Archive for the ‘Mentoring’ Category

I was very fortunate to recently to meet Richard Peritz at FETC. Richard is a television producer for the EduTech Foundation. Rather than write about my interview conducted by Dr. Cindy Burfield. Much of the interview refers to transferring from 20th century learning to the 21st. It will be like going from Reading, Riting, and Rithmatic to Communicating, Collaborating, and Creation. Here is the interview.

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Of course the end of this year is about to slam us in the face with the fact that all of those well-intended resolutions, both personal and professional, for 2013 will no longer have the time to be fulfilled. Undoubtedly, we will feel really bad about it this year, because they were all great resolutions. As far as the professional resolutions go, many of the ideas may have come from connected colleagues and blogs, so they were very relevant as well, and specifically designed for 2013. Maybe there is a possibility that we can repackage a few for 2014.

Having an intention to do something is different from accomplishing that as a goal. Resolutions only require the intention to do it. If we want to increase the odds for success, we need to keep the resolution simple and limited. I am a big believer in the KISS method, (Keep It Simple Stupid). The intention of creating and implementing several new great ideas in the coming year may be more than most of us can handle. I would suggest that we resolve to design and implement ONE new thing in our world of influence. To accomplish more than that would be a bonus, but not necessary to complete our resolution list.

There are so many ideas that are flying around the connected educator hangouts, that selecting but one to act on should be a simple task. A difficult task to arrange would be to have everyone in the world jump as high as they could at the exact same time to see what effect gravity would produce as a result. That is a real challenge.

To ask every educator to select one new idea and implement it in the coming year pales in comparison to the mass jump. The total effect of such a singular accomplishment could take education closer to where it should be in addressing the real needs of students. The other consideration is that other educators often adopt successful, new ideas. The snowball-rolling-down-the-hill effect could result in that unattainable “Paradigm Shift” that we have heard so much about over the years.

In order for this to work, we need to make a selection for the right idea. That may require that we connect with other both connected and unconnected educators to find what new ideas have worked for them.

We can collaborate with other educators for specifics. We may need to connect our unconnected colleagues for help. We may want to keep up with Education Blogs for relevant posts because they are often the result of our thought leaders in education. We must be sure to connect our unconnected colleagues with those blogs as well. We can also access webinars that are becoming so prevalent on the Internet and share them as well. We can seek out education chats for relevant ideas for change.We can even take along an unconnected friend to a chat. Education communities on Ning sites are another great way to gain access to these new ideas. There may be a need to share those sites with the unconnected. If we are lucky enough to attend an education conference, we could access new ideas face-to-face with other educators. The digital Face-to-Face method would involve Skype, or Google hangouts. Both are easily shared with unconnected colleagues.

Once we determine the best new idea that we can embrace, understand, and implement, we need to put our energy into it. We need to commit. If it doesn’t work the first time through, we need to assess why, and make adjustments, and repeat as necessary. Once we have fulfilled our New Year’s resolution, we need to examine the process that got us there. If it worked successfully once, chances are it will work again. The best part is whom else we involved and benefitted in the process, even beyond our students. Happy New Year!

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I have been involved with Education chats on Twitter from the beginning. I am a cofounder of #Edchat, so over the years I have gotten to know my way around chats. I delight in the fact that there is now a huge list of chats educators may participate in. The weekly chat list abounds with a variety of areas in education that would interest educators from almost any area of expertise. The best part about Chats is that if nothing is meeting your need, you may start your own chat to address it. Here is the current Schedule for the Weekly Chat List.

Every week #edchat offers up five education Topics to choose from on a poll open to all. The Top vote getter is the 7 PM topic, and the second top vote getter is the Noon Chat Topic. Each week however, I need to come up with five new topics that we have not yet discussed in the last six months. It is a chore. One method I use to come up with #Edchat Topics is to bounce into other education chats to see their topics of concern. Often times I just lurk, or I might interject a provocative question on the Topic to stir things up a bit. On occasion I find myself engaging in the discussion, pulled in by someone else’s provocative comment.

Yesterday, I found a chat that intrigued me, and a tweet from an educator that grabbed me, so I bounced in. The Topic was on student voice and students having more of a say in the decisions about their own learning. This is a very relevant topic in education today. What drew me in was an educator’s tweet:

I dont get overly excited about student control bc theyre still kids. They arent capable of knowing whats best. As a long time educator I recognize this to be partially true, and maybe someone needed to say it, but it is also a condition that we as educators have created in the system that may be in need of change. If we continue to say kids are incapable of knowing what’s best, and do not address it, does that condition immediately and completely change on its own when kids become 18? Although I attempted to engage this educator in a dialogue on this topic, the response was that it was a scary thought and barely a consideration because it was a ridiculous idea. With that response I knew I had nowhere to go, so I left the discussion. If it were an #Edchat I probably would have taken it on, but I am a believer in the idea that there is a 10 percent mark of people who do not change their minds regardless of the facts. This educator had all the symptoms.

This set me to thinking down two paths of thought. First, Why do educators, who are set in their ways, and unwilling to open up to a different perspective, engage in chats. It is good to have opposition to ideas. That opposition both tests and strengthens new ideas. It forces compromise or it debunks ideas that have no real foundation. The idea of the chats is to explore the options, and be open to alternatives. If everything worked, as everything should, there would be no need for chats. Let us recognize that change is inevitable in everything, and that it is better for us to control that change than to have that change control us.

The idea of these chats is to explore what we do, and see if we can do better. The idea of collaborative chats is that the participants are varied and many. This offers us a range of experiences gathered for a chat that could never before been done virtually. It is in the sharing of these varied experiences that we may glean the best of the best and root out that which is not working. For any of this to work however, we do need to come to the chat with an open mind willing to explore change.

Of course the more important take away for me from this engagement was that there are still educators out there who believe kids incapable of making decisions that affect their lives. Of course, if we program kids to believe only adults may determine what kids should learn and how they should learn it, we are not creating or even encouraging life long learning. We need to begin programming kids to make decisions from an early age. We as educators need to instruct, mentor, and guide decision-making in students until they can take it on fully on their own. Their decisions need to be real with all the rewards and all the consequences. The decisions need to be gradually upgraded and age appropriate, but by high school our students should be making academic decisions for overall courses as well as in class decisions. We as educators need to get from teacher centric lessons to student centric lessons giving weight to the decisions kids make.

Left to that educator that I encountered in that chat, kids would never make a decision because they are not mature enough to do so. The irony is that we demand mature behavior from kids every day, but we do not credit them capable of mature decision-making, because we rob them of that ability. Decision-making is a learned skill like any other and it is a life skill, yet we limit our children’s ability to make them even in the areas that affect them almost every day. We limit their decisions and turn them out into a society that demands decisions on a daily basis. Who benefits by this process?


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The position of education thought leader is not a job that someone applies for. There is no “thought leader certification”, nor is there a license required for the position. It is also not a job that one applies for. It is a title bestowed upon someone by other educators. For many years the quickest path to become an education thought leader was to become an author on an education topic. There were also speaker bureaus that would, for a fee, supply education thought leaders as inspirational, or keynote speakers at conferences or schools. Administrators attending large conferences would often return to their districts with the names of thought leaders that they had met or listened to for the purpose of bringing them into their own district to inspire or teach their faculty.

The process was fairly simple and understood by the people who controlled the policies and purse strings that secured the thought leaders for their speaking gigs. This was the way it was done for a long time until the computer slowly replaced the publishers’ self appointed position as the “determiner” of the thought leaders. The leaders group was not a large group, and very slow to grow. Consequently, it was possible to see the same thought leaders several times, not because he or she was outstanding and highly sought after, but available and affordable. The way to get to know the thought leader was to read the Speaker’s Bio in the program, and the author’s book.

Although some of that process is still in place, today’s thought leaders come to us from many different paths. Technology and social media has connected educators in ways and in numbers that were never before available to us. Educators are reaching out through social media and sharing their experiences and their ideas with other educators for examination, as well as their own reflection. The ideas of individuals are the focus of the collaboration, and not the titles or credentials of the contributors.

The author process for many educator thought leaders now often comes in reverse. After sharing ideas and gaining acceptance on a large scale through social media these educators are encouraged to become authors. It is now the masses of the social media that bestow the mantle of education thought leader. Technology can put up, for any individual brave enough to share it, an entire education philosophy in the form of a blog. It enables person-to-person contact for more in depth scrutiny. It has increased the number of education thought leaders, as well as the audience of educators they may affect.

This is now all part of 21st Century education. Educators are far more aware of self-publishing and branding. The understanding of the digital footprint has become part of digital literacy. Gone are the days when educators could select whether or not to be involved with technology and its advance. Being an educator today requires us to be exactly what we want for our students to be; life long learners. Technology provides the tools to stay relevant and connected with our Education Thought Leaders.

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Each Sunday afternoon there are five Topic questions posted on a poll to determine which will be selected as that week’s #Edchat Topic. There are two #Edchat discussions each Tuesday on Twitter, so the top two topics selected by the poll become the topics of the chats. The number two choice goes at noon, Eastern Time, and the number one selection goes at 7 PM, Eastern Time. The larger audience is the 7 PM Chat. If you did not know it before, I am the person responsible for making up the #Edchat Topic questions that are voted on each week. I admit that I do have favorites each week, but, more often than not, they are not the favorites of the voting public. This week it was a little different. I actually had two favorites, and fortunately for me, they were the chosen topics for the chats. I found both yesterday’s #Edchat discussions thought-provoking, and very much in need of public discussion. The topics were very much connected as well.

#Edchat is very much an open, public discussion by educators from around the world. Ideas on each topic are presented from various points of view as we discuss the varied topics in education each week. As in any public discussion, a person may pick and choose those ideas that suit his/her needs and in this case, educational philosophy. Sometimes it is a new idea, and other times it is validation of what is already being done. Since it is a discussion using Twitter as the platform, most of the participants are educators who are somewhat familiar with technology and social media. As a generalization they tend to be a collaborative group, more progressive in their approach to education, and open to the use of technology as a tool for learning.

The other day I engaged an educator who described himself as a 20th century traditionalist educator (my words). He said that he participated in #Edchat so that he could know his “Enemy”. When I called him on this, he informed me that “Enemy” was in quotes in his tweet. I guess that was to make it humorous, but there is much truth in humor. The point here is that most of the participants are striving to move from the methods and pedagogy of 20th century education to a place that we have not yet found. It is also a great help when authors and experts on these various topics join in on the Chats giving clarity and direction in their areas of expertise. Many of these thought leaders are connected educators.

Usually the #Edchat question is a singular interrogative. The Topics this week had more than one part in the hope of generating more discussion. The noon Chat Topic: What is the BIG Shift in education that everyone is looking for? Is there one big idea that can positively affect education? If not why? Of course there is no single idea because education is too complex for an easy fix. A point lost to most politicians and business people. The question, I thought, would prompt the chatters to present and promote their best and biggest idea.

From the folks I engaged in conversation on this topic the overwhelming objective was support of student-centric as opposed to teacher-centric lessons. The shift being from Direct instruction, and lecture to problem-based, or project-based learning. The teacher would no longer be the content-delivery expert filling the empty vessels of students, but rather a mentor, guiding their learning direction rather than mandating it.

The 7 PM Question: Children are anxious learners in the early grades of education. What are the factors that turn kids off to learning, as they get older? This #Edchat started slowly. I hate when that happens. My biggest fear in doing these chats is that there may come a time when nobody responds to the question. Going into moderator mode, I broke the topic down, and peppered the chatters with a series of smaller questions to loosen them up. That worked which immediately calmed me down. It was like the priming of an old well. It took a minute to get it going, but it came on strong.

Words that popped up with those who I engaged were curiosity, authenticity, and ownership. What I took from it was that students at a young age are curious about learning because it is all new and exciting. It is also relevant ant authentic since what kids are learning enables them to participate in more stuff as well as society. However, some reach a point where they think they have as much as they need and the curiosity is gone. The direction however continues providing to them things that they no longer want to engage in. They do not own their learning and cannot direct its direction to things they would like to learn. If this occurs in a student, it comes at different times for each student. Some teachers saw it on the elementary level others in Middle school where hormones play an even bigger role. The point here is that it happens to many students.

Engagement in learning is the goal of education and the ability for students to own that learning and for it to be authentic, and relevant was a theme for this #Edchat. Again it came down to the teacher being the guide or mentor and not a content delivery person directing content to kids who don’t see it as relevant or authentic. They prefer to create content instead of memorizing it. They prefer to use content instead of regurgitating it on a test.

Both of these #Edchats led me to the same place. For kids to be engaged in learning it will be more effective if they own it and direct it. Teachers can always guide the direction and, as content experts, they have the capacity to do so. Teaching kids how to learn, and how to continue to learn, is more important than whatever content the curriculum tells us the students should know for a test. If we can use their interest to promote our content, fine. If our content doesn’t interest students at all, then what do we do?

#Edchat is not the best method to introduce people to online chats for the first time without preparation. It requires some knowledge and a little strategy. If you are interested, this may help: #Edchat Revisited.  If you are interested in viewing the past #Edchat discussions, we have archived the last several years here: #Edchat Archives.  If you do not have time to read, you can download a podcast analysis of several of the #Edchats from Bam Radio Network, and The #Edchat Radio Show.  #Edchat is one of many education chats. It was started 4 years ago be Shelly Terrell,@shellterrell, Steve Anderson, @web20classroom, and me,@tomwhitby. It was not the first chat, but it is the most enduring, and it has spawned many, many others.

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Over this last year I have been fortunate to have been sent to many education conferences on behalf of SmartBrief in pursuit of content and guest bloggers for SmartBlog on Education. It is a dream job for a retired educator and an education blogger. The intent is to always keep the educator’s voice on SmartBlog authentic and relevant. In that capacity, I have attended and conducted a multitude of workshops on various education topics. Since I am no longer in the classroom, and have no need to apply what I learn about current teaching methods in a classroom setting, I often attend these workshops as an observer, or even a critical observer in some cases.

In conference after conference, and workshop after workshop I have observed successes and failures in the methods employed by presenters to get their material across to their audiences. Of course my biggest criticism is that too many presenters view the people in the room as audiences, and themselves as some sort of entertainer. Of course a successful presenter is part entertainer, as is any teacher, but more importantly, he or she is there at a conference workshop to educate educators and that is a primary goal. For that goal to be met presenters might be better served thinking of the people in the room as learners, and employ their best skills as an educator. In fairness to most presenters, the best do just that.

Much can be learned as an educator by watching what works with a bunch of teacher/learners. Of course there are some who would argue that these are adult learners and shouldn’t be compared to kids. I used to think that as well, but I am not as sure, after all that I have observed.

I found one of the best explanations of adult learning in this article: “Adult Learning Theory and Principles” from The Clinical Educator’s Resource Kit. 

According to the article Malcolm Knowles an American practitioner and theorist of adult education, defined andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn”.

Knowles identified the six principles of adult learning as:

  • Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  • Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  • Adults are goal oriented
  • Adults are relevancy oriented
  • Adults are practical
  • Adult learners like to be respected

After considering these principles and observing many of them first hand at these professional conferences, I started to wonder if the reason why these same principles do not apply to kids, at least on the secondary level, is because we prohibit them from happening in our education system. Do we limit our students learning by blocking access to the very things that motivate us as adults to learn?

Can Students be self-motivated and self-directed? As adults some might say we are “pursuing our bliss” therefore, we are self-motivated and self-directed. Are our students bereft of bliss, or are we blocking out their bliss?

At the more successful conferences providing adult learning environments I have observed many things that aided the learning of adults. The best conferences provided Internet access for all. This enabled adults to use varied and sundry laptops and mobile devices. I still revel at the memory of a room full of learners listening to Chris Lehmann at the Educon Conference as he placed notes on a white board. When he was finished with his illustrated point in the conversation, 40 adults stood up and took a picture of the whiteboard with their mobile devices (mostly cellphones) for later reference. Student classrooms might have over 40 students in them but how many are allowed to take pictures of the teachers’ notes?

Of course the resounding positive comments from any of these learning environments is that there is a love of the conversation, as opposed to the lecture. That is common at Educon and it is the mainstay of the most successful Edcamps. Of course that conversation method is not the focus of teaching kids. Most educators focus on direct instruction and lecture as the mainstay for their lessons.

Then there is the cry from a multitude of adult conference learners that they hold teacher-presenters in the highest regard, because they are authentic. They have been in the classroom, and have paid their dues, so to speak. When real classroom teachers talk about education, it is relevant and real. This is a common sentiment among adult conference learners. I guess that relevance is important to the adult learner. When it comes to the kid learners are they even given a smattering of relevance or are we steeped in curriculum some of which may have been around since the mid 1900’s?

Of course the biggest outcry from adult learners at conferences comes when they are subjected to PowerPoint presentations that are text-ladened and read to the learners word for word by the presenter. This is the most egregious of mistakes and often the initiator of an exodus by the adult learners from the room. What alternative do kid learners have given the same set of circumstances?

Maybe as adult learners we need to take a look in the mirror before we resume our role as teachers for kids. In the final analysis, I do not think that there are differences in the way we learn as adults, or kids, but rather the differences lie in the opportunities afforded to learn. If we respected kids more as learners, they might be more self-directed and motivated in their learning. If they are allowed to participate in their learning, they might take more ownership. What learner wants to own something that is not in his, or her interest to own? If we can understand better how we learn best, maybe we can alter how we teach to be the best.

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I recently participated in what might possibly be a one-time experience for an educator, an education conference in Las Vegas. Of course that probably doesn’t hold true for Nevada educators. Solution Tree Publishing sponsored the Leadership Now Conference in Vegas. It was a Quality event with high visibility speakers keynoted the event.

The speakers at the event were Solution Tree authors and each was a leading expert in their area of expertise. They were also all affiliated with the Marzano/DuFour group. This was a big showing of the PLC at Work institute. For the most part I happen to be a believer in most of what they preach, so I was quite happy with the topics presented.

Of course the backbone of most of what was discussed was the idea of collaborative learning communities within individual school districts. I love the idea and I believe in the concept that collaboratively we all benefit more in learning and teaching. I do find the idea of stopping that collaboration at the district level somewhat limiting however. We need global networks of collaboration. We should not stop at the borders of our own school district or just the network of a group of paying participants of some larger group. Collaboration through social media is free and global. We need to explore and use it to our best advantage as educators and as students.

The First keynotes by Robert Marzano and Richard DuFour lasted an hour and a half each. They were lectures with text-ladened slides to keep the audience (learners) on track while laying out the research and philosophy of the grand plan. There was a printed and bound compiled text of the presentations along with worksheets for the learners. I actually weighed it. It was THREE pounds.

The highlight for me was the keynote by Sir Ken Robinson. He did a keynote that covered many aspects of several of his TED Talk videos. Although I heard much of it before, it meant more live, presented in sir Ken’s unique blend of humor, irony and common sense. This was a vast improvement over the last time I saw him at ISTE with a disastrous panel presentation after what seemed like a ten-minute keynote. In contrast to that, Sir Ken’s Solution Tree retrospective presentation was one to remember.

The workshops following the keynotes were again 90-minute lectures with text-ladened slides that corresponded to the three-pound, bound, text workbook. The material covered in the workshops was essential. The research seemed sound. It was all a common sense approach to the complicated problem of education reform. Each workshop was a clear presentation of how we might best approach what we are doing now in education with what we might be doing even better.

I only wish that they applied the same amount of time, research, and development to their methods of teaching and presentation as they applied to their subject material. First rule of PowerPoint: Don’t read from text-ladened slides to the audience, even if it is from a book written by you, the presenter. To do such a presentation differently is not going to be an easy task and it will probably take several iterations of a presentation to eliminate so much text from slides, but it will help the learners or should I say audience. Although there is a certain element of entertainment in education presentations they are designed to inform and teach. That means the seats are filled with learners and not audience members.

The workshop leaders of the workshops that I attended were wonderful, knowledgeable, and experienced educators. Leaders included: Rebecca DuFour, Tammy Heflebower, Timothy Kanold, Anthony Muhammad, Phil Warrick, and Kenneth Williams. The workshops that were most striking and helpful to me however, were the workshops of Anthony Muhammad. He dealt with changing the culture of the school in order to affect any meaningful change in the structure of the school. I found him to be a shinning star in a room full of stars. He was dynamic, engaging, and most of all gave out meaningful ideas to deal with the real changes for education reform with the most “elephant in the room” problems. He later gave a rousing, closing keynote.

The low point for me anyway came when they had the panel discussion at the end of the sessions of the second day. It was not very well attended by the participants of the conference. The panel was made up of the key members of the Marzano group. Of course the lead panel members gave the longest answers. It was the questioning of the panel that struck me to be rather archaic in our world of technology. The audience was asked to write questions on a piece of paper that would be picked up and delivered to the moderator. There was no microphone stand for open questioning. There was no hashtag back channel screen. The moderator was not monitoring an iPad for questions. I guess this was made difficult because there was also no Internet service for the conference, which should be a mainstay of any education conference.

Criticisms aside, I found this to be a very informative conference. I wish it could have been live streamed to the many connected educators who were following the conference hashtag over the three days. I think the Marzano approach to collaboration and addressing the whole system in order to affect change is a sensible and sound approach. I would simply love to see an updated methodology in their approach.

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The term “innovation” has been thrown around through the halls of education for several years. Its creation in our education system is a stated goal by our Department of Education. It is a reason, although some would call it a justification, for charter schools being formed. Charter schools were supposed to lead the way to innovation for public education. A problem with innovation however is that we often do not know it when we see it.

The whole idea of innovation is that it is something new. The other part of that, which is implied, is that it is also a successful improvement. That may be the piece that prevents recognizing innovation in education. Teachers, when it comes to education, are a conservative group. Change comes slowly, and there is a comfort in holding on to what has worked in the past. This has long been reinforced by the many trends and fads in education that have come and gone. Teachers have been programmed to believe that whatever the change being mandated by the powers that be, it will be gone with the next change of power. “If we wait a little while, this to will pass” becomes the educators’ mindset.

The newness of innovation is probably its greatest obstacle to acceptance. Teachers generally rely on the tried and true methods, proven to work over a long period of time. Innovation requires a leap of faith on the part of educators that the innovation will be a success. Unfortunately for innovation, the conservative nature of educators does not support taking risks. It may have something to do with self-perceptions of many teachers that as “content experts” they shouldn’t make public mistakes. Supporting innovation that fails would be a commitment to failure in the eyes of many educators. Obviously, this slows innovation acceptance.

This entire process has been further complicated by the rate of speed that technology moves and affects change. Committees, research and approval are very big parts of change in education. Today however, change comes faster and more significantly than in years past primarily because of the advancements in technology. These advancements continue to move forward regardless of anyone’s committee, research, or approval.

Collaboration has long been an element of learning. The term social learning is now creeping into discussions more and more giving collaboration a facelift. Face to face collaboration is the oldest and most easily recognized form. It is also a positive reason for department and faculty meetings. When learning individually we are good, but more often than not, learning collaboratively we are better. Technology tools for collaboration have moved collaboration to the forefront.

Now, let us combine collaboration with technology and see if it fits into our education system. Technology has most recently provided many tools, or applications for collaboration. Social Media is not one tool, but rather a network of many that overlap and intertwine. Educators can: join a Ning community,and meet a colleague from anywhere, converse on that site, connect and collaborate on Twitter, continue face to face collaboration on a Google Hangout, or Skype, collaboratively create and publish documents, presentations, Podcasts and videos. The potential ability for educators to harness this power and use it to model and guide learning for their students is mind-boggling to me, as a 40-year educator. It is only surpassed by the idea that the same potential ability in the hands of the students will take collaboration, creation, and learning even further.

We have labeled this innovation the Personal Learning Network. It is what we use to connect educators for collaboration beyond their buildings, districts, towns, and countries. It is technology-driven innovation that may profoundly affect education in regard to collaboration and professional development. It connects teachers with students, administrators, thought leaders, authors, and experts in all areas. It enables collaboration and creation on every level for educators to learn and teach. We become connected educators giving us insights and relevance that has been enabled by technology.

This innovation has been percolating for several years now, yet it has failed to be accepted as innovation. There is a growing gap between the adapters, or the connected educators, and the unconnected educators. The continuous discussions of the connected are directed and led by thought leaders and collaborative reflections, discussions, and content. The unconnected educators rely on the past and whatever direction is given by the powers that be in their districts.

If innovation is something new than the idea of technology-driven collaboration in the form of a PLN is old news and no longer innovation. Since it is no longer innovative, maybe educators will consider it, as a possible next step in education that will enable needed change. The idea that educators may be anti-innovative is my only explanation as to why the idea of a Personal Learning Network has not yet moved educators to accept it as a method to move educators, and education to a better place.

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A short time ago I attended a meeting where members of a college English department were doing a presentation to the faculty about their writing program. As I listened to about a 30-minute presentation of the types of writing required by this program, it became obvious to me that two words in this presentation of a college writing program were never uttered. They were two words that as an educator I come in contact with almost every day. Two words that have changed the way information is exchanged. The two words, never mentioned, have transformed the publishing industry. The two words have revolutionized journalism. These two words have moved authentic learning to the fore in writing classes across the country, or rather the world. These professors of writing had developed a program which by all accounts was very effective, but overlooked and did not even mention either of the two words that had changed forever how society views and consumes and disseminates the written word in the 21st Century. Obviously, someone did not do their homework, or maybe they were just not connected. If it is not yet apparent, the two words are “Blog” and “Post”. Sometimes they appear as one, “Blogpost”.

I was a reluctant blogger. I needed to be pushed into doing it. I saw no need to put myself at the mercy of the public scrutinizing: my every idea, my every word, my every mistake. I also did not believe that, even if I managed to start a Blog, I could sustain it with any substantial ideas over a period of time. That was 136 blog posts and two years ago. That number does not include guest posts done for other Blogs. What I learned and appreciate more than any other thing that I get from blogging is that I write for me. It is a reflective, personal endeavor. I made the choice to open my blog to public scrutiny. I encourage comments to my ideas, to affirm, or further reflect on those ideas based on the reader comments. Testing my ideas in public is testing I can believe in. Of course I can take that position because pretty much most of what I have written has been fairly well received in over 2,000 comments.

As an educator I believe kids should be introduced to blogging early.  A writer’s work will quickly improve with a real audience. Writing for an audience of only one is a tedious process. This is the preferred method in education. The writer needs to wait for the composition to be graded. Of course the student writer can always shake off the teacher’s criticism; because the writer is convinced the teacher hates him anyway. With comments from a real audience providing proper feedback, the writer gets a better sense of impact on the audience as well as recognition for accuracy and focus. Of course it is also on the teacher to teach kids how to responsibly comment and respond on other’s posts. We can’t hold students responsible for things that we don’t teach them.

As an educator I believe educators should be blogging. We need to model that, which we are demanding of our students. It also opens the teacher to the effects of transparency. It goes without saying that teachers must be thoughtful and responsible in what they post. We have to remember that any idiot can write a blog and most do. This is why we need more educators modeling and contributing to the pool of responsible blogs. Teachers who abuse their responsibility by irresponsible posts are for the most part just irresponsible adults who were never taught about the responsibilities or the impact of the blogging.

As an educator I believe that administrators should be blogging. Administrators in theory are our education leaders. They have an obligation to tell us where we are going and why we should go there. Education can no longer be an isolated profession. There is too much at stake. I continually try to convince administrators to blog. Many have the same trepidations that I had at first. Most, after taking the plunge, become blogging advocates. Check out the Connected Principal’s Blog. This is a collaborative blogging site for principals, most of whom are recent bloggers.

The whole idea of Connected Educators is to break down the barriers that have prevented us from exchanging ideas in a big way. Technology has provided us the tools to share and collaborate in astounding ways. We do that on a daily basis with existing content. Blog Posts provide us with: original thought, new ideas, questions, reflections, and much, much more.

This is not just a job for writing teachers. The computer is the today’s publisher. Computers do not send out rejection letters. If we as educators recognize the position blogging now has and will continue to have in our society, we need to take responsibility for teaching proper use in whatever our academic field of choice. We need to model for the next generations. We need to use the Blog as a tool to connect and communicate. We need to blog in order to openly reflect and challenge. We need to blog for ourselves while opening our ideas to others. For many this is a scary thought, but for many others it is a challenge.

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In order for educators to teach kids, they need something to teach. Exactly what it is that educators should teach has often been discussed and continues to be the focus of ongoing discussions for over many generations. The delivery of that content, in regard to what to teach, has never been of great concern, because the bulk of it came in the form of text, delivered in a book called the textbook. In the 50’s the education pioneers introduced film strips, 16mm films, and recordings to supplement the textbooks. The 60’s brought the video tape and the overhead projector. With the turn of the century came the disc technology, as well as a wider use of the internet. Today of course we use interactive white boards and document cameras. All of the new methods of content delivery however are, for the most part, just add-ons to the backbone of any curriculum, the textbook. Of course the publishing of textbooks became a multi-million, or billion dollar industry. The importance of Textbooks was reflected in school districts with their strictly adhered to textbook adoption policies. Textbooks are a big deal. It is a common experience of all educators and all parents. The textbook, along with the apple on the teacher’s desk, is an iconic symbol of education in America.

A decade into the new century we have a new way to deliver content. The internet not only delivers text, but allows it to be manipulated, transformed, evaluated, analyzed, merged with video and audio, created, and published.  This goes way beyond that which could be accomplished by the printed textbook. It offers educators the potential for not only presenting content to a student, but allowing the student to actually interact with that content to demonstrate more than understanding, with the potential of actual creation of the student’s own content, as well as publishing it out to others for authentic feedback. Teaching the content is the process, getting students to use the content and independently obtaining, and continuing to evaluate and use more content should be the goal.

There are now a number of ways educators have to deal with content. On opposite ends of this list of learning tools are two extremes. The textbook, as we know it over the decades at one end, and Open Source Resources of the internet on the other end. As an educator I have never liked being shackled to a single, stagnant textbook. I am personally comfortable guiding students through Open Source learning. This however, is not the comfort zone of most educators. Comfort zones are the biggest impediment to education reform. I do realize that any effective use of the internet as an open source resource for educators to use for students would require a massive undertaking of professional development for millions of educators nationwide. I would imagine that the billion-dollar textbook publishing industry would have some say in this discussion as well, so the move in that direction would be slow in coming. I believe the challenge is to create the best solution in a mechanism that is recognizable as a textbook, but enables the functions of the internet to incorporate many more tools for learning.

Educators are now beginning to establish a voice through social media. Opinions expressed by educators through blogs and social media are now beginning to gain recognition in the national discussion of what is education to be. I think that is one of the main reasons that Discovery Education used some of the leading connected educators from social media as a focus group, or think tank, to discuss what is “Beyond the Textbook”? Discovery Education was looking to gain insights to their own attempt to devise or improve such a much-needed product. Of course another reason is to have the very same people create a buzz about whatever comes from this forum. Cynics would say that we were being used and manipulated by a corporation. I would like to think that we actually have gotten what we have been asking for, for decades; an educator’s voice in what education needs.

After a long day of discussion between about 16 invited educators and the same number of Discovery Education staff, we came up with several concepts. Most of what we suggested already exists in some form today. They are tools of the internet that could be incorporated into a mechanism for learning, assessing, and creating content. Here is a list of some of the suggestions of the components that the group valued and thought should exist in what should exist as we go beyond the textbook:

  • The mechanism will exist on the internet allowing 24/7 access with computer or mobile access.
  • Many forms of content may be included: text, videos, audio, animation, graphs, and diagrams
  • The ability for flexible content will be provided.
  • The teacher will be able to add or subtract material to meet the needs of the students allowing for differentiation.
  • Content will have highlighting and note-taking capability
  • Content will be linked to dictionary and encyclopedia for easy reference.
  • Content will have language translation capability.
  • Content will be linked to other supplemental material for further exploration.
  • Formative assessment will be built into lessons to assess understanding before moving on.
  • There will be a social media component for collaboration and feedback.
  • Students will be able to create content within the mechanism.
  • Student created material will be archived and shared
  • Student created material will be placed in an ePortfolio within the mechanism.

These were some of the highlights of what came from the assembled group. The group had elementary, secondary, and higher Ed representation. Most members were very active participants in social media and education Blogs. I cannot adequately express the admiration that I have for each of the people in this group, most of whom I have met before and all of whom I follow on Twitter. These are people I often recommend following on Twitter. I have also now added to my Twitter list many Discovery Education employees who are working toward implementing our suggestions in some form into their existing and ever-evolving product, techbook. I should note that this entire project was led by Steve Dembo of Discovery Education. It is my hope that other industry leaders will begin to go to the educator’s voice on social media for input and transparency in their development of new products.

Members of The Beyond The Textbook Forum included: @rmbyrne, @courosa, @NMHS_principal, @bethstill, @teach42, @dwarlick, @dlaufenberg, @mbteach, @audreywatters, @shareski, @sciencegoddess, @wfryer, @imcguy, @djakes, @jonbecker, @principalspage, @joycevalenza, @lrougeux, @halldavidson, and of course @tomwhitby

My apologies to anyone that I may have left out.

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