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Steamboat-WillieLike many people my first foray into the virtual world of connectedness was through Facebook. I connected with family and friends. This led me to consider making some professional connections out of necessity. I began my connected collaboration as an educator over a decade ago. I realized as an adult learner that I learned best through collaboration and that collaboration could only take place if I was in some way connected with other educators. I feel that I had grown to a point where my teaching colleagues, whom I had face-to-face contact with, seemed to somehow no longer have answers to my questions. It was apparent to me that their own profession was getting away from many of them. They depended too heavily on what was taught about education years ago rather than what was currently being taught. They had no connection to the latest and greatest in education. Their knowledge and experience was losing relevance. My building connections no longer served me well enough to meet my needs. I needed to expand my collegial base to more educators who were more in tune with education demands of the 21st Century. My building limited me.

I began connecting with educators virtually on LinkedIn. It was considered a social media application for professionals. I found that I could create groups of educators that had interests in education similar to mine. Educators would come to these groups to discuss topics that we were all interested in, but were not being discussed in faculty rooms or faculty meetings or not even in the provided Professional Development sessions. My frustration with this however was the time involved waiting for people to get back to me. Discussions were not in real-time. Questions were answered when participants returned to the discussion. Through LinkedIn I discovered Twitter.

Twitter was more in real-time. I followed educators wherever I could find them. I used Twitter only for educators. The interactions took place in real-time, so there was instant gratification. I began to identify which educators had expertise in specific areas. My problem was getting together with the right people who were interested in what I was interested all at one time. That is why #Edchat was started. I could come up with a Topic of interest for discussion that was not being discussed in schools, but had great impact on educators. The topics were well received because they began to be referenced in Education Blog Posts. The Twitter Chat model flourished creating hundreds of education chats here and around the world.

My big takeaway from Twitter was that people were accepted for their ideas and not their titles. Teachers, administrators, authors, politicians, and thought leaders are equals on Twitter.

Through Twitter I was exposed to many relevant Blog Posts. I was amazed that educators were sharing great ideas on blog posts it opened an entire community of education thought leaders to me. I followed many of them on Twitter for further one-to-one interactions. I discovered that Blogs were interactive. I could engage bloggers not only to agree, or disagree, but also to expand their ideas. These discussions of great ideas ran through a number of connected venues, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Blog Posts. These connected discussions proceeded any discussions of similar ideas taking place in school buildings. Edcamps, One-to-One initiatives, Flipped Class, BYOD and connected collaboration were all topics discussed and vetted long before they were even recognized in the brick and mortar world of education.

It was through these discussions and interactions that led me to a path to begin my own Blog. That was a scary step that in hindsight helped me grow more as a professional than any other individual step I have taken. It has forced me to question more, investigate deeper, reflect more thoughtfully, and share more openly. The Blog was well-received and brought requests from many educators for connected face-to-face connected collaboration. This led me to both SKYPE and Google Hangout. This was a further expansion of my connected network of educators, but the ability to see the person I was connecting with was the new dynamic.

One element of my real world connectedness that I was privileged to have, was my attendance at local, state, and National conferences. Most teachers in our education system do not attend conferences because most school budgets do not make allowances for teachers to attend them. I presented and held office in organizations in order to meet that goal to attend as many conferences as I could. A great benefit of conferencing is the networking done to make real connections. Each year educators can meet other educators for professional exchanges and if they are fortunate enough to go a second year, they can renew those connections as long as their connections were fortunate enough to attend the second year as well. Connected educators have no such constraints. They are connecting and exchanging with conference participants before, during, and after the conference takes place. They are also sharing the conference content through their connectedness with educators who could not attend the conference. Virtual relationships are made face-to face as conference participants actually meet up with their connected colleagues. Social media for professional relationships has added a whole new level to any antiquated model of educational conferencing.

Now, here is why I refer to this connected journey model, which I have openly shared, as “whistling in the wind”. This is what is referred to as a PLN, a Professional Learning Network. I have modeled here how professional connectedness can benefit any educator, yet a majority of educators fail to take advantage of what is being offered. Is it because they did not get this information in their teacher preparation program in college? Is it because they have no time to spend beyond their workday to make professional advances? Is it because they lack a digital literacy to do the basics of social media interaction? Is it because they are not what they profess that they want their students to be, Life Long Learners? Is it because they feel that their college preparation was enough to carry them through a forty-year career without needing to learn, change, and adapt to a quick-paced, ever-changing, digital world?

I do not expect anyone to accomplish what I have done in my journey to connectedness. I have been doing it for over a decade. I do expect however or at the very least hope that, as professionals, which we claim to be, educators begin their first steps to connecting and proceed at a pace slightly out of their comfort level. Comfort levels are the greatest obstacles to change.

The world we first learned in is not the world that we teach in and it is sure as hell not the world our students will occupy to thrive and compete. If our comfort zones take precedence over our students getting a relevant education, we are failing as professional educators. The fact remains however that it is a great struggle to get educators to connect and grow. Most educators will not see this blog post, let alone interact with it to defend their on of non-connection. Those of us who are connected may need to do a better job of modeling, and speaking to the benefits of connectedness for the sake of our colleagues and our profession. As I have always said, “If we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.”

 

One undeniable fact Polar bear on Iceabout teaching is that teachers not only need to be masters of content within their subject area, but they must also be masters of education as a subject. Another undeniable fact is that neither of those subject areas looks the same as when any teacher first mastered them. One effect of the integration of technology into our society is that change in almost everything is happening at a pace never before experienced by mankind. As much as some people may yearn for the simpler times of the past, life will continue to move forward as the natural order of society requires.

The influence of additional information on any subject may often affect how we deal with that subject. In our history, once we had more information on the effects of smoking, smoking habits of millions of people changed. Once we learned what we now understand about the benefits of physical activity, several sports related industries were spawned. Once we learned what we now know of communication, several music and print industries disappeared while being replaced with better in many ways. If we do not take time to understand new information and how it interacts with what we do, we, as a profession, may go the way of typewriters, photographic film, super 8 film, 8 track cassettes, landline telephones, or block-ice refrigeration.

I always viewed education as a preparation for students to learn enough content and skills to use for creating their own content in whatever field they decided to enter. Teachers residing in schools were the keepers of information. Schools determined who got what information and when they got it. Information for kids was determined and dispensed by the teacher. Control and compliance were the keys to the information and allowed for the orderly distribution of content. This was education or centuries.
Now, with the advent of technology and the unlimited access to what often appears to be limitless information, as well as access to untold numbers of people through social media, there is a great change for those who understand it. There is also a great change for those who do not choose to understand it. The cold hard fact here is that technology is now providing us with the tools for “Do It Yourself Learning”. It is not the “mail order courses” of days gone by. It is a real way for some students to circumvent the system that is in place and at their own pace and their own direction learn what they choose to learn. All of this can be delivered in whatever form a student determines is in his or her learning preference, text, video, music, or live face-to-face interaction. There may come a time for some that they will learn in spite of their teachers not teaching them what they need in the way they need it.

In the past I have always said that a computer could never replace a teacher, because learning was based on relationships. Today, I am not so sure. In a profession that is information-based, we must acknowledge that information undergoes change. What we knew a short while back may no longer be relevant in a rapidly changing world. Both areas that teachers are required to master, their subject content, and education have both undergone change no matter when it was any teacher mastered them. Staying up-to-date, relevant, on information in your own profession is a moral imperative. We can’t expect what we learned as college students to carry us through a 30 or 40-year career.
Time and money are often the reasons educators give for not seeking to develop further professionally. They are powerful reasons indeed, but not insurmountable. A fear of technology by many is also offered up as a reason for lack of development. I have come to believe that these are just the excuses, while the real reason for the lack of professional development for educators is the comfort of the Status Quo. Comfort zones are obstacles to change. It may be change itself that most are fearful of. We can’t all agree that change is needed in education, and then refuse to change as individual educators. The system can’t demand change of teachers without examining its own professional development programs that have been so ineffective over the centuries that PD has been offered. Colleges can no longer continue to produce teachers based on a twentieth century model of a classroom teacher.

Anyone entering teaching as a profession must do it with the awareness and a commitment to life long learning, because the teacher you come out of college as, is not the teacher your students will need. It will forever be a changing and evolving position. Teaching is not an easy job. It requires teachers to be uncomfortable with change for a lifetime. However, if we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

Ozpicture-640x400The worst advocates for educators using social media for do it yourself professional development are those educators who have been successful developing their own do it yourself professional development. This probably applies to other successful educator undertakings as well. Many of those educators who achieve success with innovative ideas tend to expound on the achievements and benefits of their strategy, method, or project, which tends to overwhelm those educators exposed to it for the first time. This alone, seems to scare off some educators to even being open to considering change.

I remember attending an education conference back in the early 90’s and seeing the most impressive presentation on education that I had ever seen before. It incorporated every bell and whistle that Apple hardware and presentation software had to offer. There was a standing ovation from the entire audience at the end. Of course during the question and answer period I had to ask: How long did this take to prepare this presentation? The answer made me feel stupid at my own lack of understanding for what I just witnessed. The answer was simple, 48 years. The presentation was based on this person’s life experience through the lens of an educator.

Too often we buy the sizzle, but miss the steak. We don’t pay enough attention to what it takes to get to that success that impresses us so much. A Personal Learning Network consisting of thousands of collegial sources did not develop in a few months. A successful project, using project based learning methodology, was not the result of mapping out a lesson plan the night before. A school does not go to 1:1 laptops by merely handing out the hardware on a special school tech day.

If any change is to successfully take place in any aspect of education, it will take an understanding of the foundation for that change. Preparing the educators who will implement and support that innovation is key in any plan for change. Providing collaborative time to support those educators is essential. Allowing time to deal with and correct failures in the development of that change cannot be overlooked.

Of course all of this is obvious and makes perfect sense as we read through this post, but I constantly meet with educators who have horror stories about the lack of support, training, collaboration, or even a basic understanding of the needs for educators in order to implement any innovation in their class, school, or district.

It is unrealistic to expect a wizard will come along and enable us to make all of the needed changes for education today and to be relevant, authentic, and meaningful to kids just by waving a wand and mumbling some cryptic words. We need to pull back that curtain behind the wizard and expose what hard work really needs to be done to achieve that needed change.

Educators are inclined to help and teach kids. Every educator must be more than a content expert. They need to be masters of pedagogy, methodology, and now technology as well. The ongoing problem is that all of these components of education are continually evolving as a result of a rapidly changing, technology-driven society. We need to keep our educators up to date with those changes taking place so rapidly. Change is never easy for anyone. Comfort zones are the biggest deterrents to change. The wave of a wand will always be preferred to the hard work required to change, but there are no magic wands. If we are to better educate our kids we need to first better educate their educators. Evolution in education does not only fall on teachers, it requires a large commitment from all constituents in an education community.

snapshot-cameraIn a world where we emphasize branding systems, organizations and even people with all the positives, while downplaying all the negatives, it becomes very difficult to get an accurate picture of something so obscured with both what is real and what is hype. Nowhere is this more evident than at any public occasion where a school/district administrator describes his or her school’s/district’s success in being a model of 21st century learning. It is on such occasions that buzzwords and acronyms play such a significant role in confusing the picture of where we really are in education.

I am always wary of any administrator’s description of programs within their schools as if one successful program supported by a few progressive and passionate educators in a school is typical of all that is going on throughout the district. I am equally wary of teachers in public sessions presenting progressive lessons supported with technology and student voice as typical lessons employed by all of their fellow educators in their school or district. This is also a practice of our professional organizations in Education. They promote themselves as leading edge tech drivers for learning, while their sponsors, tech companies, drive most of that and not their members, educators.

We should all share with others great things that we are doing in education. These are the very things needed to inform and inspire others to step up as well. We should not however sell it as the norm for the school unless it is. More often than not however these are exceptional examples for a very good reason: others are not replicating them.

Of course the obvious question, to me at least, is: If this description of progressive, tech-supported, collaborative, student supported learning is so positively impactful in describing a school or district, why aren’t we pushing for it through our policies, professional development, and money? Why are these things still the exceptions to the rule in education? If the control and compliance strategy of the 20th century is not what is being touted as an exemplar for 21st Century learning presented to the public, why is it still so prevalent in the system? Why are we not reframing our definition of an administrator and teacher to be digitally literate? Why are we not giving voice to all constituents in a school community? Why are we not promoting a school culture that supports collaboration and technological competence for all life long learners that includes all administrators, teachers and students? Why are we not providing authentic, respectful, differentiated Professional Development to our educators?

We should have pride in our schools. We should share with people the wonderful things that are being accomplished. Teachers should share their most successful lessons with other educators. If however we take those snapshots of great things and convince or even imply to people that this is the way all learning is taking place for the sake of branding, it is a step too far.

There is a need to assess exactly what the skills are of our educators of varied ages who have come from various backgrounds and experiences in order to provide what each individual needs in PD. There is a need for every school to examine what their school culture is, in order to align it with what they want it to be. There is a need to define what a 21st Century educator is in order to move a majority of educators out of their 20th Century mindset.

When someone is painting a picture of his or her contribution to the learning of his or her students, it should be limited to that alone. Teachers and administrators should not imply and we should not assume that their snapshots of their classes or projects are the feature film of the entire school’s learning environment. Their accomplishments and those of their students however should be a model to get schools to evolve to a place and time where it is representative of the entire school’s learning environment.

I was afforded a great opportunity yesterday. After a large local education conference, I attended a get together of a number of people who had gone through or are presently participating in the same masters program for educational technology that I had completed in 1991 from Long Island University. It was a social gathering but the topic of every conversation was of course education.

The group was made up of men and women all working as educators, but very knowledgeable of the effect of technology on student learning. They were all at least familiar with the latest technologies, if not proficient in their use. What seems to have been a thread throughout many of their discussions was the struggle or at the very least the frustration that they had with convincing colleagues of the value of tech in the process of learning. This was especially true of the decision makers in their buildings or districts.

I do not question any educator’s goal to offer the best opportunities for their students to learn. Where we differ is what those opportunities should look like. While some may be conservative in their methodology, I favor working with the tools students will be required to use in the world they will live in. I will not teach kids to be ready for the world I once lived in. It seems counter-productive.

Relevance is very important in this discussion. Change takes place so fast today that educators who are standing still with their learning about their own profession are actually falling behind, widening the gap with their more connected colleagues. Technology is continually evolving and we will never keep up with all of its changes, but we need to at the very least be aware of enough information to make considered decisions on the direction and use of technology in learning. Sometimes technology will not be the answer.

The goal should always be about the learning, but technology confuses the issue. Technology is costly, and it requires training both the teacher and the student. It also evolves, changes, or disappears altogether. Replacement or updating is never-ending. This is not a model that the education system was built on. Back in the day when one bought a textbook it remained unchanged for decades and everyone could read, so there was little training required. A percentage of wear and use took its toll, so there was some replacement needed. This is not true of tech with maybe the exception of the overhead projector. That is 80-year-old technology that has changed very little and requires little or no training as long as someone knows how to change the bulb.

Transparency in education has become both a blessing and a curse in education. Learning was once delivered in silos that were based on control and compliance of students and teachers alike. Technology again has dramatically changed that dynamic in education. Collaboration, both local and global, has torn down those silos for educators who have embraced it

There are still graduate and undergraduate teaching programs that are rolling out educators without even an adequate appreciation of technology in education let alone a mastery of it. School districts make major purchases of technology, but cut out the professional development needed to use that technology as a cost-saving initiative. All of this adds to the gap between educators who are successful in teaching with tech and those who hang on to methodologies and pedagogies of the past out of necessity, because it is all that they know. Administrators are not immune from this learning gap. Their deficiencies however have a more profound effect because of the education decisions affected by their lack of tech knowledge. Digital literacy is a necessary element of the teaching profession, but you don’t reach a point of being digitally literate and then stop. It requires continual learning because it is continually evolving. Of course placing decision-making power in the hands of those who are digitally literate may compensate for this. The question then becomes: ” Is their digital literacy relevant?” An educator who can do a PowerPoint presentation may be digitally literate in terms of PowerPoint, but what about iPad, chrome books, Google Docs, social media, and several other applications or technologies influencing learning today. Relevance counts!

If we are not going to adequately teach all educators what they should know of technology, then, as a fallback position, we should at least support and listen to those educators who do know of its benefits and drawbacks in making education decisions. Of course the best road to take is one that leads us to continual, authentic, relevant, and respectful professional development.

If we then evaluate the effect of technology on learning we might get a more accurate picture of successes and failures. The educators using it would be more informed and better prepared making educators more supportive of tech overall. Here is a similar post on this subject: Why Do We Separate the Teacher From the Tech? If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

 

in-the-shadow-of-the-moon_625x352Ever since I attended FETC in Orlando this year, I have been haunted by a press conference I attended with one of the keynote speakers, the astronaut, Leland Melvin. It actually came at the end of the interview and it was more of a conversation with the man rather than a question and answer segment. We were talking about girls’ involvement in science when Mr. Melvin pointed out the phrase that drove  America and Russia for a decade, “The race to put the first man in space”. This was later replaced by, “The race to put the first man on the moon”. Looking back, that might have been the best way to disinvite half the country in participating in this nationwide endeavor. I have no doubt those words in that combination would not be accepted today, but that was a different time and a different culture. Nevertheless, it must have been a turn-off to many women and their involvement in science and math.

I often wonder why we have such a problem involving girls in more science and math classes. It is not my area of expertise, or even interest, but my youngest daughter is a Math major. Her classes are filled with males while the females in the class number in single digits. The scariest part of this is, that as enlightened as we like to think we are, we have been doing this for not only the last few decades, but also many centuries, and in some respects we are still continuing this today.

Now this is where I apply what I know with what I believe, so I am not saying that what I am about to theorize is a reality, but one possible explanation as to why something is happening. Let me be clear, there are many, many women who are successfully and prominently involved in science, math, and technology. The point is that as subjects Math, Science, and Technology are far less inviting to women than they are to men.

Now for the point I want to get to with all of this preparation. I am perplexed at the slow rate at which technology is taking to gain acceptance in being utilized as a tool for learning in our education system. The education profession itself is undergoing a change in the makeup of educators. Fewer men are entering the profession, which makes women the predominant gender in our education industry. As an aside, I wonder if the percentage of female administrators reflects the percentage of women in the education system, but that’s the stuff for another post.

My query: Could the slow rate of acceptance of technology in education in some way be linked to the hesitance on the part of many women to feel comfortable with technology? I am not attributing blame with this question, but I am trying to figure out how to apply a solution. I guess it still comes down to the obvious. If we are to change the system, we need first to change the culture. I guess if we worked as hard to put a woman on the moon as we did for a man, things might be different today.

Recently, I have read a number of posts and tweets about how people are unfollowing their accumulated “follows” on Twitter in large numbers. I guess at least some of this action was generated by a proclaimed “national unfollow day” that was made up and broadcast out by someone with a little media influence. Of course we should not tell folks how to use Twitter, since it is a matter of personal preference as to how each user uses it and what each gets from it, so the best we can do is model what we see as successes in our own personal use. It is also important to note that many educators use Twitter as part of their Personal Learning Network to personalize their learning. That should require an initial screening or vetting of those to be followed. An educator’s Twitter account is not typical of those who use Twitter for general social media interaction.

These unfollow posts had me look at my personal Twitter numbers. I have been on Twitter for many years and now follow 3,766 tweeters, mostly educators. No, I do not read each and every tweet streaming into my timeline. After seeing these postings, I wondered whether I should be unfollowing large numbers from my own account. Before I was to take any action however, I needed to figure out why I followed these folks in the first place. What was my personal follow policy?

Twitter is based on People being connected to other people. If one is connected to a specific group of people with a specific interest, the tweets will be mostly geared to that interest. If educators follow educators, the abundance of subject matter coming across through tweets will be education based. When I consider whether or not to follow someone, not being an educator or education affiliated is a major factor.

Another factor is that by following someone it encourages him or her to follow you back. Having more educators follow you back increases your reach and that increases your influence, as long as you are also thoughtful and rational in your ideas. All of this in turn develops and increases the number of followers that you acquire over time. Yes, it is a numbers thing. However, even considering the arguments for follows that I have put forward here, always remember the most important thing is whom you follow and not who follows you. Using Twitter professionally as part of a Personal Learning Network is most successful if it uses the right numbers, educator specific numbers. The greater number of great educators you follow will increase the odds for best results in gaining valuable education sources.

My follow numbers have been built up over the years with education bloggers and authors who clearly offer education ideas. I also add people who intelligently participate in education Twitter chats. I follow many educators that I meet and have contact with at local, state, national, and global education conferences.

Of course the primary method I use in gathering people I follow is by following those who engage me in conversation on Twitter. I consider it an acknowledgement of respect for another educator who has put him or herself out there to engage and hopefully collaborate on subjects dealing with education. That is how I have built up my Follow list. The method for reducing that list with “unfollows” is to unfollow negative influences. I unfollow those who are in my estimation mindless naysayers, disrespectful of others, or social media bullies. Hence, my Follow list has grown to an almost unmanageable number.

Manageable is very important when it comes to Twitter. The simplicity of Twitter when dealing with large numbers can be overwhelming complex. There are apps for that!

Out of necessity I use an application other than Twitter to organize and manage the Tweets that do stream to my account. I use a free application called TweetDeck to organize my account. Hootsuite is another app that does similar things. Both allow me to create specific lists of Tweeters and follow them in their own column. Even though I maintain my main timeline that streams all of the Tweets from those who I follow. I have other columns that I follow more closely. I follow a column just dedicated to the #Edchat Hashtag as one example. Additionally, I have a list of about 140 people who I have most closely associated with over my years on Twitter. I call this “My Twitter Stalwart List”. Accessing anyone’s Twitter profile gives access to his or her public lists. Anyone can follow the people on those lists with a simple click. Here is my list that you can follow: https://twitter.com/tomwhitby/lists/my-twitter-stalwarts/members

It is also important to note that in order to receive Direct Messages from people they must be following each other. The person needs to be following you, as you need to be following back in order for the DM to happen.

I know of several prominent education thought leaders who limit their follows to less than 100. I don’t get it because I use Twitter differently than they do. That is the point. People use Twitter in the ways they need to use it. However, the more people understand how Twitter works and what the possibilities are, the better choices they can make in personalizing their own learning.

If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

 

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