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Archive for the ‘Observation’ Category

This week’s #Edchat was about teacher-centric learning vs. student-centric learning. It is a topic that often gets teachers actively involved in discussion. The reason why so many teachers are so passionate about this subject is unclear, but if Twitter chats and tweets are any indication, it is obvious that many of our connected educators strongly favor student–centric learning. Many view it as 20th century education vs. 21st century. In fact we have been having the “sage on the stage” vs. “ guide on the side” argument for quite a few decades.

Direct Instruction and Lecture are methods of education that have dominated our lessons in education for centuries. They are probably the lessons that most Americans imagine when they are asked to think of what a typical lesson in school should look like. It is the way that most content experts often deliver content to their students. Lecturing is the mainstay of college courses. The majority of the work in this model falls on the teacher to take in and understand the content and deliver it in digestible chunks to the students. This is then noted and memorized by the students for a later summative assessment. That would be the model applied from: chapter to chapter, unit to unit, subject to subject, and textbook to textbook. Both teachers and students were programmed into this model for the most part. Does any of this sound familiar?

The last few decades however have had teachers experimenting with other ways to deliver content. I remember the first time I used simulations in an integrated social studies and English project in the late eighties. It seems a little lame by today’s standards, but we were pushing the envelope back then. The classroom was noisy, the kids were all over the room, the furniture was used as anything but furniture, but we were all engaged in learning. It was active learning and not passive listening.

Moving ahead to the 21st Century we see the use of Project-Based learning, Problem-based learning, and now the Maker movement. None of this is really new, but many educators in larger numbers are newly employing it. We are seeing in more and more literature that lecture and direct instruction may not be as effective as these other forms of learning.

Collaborative learning, which has always been with us, has been turbo-boosted by technology. It once required face-to-face environment to even be considered. It was always effective, but the requirements of time and space limited its use in the classroom, and made it almost impossible outside the education setting. Technology changed all of that. Collaboration now has no boundaries of time and space. Collaborative learning can take place anytime and anywhere. Connections are both local and global. This has become the heart of connected education, and collaborative learning on a global sc

Direct Instruction and Lecture are elements of education that will always be with us. They should not however be the focus of education. Technology now provides the means for student-centric lessons. We need to educate our educators in the benefits and implementation. We also need to get our students familiar with having a voice in personalizing their learning. We cannot hold them responsible for learning, if we don’t teach them the skills of learning. This student-centric learning strongly supports lifelong learning. It creates independent learners and thinkers. It is a learning-by-doing philosophy.

The deterrents to this oncoming wave in education are few, but they are daunting. Observations by administrators are used to assess a teacher’s performance. The easiest observations to do are teacher-centric lessons. Otherwise, in a student-centric lesson, an administrator would have to observe student learning as opposed to teacher delivery of content. Although not impossible, it is a more difficult way to do things. Nevertheless, there are forms of observations that accommodate student-centric lessons. We need to prepare administrators with those tools. More importantly we need to get them as supporters of a method of teaching and learning that has not been the mainstay of education. This is a difficult task in an institution as conservative as Education.

Technology is a driving force for much of the student-centric learning. We need our educators to be at the very least literate in this relatively new digital literacy. It is not a generational thing that people over 30 cannot ever understand. It is a learning thing that teachers can be taught through collaboration, support, and prioritizing ongoing teacher learning for professional development.

The idea that content is king may just be a passing phase in education. Content should be the tool that we use to teach kids the skills of learning. What we learn should take a back seat to how we learn. Once we know how to learn, the content will come to us, as we need it. We need to prepare this generation not only to learn, but also to think critically as well. Learning and thinking are a far cry from listening, memorizing and regurgitating facts.

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When I think of Professional Development for teachers in the traditional sense, I am more and more convinced that being connected as an educator is more effective in accomplishing the goal of professionally developing. The biggest roadblock to teachers connecting may very well be the way teachers have been programmed throughout their entire education and career.

Any course, or workshop that a teacher has ever wanted to take for academics, or for professional development was either controlled, or in some way approved by someone in authority. Some districts put this on the responsibility list of an Assistant Superintendent, or that of a Personnel Director. The determining factor for acceptance of any teacher’s PD would be: does the course, or workshop comply with the specific subject that the teacher teaches? Some districts require that teachers stipulate how the specifics of the course will impact the subject that he or she teaches. Once the course is completed, usually some proof of seat time in the form of a certificate must be provided before permission for acceptance can be granted.

This traditional method of Professional Development has gone on in this fashion, or something close to it for decades. The question is: Does it work? Of course nothing works 100 percent of the time. I would venture to say however, that if we base our answer on an observation of the dissatisfaction with our education system, and the grass-roots movement of tens of thousands of educators in search of something more in the way of PD, our current method may be failing us miserably, or at the very best, falling a bit short of the mark. Either way, PD in its current form is not making the grade.

Someone other than the learner directs the learning in this model, because it was designed around control, compliance, and permission. It would be a big plus if the needs of the learner aligned with the needs of the director, and I imagine that sometimes it does. However, that would probably be more coincidental than a planned outcome. The methodology of a majority of this PD is pretty much “sit and get” or direct instruction. Of course some teachers of the PD might use other methodology, but “sit and get” is pretty much the staple of most PD.

With the era of the Internet, came the idea of very easy-to-do self-exploration of topics. Educators could look stuff up on their own from home, or school. The idea of self-directing leaning suddenly became much easier, and I might add, a whole lot cheaper. The problem for districts however was that there was no way to control it, or to regulate it, or even give, or withhold permission to do it.

The entire self-directed learning thing was further complicated with the advent of Social Media. SM was at first thought to be the bane of all educators. As soon as educators stopped yelling at kids who used it, and tried it for themselves, things changed. Educators began connecting with other self-directed learning educators, and shared what they had learned. The learning has become more collaborative and through observation, and reflection, and based on the interactions of other educators, it has become more popular and more clearly defined.

There are two factors that seem to be holding many educators from this self-directed collaboration. First, it requires a minimal amount of digital literacy in order to connect and explore, and collaborate. This seems to be lacking for many educators, as well as a resistance to learn the literacy. Ironically, educators are supposed to include digital literacy in their curriculum for their students to be better prepared.

Second, educators have been programmed to the model of Control, Compliance, and Permission for Professional Development. That is also the accepted model still employed by most districts, and a huge roadblock. As tough as it is for educators to buck the system, it seems worse for administrators. They too have been programmed, but additionally, they are in the position that has the Control, that demands the Compliance, and that grants the Permission. To give that up by some who are in a position of power is a much more difficult leap of faith. Maybe administrators need to be reprogrammed as lead learners rather than just administrators. It becomes an obligation to continually learn. If they become self-directed learners collaborating with other educators globally, what effect would that have on their leadership capabilities?

In regard to professional Development maybe it would prove more effective to have teachers demonstrate the effects of their learning, instead of a certificate for proof of seat time. That would become the portfolio of a teacher’s learning placing more emphasis on the brain and less on the ass.

The term “connected educator” may be a term that scares people. This was mentioned at a recent education conference. If that is the case, why not use the term “collaborative learner”. Learning through collaboration has been done from the beginning of education. The tools to do it however have dramatically changed and improved, enabling collaboration to take place anytime, anywhere, and with any number of people. It is done transparently, recorded, and archived. Never before in history has collaboration occurred this way. As educators, we would be more than foolish to ignore this potential. As learners we would also be remiss to ignore the personal opportunity to expand and advance.

As educators we recognize the importance of reflection and critical thinking. We need to employ those skills to examine where we are, and what we are doing with the things that we rely on as educators. We need our professional development to be useful and relevant in order to ensure that we, as educators, remain useful and relevant. We can’t have a relevant system of education without relevant, literate educators.

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Social media has had an effect on almost every aspect of life in America. Like it or not, use it or not, agree with it or not, social media has changed the way we live our lives in America no matter what the generation is in which we reside. There are some aspects of our culture that are affected more. Certainly News, Entertainment, and Advertising are areas that all would agree have most dramatically been changed with the social media intrusion on our culture. The speed at which that change took place was accelerated by the quick adoption of strategies by those industries to harness the power of social media to advance their respective industries.

Now let us consider the education industry. There are still educators saying things like: We need to prepare our students for the 21st Century.” Students graduating for the last two years began their education IN THE 21ST CENTURY! The time for preparation has long past over a decade ago.

Social Media is a large part of the 21st Century, which is our present. Of course to understand and utilize social media to our advantage as educators, we need to call upon our knowledge of digital literacy. It is the very digital literacy that all educators will be held responsible to teach under the common core. Of course for educators to teach digital literacy and administrators to assess lessons on digital literacy, we must assume that our educators are digitally literate. The last thing we need to improve education would be illiterate educators.

What does it mean to be digitally literate? Trusting the ever-controversial Wikipedia, a product itself of social media, we have this: Digital literacy is the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. It requires one “to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms”.

Understanding the use of technology and teaching it is one thing, using it to advance educators and education is a step further. The idea of connecting educators digitally for the purpose of curating and sharing information, collaborating with other educators, creating lessons and methods for teaching and learning, discussing and exploring mandates and political edicts in a transparent way are all strategies that engage technology in a meaningful way for education. The technology has made what was never before possible, a commonplace occurrence among connected educators.

What is resulting from all of this seems to be different types of educators. Those who are digitally literate and using that literacy to learn and share with other educators. These are the connected educators. Relevance is a primary concern. They don’t want to read about change, they want to lead it, or at least be involved with it. They write blogs and Tweet rather than email. Those educators, who are somewhat digitally literate, but choose to be strictly consumers of information through technology are semi-connected educators. They want to be relevant, but are content with reading about what is relevant. They may use that information in face-to-face discussions. They read blogs and they email. The unconnected educator is more in line with the 20th century model of teacher. Access to the Internet is limited for whatever reason. Relevance in the 21st century is not a concern. Whatever they need to know, someone will tell them. If they email anyone, they will follow it up with a phone call to make sure it was received.

These are the results of the effects of technology on educators that I have observed.

These are just my musings that you may agree with, or dismiss at will. I do however travel in big education circles, and I do engage, and observe educators regularly about education as a profession and as a passion. I think many of my observations are more accurate than not.

October is going to be Connected Educator Month, #CEM. This initiative is so important that it is sponsored and funded by the U.S. Department of Education. I would urge all educators to take advantage of the sources, which will be provided to connect. Being a connected educator does not happen in a day. It is a mindset. It becomes a great part of who you are as an educator. It enables you to hone in on your needs as a learner. I could not recommend anything else more strongly. If there is one thing that could best advance educators and education, it is teachers and administrators becoming connected educators.

 

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I am planning on attending an Edcamp for leadership next week, which has caused me to reflect upon my administrator/teacher experiences of the past. There was once a time in education, not too long ago, that all discussions about education were led and controlled by those who led and controlled the very schools in which education took place. Building, or district administrators could pretty much control the flow of education information based on their personal education philosophies, as well as their exposure to the latest education ideas and methodology available to them. What was relevant and what was status quo? What was progressive education philosophy, and what was fad or trend? We counted on administrators to lead the way in informing us. That was in fact part of why they were hired and held their positions, to direct the educators below them. That was all part of the system.

This would work very well, as long as the administrator stayed informed, relevant, and was opened to sharing with a faculty open to that direction. This of course was the shiny side of the coin. The other side offered an irrelevant administrator steeped in the past centuries of education and leading the faculty to make no waves in an atmosphere of status quo.

In my career I served under both types of administrators. I thrived under the relevant and struggled with the supporters of status quo. One constant in education however, is that the career lifespan of most administrators is usually short. They move on in order to move up, so waiting them out became the desired answer for the bad, and the dreaded end for the good.

The problem for educators was in not knowing what was good and what was bad. Getting to the outside world of education conferences and collaboration did not come easily to teachers. It was expensive and periodic. Teachers were needed in the classroom, which limited their conference availability. This strengthened the teacher reliance on administrator leadership. There was very little transparency as we have come to know and appreciate it today.

Social Media today has changed this dynamic. An idea in education may come from any educator, regardless of title. Ideas are considered on their own merit and not just by who put the idea forward. Of course it does help if thought leaders support an idea. The point is that the thought leaders are teachers as well as administrators, and authors. It is the open collaboration, and transparency of ideas that test their viability. Teachers and administrators can openly question and discuss things on a scale never before afforded to us. We are not limited to the successes and failures of our own buildings, but we can sample responses and results on a national or even global scale.

This places greater pressure on the leadership in education to maintain relevance if they are to lead educators who now have the ability at anytime to call on experts and question authority. Administrators need to better reflect on ideas and involve a more informed faculty in decision-making. They should also keep in mind that the same collaboration of education ideas works equally well in publicly sharing accomplishments and failures. We all need to strive to be better in order to create and maintain positive digital personas based on our accomplishments and positive interactions with other educators. Our world has become much more transparent and in many ways much more democratic. We need more educators exercising their participation in this process.

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My youngest daughter just graduated high school in June. She has always been an outstanding student and, as her dad, I welcome the chance to recognize that publicly. One of the high points of one of the speeches given at her graduation ceremony caused a huge round of applause from the audience, which was gathered for the outdoor event. Ninety-Five percent of the graduating class of over 300 students had been accepted to institutions of higher learning. Why would the cheers not abound? This is the exact statistic that politicians, business people, parents, and educators are all calling for in every high school across our land. Percentage of college acceptances has become a component in the way we assess successful schools.

My concern is that if our goal is to educate our students to give them a path to college, how are we preparing those who do not go to college? If they failed on the pathway to college program, have we adequately prepared them for a life short of a college education? That applies not only to those who were not accepted to college, but a great number of those who were as well. Many of those students proud of their acceptance to college upon high school graduation will drop out after the first year. If we have only prepared them for college and that doesn’t work out what pathway do they now step to?

Overcoming the impediments to completing college may not even be within the student’s control. The same politicians demanding a higher rate of acceptance to college are placing impossible conditions on the ability to obtain the money to attend those colleges. The economy combined with the rising cost of education place that very goal of every high school that every student is forced to strive for, out of range financially. If acceptance to college is the goal we can do it. If completion of college is a goal, we need to do much more work. Even with completed degrees in America at an all time high, we only have 30% of Americans with Bachelors degrees. That would mean 70% of America was prepared for a path that they never took. What were they prepared for? Did we offer any alternative programs? What will happen to about 200 of my daughter’s classmates?

Educators may not be addressing the needs of the non-college path students not because they don’t care, but because one thing all educators have in common is at least one college degree. Educators were successful in the education system. They realize and understand the advantages of attaining a college degree, but they may not understand the needs and skills required by non-academics to survive and thrive in a culture that holds college in high regard, but only 30% of its population is able to attain it.

With a majority of our kids not completing college, shouldn’t we consider examining our programs and considering options to address this reality? Should we offer more vocational programs, internships, and apprenticeships? Would educators view this as meeting a need, or would they see it as short-selling their students? Are the views and prejudices of educators concerning the importance of advantages in attending college holding us back? Everyone deserves a chance to obtain a college education, but unless we make considerable changes in financing education, college degrees will continue to go to a minority of students. The preparation for college may not be the proper preparation for a majority of our students, who will never complete college. If college is not a realistically attainable goal, why is it such a great part in assessing schools? Can we continue to cater to 30% of our students without addressing the real needs of the majority?

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I just spent the morning viewing a livestream from an Education Forum from Education Week. For those who may be unaware a livestream is a live transmission of an event over the Internet. This was a forum that recognized Education Leaders. It was titled Leaders To Learn From 2013. I think what Education Week did was great and I hope not to diminish their contribution. I do have some observations that I would like to share.

My friend and colleague Kyle Pace, @kylepace, was the person who drew me to this forum. Kyle is a connected educator known to tens of thousands of educators as a collaborative, connected educator who engages people with knowledge and information in the realm of technology in education. If any educator deserves an award for collaborative leadership, Kyle would top my list of candidates. It is a well-deserved recognition.

What struck me about the other award winners recognized for their leadership accomplishments that other educators are supposed to learn from was that we as an education community have not heard from them before? I realize that not all educators are connected through social media. It also seems to me as an observer of social media in education that it is often more difficult for Administrators to connect than teachers. There are reasons for that, both real and imagined, and I understand that. It would seem to me however, that if collaboration is part of a reason for recognition, the award winners should demonstrate some proficiency in modern collaboration as educators.

I also attended a Discovery Education forum recently where a number of Superintendents were recognized. When asked about their professional Social media involvement and collaboration, each claimed Twitter accounts and some claimed to have blogs. Of course sitting with Josh Stumpenhorst, @stumpteacher, we were able to quickly fact-check each of their claims to discover that most of them rarely tweeted and few had Blogs.

In a time when mobile devices can vet any speaker in a few seconds, people should not speak out of hand. In addition to education leaders, all leaders should get the fact that they can, and will be held more accountable for what they do compared to what they say. The world and information distribution has changed. Their failure to recognize that fact is testament to their relevance in a technology-driven society.

I have made my views on sharing as a professional responsibility known in many previous posts. A question from Dean Shareski really summed it up for me in regard to professional collaboration. What would we say about a doctor who found a cure for cancer or even a partial pathway to that end, but failed to share it with medical colleagues?

If educators are doing things in a better way, why are they not collaborating using the methods of today? Educators may not have the Journal of the American Medical Association, but we do have Twitter and we do have Blogs. I am tired of educators who espouse technology for everyone else, but fail to employ it for themselves and their profession.

Many Administrators use the Internet to vet out teaching candidates. They get to Google information about individuals that they are legally precluded from asking about in an interview. If that has become the standard then let’s have at it. We should look at everyone’s digital footprint including administrators. What is their educational philosophy as it is stated in the digital world? What does their Professional Learning Network include? What is it they have collaborated on in the Social media world? How effective are they in the very collaboration skills that they claim to have? How reflective are they based on their public blog? Do they hold to their principles in their public reflections?

We are moving forward in the way we access and obtain information. If an administrator has not contributed and that information is not obtainable, then that may be an indication of ability, or relevance, or both. At the very least it should be a red flag. I am not suggesting that any administrator who is not on social media is a Luddite. I am suggesting that the best leaders in an age of technology are those who understand it as a result of effectively using it, as well as modeling it for those who follow. We need to consider relevant collaborative skills as a requisite for administrative positions if we have hope for changing the system in positive ways.

 

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As I have traveled around this country participating in education conferences I have made several observations in regard to the effects of the Internet and social media on various levels of education as a profession, as an industry, and as an institution. These are often the topics of sessions at education conferences that draw thousands of educators in to look at, examine, talk over, consider, and move on. This all takes time and has been going on since tech was first introduced to education in various forms as tools for learning. It may be time to step back and look at the bigger picture.

As technology advances there are consequences for many industries that either fail to adapt, or whose product is replaced by what technology offers. Horse drawn carriages were replaced by horseless carriages. Typewriters were replaced by word processors. Instamatic cameras were replaced by digital cameras, which are now being replaced by cell phones. Photographic film is not found in any of the millions of stores from which it was previously sold in mass quantities. The news cycle no longer faces deadlines because of 24-hour news cycles. Newspaper and magazine stands have only a fraction of the offerings they had even five years ago. There is no longer a Kodak, Polaroid, Underwood Typewriter, or Newsweek magazine. They were all giants taken out by technology.

With all that, we as educators should have learned from all the examples of those industries that preceded us as victims in the advancement of technology. Why is education so slow in making decisions that would employ tech rather than resist it. Kodak was huge. It was in the “too big to fail” category. Its products included cameras, but its main product was film. Once digital photography moved into the industry it was a very short run to ruin.

The product of education is content. My path of reasoning must be getting clear about now. The key to content was always held by the academics to be shared by those who attended and prevailed in the education system. Teachers were the content experts. The Internet has now strained the value of content experts. Few content experts will ever be able to retain and command the content held by the power of the Internet. The shift that should take place in education is to teach students the skills to responsibly and critically access that content in order to create additional content.

We shouldn’t be guided by the demands of industry to teach skills that may not be in existence over the course of a student’s academic career. The idea that business can best direct the needs of learners is surpassed by the fact that business will only direct education to meet the present needs of business.

If education is to direct its own path and avoid becoming as irrelevant as a film company in a digital world, as educators we need to change. We can’t continue contemplating the use of technology for the sake of protecting our comfort zones. We need to update and restructure the way we administer Professional Development. We need to employ strategies to incorporate social media for collaboration. We need to better understand how to use technology to help us do what we do best even better. Our professional organizations need to move from the models of the past and lead teachers through professional development, discussion, and collaboration to a deeper understanding of their profession in a modern world. We are not a profession of the 1800’s, yet in many ways we carry ourselves and approach it that way. This to must change.

Professional development is a necessary component of the teaching profession. It must be part of every teacher’s workweek. It needs to be prioritized, funded and supported with time. Too many educators have no idea how much they do not know about their own profession. This will require a good amount of directed professional development, which is never popular with educators. Technology has changed things and continues to do so at an incredible rate of speed. If educators are to be effective they must be relevant. If harnessed, technology can be used to our advantage with proper training. If ignored, or not taken seriously by the entire profession, it could very well make educators irrelevant. Our education system is not too big to fail.

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After a marathon attendance at a number of education conferences this year I have stored up many observations on the approach these conferences use to engage educators in their profession. Since I began attending them over 35 years ago I do have some historical perspective. More often than not my experience on the planning of the “Education Conference” is: So it is written, so it shall be done! Many reshuffle the deck and deal out the same old hands. If we always plan conferences on what worked last year, progress will never catch up to relevance.

In our technology-driven society we have come to recognize that our students are learning differently. I would suggest that our educators are learning differently as well. That difference needs to be addressed by the conferences that help educate our educators. The reasons we as educators are reflecting and changing our methods of education to meet the needs of our students are the very reasons education conferences need to change to meet the needs of our changing educators. Resistance that we too often provide does not prevent the fact that there comes a time when we just must reinvent the wheel.

If all educators need to do, in order to keep up with modern education, is to listen to lectures, they can do that cheaper and more conveniently with webinars and podcasts over the Internet. What do conferences provide beyond the lecture? If the answer is face to face networking, then provide the spaces and times to do that. Select venues with ample lounging spaces or build them into the venue. Sessions must be planned with time between sessions for educators to connect and network. Schedule, encourage, or incent presenters, and featured speakers to circulate in these spaces.

Reflection rooms might be a unique addition. Spaces where speakers, presenters, and attendees could gather for reflection and discussion. This would be the best place for educators to connect face to face as well as digitally through social media to continue discussions online, beyond the conference and through the year. Those creative juices that flow during the conference will continue throughout the year. Current models get people thinking during the conference and in many cases the juices will not flow again until the next conference.

Planning the sessions is key to success in any Edu conference. If, as educators, we know that lecture is not the best way to learn, why would we encourage it in sessions? Interactive sessions, as well as discussions, and even interactive panel sessions are the very things that excite, engage, and educate educators. These should be encouraged and highlighted. The method of delivery should always be a prime consideration in addition to being clearly stated on the session description.

The selection of speakers and sessions needs to be examined. Connected educators are often on the cutting edge discussing education topics as much as a year before it hits Faculty meeting and lounges. If the committees made up to judge and select RFP for sessions than those educators need to be relevant as well. Again, a topic that was popular last year may not be as relevant this year. What upset me was that some of this year’s presenters were filling out and submitting RFP’s for next year’s conference. Maybe we should have staggered RFP deadlines with a quota for each date. Planners could then observe trends and avoid replication over a period of time. It also offers the opportunity to analyze the needs and send out requests for specific RFP’s.

Of course the biggest change in PD for educators in years has been the EDCAMP model of conference. Sessions are planned on the fly based on interest and expertise with the assembled group. These sessions are dynamic discussions, which dive into the depths of the selected topic. Every conference should set aside time for the EDCAMP model. Four hours should do it. Planning it for the middle of the conference will enable educators to get a handle on the topics they would need to delve deeply into.

Today’s technology has enabled educators to connect and collaborate globally. Only a few conferences have understood how to harness the power of the tweet. In order to show a conference to the world, the attendees, when moved by engagement will tweet out all that is needed. This draws into the conferences many who are not physically in attendance.

Every conference should have a connected educator space. Many Bloggers have claimed the Blogger’s Lounge as their space and have continued with great connections with other bloggers. We need that for all educators. The connected educator space must be present at every conference.

My final concern is in the Registration fees. Conferences are expensive to run. There is no option on charging money for attendance. The structure however may be flexible with several options. Consideration should be given to discounting for teams of teachers coming from the same district. Maybe we should have a discount for first-time attendees.

I have traveled the world going to Education conferences. All have good points and bad points. All of these conferences have come from the sweat, tears and blood of many volunteers. They are all well-intentioned and I believe in their necessity in our system for Professional Development. The point I feel we must fight for however is the need for relevance in the world in which we teach. This is the same thing we should strive for in all of education. Many of the goals we strive for to support our students should also be the same goals to address our needs to educate our educators.

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Today I attended the 39th Annual Conference for the Association of Middle Level Education in Portland, Oregon. I actually presented for this group for a couple of times about 25 years ago when it was The National Middle Schools Association. That was back in the day when we had far fewer middle schools. The model most often employed back then was the Junior High School. Junior high schools were 7-9 mini high schools. Little kids, little problems (what were we thinking?).

The middle school movement changed that for many school districts. It supported a more collaborative model for educators with a team oriented approach to education. I was a high school teacher for Six years, a junior high school teacher for ten years and a middle school teacher for eighteen years. From that perspective I describe middle school educators as teachers of kids, and high school educators as teachers of courses. I also describe elementary teachers as saints. That is not meant to disparage high school educators. Their job is to prepare students for a college environment which will be, unfortunately, far less supportive or nurturing for students.

I did not participate in many sessions today, but I did study the extensive program, and I did stop in to a number of sessions to get a feel for the conference. My focus at education conferences is no longer as a classroom teacher, but as an educator supporting professional development as a path to education reform. Through that lens, I was amazed at how little the sessions of this conference had evolved in the many years since I presented.  Many, many of the sessions were hour-long, PowerPoint presentations with a period of time at the end for questions and answers. In one of the sessions that I monitored, the presenter would not take any questions until she finished her PowerPoint.

I always wonder why experienced educators with a firm grasp on learning and methods of teaching would subject their audience of adults to presentations that they know would never work with their students. For some reason, many teachers abandon what they know, to become what has been modeled to them as the method of how an educator should present to colleagues, rather than employ proven methods of teaching. How many people can retain information delivered in Text-laden slides spanning over an hour of presentation and only 15 minutes if interaction? Let me be clear. This was not done in every session, and sometimes it may be the only way. The trend however should be taking presenters to more effective methods of presentation. Presentation is teaching, and that is the subject we as educators are experts in.

The other big thing that stood out to me was the subjects of sessions that were provided. The topics covered many of the important issues of middle level education. There was however, much duplication. This could be good for the purpose of planning on the part of the attendees. It enables them more flexibility in scheduling their personal slate of sessions. It also offers different views of the same subject. The downside is that redundant subject sessions limit the total of topics to be presented.

Of course my most critical comment would be the lack of technology not in the delivery of the sessions, but within the subjects of the sessions. Yes, it is not an ISTE conference, but education is now employing a great amount of technology with in many cases limited professional development for educator’s specific needs in their specific subject areas. More sessions in any conference need to be tech-oriented supporting Technology Literacy in education for educators, as well as students.

With that thought in mind I began observing how many of the participants were connected educators. I did hear the Marzano name mentioned in a few sessions, so I believe there is some connecting going on, but is it enough? I could only identify about a dozen tweeters at the conference who back channeled sessions. I do not believe any of the sessions were being live streamed to the internet. I was impressed with the mobile app supplied for the program. That might have been why so many participants were looking at their phones. Middle School educators are the most team-oriented, collaborative educators in our education system. I could not understand why the tweets were not flying fast and furiously.

It was then that I began to consider my own Twitter Stream, my Personal Learning Network. At a glance, I realized that much of my network, although global, is weighted on the east coast. Whether I was personally connected to these folks or not, the #AMLE2012 hashtag still should have approached trending. That never came close.

The idea of connected educators should be a focus of all education conferences. Criticisms aside, this was a wonderful conference that offered educators a shot in the arm to get those creative juices flowing. People come off of a conference like this ready to move up. The problem settles in as time passes. The idea of being connected enables those educators to keep those juices flowing. The great boost that educators get at the conference is enabled to continue beyond the conference. Although many education conferences meet some needs of educators, often times there are simultaneously missed opportunities. Things are moving too fast for missed opportunities.

This, as I explained, is my view through the lens of an educator interested in Professional Development leading the way to education reform. We cannot have professional conferences that focus on supporting the status quo. We do need to effectively share what is happening in classrooms today. The greater need however, is what should be happening in whatever we decide will be the classrooms of tomorrow. This is my lens, my observations, and my opinion.

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One of the many things that I love about my job is my freedom to attend national education conferences for the purpose of meeting with educators and commenting on trends and changes in the education system many of which are introduced, and explored at these conferences. I wish I could say that I could objectively report on the influences these conferences have on education, but my personal bias as a long, long time public educator prevents that from happening. I will always view these through the eyes of a classroom, public school educator. If after that introduction, you are still with me, here is my reflection on iNACOL Virtual School Symposium. This conference is described as The Premiere K-12 Online and Blended Learning Conference.

I have always been a fan of distance learning, beginning back in the day when we had to hook up modems to the computers for connectivity. I also remember the resistance by administrators when teachers tried to get professional development credit for taking online courses. It was often viewed as an attempt to game the system. When Administrative degrees began popping up as a result of online colleges, they were at first met with great skepticism at hiring interviews. Of course with the development of the Internet, and the wide acceptance by institutions of higher learning for online courses, there is becoming more of an acceptance in our system of education for virtual delivery of education.

The iNACOL Virtual School Symposium attracted some of the best of the best in this area to share with colleagues the positive aspects of this method of teaching and learning. This was done with over 200 sessions in a four day period of time. It was well-planned, and seemingly well-attended. Of course, I was struck by the ironic fact that this tech-oriented conference could not register attendees for a lengthy period of time because of network problems. Many of the educators that I encountered seemed to be administrators, or charter school educators. Public school educators may have been avoiding me. It does stand to reason that charter schools are taking a larger step in the blended learning model than public schools, so it is reasonable that they would attend in larger numbers. The lack of public school acceptance seemed also to be a theme throughout many of the policy sessions that I was able to monitor.

My criticism of this conference is the same criticism that many educators have of most professional, education conferences. There were not enough real classroom educators doing the sessions. This conference was vendor-driven. It was also very policy-wonk heavy. Many of the publicized business people who have injected themselves, as education reformers, into the national conversation on education were in attendance. I actually attended one of those sessions with one of those reformers. This particular reformer posed a plan in his session for more acceptance of online learning in the overall education system. Both he and another reformer presented their multi-point plan asking for comments and reactions. I could not wait to get to that part of the discussion.

These gentlmen described the plan in detail. This was how they were going to gain universal acceptance of blended learning throughout the country. These guys mentioned policy, vendors, providers, legislators, learners, students, and infrastructure. All of this was accounted for in their detailed, bullet-pointed, power-point-presented plan. There was, in my admittedly biased view, only one thing missing from this comprehensive laundry list of recommendations. I was now Arnold Horshack rocking, and rolling in my seat awaiting my opportunity to add to the panel discussion. I knew that I had to give my considered opinion. I knew what was truly missing from the list. The reformer only came close to that missing element once as he made a somewhat snide remark about tenure. It was like a remark one would make out of the side of one’s mouth.

The missing element was EDUCATORS! We need to prioritize educating the educators about blended learning. Effective blended learning has not been around as long as most teachers have been around. It is reasonable to assume that being “bitten by the digital learning bug” will not be enough to transform a system. Teachers are taught to be classroom teachers. Online teaching uses much of the same pedagogy, but very different methodology. Paper worksheets are bad in a classroom, but digital worksheets are worse, thanks to cut and paste.

I never got to share that idea with the reformer. He opened the discussion to the audience, but he called out those who he wanted to answer by their first names. Neither the press pass on my badge, nor did my Arnold Horshack-like raising of my arm sway him from his mission. The commenters were all to be policy-makers, vendors, and business people who he chose. They would never have had that educator point of view that could have identified that educators were missing from the plan.  I had become, not unlike many students who are not recognized in the classroom by their teacher. I was dejected, and I shut down. I did not go up to him and offer my opinion. He did not receive the key to success for his plan. I did not receive the chachkas his assistants handed out to people who engaged him in conversation. I went to the next session with Hall Davidson and had a great time engaging with new WEB2.0 learning tools.

I hope to attend this iNACOL Virtual School Symposium again, but I would hope that it evolves over the year to address the needs of the education system that needs to change. Less emphasis should be given to Vendors, CEO’s and For-Profit charter schools. Yes, they are part of the education system today, but their interests cannot come at the expense of the greater good of Public education for a majority of our citizens. If iNACOL is serious about having a greater impact in getting blended learning throughout the system, it needs to provide continuing education, support, and guidance to educators. This organization has the great potential and ability to combine policy and practice to make a difference. Once the educators are educated, can the students be far behind? I fear my bias has once again clouded my objectivity. I promise to keep working on that.

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