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innovationAs a society, we place a premium on innovators and entrepreneurs. They are admired, or for some revered in Business, Politics, and even Education. The reason for that bias is that innovators and entrepreneurs are scarce commodities. Most people are employees and not entrepreneurs. There is nothing wrong with that. Most people follow trends; they don’t start them. There is nothing wrong with that. Few people lead while most people follow. Again, there is nothing wrong with that. On the surface one would expect that in consideration of their rarity and with all of this reverence for innovation and entrepreneurship, that support would abound to propagate and spread innovation within any system, especially one like Education that should model what is the very best in what is expected of its learners. The problem with innovation in any system however, is the same problem with innovation in regard to individuals. Everyone wants change to occur and people even pay great lip service to having change happen, right up to the point where change becomes real. That is the point when the individual MUST change, and then when it comes to this personal commitment, people do not want to change. Everyone wants change to occur for the system, but very few people want to change themselves personally to have that occur.

There are many great ideas in education that are being discussed in the connected community of educators, but not necessarily the education community at large. It is not realistic to expect educators to accept new ideas in their profession if they have not yet discussed them enough to understand them. Of course the role of leadership should include introducing and discussing these ideas within the framework provided by the system. Leaders should be involved in the discussions of problem-based learning, the maker movement, inquiry based learning, and the flipped method, connected collaboration, and design based learning just to mention a few.

If these latest ideas could be discussed and considered building by building as part of an ongoing professional development strategy, it might prepare educators with more tools to move education away from the status quo. If every teacher was encouraged, enabled and supported in trying at least one new form of methodology within an academic year to the extent they were comfortable, we might stand a chance in evolving education. This should be a goal of every administrator within the Education system.

The innovators within the system are already involved and they would need less attention. The bulk of educators however, may be less open to change and more in need of a structured change that would require less, if any self-motivation. We have assumed that this was being accomplished through the Professional Development policies and strategies in place for centuries. Talking with a wide variety of educators across the country I have found very few who are supportive of the professional development they have been offered by their schools throughout their careers in education. Several national polls of teachers have listed PD as a major concern and a disappointment for educators. We may need to innovate a new and more supportive PD system for educators that meets their needs, respects their experiences, provides them a voice, schedules collaborative time with colleagues and enables teachers to experiment without a fear of failure. In short treat them as adult learners and respect them for being professionals. We need to innovate a strategy for personalizing Professional Development.

Change will only happen if it is supported. Support for change will only happen if people are comfortable moving from the safety of the status quo to the insecurity of the unproven new idea. Many people need to be assured of a safety net before they will move to change. Unless our leaders themselves become more innovative and active about innovative Professional Development, the change we all want to herald in will be long in coming. Innovative new ideas in education are not enough by themselves. We need innovative strategies to implement those new ideas.

In the words of Frank Zappa,” Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible”. In my words, “If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators”.

 

I remember way back in split roadthe 70’s, I think it was Time magazine that came out with an article listing the most difficult jobs in America. I remember it because at the top of that list was the job of an eighth grade English teacher. Time based its list on the number of decisions an individual had to make on the job. Of course as an eighth grade English teacher I felt Time was 100% right in recognizing my contributions to society.

Contrary to what many uninformed critics might say, teaching is a very difficult and time-consuming job. Teachers need to balance relationships of family as well as their relationships with students. Teachers need to balance family time and preparation time for students. Teachers have also in many instances been scapegoated as the root cause of a perceived failing education system. Teaching has been further complicated because of the rapid change occurring each day in our computer-based, digitally driven society.

All of these factors affect every teacher in different ways. The overall effect however seems that many educators feel that they have a difficult job that they are dedicated to, but they are constantly coming under attack from people who don’t get it. Many teachers have to follow mandates that they find fault in. They are being asked to meet demands without being afforded the time or preparation to successfully accomplish them.

Innovation is loudly called for, but support and time to develop that innovation is barely whispered about. Accountability and evaluation of teachers are still subjective concepts in many schools making them a possible threat with less progressive administrators. Innovation and experimentation can be a perilous road for a teacher to take in this current world of education. Failure, although a very strong basis for learning, is still viewed by many as something that must not happen at any cost, especially in teacher evaluations. In order to deal with all of these pressures one answer is to rely on things that worked in the past. Teachers may rely on what worked in the past without objection. It worked before, so it should withstand scrutiny again. The elephant in the room is that if we shift the goal of education from enabling real learning to obtaining better, standardized test results than test review will trump innovative lessons.

Teachers need to resist hunkering down in the successes of the past. This will not provide our students with what they will need for their future. Our learners are different. Our tools for communication, collaboration, and creation are different. Our society is demanding skills from our learners that are different. The world in which we now live is different from when many of our teachers became teachers. Things will continue to change faster than ever before in history.

We as educators cannot take the safe path of teaching from the past. Innovation is important, even if it is not wholeheartedly supported by our system. Professional development should be prioritized for teachers to evolve as constant and continuing changes take place. Teachers need to personalize their own learning, because few schools will provide what is needed to evolve professionally. It is not a comfortable road to travel. It requires time, persistence and commitment. It will involve both failure and success. It will require leaving comfort zones that are the biggest obstacles to change. It will not happen overnight. It is a continuing journey that will begin with taking a first step. As teachers we need to develop in spite of the system, or that will become the very goal of our kids.

We cannot seek safety in our teaching of the past. It would come at the expense of our students. We need to be innovative in our teaching. We need to be relevant in our learning. The system’s lack of commitment to real, respectful, thoughtful professional development, collaborative time, and innovation may be a deterrent, but it should not be the excuse not to innovate. We have the tools and abilities to circumvent that system until it has time to catch up if it choses to do so. We can never let our comfort zones take precedence over our students’ learning.

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

 

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.

 

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