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Archive for the ‘Teacher assessment’ Category

I have written about why I feel Tenure is important and how it is used as a scapegoat for inadequate follow through on the part of many administrators in Tenure’s Tenure. I guess it comes as no surprise that I am appalled at the recent decision in California against Tenure.

Of course the statement that upset me the most came from the presiding judge. Judge Treu wrote, “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently in California classrooms,” I do not know what defines a “grossly ineffective teacher”. I know how I might define it, but it would have nothing to do with standardized test scores of children. Even under my personal definition, I would think it would apply to an insignificant number of teachers, many of whom could be brought up to competent levels with properly supported professional development.

Based on articles that I have read since the judgment, the number of “grossly ineffective teachers” in the poorer districts referred to by the judge may have been made up on the spot by a conjecturing witness. Fuzzy Math: guesstimate that struck down California’s teacher tenure laws.

The fact of the matter is that a teacher’s role in a child’s education is very significant. It is not however, the sole influence on that child’s education. This is especially true of children in schools in areas of poverty. The unfortunate truth is that before we can apply Bloom’s taxonomy in many schools, we need to first apply Maslow’s Hierarchy. If kids are coming to school stressed because they are hungry, tired, undernourished, and concerned about their safety, there are no teachers trained well enough to convince those kids to put all that aside for the sake of schoolwork.

The issue with schools in poverty areas both rural and urban is not the teacher quality as much as it is the poverty itself. Poverty brings with it issues in schools that no amount of high-performing teachers can fix.  Teachers are beaten down in their attempts to teach in these schools. Toxic cultures have evolved as a result of fighting the good fight and being defeated by social prejudice, poor infrastructure, and lack of support. These are reasons for high turnover rates of administrators and teachers alike that are commonplace in schools in poverty areas. These are many of the reasons teachers do not actively seek positions in these schools. None of this failure has to do with Tenure. None of this failure has to do with a made up number of 3% of highly incompetent teachers.

Lets make up our own numbers and blame 75% of the do-nothing, ineffective and incompetent politicians who do not address the very issues of poverty that actually are the real reasons for schools in areas of poverty not performing in the same realm as schools in affluent areas.

The idea that teachers are the key to getting all kids thinking and learning at the same level of competence throughout the country is ridiculous. If we can’t even attempt to standardize the environments and conditions in which kids learn, how can we expect the results to be the same nation-wide?

Tenure is only a guarantee of due process. It is not a lifelong commitment. Incompetent teachers can be fired as long as we have competent administrators providing due process. Too often administrators blame the law rather than their inability to follow it.

Without due process teachers will serve at the whim of whatever politicians are in control. Whatever trend school boards, or state legislatures buy into could be thrust upon teachers to teach or else. If the school board is of the opinion the Earth is only 9,000 years old and wants that taught in the schools, who could stand up to that at the risk of loosing a job? If books are banned by a board, who stands against that? If policies are changed in favor of budget over safety who advocates for safety?

Without due process in times of economic considerations, teachers who earn the highest wages are considered the biggest liability. Being an economic cutback is hardly a just reward for years of service. All of these factors do not create a profession that would attract and maintain the brightest and best this country has to offer. Doing away with due process is the best way to weaken an already shaky profession. Half of all teachers entering the profession leave before the fifth year. Some of the most successful and experienced teachers are leaving for consulting positions after years of teaching. The very reason many of the most experienced leave is the current atmosphere of teachers being vilified, and not even involved in discussions of reform. The profession needs to attract more and maintain what it has, and not drive people away.

Rather than talking about easier ways to eliminate teachers, why not find better ways to teach, support, and maintain them. Why not focus efforts on affecting the hard things to fix, the things that have a real effect on education and learning. Poor schools are a symptom of poverty, not the other way around. Let’s deal with poverty, as an issue and education will improve. Fixing education will come at a cost to us all and not just a cost to teachers. We can’t reduce taxes as we improve education. Great education is a long-term goal investment that, unfortunately, exists in a short-term goal-oriented society. Public education is what will keep America safe with informed citizens able to critically think, analyze, process, and create. We can’t afford not to support it.

Maybe, Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court should look at politicians who obstruct any programs to address the issue of poverty as an attack on education and an obstruction to “a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education”. This might have a more positive effect on education than attacking due process, tenure laws. To paraphrase or rather reuse the words of the judge, there is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective politicians currently in the California legislature rooms.

 

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About a year ago Adam Bellow and I were discussing the possibility and the benefits of doing an Edcamp at the site of the United States Department of Education. Adam had just met with some members of the Department and I was in touch with many of them from the connected educator month committee on which I was serving. Our thought was to have an Edcamp take place in the Department of Ed and have all of the policy makers attend sessions with real, in-the-classroom educators to see, and feel their concerns as educators in regard to what is important in the classroom. We were thinking in terms of #Edcampwhitehouse.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Edcamp model of professional development, a brief explanation may be in order. The Edcamp model is a grassroots movement for professional development. Educators assemble at a location with no set agenda for PD sessions. The day starts early with a provided breakfast while everyone collaborates. There is usually a large board with session times and room assignments for each session, but there are no session descriptions. That is what the breakfast collaboration is for. As educators’ discussions emerge and develop there are usually two types of participants, those who know about a subject, and those who want to know about a subject. Either type may put up that subject in a session slot. Both the experts and the novices then will have an opportunity to discuss the topic. Edcamps are more about discussion than presentations. The discussions involve classroom experiences both successful and unsuccessful. Each session provides a safe discussion for educators to explore their understanding of any education topic.

Both Adam and I thought that this is what the policy makers within the Department of Education need to hear. This is a great way to put educators into the national discussion of education, that so many educators feel has been hijacked by business people and politicians. So, with the help of some key members of the Department of Education, we got the go ahead. The DOE was willing to provide a space and coordination, but the bulk of the organization and planning were to be up to the educators to complete. To me, that meant The Edcamp Foundation under the leadership of Kristen Swanson. The Edcamp Foundation is a volunteer group that helps organize and support Edcamps around the world. This US DOE Edcamp was a perfect opportunity for their leadership. They took on the project without hesitation.

Since the space at the DOE would have a limited capacity, the attendees needed to be limited as a result. The invitations to all went out on social media to enlist interested educators to enter a lottery for the Edcamp attendance. There was a huge response considering it is on June 6, a weekday. The DOE is closed on weekends. Edcamps are usually a Saturday event. The lottery was held and invitations to attend went out. Many educators at their own expense will be making the pilgrimage.

The Edcamp will take place this Friday. I truly hope that the people or surroundings that educators will encounter at this event will not intimidate them in any way.

We are hopeful that most of the participants will be tweeting out their experience. This entire project came as a result of social media and connected educators. It will be that connectedness that gets the experience and feelings of the event participants out to all educators. I look forward to thousands of tweets and many blog posts coming from this event on Friday. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a statement with what educators do, and who educators are to possibly affect change. It is doubtful the President will show up, but at the very least Arne Duncan, The Secretary of Education, should have some level of engagement.

I often say: To better educate our students, we must first better educate their educators. Friday I will say to better affect change in education, we need first to better affect change in our policy makers.

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Recently, the editors of Edutopia were considering a theme for their bloggers to blog about concerning testing. In order to keep things timely, they needed to find out when most schools were being affected by standardized tests. It was a reasonable consideration, worthy of a responsible examination of the subject. It was the question posed to the bloggers however, that set me off about our evolved approach to these standardized tests. When is your Testing Season?

Every standardized test has a date or two or three that it is to be administered, but the question was not what are the dates of the standardized tests in your school. The idea that any school would have a “testing season” is enough to drive an advocate for authentic learning to skip taking his scheduled life-saving medications in order to stay on task completing a post about this culture of testing that we have allowed to develop. Every state has its own schedule for tests and a list of grades to take them. New York was at one time considering testing from Pre-K to 2nd grade as well all as the other grades. How does anyone get behind testing toddlers? Testing as it stands now begins in New York at 3rd grade. Here is a site that outlines what each state requires for their Standardized testing. Standardized Testing State By State, Standardized Tests Are Here to Stay

The thing that has really gotten me bothered is this culture change in education. It is no longer about the learning, but rather it is all about the testing. We no longer view the test as an assessment tool of learning to adjust lessons to meet the needs of each student. It has become a means to manipulate data to affect factors beyond that of just student learning. Standardized tests are certainly not the best form of student learning assessment. That seems not to matter however since for whatever the reason, we have had to expand and elevate testing day, or days to The Testing Season.

I remember a conference that I attended a few years ago where a New York City teacher was complaining that his elementary school dedicated an entire month to nothing being taught except for test preparation. The principal of that school monitored the classes to make sure that this strategy was adhered to by one and all. The most recent change in the testing culture is the need to accommodate the tests with all available technology. Some standardized tests are to now being administered via computers. Many schools provide Internet access to their students and teachers solely through computer labs. The tests however, take precedence over learning during “Testing Season” requiring limiting or even shutting down access to these labs in order to prepare for, and administer these computer-delivered standardized tests.

I guess each season brings us feelings associated with it. From the season of summer we may feel invigorated with warmth and recreation associated with it. The season of winter brings on good feelings of sharing holidays, and hot-chocolate comfort. From the season of Testing we get stress and anxiety for kids and adults. I guess the season of Testing is not the season about which many poems are written.

Of course teachers will tell you that they are comfortable in setting their students at ease about the tests during “Testing Season”. I often told my students that I had every confidence that they would do very well on any standardized test that they took because their education prepared them for it. That of course was to reduce their stress and build their confidence, but I am glad I did not have a wooden nose. It would have been a dead giveaway.

Today’s teachers are very stress bound when it comes to these tests. The tests have become less of an assessment of student learning and more of a club or Thor’s hammer for teacher evaluation. Of course teachers are stressed and that is generated to the students for the duration of the “Testing Season”, whether or not the teacher intends for that to happen. If teachers could select students for their classes, crafty teachers would always opt for classes with the slower students. Those are the classes that can show the most advancement in “testing season”, making the teacher a shining star. A great teacher with an outstanding class is cursed and possibly deemed inadequate because kids performing at the very top of the scale will show little improvement. Of course, according to the assessments, it must be the teacher’s fault that kids in the 95th percentile did not move at least five points higher. How can there not be stress and anxiety in the “testing season”?

We may need to research any drop in attendance at schools with stress related illnesses during “testing season”. We do flu shots in the winter season, so maybe we need stress reliever shots in the “testing season”.

Of course pushing testing into a season has had a great effect on the testing industry and all of its requirements. We need to prepare for “testing season”. We need to test in “testing season”, and we need to develop tools and curriculum for “testing season”. The result of all of this is a billion dollar a year industry and we have yet to develop the “testing season” greeting cards.

Maybe we should take a step back and assess our assessments. We do not need this testing season. Tests have grown beyond what they were intended for. They were intended for the teacher to gauge student learning in order to adjust lessons to better meet the needs of students. Tests were never designed to become the goal of education at the expense of actual learning.

This is the part of the post where I should be proposing a thoughtful alternative as a positive spin for this unpopular aspect which has been pushed into American education. Unfortunately, I have no recommendations. I have no ideas that can replace a billion dollar a year idea. Portfolios, individual conferences, and authentic learning projects would all be improvements over standardized testing for student assessment, but they do not provide easily calculated data.

We as a society have allowed business and politicians to corrupt an assessment tool in order to use it as a money-making device for a select few companies. Education needs to be more transparent, but certainly the best people to administer education should be the educators and not business people or politicians. We need to realign education’s goals on learning and not testing. We do not need a season of testing, but a life of learning.

 

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As I was picking up my Hawaiian shirts from my local dry cleaners last week, I was approached by a former student of 30 years ago, who managed to recognize me all these years and extra pounds later. He mentioned a few of the memories that he had of our student/teacher time together and then offered his view of education today. It was soon apparent that he felt that at least half of the entire student population in America was graduating school with a total inability to read anything. He stated and restated his very firm belief several times during our brief conversation. It was apparent to me that changing his mind would not take place at that moment in that parking lot, so I headed off with a simple disagreement, but not really challenging his view of education.

This encounter caused me to start thinking about other perspectives people might have on education today. I travel extensively in education circles and engage people in conversation about education on a regular basis. I am starting to believe that when it comes to what people believe, or don’t believe about education has little to do with facts. It seems to be more about who has the ear of the public in order to say things loud enough and often enough regardless of facts. Sound bites seem to be framing the education discussion in terms of taxpayer perceptions. Politicians and Tax Reformers seem to be the loudest and most persistent voices in the discussion.

I then attended the Education Industry Summit held by the Software and Information Industry Association (www.siia.net/education). It is the premiere conference for leaders in the education technology industry. This organization sponsors, encourages, and mentors companies that are education technology innovators. It is by all means an excellent organization.

My personal takeaway from this conference however, was a glimpse of how the perspective on education is viewed by the people in this industry. They are constantly surrounded by tech, so they view all education in terms of technology. They are rich with facts to support their beliefs. They talk about the impact their products will have on a technology-rich environment in education. They have charts and diagrams in PowerPoint presentations, as well as professionally produced videos to support their product’s entry and impact into the world of education.

What vexed me about this perspective was that I did not recognize the education system that they described in a majority of their presentations.

There are many schools with a culture that supports technology and innovation, but I question whether it is a majority of schools. Technology in education has been introduced in bits and pieces as it developed. Few schools had systematic plans for integration. Many were required to have what were called five-year plans, but five years in technology is a lifetime. Dog years don’t even come close. Many schools are playing catch up in this age of technology. Integrating new tech-driven methodology into a system steeped in 19th and 20th century methodology is not going to be accomplished overnight, or in some cases over a decade. We have many schools trying to teach their kids for the future while relying on methods and technologies of the past. Too many schools do not have the mindset or culture to support systematic conversions to the latest and greatest innovations of technology. These points are not being made in power point presentations, or professional videos of the industry people. They discuss the impact of their technology on students, but ignore the impact on teachers.

One would think that educators would have the best perspective on a view of education and many do. Their view however is determined by their teaching experience. There is a vast difference in perspective when talking to an urban teacher as opposed to a suburban teacher. Rural teachers have a completely different view. There is a big difference between schools of poverty and schools of affluence. How can we ever address the solutions to the problems in a standardized way when the problems are so diverse? How can we have a national discussion on education when the problems for the most part exist on a local level? How do we listen to politicians, profiteers, tax reformers, education reformers parents, students, teachers, administrators, and concerned citizens while each has a different motivation and view of education? Should each of their views carry the same weight? Will it ever be possible to find common ground between the likes of Diane Ravitch and the likes of Michelle Rhee?

Before we decide on the changes maybe we should reconsider the needs. Before we went to standardized testing, maybe we should have determined some basic standardized professional development. Maybe in reflecting on how we approach teaching on a national level, we could be less concerned with what we teach. The emphasis might go from what kids learn to how kids learn. If the national focus was on creating learners instead of test takers, we might make a more effective difference. If our educators rededicated themselves to learning as models and mentors, we might see significant change in a system long in need of updating. It would take a commitment to professional development. It would seem more likely to affect a significant change in our students, if we could first affect a needed change in their educators. Committing to educating educators to the needed changes in methodology and pedagogy as a priority in modern education.

The next time my Hawaiian shirts need to be picked up from the dry cleaners, I should ask my wife if she would please help me out and pick them up.

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I recently put out a tweet that was meant to be provocative. I often do this to stir things up in order to benefit ye olde creative juices. I tweeted that I recently had a heart procedure done, (which I did) and I did not ask the doctor to use any 20th Century methods or technology to complete the task. I thought it might stir up a discussion of relevance in education as an offshoot of that tweet. That did not happen. Someone asked, based on that tweet, why I thought educators could not be good teachers if they were not connected. My intent was to point out relevance. The idea I attempted to convey was that any profession, especially medicine, can no longer employ technology and methodology of the 20th Century, since we are well over a decade into the 21st. It was the tweeter who attributed a value on a teacher who was not connected. It was the being connected part which that tweeter took as being relevant, but there is more to relevance than just being connected.

Relevance is something that is important to the matter at hand. Of course in education, the matter at hand changes with every topic in the curriculum. Since educators need to be masters of content in their subject area that covers a great deal of ground in which educators need to be relevant. To complicate the teaching profession even further, educators need to be masters of the methodology and pedagogy of education as well. Educators need to maintain relevance in both areas. An understanding of this begins to offer insight into how difficult the position of educator can be.

Education however is based on relationships. There are student/teacher relationships, and collegial relationships. All of these relationships take place in an environment of learning. The idea of what is relevant is not something determined by the teacher, but it should be weighed and judged by the student. It is the student who needs the learning that will be used in the space that the student will occupy moving forward. If the student finds the teacher’s ideas and information irrelevant, it won’t matter how relevant the teacher finds it, the student will move on to something he, or she determines is relevant, leaving the teacher behind.

Will an educator be able to determine when he or she has become irrelevant? Does everyone become irrelevant? How does one maintain relevance? Do educators have a moral obligation to point out a colleague’s irrelevance? Is relevance something that is measurable? Is it fair to include “relevance” comments in an observation? What about irrelevant administrators? Is irrelevance always a generational condition? These are all the questions that are flying through my head that I would love answers to.

Of course being a huge advocate for connectedness, I feel an obligation to point out that collaboration and collaborative learning go a long way in keeping people relevant. It is only part of the answer however. We need to keep an open mind, as well as a mindset to continue learning. There are many, many ideas of the past that are relevant today, but we need to be able to exhibit that in relevant ways to new learners in terms that they understand, because if they don’t understand it, or question its relevance, they will not accept it.

I think awareness is a key to staying relevant. One needs to be aware of changes that happen so quickly in our technology-driven culture. Having a willingness and courage to step away from the comfort of the status quo is essential. Developing an ability to listen more than lecture should be a goal. It will take willingness to be more of a learner than an expert. It will require a flexibility to examine, question and reflect on what we know in order to see how it may, or may not fit in with what we will need moving forward. These are all traits of life long learning. Educators talk about life long learning for their students all the time. It should be a goal for all learners. Educators sometimes forget that they are learners as well. To be better educators, we need first to be better learners.

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I recently read a number of mission statements from randomly selected schools to see if there was some sort of pattern in what schools view as their mission. One thing that many had in common was a distinction between the learners and the educators. I guess that is fitting in the sense of what each shareholder’s position is, but maybe we would be better served if we thought of ourselves as a community of learners one and all. At least in that perspective when a mission statement refers to helping all learners reaching their potential, we are including the faculty and administration in that goal. Yes, it is all about the kids, but will not a more learned faculty lead to a more learned student population?

Then I thought about IEP’s and how they might apply to educators as well. Most schools reserve the IEP, Individualized Education Program, for students with special needs, since they are also a requirement of the law. In my imaginings I wondered:Would we all not benefit by having some sort of IEP for every learner in the building? As long as we are dreaming here, maybe we could even give each learner a say in their learning to help develop an IEP. Initially it would take up some time to do, but once completed it could be easily updated each year. If it was considered a priority, the time would easily be allotted, just as weeks of test-prep time is alloted for standardized tests which are today’s priority. The IEP idea however might have a more lasting positive effect.

If we consider our educators (Teachers and Administrators) as learners as well as our students, then they would also need to have IEP’s. Maybe we could call their IEP an IGP, an Individual Growth Program? Of course this is a big “what if?”, but as long as we are here let’s look at IGP possibilities. Each educator could help devise an individual plan for growth. It would mean creating a starting point with skills and knowledge already acquired. We would need to consider how much personal time and how much school time could be utilized for each learner. We could spell out the responsibilities and provisions of the district, which will be balanced with the responsibilities and provisions of each educator/learner. We would also need to have a means to assess the growth progress. Certificates are measurements of seat time, so maybe proof of accomplishment from observations might be a better indicator. At least it gives recognition and credence that a brain in action is more important than an ass in a seated position.

Of course the IGP would need to be revisited and updated each year, but that could also be part of a year-end review. Maybe a day of developing, or updating IGP’s could replace the day usually dedicated to an inspirational speaker followed by almost meaningless “sit and get” workshop presentations that educator/learners sit through in so many schools across the country each and every year.

Imagine a school with IEP’s for every kid, and IGP’s for every educator making it a truly learning community. Of course the IEP’s for special needs students will continue to be highly regulated according to the laws, but IEP’s for the general population of students need not be as regulated. Of course the IGP’s will also be tailored to each educator/learner, so that any special needs for specific skills, or adjustments in attitude may be specifically addressed. This will require closer relationships, more collegial collaboration and a great deal of support from all stakeholders.

Of course this is my own mind fantasy and people will come up with hundreds of reasons not to do it. I could only offer one reason to do it. It is better than what we do now. Yet, for many, it will be a bridge too far. The status quo is easier and safer. It may be less effective, but people live with it without complaint. “No need to reinvent the wheel.” I wonder if that would hold true if the invention of the wheel was oval or square-shaped. That might require some reinvention.

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When it comes to an understanding of the term “literacy” most people understand it as the ability to read and write in an effort to communicate, understand and learn. That has been the accepted understanding of literacy for centuries. Of course with the advancement of technology in our world today that simple understanding of literacy has rapidly expanded. It has probably expanded so much, and so fast that most people have yet to grasp all of the new literacies that have come about in this technology-driven society in which we live. There is actually a growing list of new literacies.

The very tools that we used for centuries in support of literacy have disappeared under this wave of technology. The typewriter is no longer with us. Photographic cameras using film are becoming scarce. The print media itself no longer relies on huge printing presses. VCR’s, although state of the art at one time, are now DVR’s, even more state of the art. The world has been changed and continues to do so at a rate never before imagined. Technology continues to expand and catalogue all knowledge. The methods we use to access, curate, communicate, and analyze all of this information have undergone continuing change in the last few years.

We have come to recognize that technology has expanded our access to so much information, in so many different forms, that there is a need to recognize many other literacies beyond just reading and writing. In a technology-driven society being literate enough to only read and write may be enough for our kids to get by, but will they be able to compete, thrive, and succeed? Digital Literacy has blossomed with this digital age. It provides an understanding and ability to adapt and use digital tools to access, curate, communicate, and analyze information in this time of digital access. It also enables us to collaborate on a global scale. These are all necessary skills for success moving forward into the world that our kids will occupy.

Education has always taught literacy. Education’s function is to create a literate citizenry. In order to accomplish that, we have always used educators with credentials of proven literacy to educate our children.

That may not be the case today when one considers additional and necessary literacies that may or may not be being addressed in Higher Education, or in the professional development of existing educators. That is certainly true of digital literacy.

Does the hiring process of teachers and administrators call for a proven demonstration of digital literacy? Are schools directing and supporting professional development to address digital literacy for all of their educators. Are Administrators digitally literate enough to recognize a digitally literate educator during the hiring process? Does a school have a model of what skills a digitally literate educator should possess if not master?  Hopefully, those skills exceed the ability to do a Google search, or a Power Point demonstration. Even the CCSS recognizes the need for digital literacy and requires that it be demonstrated within the curriculum. Are all of our teachers prepared for that component?

A literate educator in the 20th Century is not the same as a literate educator in the 21st Century. Our education system is loaded with many 20th Century holdovers. Most are great people, and good teachers, but they are illiterate in 21st Century terms. We need not cast them aside. They are valuable and revered sources and educators. We need to support them with methods to upgrade their literacies. It must be a priority.

Additionally, we need to update our hiring procedures. We need to better define the educators we want. They need to be literate in every sense of the word. They need to possess multiple literacies in order to accommodate the needs of today’s learners, our kids. If we continue to support illiterate educators to teach our children, we can only expect our children to be illiterate as well. That is not properly preparing our kids for the world in which they will live.

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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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This post originally appeared on the ISTE Connects Blog.

Back in 2009 I was becoming quite acquainted with the ins and outs of Twitter. I had migrated to Twitter from a heavy involvement on LinkedIn. While on LinkedIn I had founded a very active education group called Technology-Using Professors. The LinkedIn discussions often referred to sources picked up on Twitter. It wasn’t long after that I found myself spending more and more time on Twitter and less on LinkedIn. I did however miss the discussion component that was so prevalent with the groups on LinkedIn.

I began to ask somewhat engaging questions on education in order to start discussions on Twitter. The discussions were at random times when the mood would strike me to start one up. A probing question here, and a provocative statement there would always strike a chord with a few folks. It was however limited to my followers, which was at the time only a few hundred. It was a great experience, but it was limited. The only beneficiaries were those few of my followers who were on the twitterstream when the question was posed.

I was fortunate to have discovered and virtually assembled a number of collaborative, knowledgeable, and intelligent people in my network of connected educators for the purpose of advancing my own professional development. This was my Professional Learning Network, my PLN. I found myself engaging two individuals more than any others, Shelly Terrell from Germany, @ShellTerrell, and Steve Anderson from North Carolina, @Web20classroom. I asked them to help me set up a discussion on education that we could do on Twitter. Of course Steve and Shelly brought along their followers, so pretty soon we were already expanding the audience for our chat.

With the creation of a hashtag, a set time on a prescribed day, and a poll to determine specific topics for discussion, #Edchat was launched. It was not the first-ever discussion or CHAT on Twitter, but it was consistent and successful with an unprecedented amount of participation. #Edchat was often a trending topic on Twitter when the chats were in progress. We were driven to create an archive page so that educators around the world, restricted by time zones, could keep up with the chats. We received many requests from educators in Europe to start #Edchat earlier to accommodate their time zones. We answer the requests with a second chat beginning earlier in the day.

The #Edchat hashtag then took on a life of its own. It went beyond just marking the tweets for the chat. It became a hashtag added to any tweet dealing with education related information. Tweeters realized that they could extend their range of tweets beyond their own followers to the thousands of educators who follow the #Edchat hashtag.

With the success of #edchat and using it as a model there are several hundred education chats active on Twitter today. Education chats have become a great source for connected educators to access and follow thought leaders, and educators who are leading the discussions that are having profound effects on the development of 21st Century education. Beyond the actual discussion of relevant topics, educators can make direct connections with the chat participants. They can add to their PLN’S with educators who have engaged them. Tom Murray and Jerry Blumengarten have created a great source list for the current number of education chats. It was creatively named WEEKLY TWITTER CHATS.

Entering any of these chats requires some strategies. It is impossible to follow every tweet in the discussion and keep a focus on any specific aspect of it. It would be like trying to listen to and follow every discussion at a party with a hundred people. It is not something that can be done literally, so why would we expect to be able to do it virtually?

I approach a topic and devise my own question that answers my needs on the subject. I put the question out fishing for people to engage. I usually pick up a few people and we are off to discuss. I also monitor the chat for things that draw me in. I engage those folks who have their own questions on the subject. The best part of the chats is the engagement, but not everyone engages. There are people who follow the chat and take it all in without ever revealing their presence. They are quiet consumers of information, lurkers for learning.

Chats on Twitter have become a staple for information and contacts. They are great sources of relevant information that educators need to promote change and improve their own methodology. Chats are wonderful sources for connecting to educators with proven worth to add value to Professional Learning Networks. It adds to the many ways educators can now personalize their learning for professional development. In order to provide kids a relevant education, we need to provide relevant educators. A connected educator, engaging in education chats, is one method that enables this much-needed relevance.

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