Everybody loves snow days. If you teach in an area where it does not snow, you are really missing out. It is a day that causes students and teachers look forward to each winter. With my immersion into the world of social media I used this snow day as a day to engage and learn from other educators. To me snow days have become Twitter Days. My other choice was to shovel the driveway. Since I would need clearance from a cadre of doctors, I opted for Twitter.
I require my college students to be involved with a private Ning site that I created for the class. A Ning site is similar to a Private Facebook site. It was actually the model for The Educator’s PLN, http://edupln.ning.com/. Since we had two snow days in a row and next week contains a holiday, I will not see my students in their seats at schoolhouse for awhile. This means that I must be a little more creative and use the ning site to engage them, so that we may continue to grow and learn.
I shared this endevour with my Personal Learning Network on Twitter. I love the ability that I have to connect with my students 24/7 without regard to walls or distance. I acknowledge that I am working with college students who all have technology access. This is a big plus for me and not a factor enjoyed by all elementary, or secondary teachers. It should however, be a direction for education to take. Getting the technology to students might be less of a problem than trying to change the culture for this to be successful.
Two members of my PLN forced me to consider a few things on this snow day of twitter exchange. Jennifer Ansbach, @jenansbach, a secondary English teacher from New Jersey and Brian Nichols, @bjnichols, a forward thinking Elementary Principal in Virginia are two respected educators who add value to my PLN by thoughtfully and respectfully exchanging and challenging ideas.
After reading my tweet about using a ning, because I had no access to the schoolhouse, Jen tweeted about her plan to engage her students at home with a Webinar delivered by a Ustream feed. This is another great way to deliver material to kids outside the schoolhouse. Jen’s students balked at the proposal stating that they felt it would be “creepy” for their teacher to see them in their homes. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t work that way. Thank god. But it does point out the need to change the perception that learning can only take place in the Schoolhouse.
Brian was asked by someone to give his perspective on some educational topic and Brian was questioning what impact or value an elementary principal’s perspective would be in a discussion. This is a principal who supports teachers who have third graders blogging. His perspective could very well enlighten people about things that they do not yet know about.
As educators we read about education and its history quite often. We have come to understand that American towns were centered and built around the Schoolhouse, library, and Church. I would suspect a saloon or two was also in the mix. The idea being that people needed to get access to the information held within those places. Saloons were a different need.
Today schoolhouses are often a source of pride or tradition for communities. People pay a big price for them, so people feel that they should be showcased. There is a history in many communities of generations attending school in the schoolhouse. The schoolhouses are getting bigger with more bells and whistles, but there are question that need to be answered. Are schoolhouses getting better? Do bigger and more elaborate schoolhouses provide better learning? How far have we come from the little red schoolhouse with the rows of chairs and the chalkboard at the front of the room. The teacher’s desk was always up front to maintain order. Take out the Franklin stove for heat and the Little Red Schoolhouse looks almost familiar when compared to many schoolhouses today.
Now, I need to assemble all of the pieces of this jigsaw of a post. Although schoolhouses are considered institutions of learning, in the course of a person’s lifetime much of the learning for that individual will take place outside the schoolhouse. Learning is not confined to the schoolhouse. That concept flies in the face of our priorities, since we spend so much money building bigger, and better schoolhouses in the hope of bigger and better educations for our kids. This has been imprinted on our culture. How do we change these perceptions, for perception is reality?
We need supportive educational leaders like Brian to continue encouraging teachers to engage their students in learning anytime and in any place. Encouraging and teaching kids at an early age gives them the tools and skills to go further on the secondary level. Secondary teachers like Jennifer will not be met with resistance from students or parents when proposing learning outside the schoolhouse. I am not proposing technology driven homework assignments, but a shift in an approach to learning.It will come to be expected by students and parents As these students get to the big red schoolhouse of college, they will be learning on their own with the guidance of their teacher without a need for the chalkboard, rows, teacher’s desk, or the Franklin stove of the old model.
There are so many other obstacles to overcome before this can change. Equal access to technology, professional development for teachers, professional development for administrators, and professional development for parents are all necessary to begin to change the culture. We need to look at our schools as schoolhouses that may be limiting learning and not encouraging it. We need to understand that we do not have to travel to the schoolhouse to get the information. The information now comes to us anytime, anywhere. We may however, want to now consider where to place those saloons.