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Archive for May, 2010

In an effort to simplify reasons for change not happening fast enough in regard to technology in education, we often point fingers at the obvious and go no further in our exploration of the problem. Assigning blame and not solutions is counterproductive. In as far as Technology not being used ubiquitously in schools, this certainly is the case. It is easy to point the finger at educators and say that they are not a welcoming audience for this 21st Century, way-of-the-world medium. It is true that educators make the final decision as to how involved they, or their students, will be in engaging technology in both teaching and learning. I would hope that these decisions are not made without some due consideration.

To say that educators refuse to accept or learn technology is too simple a statement and in most cases misleading. The argument that really gets me is that many educators are too old to get it. We need to replace the old guard with new blood. Educators by nature are sharing and nurturing individuals regardless of their age. Teaching and learning are central to everything they do. If educators are not embracing technology there must be reasons. If we can identify the reasons, and address them, we may take a major step in the right direction to improve education. Yes, I did say improve. At this point in time, the deficiency has been established by the sheer numbers of people who have voiced their concern that our education system is not producing what it is that society expects. Of course that expectation is another topic. What is that expectation that society demands as THE educational outcome, or goal?

In the past, lack of time, and lack of funds were the major excuses for educators not to engage technology. That was a topic of one of my past posts, “No Time, No Funds” http://bit.ly/87G63j. (Thanks to Shelly Terrell for inviting me to post.)  Putting those aside we should discuss the other major deterrents for technology use in education.

My personal choice of leading deterrents and where we might first point a finger would be the lack of leadership on the part of the local educational leaders. The leaders would include: Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, Directors, Principals, Assistant Principals, and Department Chairs. These are the people who determine the direction of a school or District.  There are some examples of leaders who have embraced technology for their districts and often they are Keynote speakers at education conferences. I guess that supports the point that they are unique among educational leaders.

Teachers would be more accepting of technology if their leaders understood, used, and modeled technology use in their everyday leading tasks. Additionally, supporting and encouraging those educators who use it successfully would also make a big difference. Many leaders are quick to cite the wonders of technology when making public speeches, but that is lip-service support. When those same leaders return to their offices, many (not all) have no clue. How many IT Directors have to research, develop, and construct the PowerPoint presentations for their Superintendent to deliver at school board meetings?

Many educators see PowerPoint and email as the pinnacle of technological mastery. The attitude seems to be that, if we use e-mail and our teachers give PowerPoint presentations, our school is employing technology in education. The other extreme, acting as a deterrent, would be the district’s IT staff. I cannot say this happens in every district, but I can say that this is often the complaint that many educators express. They point the finger to the IT people as a problem. The tech people are big tech fans. Their life is tech. They know it. They love it. They can’t live without it. Some are viewed as being more of a techie than teacher, yet they need to teach tech to teachers to teach. (ya gotta love alliteration) The problem is the damned bells and whistles. Some IT people teach their PD classes as if these teachers are being trained to teach tech. They are NOT tech teachers! They have no need to know all the bells and whistles. They need to determine what tech, if any, can help them to teach their students. Can a specific tech application enable their students to learn more meaningfully? Sometimes the answer is no, it can’t. They need to be taught the ability to view tech in the context of their course. Here is the point. If they don’t get it, they won’t use it. Once they do get it, it sells itself.

If the use of technology works its way into the culture of the schools, we will not need to demand tech training for teachers. In a technology rich culture the teachers and students should be engaging technology and each other as a further step to deeper learning. Schools should develop their own tech support groups using best practices and mentoring programs for professional development. Leaders and teachers will model learning for students. Students will engage learning in the digital world in which they have grown up with the help of educators who have had to learn and adapt to that world.

I would hope that, if we can identify our problems and go beyond the finger-pointing to apply solutions, there is a chance for positive change. Without an approach to solutions however, the finger-pointing can disintegrate into a far less helpful finger display. Comments are welcomed, either thumbs up, or thumbs down.

Here is a cartoon series done in response to this blog from my friend Jeff Branzburg: http://edudemic.com/2010/06/the-7-reasons-technology-isnt-in-your-school-comic/

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I attended a dinner last night for a man I greatly respect. He was my Principal when I was a middle school teacher and now he is being elevated to the Superintendent’s position, a move that should have been made years ago. There were a great many educators in attendance spanning several generations. This man, as a person, educator, and administrator, is very popular with people he has worked with, now and in the past, because he gets it. Whatever “it” is, he definitely gets it. I think “it” is a balanced combination of intelligence, understanding, passion, compassion, fairness, and leadership. This is a rare combination of skills for most, which limits further the number of educational leaders who get it.

The gathering of teachers celebrating the occasion included a great many who had already retired over the years. Reminiscence was the main course of the evening. Stories, experiences, and sharing made up the side dishes. The ages of educators ranged from the very early 20’s to the autumn years of 70’s. It spanned 50 years of teaching. What struck me for reflection was the fact that many of the experiences of the older generation of educators had little to do with the role of educators today. Of course it still involved adults teaching kids, but the position of teacher seems to have evolved to a different level.

Back in the day, the teacher was the center of information. The teacher was the Hunter, gatherer, and provider of content. (That description always brings to mind visions from Lord of the Flies.) The teacher was the expert. The teacher was the “go-to person” for the information within the subject he or she was licensed to teach. The teacher maintained the position at the front of the classroom in order to dispense or provide the information to the class.

If the teacher did not have an answer, there were books and sources to help hunt down the information. Teachers would gather information over a period of years to provide to their students. The most experienced teachers had the largest collection of file cabinets in their rooms. When it came time to retire, they would dole out their dittos and files like hoarded treasure to the up-and-coming, fledgling teachers. Those younger teachers became the new controllers of content. It was control of information that was the power of education.

Today, there has been a shift in the acquisition of information. There is too much information for most people to be experts. Information is exponentially accumulating minute by minute. Publishing is instantaneous. Content that was non-existent this morning is available online by this afternoon. Teachers can no longer be the sole hunters, because there is too much to hunt. They can no longer be the sole gatherers because there are not enough file cabinets or rooms to house them. Without the ability to hunt and gather with focus and purpose, how can the teacher be the provider?

The strategy for teachers today has to be different from what it was. Teachers still need to be content experts, but that becomes the starting point and not the end of the process. No longer are they the hunters, but the leaders and guides for the hunting parties. Teachers need to send out the hunting parties with clear direction and finely honed hunting skills to capture the content. They then need to gather the content from each of the groups to share with all of the other groups.

We have shifted from mastering the content, to mastering how to master the content. We no longer hunt it down, but teach that skill to our students. We need not provide content directly to our students, but rather provide the skills for them to present and cooperate and collaborate with others for the purpose of mastering the skills to learn information and provide it to others.

As educators, our task should no longer be to teach content, but rather how to find, access, analyze, understand, and create content. This should be the role of teachers today. It is probably one of the few things that teachers can directly affect in the way of educational reform. “Give a man (woman) a fish and he (she) eats for a day. Teach him (her) how to fish and he (she) eats for a lifetime.” (Sentences were so much easier when they were sexist.) This is an oldie, but a goody. This is not a place where many educators live, but it is a place where many should begin to move. If we support reforming an education system that does not seem to be working to the satisfaction of those who support it, more educators need to change the things they have control over.

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As a supervisor of Pre-service teachers, I start my first meeting with my students with a list of do’s and Don’ts, High up on the Don’t list is a very important rule for all new teachers: Stay out of the Faculty Lounge. Although it is a gathering place for educators, it is in reality not a place to professionally develop.

The teacher’s lounge or faculty room is one of the most important rooms in a school building for some teachers. It is an oasis from the stress, a place to blow off steam. Back in the day it was a smoke-filled room. (That is a great example of “what the hell were we thinking” items.) It is a social room for faculty. It is the virtual water cooler where those types of conversations take place. It is a place where teachers can voice opinions about education with colleagues. Some schools offer Department offices providing a mini-experience of the same things for department members only, an exclusive lounge.

Then there is the “Dark Side” of the lounge. It is a place for student bashing, teacher bashing, administrator bashing, and finally a place for parent bashing. It is a place where careers can be torpedoed by individuals publicly ridiculing colleagues. It is a place that can be very intimidating to new teachers. It is a bastion of traditional ideas and stories of those who got away with things that could not be done today.

The reality is that, it is not a place for Professional Development. It is not thought of as the place where one goes to discuss the latest methods or research in education. It is not thought of as the place where one would see the latest best practices in a lesson for professional development, or videos of the latest speakers on educational topics. Marzano, Kohn, November, Gardner, Rheingold, and Heidi Hayes Jacobs are not names bandied about in the Lounge. Most people are not listening to podcasts, or viewing webinars, or exchanging links. The discussion of which apps are best for which outcomes is a rare bird indeed. As a matter of fact, many of these terms, or at least the experience of use of these things would be foreign to many, if not most, in the room.

If you did not recognize this description, because your school has no such room, or nothing negative happens in your faculty lounge it can mean only one thing. After four decades of teaching, supervising, and observing in hundreds of schools, I never visited your school. I guess that I should only say that this is a description of a lounge in many schools I have visited. Of course the names will be withheld to protect the innocent.

If the exchange of educational ideas is not taking place in the areas where teachers gather, it must take place somewhere else. Perhaps the district is supplying a time and place for the exchange of ideas to happen. There is always the monthly or bi-weekly Department meeting that occurs at the end of the school day when teachers are always open to new challenging ideas.

If educators are to be relevant and literate in this digital age, these are the types of things that need to be discussed and planned for. If we as educators are not discussing this now, we will soon reach a point where it will not matter.

We are in an environment of people being fed up with status quo. We are in an environment where expenditures of money are demanding higher accountability. We are in an environment where people want more bang for less bucks, more effort from fewer people, more education with less time to do it, more testing for better outcomes with less time to teach, because of more time required for test preparation. No matter how fast that mouse runs there is always more of that spinning wheel.

As I discussed this with my friend, Dr. Joe Pisano, he pointed out that maybe the walls we need to knock down with technology are the walls of the Faculty Room and the Myth of educators exchanging ideas for Professional Development. The box that we need to think outside of is the school building itself. We need to involve educators to engage others on a global network of educators. We cannot count on Districts supplying the time and place for needed discussions to happen. They are not leading us to the needed reform to maintain our relevance and ultimately our jobs.

We need to share our digital collaborative efforts that have educators involved in Twitter, Ning, Delicious, Diigo, Wikis, and any of the web tools out there now or yet to come. We navigate an information-rich environment. We are collaborating daily. We are using Blog posts for reflection and deep discussions. As Educators on the Professional Learning Network we do all of this and benefit by it daily, yet we are a minority of educators. We represent the smallest of fractions of the Millions of teachers who still rely on the Teachers Lounge for relevant Professional Development.

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