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I have always been a big picture kind of learner. If I had a picture of where I was supposed to go, I had a reason to learn the various parts I needed to know in order to get there. Once I got there, I would try to figure out if that was the place I wanted to be, or if I could make it a better place. Once I understood what I needed to do as an educator, I worked to put all of the components in place. When I finally got there, it was not all I believed that I was promised, so I worked to make it better.

My education career started in the early 70”s, so the sources I had to work with back then were limited. My collegial support group was about eleven other English teachers. Stretching my teaching experience was limited to what I was allowed to do within the building, in which I taught. I later found that those limitations varied from building to building depending on the leadership and culture of each school. My development as a teacher was limited to the small amount of professional development offered by the district, and whatever courses I could afford to pay for on my own. I discovered, totally by chance, the power of education conferences. My department was told to send one teacher to a statewide reading conference. No one wanted to go and I was the most junior teacher in the department. The choice was simple.

The conference was not unlike conferences today, minus the tech stuff. The overhead projector was the primary presentation tool. What grabbed me the most was the exchange of ideas among the participants, as the presenters led them through sessions. It was mostly “sit and get”, but there were spontaneous gatherings in hallways and dining tables. I was being exposed to ideas not discussed in our department meetings, because our department’s isolation from these ideas prevented us from their consideration. Of course the intent in sending me to the conference was to use me as an emissary to connect my colleagues to the ideas presented at the conference. Of course I was quite able to convey the words, but not the experience.

A key factor in changing what we do is the ability to reflect on what it is that we are doing. To improve that reflection, it is most helpful to know about alternate considerations. What are some choices? What perspective do others have on the same subject? What has worked and what has failed? Are there totally new ideas or methodologies that are being used in education that can replace the old ones? All of these questions come to mind if one has a mindset for continuously learning and improving within the profession. The 70’s were not kind to people of that mindset because the answers to too many of these questions were too hard to find. Collaboration was limited, difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.

Forty plus years later the world looks very different. Technology, which has always been a driving force in America, has advanced to a point where collaboration is easy, affordable, global, and almost ubiquitous in our culture. The very things that slowed change in the 70’s have been eliminated. Collaboration, always a great source of learning has moved up the ladder of learning to get beyond the limitations of just face-to-face experience.

In a recent Twitter exchange with two educators I greatly respect, Dean Shareski, @Shareski, and Bud Hunt, @Budtheteacher they expressed a concern that it would be better to teach students reflection than it would be to promote connectedness. I think when it comes to students I would agree. When it comes to adult learners however, I think that exposure to other ideas through collaboration stimulates reflection. I consider that a key element to this whole connected educator mindset we talk so much about.

After my own reflection on the subject, I see connectedness for educators as an accelerant for reflection. It promotes self-reflection, as well as reflection on education as a system for learning. It also stimulates reflection on the pedagogy and methodology within that education system. The whole idea of connectedness relies on the hope that educators are reflective. If they are not reflective, or lack the vision of the big picture of being connected, then we could have Connected Educator Month, every month for the next twenty years and never affect any change in the system.

Reflection is key to a collaborative mindset. The more we discuss this with our unconnected colleagues the faster we can connect more educators. If we reflected on our need for change and felt that change was not needed in what we do as educators, there would be no need to collaborate and we would continue with the status quo. Although there might be a few educators thinking along those lines, I believe most see a need for, at the very least, some change in what we do and how we do it. The more reflective we are about this, the more we will seek to expand that reflection with guidance, experience, support, validation, sources, and colleagues through the collaboration provided by our connectedness. I see them as separate entities that support each other. The more we collaborate, the more we reflect. The more we reflect, the more we need to collaborate. Being connected, for me, has expanded both my collaboration and my reflection. My goal is to get others to do that as well. Using technology to connect more educators with a reflective and collaborative mindset is the best hope for an education system in need of change.

Being connected is not just limited to educators as a method of directing an educator’s professional development, but rather it is a shift in culture in the way all people may collaborate and learn. Educators have seized the initiative claiming it to provide collegial collaboration, transparency in schools, as well as its ability to personalize a path to professional development. However, it is a shift that is taking place globally, and the educators’ use is the tip of the iceberg. That is the glaring fact that underscores the need for all educators to be connected and digitally literate. It is not to keep up with colleagues, or achieve social media notoriety, but rather to keep up with the shift in the way all people will approach learning as the digital divide begins to close at an ever-increasing rate.

The only thing that surpasses technology’s ability to simplify our lives is technology’s ability to complicate our lives even more. If change in our world occurred as slowly as it did in previous centuries, it would take far less work to stay relevant. Our culture however has become technology-driven, which promotes change at a pace never before experienced in history. This is not a condition that will slow down. If anything, the evolution of technology will produce much more stuff at even faster rates of speed. That is the world that we are all moving to. That is the world that we are preparing our students to hopefully strive and thrive. As much as the use of technology for learning in a classroom is far less a choice for educators, a connected mindset for an educator or learner is even less a choice.

When it comes to education, the ways of past centuries in terms of methodology and pedagogy no longer serve our needs. We can all be nostalgic about the “good ole days” when content was king and the teacher was the unquestioned expert of all things. That may be a place that existed in the past, but it has no place in education today. The Internet contains more information than any educator could possibly know. With the rapid changes taking place everywhere in our society, we can no longer predict the specific needs for students to live in the world in which they will live. Many jobs today were not in existence when the people now doing them were in school. All of this leads us to realize that teaching kids what to learn is not as important as teaching kids how to learn and how to continue to do so. Life long learning is no longer a lofty sentiment, but a cultural necessity for surviving in an ever-changing world.

This connected mindset comes at a price for educators. It requires more time to collaborate with others. It requires a practice of reflection, which is often talked about, but less often practiced. It requires at a minimum a digital literacy to competently use technology where appropriate for teaching. It requires a change in the concept of a teacher from that of a content expert to that of a lead learner and mentor. Change is never easy or comfortable. It requires learning ways to do things differently. People do not usually volunteer to give up what they are comfortably doing in order to do something that requires more work, time, and other inconveniences. It is that fact that leads me to question how long this connected-community-of-educators idea will take to catch on. More importantly, when can we expect connectedness to be ubiquitous as a mindset for all educators, for that is where we truly must be?

This shift in education will take place. It is a question of how long will it take us to get there? As a conservative institution, education has often been behind the curve when it comes to change. That is one of the reasons a call for innovation has come so loudly from so many voices. We have a rare opportunity to get ahead of the curve, if we recognize collaboration and connectedness through technology not only as the needed change for educators, but an accepted form for learning for everyone. Digital literacy will become as important in this century as reading or writing were in the earlier centuries.

I am growing weary with the rate of time it is taking for this change to take place. I believe that we must be the patient in getting all educators on board, but we must keep moving toward that goal. Patience for the Unconnected was a post I wrote for last year’s Connected Educators Month. My position on connected education was much more tolerant in the first year of Connected Educator Month when I posted: The Connected Conundrum for Education.

What prompted me to revisit this again with a stronger belief for this needed change came from three connected colleagues. People whose opinions I hold in high esteem. Pernille Ripp @pernilleripp who wrote about the drawbacks to being connected in this post: The Downside to Being a Connected Educator. George Couros’s @gcouros comment in my last post also caused me to rethink a little: Whom do we need to educate? The post that had the greatest effect on me was from a prolific blogger and friend Mike Fisher @fisher1000 Connected Professional Development Is Now An Imperative 

If there is a better way to learn and teach than we are now employing than we need to support it. If the ways of the last two centuries were working well, we would not be having so many discussions of reform in education. The technology is not going away, so why shouldn’t we use it to our advantage? We need to hasten the change to better meet the needs of our kids, not just for their needs today, but what they will need in their future. To better educate or kids we must first better educate their educators. We can’t have the same conversations on connectedness every October without some expectation for change.

At a recent Edcamp on Long Island we had a very interesting discussion. Sessions at Edcamps are discussions as opposed to actual power-point presentations. The question posed by someone in the session on relevance in education asked, why are so few Long Island educators connected? This set off a discussion leading to the point that the mindset of teachers successful in the present system, is a belief that they need not change because whatever it is that they are doing, seems to be getting the needed results. Therefore, the better the results for teachers based on students’ standardized test scores, the less teachers need to change their approach, methodology, or pedagogy. Of course that would mean that the most “successful teachers” would need to change the least at what they do, and how they do it.

Of course this is all based on the fact that the results that we are looking for in students, and results that “successful teachers” are obviously producing are actually results that are good. Will they benefit students in the life that they will be living in world in which they will live? Here is my question: should we be basing the results of a student’s lifelong endeavors in an education system by a score on standardized test? Is that test really measuring how much a student has learned for what will be required to thrive in the tech-driven world in which he/she will live?

Of course this applies to more teachers in America than just those living on Long Island. In this environment of test mania once any teacher is meeting the needs of students to succeed on a standardized test, what is his/her incentive to going beyond that shortsighted goal for education? If a teacher is unaware of the need for kids to be digitally literate in order to be prepared for the world in which those students will be forced to live, than how will that teacher meet the education needs of his/her students? If the 20th Century methodology is meeting the needs of the 20th century goals what need is there to even talk about 21st Century learning, or 21st Century skills?

There is a very convincing argument to maintain the status quo. It simply requires educator’s jobs be linked to maintaining that status quo by connecting it to student scores. There are less convincing arguments for innovation, or even to have educators strive for digital literacy. We can hardly point to professional development, as we have come to understand it, since it has obviously not worked well over the last century. Most successful digital literacy today is self-directed and on going, done by educators seeking it. Too many districts, for reasons of a lack of money and time to do so, are not supporting proper PD. If districts were required to offer properly supported PD, it would be one more mandate demanding compliance of districts to add to the growing pile of required unfunded mandates plaguing our education system. This reinforces the fact that the best PD must be self-directed, on going and relevant.

It would seem that if educators are to see a need for change from the status quo it will need to come from their connected colleagues. These are educators who are struggling forward to maintain relevance in this tech-driven culture to prepare kids with the skills to do the same. These educators recognize the need to understand collaboration, curation, communication, and creation with tools that have never been available before, and will soon be replaced by other tools with more complicated operations. Technology evolves through change. None of this will ever take hold if we depend on a status quo mindset of many of our educators. Educators, most who are products of 19th and 20th Century methodology and pedagogy that served them well in their time, are often satisfied with providing the same methodology and pedagogy for their students.

During the lifespan of our students we have seen technology take great strides. The mobile device that was a phone became the smart phone. It is a pocket computer with vast capabilities, and yes, it also enables sophisticated phone calls. We have been introduced to the iPad and Tablet. Computers now enable cars to park and make emergency stops without driver intervention. Social Media has exploded changing our views on many things within our culture. If all of this occurred within the lifetimes of our students before they have even completed their education, what lies ahead after they graduate will only be more technology moving at even a faster pace. This is a pattern we know from history. As educators, it is our moral obligation to prepare our students for the world in which they will live, and not the world that we grew up in. That is too comfortable and easy for us, but it will not help our students?

So, why are some educators stepping up and directing their learning to adjust to what kids will need to know moving forward, while many others are content with the status quo. I do not have clue other than maybe some of what I have mentioned here. Each educator will offer his/her own reasons. These are not bad teachers. A good teacher does not need technology to be good, but a good teacher using technology can be better. We need better educators not just good ones. Our comfort zones are not more important than our student’s futures. I always say, to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

How much of what we do as educators is done because that’s the way it’s always been done? I imagine that whenever these things, that we do out of a respect for history, were originally executed, there was probably a reason for it. My question is with our society and all of the systems within it changing so rapidly over the past few decades, are those original reasons for doing things a certain way still valid? How would we know unless we re-examined the things that we do in education and see if they stand up in today’s technology-driven culture?

I often use my dentist as an example of obsolete practices in a modern setting. It has nothing to do with teeth, but rather information forms. You may have had the same experience with any medical or dental office. Every year at best patients are required to fill out a form to update all of the doctor’s patient information. The office person hands out blank forms to fill out all of the information that already lies within the computer system. When I asked why do I need to fill out all the information that you already have, I was told that this is the way we have always done it.

Of course the method, obvious to me, would be to print out the needed information that the computer already had, so that I could check if it needed any corrections. That is one of the reasons why we have computers, to do those repetitive tasks that waste our time. Apparently, it never occurred to the dentist or the staff to use the technology at hand to make a dull, time-consuming task for a patient a more productive and less tedious experience. Why? Because that’s the way we have always done it. That leads me to ask, how many policies or practices do we have in our schools that only exist, because that’s the way it has always been done.

In many instances in education there is also a research component that affects everything that we do. At least we hear that as educators all of the time. Does the research support this? That question may not apply to some things however. Research tells us that the teenage brain does not function well in the morning hours. Few schools have changed their AM openings to accommodate the research. The overall positive effects of homework continues to be questioned by research, yet there are still schools mandating homework be given at alarming rates. Research tells us that physical activity enhances cognitive thinking and promotes more lasting learning, yet, as a money-saving effort, playtime, recess time and even Physical education are often the first programs that fall victim to budget cuts. The reason: That’s the way we have always done it.

How many kids have come to hate Fridays because many of their teachers see that as testing day? It is not uncommon for a kid to have three major exams fall on a single day. Is that a valid assessment of any learning in each of those classes? That is a direct result of educators testing on Friday, because that’s the way it has always been done. I could point out that direct instruction and lecture are no longer valued as the most effective methods of teaching, yet they are still the focal point in methodology of too many teachers. Why? Because that’s the way it has always been done.

No, this doesn’t happen in every school with every educator, but it happens more often than it should. We need to have a better understanding of why we do things in education. We can no longer take for granted that just because something has always been done a certain way, that it is good for kids. It is time to apply what we know to what we do. Isn’t that what education is about? It may be time to examine policies and practices to see if they still fit in an ever-changing modern world. The way we do things should always be affected by why we do things. If research, or common sense changes the why, we need to adjust the way. That is progress. If we skip progress, change will come through reform. Reform is never an easy alternative.

There are so many things to look at in education that it is just easy to continue doing things the way they have always been done in the past. We need to look at and consider just where that mindset has brought us. We need to make time to re-examine what we do and why we do it on all levels of education. If administrators don’t want to take it on, than teachers should. As educated people we have the research and the know how to apply methods to maximize learning for students. We need to prioritize that as a goal for education. That is not something that has always been done that way.

Anyone who has ever attended a national state or even local Education Conference can tell you that there are vast numbers of education products out there. How do educators know what works and what doesn’t? Is there a way educators can share their product experience with others? How can educators talk to the designers of education products? How can we collaboratively discuss education products so that educators may make a difference?

The answers to each of these questions would depend on each individual’s connection to the product, or the people who created it. Some of us have more contact than others. Some companies seek out teachers to solicit their opinions and perspectives. This however is not usually done on a large-scale.

Steven Anderson and I have been moderating #Edchat for more than five years now. We are often approached by education industry people asking to sponsor, or host an #Edchat session. #Edchat has always been independent and has not been affiliated with any company or product unless it was for the purpose of conducting the chat. Obviously we need Twitter, Facebook, our archiving app, and from time to time we have used Skype, and most recently REMIND. We have never taken money or have we endorsed any product as #Edchat.

Nevertheless, we have determined that there is a need for educators to interact with education industry people in some form on some venue. In that pursuit Steven and I have decided to start a product showcase chat for education products of all types. We will not be endorsing these products, but simply offering to educators a forum to chat with specific companies about their specific product in a twitter chat forum. The chats will be open to all educators on a weekly basis, and moderated by Steven and me. The companies will provide their own experts to answer questions and engage in discussion without a sales pitch. It will be an exploration of how the product may or may not be a fit for the specific needs of specific educators or educators in general.

Our #EdProdChat will take place each Thursday at 8 PM Eastern time. We will promote the chat through informative tweets during the week using @EdProdChat and the #EdProdChat hashtag. We have also created a REMIND account, so that educators can sign up for text reminders of the whom, and when of each weekly chat.

Our first Chat is scheduled for September 18th at 8 PM Eastern time. Please add that to your calendar. The product that we will be chatting about is a project based learning App called WeLearnedIt. Hosting that chat will be the company’s CEO, Adam Bellow. The continuing weekly #EdProdChat schedule will then begin on the first Thursday in October, 10/2/14. Please, in the meantime, sign up for the #EdProdChat REMIND account. (You can learn how by clicking here.) And don’t worry. We value your privacy. Your information will be protected and not shared with anyone. You will be welcomed in joining us on Thursdays for #EdProdChat.

Reposted from the Blog of Mark Barnes, Brilliant or Insane: Education and other intriguing topics.

8 EDUCATION BOOKS FOR THE DIGITAL AGE:

CONNECTED EDUCATORS SERIES

via: Corwin.com/connectededucatorsAsk any of the thousands of teachers who regularly use Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook about connected education, and you may get an earful about using digital tools as a means to connect with educators and students worldwide.

But if you ask teachers who have never used a social network, blog, or mobile device for learning in their classrooms to discuss connected education, you are likely to be met with blank stares, furrowed eyebrows and shrugged shoulders.

Enter Corwin Press and the Connected Educators Series.

In an effort to connect all teachers, EdWeek author and Corwin editor Peter DeWitt enlisted the help of his professional learning network (PLN) in order to launch a series of books on digital learning, digital leadership, mobile learning, digital citizenship, and everything else that is connected education.

“It is our hope and intent to meet you where you are in your digital journey, and elevate you as educators to the next level.” Peter DeWitt, Connected Educators Series Editor

Corwin’s Connected Educators Series features short books, about 70 pages, in both paperback and electronic formats, aimed at helping educators improve classroom practice and educational leadership in the digital world, something that has been sorely missing in the education book world.

The first books in the series will be published in August and September.

Corwin Connected Educators Series

The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning, by Tom Whitby and Steven Anderson: Two of the profession’s most connected educators explain how to effectively use social media to build a professional learning network.

Flipped Leadership Doesn’t Mean Reinventing the Wheel, by Peter DeWitt: If we can flip the classroom, why can’t we flip faculty meetings and other kinds of communication with parents and teachers? According to DeWitt, we can.

Connected Educator Series

The Edcamp Model: Powering Up Professional Learning, by The Edcamp Foundation: Professional development has never been so simple than when teachers create it. The Edcamp model connects educators to PD like never before.

Teaching the iStudent: A Quick Guide to Using Mobile Devices and Social Media in the K-12 Classroom, by Mark Barnes: Knowledge is in the palm of learners’ hands, making them iStudents. This book helps teachers understand how to maximize this incredible power.

The Corwin Connected Educators series is your key to unlocking the greatest resource available to all educators: other educators.

Connected Leadership: It’s Just a Click Away, by Spike Cook: In the 21st-century, it’s critical that principals create a transparent school for all stakeholders. Principal Cook shows school leaders how to author blogs, PLNs and more, in order to open up a digital window to your school for parents and community.

All Hands on Deck: Tools for Connecting Educators, Parents, and Communities, by Brad Currie: The connected educator doesn’t just connect with students and colleagues. He connects with parents and community, using 21st-century tools. Currie shows readers how this is done.

Empowered Schools, Empowered Students: Creating Connected and Invested Learners, by Pernille Ripp: Connecting also means empowering. Ripp shares a variety of methods for teachers and school leaders to empower colleagues and students to help each other build a strong learning community.

The Power of Branding: Telling Your School’s Story, by Tony Sinanis and Joseph Sanfelippo: Connected educators must teach students about digital citizenship, and what better way to teach this lesson, according to administrators Sinanis and Sanfelippo, than by showing students how to brand their own schools?

These eight books are the first in Corwin’s ongoing Connected Educators Series. Several more are currently in production and scheduled for publication in early 2015.

For updates, author biographies and other valuable information, visit the Corwin Connected Educators Series website here.

You can order Any books in the Connected Educators Series here. Let us know what you think and what you’d like to see next.

I just read a post by my friend, Tony Sinanis, #EdCamp: What’s The Point? Tony had an unconnected colleague attend an Edcamp. The colleague was most impressed with the ever-present passion. According to Tony’s friend:

This whole experience seems to be one of the best examples I have ever seen about the power and importance of self-directed learning…

The organic way this whole day unfolded blew me away… 

All seemed to be going well in winning a convert to the connected side and then it came.

The only thing I am wondering about is the heavy emphasis on technology and sometimes I think the technology tool or tip became the focus as opposed to the conversation or overarching topic… is that always the way?

For too many educators the second statement wipes out all of the wonderment that the first statement brought to the table. It always comes down to the requirement of educators having a need to know or have some perspective on technology in today’s world. That however, is the very least we must prepare our children for. How can we prepare them for their future when so many educators have yet to learn about the needs of learning today in the present?

Let’s place two classrooms side by side and instruct each teacher to use collaborative learning to explore a given subject. One teacher will be limited to 20th Century methodology, pair share or group work at their seats using chart paper, posters and the always-present overhead projector. The second teacher may use 21st Century methodology and tools: Skype, Google hangout, Google Documents, Social Media, PowerPoint, and Prezi. Both classes will learn stuff, but which class will take with them presentation and collaboration skills that are career ready in a tech driven society?

Using that same two-classroom scenario let us teach a writing class on voice in writing. Again one class will do compositions and hand them in to the teacher to grade. Of course 20th century methodology is fine. Peer editing should be employed. The second class will teach Blogging. Students will create blogs, comment on blogs and respond to comments on their own blogs. Again, which class is getting real world authentic experience in the 21st Century? Which class will get a deeper understanding of voice, the class with an audience of one, or the class with an unlimited audience that interacts, comments critiques, criticizes and praises?

Too often educators view new methodology and tools with a 20th century mindset. It is their own educational experience that is driving their teaching. A big problem is that we are no longer in that time period. Many educators are losing relevance. It is not something that we can point out without creating friction, and most people refrain from doing so for that reason. Educators like to be fair and let people learn for themselves when it comes to their colleagues. Of course students and parents assume that they are getting the biggest bang for their buck for an education that will provide a path to, at the very least, a safe and competent ability to make a living in a world that will be using technology that advances further even that which we are using today.

Teaching is not easy. It is a profession that requires educators to be relevant. Being relevant doesn’t come with age. Just the opposite occurs, and it requires work to keep up. Teaching is not a profession that enables one to stop learning after the degree is earned and the job is secured. Technology is moving us all too fast for anyone to sit back relying on old methods and tools. With a Masters degree in Educational technology I can assure you that not one piece of hardware, or software that I studied with and used so much to get that degree exists today.

The pedagogy should always be the focus of education discussions, but the technology will always continue to be the accelerant of the pedagogy. Educators no longer get to decide whether or not to use tech as a tool. If they are scared to learn about it, that creates a problem. Technology is not going away as many expect that mythological pendulum to swing back. Educators have been programmed to believe that, if one waits long enough, the worst things will eventually go away. Barring apocalyptic disaster, technology is here to stay and it is a tool for learning, as well as curation, collaboration, communication, and creation, which include many of the things that we need to teach Again, to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators. Edcamps do just that, and most will be dominated by technology discussions, because that is the very discussion educators need to engage in to maintain relevance. As an educator if you are just standing still in your personal development, you are falling behind.

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