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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.

 

I have been very fortunate to travel both nationally and internationally to attend education conferences. A primary benefit of this is having great conversations with various types of educators. With so many of these conversations taking place on a regular basis, I find myself often depending on an opening question that resides on a short list of questions in my head. I have teacher questions, principal questions, and superintendent questions. Most of these questions are geared to being connected. Unfortunately, too often I need to first define what being connected means.

Since I have become so immersed in the concept of connectedness through social media, I too often forget that not every educator gets it yet. It has only taken me a decade to understand that. I have trouble understanding why so many educators are still clueless about the need for collaboration and its link to social media and technology? Of course, as a former teacher, I, rightly or wrongly, hold administrators to a higher standard, believing leaders should lead. My need to hold admins more accountable led me to ask (out of ignorance) in a recent Edchat, ” Why are there no standards for administrators?” Someone immediately provided: Accomplished Principal Standards from the National Board Certification for Educational Leaders First Edition National Board for Professional Teaching Standards 1525 Wilson Boulevard l Arlington, VA 22209 USA www.nbpts.org. I finally had an official document to tell me what is truly expected of school principals in order to be considered “Accomplished”. Of course that is not to say that all principals are accomplished, but it is at the very least a goal.

As I perused the extensive document, I came to the section IX. Reflection and Growth. It was an affirmation of my doubts about principals who are not connected being, or at the very least becoming increasingly irrelevant in the 21st Century model of education. Extending this out in my own head, if it applied to principals, it surely applied to superintendents as well. Here is the passage that most caught my attention:

Accomplished principals use technology as a powerful learning tool. They may participate in digital networks for communication among professional colleagues, use social networking tools for informal learning, or take part with professional colleagues in online learning communities. These principals use such learning opportunities to consistently reflect on ways to improve their practice of leadership.

 

This now provided a much better and focused set of questions that I could expect administrators to have an understanding.

Here is my new list of admin questions:

 

1 Do you consider yourself an accomplished administrator?

2 What digital networks do you use for your communication with professional colleagues?

3 What social networking tools do you employ for your informal learning?

4 In what ways are you using these connected opportunities to reflect and improve your practice?

5 How has technology impacted your learning?

 

Of course I am a retired teacher, author, and Blogger, so I can ask these questions with impunity. I risk nothing posing these questions to administrators. Working educators do not have that luxury. There could be grave consequences if they posed these same questions to their administrators. How do we hold administrators responsible for meeting standards posed by their own professional organizations to maintain what should be expected of any 21st Century administrator? Are these standards only for good public relations, or are they really what should be expected or better yet demanded of every administrator?

I have always said that to better educate our kids we need to first better educate their educators. I think I should also now say that, if we are to hold our teachers to higher standards as 21st Century educators, we need to first align their leaders to those same standards. Feel free to print this out and place it in an administrator’s mailbox if they are not an administrator who would view this online as “Accomplished Principals Standards” suggest.

 

After being involved in social media for over a decade, I have made a few observations that might be helpful to folks who use social media, more specifically Twitter, to develop and maintain a Personal Learning Network. I started my Twitter account with a plan and focus to use it to develop collegial sources for my professional learning. That may be different from why most people sign up for Twitter, but that is an educator’s perspective that may not have been imagined by Twitter’s founders.

Using Twitter for professional learning requires a collaborative mindset. Being collaborative requires more than just consuming ideas from others. It requires sharing, commenting, reflecting and sharing again. This requires work. Twitter for professional learning is not a passive exercise. It does require time and effort. The rewards and benefits however, can more than outweigh the effort.

The key to having valuable and relevant information arriving on a Twitterstream is totally dependent on who is being followed. In order to get thoughtful and credible information tweeted to one’s timeline, thoughtful and credible educators need to be followed. Who one follows is the single most important factor in succeeding at professional learning when using Twitter. Maintaining and upgrading that follow list takes time and effort. Each of those follows is a person. People vary in their involvement in anything from time to time. They may lose interest, becoming inactive for a period of time, or maybe forever. One’s follow list needs to be constantly updated to accommodate those who drop off the stream.

Additionally, an educator’s interest may begin to branch out. In my time on social media the iPad, smartphones, 1:1 laptops, 1:1 chromebooks, Flipped classrooms, STEM, Rigor, and many other initiatives were introduced to education. With each of these introductions new educator experts emerged. All had to be added to my follow list if I was to maintain relevance. As initiatives develop in education new people most familiar with those initiatives need to be followed. Educators who are vocal and knowledgeable while involved in Twitter chats are another group from which I add follows. People who engage me in thoughtful education tweets are also most often followed. I usually look at a perspective follow’s profile to assure their educator credentials before I commit.

It is easy to get a follow list much larger than one can handily manage with all of these follow considerations. To simplify and organize tweets, chats, hashtags and groups of follows, I employ TweetDeck. Hootsuite is a similar tool. I am able to create dedicated columns that follow specific hashtags, groups, or individuals in addition to separating out my Twitterstream, Notifications and Direct Messages. Each of these designations gets an individual column.

Being a collaborative educator in the 21st Century requires that an educator be connected to other educators. With the tools of technology available today educators are only isolated by choice. Since most districts do not send a majority of educators to national, statewide, or even local education conferences, the virtual connection is the best alternative. Technology today enables that to happen. It is however incumbent on each educator to work to make those connections. It requires a collaborative mindset as well as a willingness to learn. It requires educators to be what they profess to their students, “You must be a Life Long Learner!”

The time investment to accomplish this can be as little as twenty minutes a day. The warning here however is that often times a learner may actually get caught up in the learning and spend more time than planned on a given topic. Social media opens educators to the pedagogy, and methodology of others. It offers transparency to policies. It questions the status Quo. It forces reflective thinking. It acts as a megaphone for new ideas. It gives educators a voice in the discussion of their own profession. None of this will happen however unless an educator comes to the table with a collaborative mindset and a willingness to spend time collaborating. Educators should never expect less from themselves than they expect of their students. A good teacher is also a good learner, and a good learner can always become a great teacher.

 

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