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Archive for the ‘Skills’ Category

Educators like all learners have a preferred way of learning. Some think of it as different “styles of learning”, but even that theory of  “learning styles” has been questioned by some. In a profession, which resides in a world where content and information constantly change and evolve at a rapid rate of speed, educators need to maintain relevance in order to create an authentic and meaningful environment for their students to learn and create.

Educators have always needed to master the understanding of at least two fields of endeavor to be successful. First, they needed to master their content field. They are required to be experts of content. Second, they needed to master the field of education with a clear understanding of the latest and greatest methodology and pedagogy available. The 21st Century has now further complicated the teaching profession by requiring an additional third area of mastery, digital literacy. This is required to accomplish many of the necessary tasks in the space occupied by our nation in a computer-driven world. It is the mastery of this third element that educators struggle with today. It is this third element that also directly affecting the evolution of content and education.

The problems stemming from this are many. How do we stress the importance of digital literacy to a group of people, many of whom are digitally illiterate in the modern sense of the term? How do we get educators to remain relevant in their areas of expertise, if their access to content is limited to the methods and tools of the 20th Century? How do we get educators to participate in collaborative learning on a global basis, when they are comfortable with their day-to-day, face-to-face connections with only their building colleagues?

Being a “connected educator” requires collaborative learning as a key to expanding personal learning. It requires at the least, a basic understanding of digital literacy. It requires an understanding of the connected culture in order to reap the full benefits of collaboration. It requires an investment of time that will vary with each individual depending on their learning capacity. Being a Connected Educator is a mindset and not the result of a workshop or seminar for professional development. It is that leap of faith to adopt a mindset for connectedness that will prevent us from soon becoming a profession of connected educators. There will always be some that will keep their feet firmly planted in the 20th century, because, to their way of reasoning, it served them well then, so it should serve them well today.  The two biggest obstacles to change require leaving behind control and comfort zones. This is not easily done.

I don’t even know if the answer to the problem could be solved by top down, or bottom up solutions. It will be more reliant on the culture of each school. To change any system, we must first change the culture. We no longer have a choice about using technology in education, since the education system is part of a society that depends on technology to communicate, collaborate, communicate, and create. The children that educators are preparing for life in that society deserve to receive the most relevant education based on up-to-date information, using the latest methodology, pedagogy, and tools for learning that are available. Little from the 20th century will serve them as well, as that which is in their own century.

We need to help our colleagues be less intimidated by all that is new. We should not put unrealistic time limits on their progress. It is a mindset, and we each will arrive there at our own speed. We must however strive together to get there. Not to attempt to do so is being remiss in our responsibility or our solemn obligation to create in our students the ability to be life long learners through our words and our own actions as life long learners ourselves.

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After five decades of being an educator, I am growing weary of the constant discussion over the divide between education and technology. When will we reach a point where we will discuss Education, teaching and learning without having to debate technology? The idea of learning hasn’t changed since the beginning of time. We learn to survive and improve. Much like breathing, it is what we do naturally. Unlike breathing, some learn better than others, but the concept is the same for everyone. It is the degree of learning that is the variable.

Education addresses learning and teaching for specific goals. Of course what those specific goals are, is a point of contention among many people, both educators and non-educators alike. I think we can agree that education teaches many skills, which people can use to exist, thrive, compete, and create in society. This should hold true for whatever skills are taught in whatever society they are taught in, be it primitive, or advanced. Obviously, the more complicated the society is, the more sophisticated the skills that must be taught.

If we analyze and list all the skills that we deem essential to teach, I think there would be a great deal of commonality without regard to any country. The languages may vary, but the skills would be the same. Discussions of education in these terms would sound similar no matter what country in which these discussions took place. For the sake of this discussion, we could break down all education to its basic elements of reading, writing, and speaking.  I am sure that there are some educators who remember education being just as simple as that from back in their day. Actually, it wasn’t all that long ago.

What has changed in education since the late seventies is not the specific skills we teach, but how they will be used. Technology has crept into our society in both obvious, and subtle ways. It has changed the way many of us do things, but for our children it is the only way they can or ever knew how do things. We old folks grew up watching TV. It was part of our culture. Kids today do not view it the same way. We used to dress up as an occasion to travel on a plane. Today, never a second thought is given to jumping on a plane dressed in any manner to get anywhere. A second phone in a household was once a luxury, and today each member of a family carries their own phone. The world has changed and continues to do so at a frightening pace. It is not something we control. IT has become part of the infrastructure. It is as important as roads, rails, planes and power grids.

The very skills that we as educators are charged to teach our kids will be used in a technology-driven society. The skills remain the same, but their application has drastically changed over the last decades. We can discuss education as education without technology, but at some point we must address how kids will be using that which they have learned. If the application of their learned skills will be technology driven than the very tools they should be learning with should also be technology-driven.

The biggest problem with technology is the pace at which it evolves. It moves faster than folks can catch up to it. Because of that, it becomes a burden on educators to learn what they need to know in order to teach skills in an environment close to what kids will be expected to live in. Many educators are running as fast as they can to catch up, but too many others are reluctant.

Some believe that just teaching the skills is enough. They feel kids will adapt, after all they are digital natives.  I don’t feel that way. I have come to see that kids are great at exploring the Internet, Google searching, downloading music and movies, and texting at lightening speed with two thumbs. Beyond that, kids need to be shown how the skills that they have learned fit into the world in which they will live. This requires using tech in education as a tool and not a skill. We need not teach tech, to use it. It should be a tool for curating data, collaborating, communicating, and creating. This requires an application of their learned skills to produce and create stuff in a format that society recognizes as relevant.

I think the point that I am painstakingly trying to make is that technology needs not to be in discussions of education, but rather in how will the education of any kid be applied in an ever-evolving, technology-driven world in which tour kids will be required to live. We need to recognize what it is we are educating kids for. Where will they apply their education? If it is a world void of technology, than technology is less important in education. If not, than we need to better prepare them for what they will need.

In order to accomplish that, we need to better prepare ourselves as educators to deal with that. Educators need to be digitally literate and that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes an effort. The excuse of “too much on the plate already” doesn’t hold up against the argument of professional responsibility. The argument of education for the sake of education and the hell with technology doesn’t hold up in light of the technological world in which these kids will live. Yes, we need to do more, and it isn’t always easy. If we are to better educate our children, we need to better educate our educators. It is not an easy job. Isn’t that what we tell people all the time?

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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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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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 I have spent a great deal of time communicating the need for educators to connect, communicate and collaborate in order to improve our education system and learning in our computer-driven culture. Many educators have boarded that train, but many, many more are still waiting at the station for a train that is easier to board and more comfortable to ride.

Maybe my efforts and the efforts of many other educators and bloggers have targeted the wrong group to affect a change in our education system. Maybe instead of pushing educators into the fray, we should be supporting other groups that will eventually pull educators into a systematic change. Connectedness is not a condition that is only available for educators to benefit. If educators fail to see the benefit of connectedness in our education system, maybe another group could be targeted for modeling the positive effects of connected learning. Maybe the model of the educators being the leaders for the learners needs to be flipped. What would happen if the learners connected to model the benefits for the educators?

Many educators might say that is impossible, and even laughable to think that is even a possibility in our system. Educators decide the “What and How” of students’ learning in our system and that will never change. Educators have always led the way for the students. So it is written, and so it shall be done!

That foundation on which our education system has been based lo these many centuries seems now to be on shaky ground. I attended an education conference in the Bahamas where I attended sessions delivered by students on student connectedness, enhancing, and even directing student learning. It was an eye-opener for many educators in the audience. I saw a keynote speech at an education conference in Indiana delivered by an eleven-year-old on the advantages of connectedness for students. This kid achieved more as a connected learner than many in the educator-audience even were aware to be possible. Major education conferences are including more and more student sessions exploring the possibilities of student connectedness, connected learning, and choices students have in this technology-driven culture.

Many educators are fascinated by these types of sessions. Many educators view these sessions as something unique. Many educators consider these kids to be anomalies in a system of passive, compliant students. Many educators are oblivious to change as it is happening.

I am not a big believer of the digital native theory. Kids, however, are more open than their educators to learn with technology. They may not be learning with technology in their schools, but they are willing and able to explore and learn on their own. Students are unaware of the excuses of lack of time, or lack of a comfort level used by many of their educators. Kids have vast texting networks that are potential Personal Learning Networks. They are already connected in many ways. Taking that connectedness and applying some collaborative and networking methodology could yield great learning benefits in many cases. The potential of connected learning is but a few steps away for kids.

In many cases creating a collaborative community of learners among students might prove to be an easier and more successful task than the efforts already expended on the same concept for the educators. There is no need to convince kids of the uses of technology, because they get it. There is no need to teach them the bells and whistles of every application, because they learn what they need by trial and error without fear of making mistakes, or breaking something. As a target group to learn through connectedness, students offer far more potential than educators.

Once we have achieved the ultimate goal of connecting all students to develop their Personal Learning Networks, they will begin to direct their own learning beyond the limitations of their teachers. The walls of the classroom, or the location of the school building will not limit students.

Educators who wish to remain relevant will need to play catch up. Educators who wish to gain the same advances in learning as their students may accept the benefits of technology while abandoning the excuses of time and comfort. Educators will be dragged into the progressive education movement rather than being pushed. The idea of students being able to circumvent their educators in a successful pursuit of education may drive educators into a culture they should have embraced from the beginning. Enabling, and, modeling the use of technology, and its ability to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create should be a primary goal in education. Teaching the skill of how to learn outweighs the idea of memorizing what to learn.

Could this happen? Probably not tomorrow, but it might eventually. If educators do not strive to be relevant, the outcome will be irrelevance. Students will need to circumvent an irrelevant education system at that point. Technology can and will provide the means to do that. Relevance: If we do not use it we will lose it!

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“Preparing kids for the Real World” is a phrase that many educators and schools use without regard for the consequence of what they selectively choose as reality for their students. Both educators and institutions in many cases are still choosing for students by educating them traditionally, or more progressively using technology tools for learning. This probably begins with educators’ misconception of the real world.

We cannot prepare kids for the Real World when we still have a 20th century view of it. We are over a dozen years into the 21st Century and some kids in the system have another dozen years before they need their real world experience to hit the streets. That would take us a quarter through the 21st century. How time flies.

Yes, one can be a good teacher without technology. I will not dispute that claim. I believe it to be true. That however deals with a method of teaching, and not what needs to be taught. It is the how versus the what. If one buys into the preparation for the real world argument, teachers methodology choice should take a back seat to  how kids learn and what kids need to learn.

First, I must say that the real world for kids does not begin when they graduate. They are living in the real world now. Their world is quite different from ours. Their world is even more technology driven than ours. Schools cannot be protective cocoons holding our youth until they are matured and educated well enough to spread out their wings and take on the reality of the world. It makes a nice picture, but the subject today is reality.

I remember how Math teachers at one time used the slide rule for calculations. It was even allowed to be used in class, and sometimes on tests. Calculators had a tougher battle getting into classes. Even today many teachers ban them from tests. I wonder if the math jobs in the real world ban the use of calculators? I wonder if students familiar with computer programs dealing with advanced math are disadvantaged in the job market?

When private companies tell us that employees today should be versed in collaboration and be willing to work in groups to fit into the models and structures of modern workspaces in today’s businesses, does that ring true with our students’ education experience? Do educators and schools understand the needs of business in order to prepare students for it in the real world?

When employers are seeking candidates for writing positions in business, will they interview candidates with pen and paper writing samples, or will they ask to see finished writing projects with style and flair produced for print quality? Mechanics having the ability to rebuild a ’58 Chevy may be in high demand in Cuba, but, in the real world that we must prepare our kids for, this is less desirable than a mechanic who knows how to address the automotive computer world of repairs.

We live in a technology-driven society. Unless we choose to live in a commune in the woods or the desert, that will not change. Technology has permeated every part of our lives. It takes one lightning strike on your house to learn that lesson. In addition to all phones and electronics, even your home heating unit and ice maker will have computer chips that will need to be replaced.

Education as much as any other industry has been deluged with technological tools for learning, communication, collaboration, and creation. These tools represent and are used with everything that we teach and hold dear. Some are good and some are not. Our choice as educators should be between the good and the bad, the useful and the frivolous, the productive and the time wasters. As educators we no longer get to choose whether or not we use technology. If our goals, as well as we as educators, are to be believed, and we truly are preparing our students for the real world, we must concede that that world abounds with technology and there are no other choices. We would be more than remiss in our obligation as educators if we chose not to employ technology where it fits. There are times when it may not.

Now the questions arise, are our teachers trained and supported in technology use. Are the buildings adequately tooled for technology? Are administrators devising new, and updating antiquated policies to meet the challenges of teaching with technology? If we are not doing these things, are we then lying to our children when we tell them that we are preparing them for their future?

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Rock Star is a term attributed not only to Rock and Roll luminaries, but also to anyone who is an exceptional standout in a profession or a skill area. One cannot claim Rock Star status. Usually, others proclaim it, for you. One needs to be recognized by others in order to attain Rock Star status. It is more fan recognition of accomplishment than any real certified proclamation.

Recently, there have been a number of posts dealing with this pop culture adoration of educators at national and local conferences. As long as I can remember we have always had such people at conferences without the Rock Star label, but certainly with all the attention that would accompany it. I remember one statewide conference where Guy Kawasaki was to speak and the line to get in formed an hour ahead of time for a standing room only crowd. That was pure star power. Back then books, magazines, and journals determined the who’s who of the profession, leaning toward the authors, who were tagged as the conference stars. Adding fans to their readership never hurt an author’s standing.

That was then and this is now. What is different? Social Media should be blaring in your head about now. Print media has far less of an impact on our society today, while Social Media however, is having a profound effect. The education thought leaders, who use social media as their conduit to transmit their ideas and opinions to followers, have no control over who or how many followers they have. The only control they have is over the ideas and opinions they put out. If the ideas and opinions are good the following grows.

The first time I encountered my own popularity in social media was when I did a session in an Edcamp in NYC.  I expressed to my session that I wished we had a few more people. A woman in the back in a sincere voice said that her friend wanted to come to my session, but I was too famous. At first I thought the woman was just making a joke, but she underscored her sincerity. Frankly, I did not get it, but that has never been my issue. I will generally talk with anyone.

I think we all have people we look up to in our profession. At one time we were limited to physical meetings but now with technology tools of collaboration we are exposed to many times more thought leaders than ever before. We can have several people to admire and look up to. Part of the fun at Education Conferences is to see these people in real life. This is just human nature. I am still impressed with most of the people I held in the highest regard when I started out in social media lo those many years ago.

Where things go awry is when followers look onto their Rock Stars as unapproachable. This is not good for anyone. Most of the rock stars are uncomfortable with that, and the followers miss an opportunity to talk and exchange ideas. Whenever I am called a Rock Star, I feel a deeper sense of responsibility. I feel I need to think more before I speak and have something meaningful to say while I am out in public at these conferences.

Of course the other extreme would be the people who want to fault the Rock Stars for having attitude problems, flawed ideas, no sense of humility, and a million other personality blemishes just to diminish their accomplishments.

This pattern of behavior is not going to go away, so let’s get it out there and deal with it. The term today is Rock Star. Next year it could be something else, but there will still be thought leaders and luminaries in the profession, and they will be called something. Some people will look up to them, and others may look for faults. I am just glad that we are in a profession where these people exist. They make us think, react, understand, collaborate, and learn.

I chose what I wanted to do as an educator, and as a user of social media. I have no choice in how people view me, or label me. I have grown to have fun with the recognition. I can also get somewhat of a feel for the social media influence on an education conference by people’s responses to me at the conference. I have several Education groups on LinkedIn, The Educator’s PLN, and #Edchat on Twitter. I also host The #Edchat Radio Show, as well as Blog on My Island View. On top of all of that I am a contributing Editor to SmartBlog on Education for SmartBrief. For this I am often recognized and thought of by some as a Rock Star. Yesterday I was introduced as the “Godfather of Twitter”. (Not my words) I am also thrilled when my wife, who is an education Tech executive, refers to me as her husband @tomwhitby. People get it. Most have a sense of humor. We can’t take ourselves too seriously, or we won’t have as much fun. It is time to get over it. I can say this because I am @tomwhitby Damn It!

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