the overall experience. This could be a unit exam with various types of questions, or possibly some type of report done by the student.

With my education students I would explain assessments with a cooking metaphor. As a chef prepares a meal he or she would taste it along the preparation process. Based on those tastings adjustments are made. Spices may be added. Cooking time may be lengthened. Some components of the meal may even be eliminated. All of this is formative assessment. This assessment is for the chef to read the results of his or her preparation in order to adjust for the best outcome.

The summative assessment has nothing to do with the preparation, and everything to do with the final outcome. The summative assessment happens when the diner experiences the dish by eating it. How successful was the preparation in the final outcome?

Now, how can such a simple concept get corrupted? Grades! We are all held accountable by some measure. We have determined that grades are what we will use to hold students accountable. We will measure their every effort to learn and assess it with a grade. I guess if the chef assigned a grade to the dish with every tasting and averaged the grades it would not be an outstanding average. But then again how can the dish be measured when it has not yet been completed in the preparation process. Similarly we hold students responsible for quiz grades on assessments, which were originally intended for the teacher to consider in order to make adjustments to a lesson. If the kids do not get it, is it their fault or could it be a shortcoming in the lesson? Yes, students do have a responsibility to bring something to the table as well, but the bulk of the responsibility lies with the teacher.

Grading formative assessments to measure students understanding makes little sense. They all learn in different ways and arrive at learning specific things at different times. To use formative assessment to grade a student is a misuse of the assessment. It is expected that some will get it others won’t, but that is for the teacher to understand and adjust accordingly. That is the purpose of formative assessment.

Of course grading the summative assessment might have some value, as long as the summative assessment is assessing the learning. Too many unit tests however are nitpicking questions for content recall. I guess that lends itself well to Scranton testing. We all know how quickly we can bang out those Scranton test results. It is as easy as ABCD. Essays take too long to grade.

Of course not every teacher does this, but how many is too many? We need to better understand why we do things as educators. Often times the only reason for doing something is because that’s how others do it, or that’s the way it’s always been done.

If we better understand how to utilize assessments, maybe we can better our delivery of lessons without penalizing kids for things that they have little control over. Formative assessment comes in many forms and none really require grades. Summative assessments come in many forms as well. We need to choose those forms that show what individual kids have learned overall. To aim for the low hanging fruit of content questions is missing the mark. They have their place, but they should not be the focus of any test.

This should be a topic of faculty or department meetings. These are the things that need to be addressed by educators more than the usual fare of such meetings. We need to better understand what we do, and why we do it as educators. We need to be more reflective and critical within our own profession.

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