I think everyone has certain phrases, or catchwords that tend to set them off. Some of us, of the more passionate persuasion, have phrases that send us over the edge. I am not talking about the conference clichés like “that’s where the tire meets the road” or “Let’s not kick that can down the road” and the ever-popular “I wouldn’t give your troubles to a monkey on a rock’. I am talking about phrases that are couched in the comfort of country-speak to conceal the true intentions of what the phrase represents. I attended a wonderful Edcamp this week where I shared and learned a great deal, but I encountered the frequent use of two such expressions in more than a couple of sessions.
If you need an explanation of what an Edcamp is, I will make an assumption that you are not yet connected, or at best a newly connected educator. Edcamps started a few years back and have become a growing movement for educators to personalize their learning of their much-needed professional development. The existing models of PD provided by the education system over the last few centuries don’t seem to be providing the necessary elements for success for educators. A growing number of educators have designed a new form of PD called Edcamps. Edcamp sessions are discussions of what the participants find relevant. There is no pre-set schedule of approved sessions. People volunteer to lead discussions on topics chosen by the attendees. There are no vendor sessions. There are only educators. If a session is not meeting an attendees needs they are free to move on to another session.
These Edcamps are a direct result of connected educators efforts. They are organized, advertised, criticized and evangelized all through the means provided by social media as it is used and refined by educators to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create within their own profession. It enables individuals to adjust and refine their learning to meet their specific needs. Connections made at the Edcamps provide ongoing support and a perpetual flow of sources to arm educators with the means necessary for their own learning and that of their students.
Ironically, when this concept was presented to a group of administrators at an ISTE Conference a few years back, it was not warmly received as acceptable alternative to the existing outdated models. The seemingly preponderance of concern was the lack of CONTROL. Administrators had no control, over the learning either as a group or for individuals who have the ability to personalize their learning. It baffles me how we individualize our students’ learning with IEP’s, differentiation, and accommodations, but when it comes to educating educators we strive to control the learning, so the group gets its proper dose. It doesn’t matter that educators learn; it only matters that it can be demonstrated that it was taught and everyone was exposed to that teaching. It is but a check on an administrator’s list. How often do we talk about assessing PD? How often do we study the effect of educator learning on student learning in specific schools? What support do schools supply to educators to share and collaborate what they do learn in the form of PD?
An amazingly large number of educators fully see the urgent need and agree that we need to drastically change the system. Get ready for me to go over the cliff at this point. Many say however “WE NEED TO TAKE BABY STEPS”. Why??? We are not babies. We are among the most educated group of people this country has to offer. We hold advanced degrees. We are proven thinkers and learners. Taking baby steps implies a lack of consideration, a lack of understanding, lack willingness, a lack of confidence, a lack of urgency, and most obvious to me is a lack in taking full responsibility for change. Taking baby steps to me means moving slowly enough to gauge the reactions of others. It goes to that “Teacher mentality” of “educators make no mistakes in public”. The fear of failure is often the thing that produces failure. It is a combination of all of this that has allowed the national discussion on education to be taken over by non-educators. The very baby steps educators are taking to move from a 19th century model of education to a model for educating kids for their future has made educators targets and not innovators. Educators are being held accountable only for the shortcomings and none of the successes. If our baby steps take us 100 years to move into the 21st century, we will need to start all over again in the 22nd.
“Comfort Level” is another over-the-edge term for me. It is the one phrase I find to be the biggest obstacle to reform. Learning is not always easy. It can be fun, and engaging, but for many it can be hard. Something that is hard to do is rarely comfortable. When I hear an educator say that there is something that is not in their comfort level, I think that they are saying “that is more than I am willing to learn because it’s hard for me”. That is not a comfort thing; that is a learning thing. We can’t have educators, the very people we need to learn and maintain relevance, not be willing to learn because they find it hard, and not comfortable.
Connected educators and Edcamps are bold steps, not baby steps. Being a connected educator is not always comfortable, because sometimes it’s hard. We need more bold steps to take us forward as uncomfortable as that may be. We need bold leaders to take us forward. We have no time for baby steps because we are not babies. We are thinking, learning, educated educators and sometimes that’s hard and uncomfortable. Uncomfortable however, should never be a roadblock. We need to take strides with confidence not baby steps.