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Archive for the ‘Skills’ Category

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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This week I attended another international education conference – the Net.1 Conference (The 1st Annual Nassau Education Technology Conference.)  It was the first of its kind to be held in the Bahamas. There were over 200 educators from the Bahamas and several other surrounding island nations. Often as American educators we are faced with the day-to-day problems of our own system and are unaware of the challenges and real obstacles faced by other countries as they also strive to educate their young. Many of the things that we take for granted are almost non-existent in some other countries.

Poverty in any country seems to be the biggest obstacle to a proper education, but the problems of poverty in a poor country seems to compound the issues almost beyond solution. There is an evident commonality however that could be found in the passion for education in the hearts of all of the educators in attendance. They gave freely of their time to attend an educational conference that offered glimmers of direction, and possible advances in the face of almost daily defeats metered out by problems of distance, isolation, and infrastructure, too much of the first two and not enough of the third.

The Net.1 Conference took place in a premiere school in Nassau, The Lyford Cay School. It is a K-12 school comprised of various freestanding Caribbean-colored buildings. It was situated within a gated community of multi-million dollar homes. It was most definitely not typical of the schools most of the educator attendees represented. Ms. Gaynell Ellis our Bahamian ambassador of good will, a technology visionary, and now a dear friend guided our tour of the community. The school was the obvious beneficiary of the opulence and wealth surrounding it through generous contributions and an active and involved PTA.

I found the faculty members of this school who were the volunteer monitors for the conference to be most proud of their school and their students. The entire conference was a result of the efforts of that staff and foresight of their administrator, Dr. Stacey Bobo. Most notably among the organizers was a husband and wife team of educators from the school, Oscar Brinson Technology Director, and Mindy Brinson (@mbrinson) Technology Coordinator. The conference was built around networking time in order to stimulate collaboration amongst the attending educators. The vision of using instructional technology to advance education in the Bahamas was set during the keynote by none other than the Minister of Education, the Honorable Benjamin Fitzgerald.

A wonderful addition to this conference was the addition of student presentations. Five, 15-year-old students from The Lyford Cay School did two of the conference presentations. The school is made up of 40% Bahamian and 60% international students. This group chose Social Media from a student’s perspective as their first presentation. These kids Texted, Tweeted, Tumbled, and Blogged with some of the best examples of their work out there for all to see. They answered questions, and offered opinions like pros. Of course not spell checking a PowerPoint presentation is almost a universal mistake even among seasoned educators that was overlooked by the audience in light of the quality and effort put out by these kids. I loved it.

I invited these students to join me at my presentation on how educators are using social media for collaboration and professional development. Not only did their participation offer a great model on connected life long learning, they asked questions and offered opinions that enlightened the adults in the room. Again, I loved it.

As students’ needs merge with the educators’ ability to provide solutions, it is becoming very evident that a change is essential. With the way that the world at large curates, communicates, collaborates, and creates in a technology- driven environment while reaching out globally, choices need to be made. An educator’s choice is to get on board, or get out of the way. Relevance comes with life long learning. Looking to the past to not repeat our mistakes is a fine practice. Living in the past to develop minds for the future may be one of those very mistakes we are looking to avoid.

The steps taken by this small island nation of The Bahamas to provide its educators with the tools to enter and compete in a modern world of collaboration is a sign of the times. Of course that brings to mind, especially to the old folk out there, those visionary words of Bob Dylan… “And the times they are a change’n”.

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Collaboration in education is not a new concept, but the idea of using social media for collaboration in education is relatively new considering the age of our education system. Technology has only recently provided the tools to make this possible on a large, even global, scale. In order to successfully engage in this most recent form of collaboration two things need to be understood; the use of technology, and its applications designed for collaboration, and the culture of collaboration among those using that technology. Our most effective education collaborators and thought leaders seem to have a thorough understanding of both.

Although sharing is the key element to collaboration there is more to it than just that. Feedback is important for additions and subtractions for improving ideas. If one is to be a successful collaborator then responding in some way to other educators becomes essential. Without responding, there is no collaboration.

Discussion of ideas is made possible on several applications; the most used source for professional exchanges is probably Twitter, followed by Facebook, LinkedIn, and then any number of Ning Communities for educators with their Blog and Discussion Pages. Commenting on Education Blogs is also another way to extend the collaboration, often in much more detail. Engaging in these practices will broaden the discussion of education among those who need the answers the most, the educators. Many education thought leaders are passionate about education and that passion is both needed and infectious. If educators just shared those passionate ideas with the people that they were connected with, we could have a movement. Never answer for the knowledge of another. You have no idea who knows what. Never assume everyone has heard about one subject, or another, or that they understand it in detail. Just pass along the information for them to decide.

What information is important? Certainly any specific information pertaining to your field of endeavor would be important especially to those who follow you from the same field. Additionally, you should share general information pertaining to Education, methodology, pedagogy, the brain, research and any innovative education ideas. These would come in the form of links to websites, articles, blog posts, videos, podcasts, graphs, and also any other tweets educators may be sharing. A most important contribution is the sharing of successes in the classroom. Your successes may spark enlightenment in a number of other educators. Your successful everyday practices may be innovative to others.

If we as educators made collaboration a common practice among all educators there might not be a need for a common core. Collectively we are all smarter than we are individually. Our common core would be developed by the connection and collaboration of educators. Educators could address their own concerns and professional development without interference by politicians and profiteers. It does require that we become involved in connecting with other educators in a supportive, respectful, collaborative way. Better education for students will be the direct result of better education for our educators.

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I think I have always been a connected educator even before “Al Gore invented the internets”. I received journals in the mail, signed up for numerous workshops, attended any and all conferences I could get sent to, continually joined school committees, and I taught many in-service courses. With that type of exposure, I developed a fairly evident footprint in my school and district. People knew who I was, and what my educational philosophy was because I lived it. Of course looking back to my 20th Century career with a 21st Century eye, there are many things I did then that I would never do today.

The idea of an educator’s digital footprint is a far more than just a reaching reputation. If one is to have any involvement online, that involvement better be positive and constructive, for it is there for eternity and for all to see. If one has amassed a number of good positives in one’s digital impression, it is not usually offset by the occasional misstep that we are all prone to have from time to time.

In regard to the recent “Jeff Bliss” viral video, I felt bad at first for the teacher in the class at Duncanville High School. Too many people were out to demonize her without knowing who she was, or if this packet curriculum she handed out was her personal style, or a mandated, packaged, paid-for curriculum of the school district. She had no digital footprint to go to. I looked, and I could not find one.

I am fortunate to work for SmartBrief as a contributing editor. I am sent to many education conferences in order to promote my connections with educators. Even before this however, I found the digital connections made through Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook were, for those people I wanted to get to know, more than introductions to people. They were the beginnings of relationships. Most of the people in education, that I call on as friends today, began as digital connections. Technology has helped me expand and deepen professional relationships to a degree never before possible. As a regular teacher I was now able to connect, and interact with authors and experts as an equal in discussions on education. These digital relationships were further expanded with face-to-face contacts at education conferences.

Since the interactions were digital, they took many forms on several places: groups, discussions, comments, and interviews, and my footprint grew. As I ventured out to write a Blog my educational philosophy took on a life of its own. People could now read my thoughts and views, as well as my personal beliefs, likes, and dislikes. All of this has fit into my lifestyle. I love the connectedness, I thrive on the interaction, and I live for talking about where we are going, as well as, where we should be in education. All of this, and age, has morphed me from an educator of kids to hopefully a wiser educator of educators. It has always been about the connectedness.

This year I was fortunate to attend the MACUL conference in Detroit. That is a statewide education conference for Michigan educators. MACUL is an ISTE affiliate. My connectedness led me to friendships with many of the featured and keynote speakers; Steve Dembo, Adam Bellow, Nick Provenzano, Kevin Honeycutt, Erin Klein and Gwyneth Jones to mention only a few. It was a great lineup of educators at The Cabo Center in Detroit.

My connectedness and its range along with my responsibility to be true to my image was driven home to me with an email from Matt Keillor an educator connected to me and who also attended the MACUL Conference. I left the conference as it ended. Having my luggage with me I found a line of cabs outside and went to the first in line. I had a pleasant conversation with the cabbie who was originally from an African country. As I was in the airport Matt tweeted me saying that he had a ride in the same cab as I did and he would email me the details. Here is Matt’s account:

MACUL13 Cab Story

From Matt Keillor

I hopped into a cab from Cabo to Detroit airport on Friday afternoon.  The conversation with the cab driver went like this:

Me: Airport please

Driver: Sure. Are you a teacher?

Me: Why yes I am! There are thousands of us swarming Detroit, have you had many teacher customers?

Driver: My last customer was a teacher.  He lives in New York and has been teaching for over 40 years!

Me: Did he have a mustache?

Driver: Yes he did!

Me: A nice full manly one…not a wimpy pencil ‘stache.

Driver: Ha Ha! Yes he did.

Me: I believe that was Tom Whitby! I pulled up Twitter and showed him a pic…

Driver: Yep. that’s him!! He was a very nice man, I could tell he is a man of principle…I saw him walking out and another cab driver tried to lure him in.  He refused, kept walking and continued to my cab at the front of the line.  He is a very nice man!

Me: Great to hear!  I’ll be sure to tell him you said hello.  

Driver: Ah yes, please do!

Lessons learned: It’s a small world. Twitter is cool. Always do the right thing; you may never know the impact has on others.

I am proud of my digital footprint. I am happy to be recognized for as much what I am as who I am. In addition to educators maintaining connections and providing a positive footprint, we need to also stress this with our students. There may come a time when your digital footprint will be your accomplishments for portfolio. Interviews may be have less of an impact on job procurement. It may also go a long way in maintaining a position. Of course that brings us back to our teacher on the viral video. Given the information on hand and their digital footprints, who looks better, the teacher, or the student? What impact will that video, and all that follows from it, have on each of their lives? YES, Technology and Social Media are important in our culture. It cannot be effectively and responsibly self-taught.

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After watching the Jeff Bliss’s, viral video, as well as the remix of it, created to popularize the event even more, I was almost moved to do a reflective post on the subject. After viewing a number of supportive blog posts for the Bliss position I kind of backed off thinking that I was off base in my position. Then I read Why the Jeff Bliss story makes me want to quit by a fellow English teacher.

The end of the academic year has all teachers stressed out. After giving one’s all for a year, and having it come to an end, hoping all along for the success of the students, leads one to question much of what had been done during the year, and even why it was done.  When I first saw the Bliss video, I saw a kid being asked to leave the class for whatever the reason, and the kid trying to get back at the teacher. The kid began to use an attack that echoed the focus of many educators seeking to reform the system with the same rhetoric. Without knowing anything of the student, I determined he must be active on social media and had an interest in what was being said about the change in education. This was some evidence of intelligence. I also felt that everyone would see this teacher as the “devil teacher” responsible for all the ills of our system. There is probably some accuracy to both of those descriptions but I think neither is a reflection of the whole truth in this situation.

 As a retired teacher I encountered many rants from students that I removed from class for disruptive behavior. What is different in this instance is the addition of social media and the educator’s perceived opposition of the position taken by the student. This was further advanced by the teacher’s negative responses to the student’s critique. All of this recorded and published to the world in You Tube Celebrity.

I was moved by the frustrations of the blogger who feels overwhelmed with the ongoing blogging, reflection, and discussion in social media about all of the turmoil in education. Much of this is flamed by the mindless, senseless and poorly planned reforms put forth by non-educators. I am not arrogant enough to think only educators can intelligently reform education, but the general feeling among educators is that the reforms are being mandated with very little educator input. That is the most frustrating part to many educators who are being targeted and maligned even by fellow educators. Educators seem to be circling the wagons and shooting to the inside.

Most educators are doing what they have been trained to do, or what is supported by their school’s culture. I hate the fact that so many teachers use the work packets to present material, but that again is what is supported by the system that they must work in. We need to improve our professional development and be open to more relevant teaching methods, employing more relevant tools for learning, as well as more relevant attitudes toward student-centric learning.

My friend and colleague Lisa Nielsen is a great student advocate and passionate education reformer. We have collaborated on a few very popular blog posts. I do not fault her for taking the side of Jeff Bliss in his rant against his teacher. Bliss made a convincing, and passionate speech against an outmoded method of teaching that stymies our system of education every day. I hope Lisa continues to follow her bliss (not the student) in supporting students in education reform. I would only hope that an “us and them” mentality does not dominate the discussion of education. There is no group more in favor of positive education reform than educators. We must keep in mind that educators are also products of the same education system that we seek to reform. They should not be the targets for the reform; they are in fact victims of that system as well. In order to educate our students, we need to first better educate our educators, and continue to educate them as part of their job. To be relevant educators, we need to be relevantly educated. That implies continuous education in a computer-driven, continuously developing culture.

I would hope that this blogger was not discouraged by the reflection and conversation going on about education reform. We need more educators involved in the discussion that has been hijacked by business profiteers and politicians. There is a planned assault on public education. We need more educators adding their voices to the needed change. We need educators to tell other educators that it is okay to give up methods of the past, that are not working in today’s system of education. It is a question of permission, as opposed to confrontation. Educators are all in favor of kids succeeding; it is but a question of how to accomplish that goal. I would encourage this blogger to hang in and continue to speak out.

If the post by this English teacher moved me, others may be moved as well. That is a skill that is not mastered by many and it is a powerful tool for change. We need more educators stepping up and speaking out if we as educators are to take back the discussion that we left to other less qualified people to dominate.

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