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Archive for August, 2011

After the earthquake on the East Coast last week, I guess I had the term “Shake-Up” on my mind. I don’t know which I considered first, the title, or the post.  The beginning of the school year has arrived as many of us do every year, I am wondering what I will do differently this year from those same classes that I had last year. This is something that many teachers consider as they enter a new year. It is also something that many teachers do not ultimately address, but rather settle for many of the same methods and tools of the previous year to get through the new.

If a teacher developed a lesson, worksheets, quizzes, and tests that worked last year, why reinvent the wheel. It takes a great deal of time to develop this stuff, and who has time today?  This year’s students never saw this stuff before, so it is new to them. As a secondary teacher of 34 years, I have been in this very same spot. That is how I know it does go on. I have done this. I also recognized it as a fault as I did it. This practice, unfortunately, just reinforces the status quo, and that is the thing that has been under so much scrutiny lately.

If there is one thing that supports the status quo in the education system, it is the way teachers are assigned classes for their schedule. Some schools have almost a cast system. The youngest most inexperienced teachers get the leftover classes. The”problem classes” no one else wants. The teachers, who have been around awhile, the experienced teachers, get the cream of the crop. The result is that the kids who need the most experienced teachers get the newbies. The kids, who are self-motivated life-long learners and have the ability to search out content on their own, get the teachers who are there because they are recognized as content experts.

Teachers who are interested in starting classes often work very hard initially to develop curriculum and selling their course to their “superiors”. If they are lucky, they are given the opportunity to teach that class and it becomes theirs. They actually take ownership and it is their course and deservedly so. However, ownership of classes continues for many years with one teacher, teaching specific classes possibly over decades.

It stands to reason that a teacher who has taught a course over years is truly a content expert for that course. Up until now content expertise is what was demanded of educators in all the previous years of our system. Content is King. The problem comes in when innovation goes out. The creativity that was used by that teacher to get the course up and running is replaced over the years by habit and complacency. Innovation is hard and things have been going along fine without it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. No, not every teacher falls prey to this attitude, but many do, too many.

Of all the problems in our system, this is not the biggest one. I believe however, that it is more prevalent than schools care to admit. Maybe it is time for a Shake Up. Maybe we should consider rotating teachers around after a few years in one area. There are some licensing areas that are subject-specific, especially in science. Other areas are less specific. A teacher certified in secondary English is expected to be able to teach any English course on the secondary level. Maybe three years is enough time for a teacher to teach a specific subject before getting a new assignment. There will be disappointments, but maybe that can be turned around by the creative juices of innovation. If nothing else it will promote collaboration between colleagues. It might also have teachers seek out best practices by others.

This need not be limited to teachers. There are many administrators in large districts who might benefit by a rotation to another school in the district. It would expose them to the culture and leadership of another school. It would broaden their leadership experiences. This would certainly hold true for department chairs as well as assistant principals.

Of course this Shake Up idea will probably go nowhere for one reason, the comfort zone. That is the ultimate place that we all strive to find. Once we find it, we want to always live there because life in the comfort zone is easy. The sky is always blue and everything is right with the world in the comfort zone. If we are to change the system, we need to change the culture. We need to change the comfort zones of educators. They need to be comfortable with, innovation and change. In order to make that happen, they need support. Support from Administrators, parents, colleagues, and kids. If we really want to support change, we need to all support teachers. Since we expect a great deal from teachers, our full and unwavering support is the least they should expect from us. The Shake-Up applies to all.

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For those who do not know about it, #Edchat is a weekly chat about education that takes place at noon and 7 PM ET every Tuesday on Twitter. It has involved as many as a thousand teachers globally putting out over 3,000 tweets in an hour. #Edchat has existed continuously for two years, taking only 2 weeks of for Christmas and New Years. #Edchat has won awards and has been written about in every major US educational Journal. Additionally, since #Edchat began, about 60 other chats have popped up over the years. Chat Listing: Cybraryman’s Educational Chats on Twitter

One criticism often voiced about #Edchat is that it is an echo chamber. I always assumed that meant it was a discussion with many like-minded individuals giving opinions on topics that they all already agreed upon before the discussion. After participating in both #Edchats every Tuesday for two years with few exceptions, I feel that I do have a somewhat considered opinion. #Edchat does have its detractors. Not everybody gets it, and that is okay. Social Media offers many opportunities for educators to involve themselves in a multitude of ways that they are comfortable with and also meets their needs.

It is not surprising that many #Edchat participants have similar interests and philosophies. Two years ago Social Media attracted many people who used and were comfortable with technology. They tended to be some of the more progressive among educators. Today more and more educators are being attracted to Social Media for professional purposes. Many are being exposed to ideas that are not generated from their own schools. Ideas are being discussed that, before now, were not generally discussed in their buildings. They are being exposed to ideas that they can now take back to their buildings to be shared for possibly the first time. These discussions not only offer a glimpse of what other educators think globally, but it prepares participants with a perspective that they may not have gotten in their own building.

At one time it was referred to as “airing dirty laundry”. Today we call it “Transparency”. We demand it of government, so why not demand it of education as well. #Edchat does not offer change, but it does allow for the change discussion. Teachers and administrators may be hearing on #Edchat what they should be hearing in their schools but they are not. It arms educators with ideas and perspectives to fight for change in their buildings.

In many schools today the ideas of: true leadership, assessment, authentic learning, grading, high stakes testing, Social Media impact, and even Homework, have been stagnated in schools through complacency. The status quo remains in many schools without being challenged. If #Edchat was truly an echo chamber for all educators, why would we even need to discuss reform?

It seems to be fairly clear that the system needs to change from what it is, to what we need. The what-we-need part is the struggle. It will take a discussion of ideas to hammer out the needs of the system. Discussions should to take place where educators gather. Influences within buildings are limited. Influences in Social Media are many, and now becoming more diverse. What may seem as an echo chamber to some may be an inspiration to others. There are 7.2 million teachers in the USA. Only a fraction, a very small fraction, of those educators, is on social media for professional reasons. We need more transparent discussions to properly address the needs of the system. We must have these needs addressed not by politicians, and business people who know marketing, business strategies and profits, but by educators who know about education and children.

The real value of educational chats like Edchat lies not in the immediate chat, but what comes after. Yes. Many educators in these chats are in agreement on some of the topics. If they are good ideas and have value why wouldn’t people support them? It is that very support of good ideas that needs to be witnessed and carried off to other educators. If those ideas were supported by every educator, these problems would be solved and there would need to be discussions of something else.

The effect of the chats on educators for further reflection is testimony to their influence. After these chats a further exploration of these ideas takes place in education blogs around the world. Each of these Posts requires a new set of comments and further reflection. Many participants carry the subjects back to colleagues in their buildings. Administrators involved in these chats appreciate the worth of many of the chat Topics and carry them back to their buildings for further thought and future action.

#Edchat and the other chats will not be around forever. In the world of technology and Social Media things change or disappear in a relatively short period of time. Discussions, however, have been with us from the beginning. We need to continue to transparently discuss our problems and concerns no matter what the platform is that we use. We also need to share the ideas with those most affected, as well as the decision makers. I consider #Edchat, and all the other chats with us and those yet to come not as Echo chambers, but as sounding boards for educational ideas ideas ideas deas eas as s….

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This is the listing of all of the videos from #140EDU Conference. Please feel free to share these videos with your friends and colleagues:

Chris Lehmannhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-welcome-5465616
Jeff Pulverhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-welcome-5465616
Jack Hidaryhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-jack-hidary-5475010
David Singerhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-david-singer-louis-wool-5465907
Louis Woolhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-david-singer-louis-wool-5465907
Rebecca Leveyhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-rebecca-levey-5465920
Christian Longhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-christian-long-5465962
Steven Andersonhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-steven-anderson-tom-whitby-5469136
Tom Whitbyhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-steven-anderson-tom-whitby-5469136
Lisa Nielsenhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-lisa-nielsen-5474229
Inga Roshttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-inga-r%C3%B3s-5474278
Patrick Higginshttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-patrick-higgins-5469157
Cynthia Lawson Jaramillo  http://blip.tv/140confevents/cynthia-lawson-5469188
Mel Rosenberg  http://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-mel-rosenberg-5469255
Jerome McLeaodhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-panel-growing-up-in-real-time-5475039
Danielle Duncanhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-panel-growing-up-in-real-time-5475039
Joshua Hendartohttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-panel-growing-up-in-real-time-5475039
Daniellee Villahttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-panel-growing-up-in-real-time-5475039
Maya Wrighthttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-panel-growing-up-in-real-time-5475039
George Haineshttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-george-haines-5469357
Don Burtonhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-don-burton-5469338
Katie McFarlandhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-katie-mcfarland-5469369
Barry Josephhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-barry-joseph-5469388
Marc Eckohttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-marc-ecko-5469424
Anthony Stoverhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-parents-panel-parents-of-sla-5469471
Janos Martonhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-janos-marton-5469496
Michele Haikenhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-michele-haiken-5469532
Adam Bellowhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-adam-bellow-5469551
Shelley Krausehttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-shelly-krause-5474324
Michael Federochkohttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-shelly-krause-5474324
Niki Kakarlahttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-shelly-krause-5474324
Perry Hewitthttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-perry-hewitt-5474355
Andrea Genevieve Michnikhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-andrea-michnik-5469595
Will Craighttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-will-craig-5469623
Dale Stephenshttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-dale-stephens-5469901
Barry Schulerhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-barry-schuler-5469972
Lynn Langithttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-lynn-langit-5474396
Samantha Langithttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-samantha-langit-5474378
Eric Sheningerhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-eric-sheninger-5469999
Tal Horowitzhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-tali-horowitz-5470009
Tom Krieglsteinhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-tom-krieglstein-5470025
Gina Johnstonhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-gina-johnston-5474416
Kim Sivickhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-kim-sivick-5470043
Wendy Brawerhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-wendy-brawer-5470079
Dr.Greenhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-panel-alternatives-to-an-outdated-education-model-5470112
John Mikulskihttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-panel-alternatives-to-an-outdated-education-model-5470112
Donna Murdochhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-panel-alternatives-to-an-outdated-education-model-5470112
Shelly Terrellhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-panel-alternative4
Erik Endresshttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-erik-endress-547012
Jane Barratthttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-jane-barratt-5470147
Kyra Gaunthttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-kyra-gaunt-5470171
Mahipal Raythatthahttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-mahipal-raythattha-5470860
Deb Eckerlinghttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-debra-eckerling-5474465
Ethan Bodnarhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-debra-eckerling-5474465
Kristen Durkinhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-debra-eckerling-5474465
Linnea Keyshttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-2-11-debra-eckerling-5474465
Kelly Suttonhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-kelly-sutton-5470892
Douglas Cretshttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-douglas-crets-5470912
Michael Karnjanaprakornhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-mike-karnjanaprakorn-5470958
Karen Blumberghttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-panel-educators-taking-control-of-their-own-professional-development-the-edcamp-model-5471079
Ann Leanesshttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-panel-educators-taking-control-of-their-own-professional-development-the-edcamp-model-5471079
Meenoo Ramihttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-panel-educators-taking-control-of-their-own-professional-development-the-edcamp-model-5471079
Gregory Corbinhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-gregory-corbin-5471120
Randee Schneeberg-Pomerantzhttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-randee-schneeberg-5471136
Michael Margolishttp://blip.tv/140confevents/140edu-8-3-11-michael-margolis-5474488

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I am growing tired of the number of posts and stories I read about everyone’s plan on “teacher accountability”. I see too many holes in too many plans to deal with what is being categorized as “THE PROBLEM” with education; bad teachers. Unfortunately, when the outcome of many of these ill-conceived plans like Merit Pay result in failure, that too will be blamed on the teachers for its failure to work and not the fact that the plan itself was flawed. Teachers are in a no-win situation with targets painted on their backs. Nowhere was it more evident than in the reporter’s attack on Matt Damon for his support of teachers at the Save Our Schools March in D.C.. I guess we should be grateful for, if it wasn’t for the press coverage of Matt Damon, the entire March might have gone on with absolutely no press coverage. Why cover a bunch of protesting teachers when we all know that they are the problem with education? They cost too much and do too little. The newest added dimension, thanks to enlightened Missouri Legislators, is that all teachers are suspected to be potential child molesters.

I am not saying that teachers should not be held accountable. I am saying that there is no one factor that is creating the perceived failure of our education system. I recently read a post suggesting that the professional thing for teachers to do was to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and fix themselves through self-evaluation. Of course that was my take on it, and I did comment to the blogger. You may assess it differently. Teacher Accountability & PLCs.

The one big question that keeps nagging at my brain is: Where is our leadership in all of this?  Other questions: Who is standing up for teachers? Besides Diane Ravitch whose voices are we hearing nationally in support of teachers? But the most important question of all is: Where are our local, educational leaders in this? What responsibility are the superintendents, assistant superintendents, directors, principals, and assistant principals taking for the “demise” of our education system?

I do not want to enter the realm of Admin bashing, but there are some observations that can be made that might be helpful in leadership evaluation. After a career in secondary education, I have a longstanding awareness of the capabilities of teachers. Additionally, my recent experience with educators involved in Social Media is also very positive, and finding that most educators are involved to improve their craft and be relevant as educators. Most educators entered the profession for reasons more noble than to bilk the system with an easy ride for high pay and healthcare. The leadership of education comes from these very ranks. What happens to the educator who transitions to an administrator? Are all administrators leaders? How much of our administrators are still educators?

The industrial model of education requires a hierarchy of supervision. Unfortunately, for some Admins, this creates an adversarial relationship with an Us/Them mentality and teachers become the problem. Those admins may no longer be comfortable with teachers and tend to lead from their office. You won’t find them in professional development workshops. Some will never enter the student cafeteria at lunchtime. Walking the halls is the lowest priority on a long list of important administrative duties.

A stable school culture is developed over time. To affect that culture in a positive way, any admin needs to spend time working on  needed change. The system however, often requires that admins move on, to move up. Aspiring admins are too often not around long enough to affect needed change leaving that to the next admin to come along. This also creates a void in teacher evaluations. Any continuing guidance an admin may be offering  a teacher in need of such structure, leaves with the admin. The new admin generally does not want to rock the boat or create enemies, so follow-through is usually tabled for the time being. That usually means, until there is a problem that is visible. Some refer to this as falling through the cracks. administrator mobility causes many, many cracks.

Leadership works best when there is a mutual respect between teachers and admins. It has been my observation that this works best when admins view themselves more as educators than supervisors. An educator who supports other educators in the goal of developing learners is a much more respectful way to lead than the Boss and Worker model. Support of teachers requires trusting teachers. That requires giving teachers power. The Power and control issue in any school creates that adversarial thing that always gets in the way.

The whole educational philosophy idea can really muck things up as well. At the extremes we have conservatives and progressives. The conservative approach to education much as in politics, harkens back to the tried and true methods of olde. The progressive philosophy calls on teaching the 21st Century skills and employing tech tools for learning. Of course the bulk of educators fall somewhere in the middle, again, much like politics. This is where professional Development and life-long learning come into play. Better learners make better teachers. Better learners also make better leaders. This can’t happen with once or twice a year workshop day for teachers. We need Leaders to offer constant PD and to lead the way by modeling their involvement.

There is an Irony here that I feel the need to point out. I do not expect too many comments from administrators objecting to my opinions here. Most of the administrators who would even be exposed to this post are the administrators looking to learn and reflect for a better way to lead. The unfortunate part about that is that, they represent only a small, but hopefully growing number. So, the people who I need to have read this post for the most benefit, will never see it. Maybe they would, if someone printed it out and walked it into their office.

To be better students, we need better teachers. To be better teachers, we need better leaders. To be better leaders, we need better methods. To get better methods, we need more involvement. To get more involvement, we need to be better learners. Ta Da! To be better Educators, we ALL need to be better learners.

In addition to all of this, we need to be better marketers of education. Marketing is the key to success. I once took a marketing course for educators at, of all places, Disneyworld, the Mecca of marketing. That was a valuable course for me. I learned the four important points for marketing education.

  1. Do a good job. 2. Do a good job. 3. Do a good job. 4. Tell everyone about it!

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#Edchat, as well as about 50 other educational twitterchats, Digital Personal Learning Networks, Online Discussion Groups, Twitter, LinkedIn and a number of other Web 2.0 social media applications are often attributed by educators for offering professional development, or PD. Social Media is also credited with helping the emergence of Edcamps and Teachmeets, as well as online conferences like #140edu Conference and the Reform Symposium Conference. These are all considered by many to be PD.

I recently came across a very informative, somewhat scholarly post from Education Week which was first published in August 2004 and updated, June 29, 2011, Professional Development.  My take-away from the research referenced in the post was that it is difficult to connect the teacher’s professional development to an increase in their students’ success or at the very least improvement in student performance. Of course after teaching for many years, I ask myself, “Did the PD courses these teachers took have anything to do with what it was that they taught?

Many states require that teachers be provided or otherwise obtain PD. Often this comes in the form of workshops or even an expert or consultant coming into a school to work with staff in small groups. Other PD may be in the form of mini-classes offered by professional organizations or institutions of higher learning. Most schools have procedures to approve requests for PD since it is often a requirement for maintaining a license or obtaining a pay increase. Consequently, a wide array of subjects for educators may be deemed acceptable. Some schools even have committees to approve PD requests for credit.

This does leave open the possibility that a class approved for PD may not align with what a teacher teaches. A Phys Ed teacher may be getting his or her required PD in reading. That fulfills the requirement, but it may have little impact on their students since Physical Education requires little in the way of reading. An English teacher taking a cinematography or video course makes sense, unless the curriculum for what they teach does not allow the opportunity for cinematography or videography. There are many opportunities in the existing system for teachers to take approved PD courses that will not impact the performance of their students directly. It would seem even if the teacher takes a PD course directly related to what will be taught in his or her class, quantifying the results of the impact on learning would have its problems.

Now let us consider Social Media as a conduit for PD.I hear from educators almost daily how their Social Media involvement, Twitter/#Edchat is the best PD they have ever experienced. That is where I think I part ways. I do not see social media as the PD, but as a portal to the PD. It comes from educators engaging other educators in discussions and exchanging ideas that lead to the best sources in order to access the specific PD. It is this self-determined direction which is what involves learners in a deeper more meaningful understanding of a subject. This is regardless of extra pay or outside approval from the school district.

Now the question arises, is this PD resulting in an improvement in the students’ learning? I have often said, “To be better teachers, we must first be better learners”. It would seem to me educators who are seeking Professional Development to meet their specific needs as an educator, would certainly be a first step to better learning. The astonishment on the part of so many may not be in what they are learning, but rather how they are learning. They are being rejuvenated in many ways. This is having a very positive effect on individual educators. They are being energized by their learning. Many are being listened to by appreciative digital colleagues. It is bolstering many who have wavered under the constant attack on education and educators. Relevant discussions of content and pedagogy on an ongoing basis, 24/7, goes a long way in improving self-image, confidence, and understanding of one’s profession.

Social Media, in any of its many forms, enables educators to tap into a vast number of sources in the form of people and content. It enables educators to direct their learning to meet their needs. It enables educators to feel good about learning and continue down that path. Whenever a person can be picked up dusted off and respected for what they do, it must have a positive impact. If that happens to an educator, it must in some way impact their students in a positive way. I need not get caught up in the paralyzing analyzing, because I know it works that way for me. I can only hope it works that way for others.

An even more important point is that, if we view this as a positive form of learning for educators, why would it not apply to students as well? We are all learners. Social Media should be yet another tool in an arsenal of tools used by educators to enable kids to become better learners. They need to continue to learn long after their contact with teachers has ended. Most of my teachers are now gone, yet I continue learning. That is a lesson we all must keep in mind.

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