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Archive for November, 2011

To understand why certain decisions are made, we need to understand the decision maker and the pressures under which certain decisions are made. This is sometimes referred to as looking through the lens of the decision maker. It takes into view many of the factors pushing and pulling on an individual responsible for making a decision. Sometimes decisions of some magnitude may require a number of individuals on a number of levels to make separate decisions. Each of those decisions is made looking through a different lens.

Certainly the leader of any School district, the Superintendent, has the most politically influenced job. Most often the position is held by an educator who has exhibited great business management skills as a primary focus. Of course it is not expected that Superintendents need professional development at this stage of their career. They must be able to effectively deal with huge budget considerations with every decision. Matters of money, procurement, personnel, labor relations, and infrastructure all fall to the Superintendent. There are demands by government both State and Federal requiring conformity to regulation. There are pressures from the reform movement for increasing accountability, as well as legal considerations at every turn. This leaves little time for weighty research to support every decision affecting education in the classroom.

The decisions for technology in education for most districts fall to the IT director. This position is often filled by a person with a technology background and not always from education. The pressures on the director in this position revolve around getting technological things to work smoothly. It requires using the bells and whistles of technology that the public expects to see for education in the 21st century. This also involves the Public’s perception of SAFE access to technology for their children. This perception can vary with communities depending on each community’s understanding of technology. There are also the problems of installing technology to a not-so-tech-friendly environment in regard to infrastructure, or user acceptance. They must also get teachers to understand the bells and whistles of technology to ensure the adoption of the high-tech stuff in order to justify many high-priced ticket items. Again, this leaves little time for weighty research to support every decision affecting education in the classroom.

Each building in each district has its own Educator/Manager, the Principal. Many of the business and reform pressures seen by the superintendent also come into play on the building level for the principal. There is a very real pressure coming from dealing personally with parents, teachers and students. Many considerations of both public relations and labor issues affect many decisions.  Again, this leaves little time for weighty research to support every decision affecting education in the classroom.

Of course there are the decisions of the teacher. Considerations in this position include pleasing all of the other decision makers in regard to accountability in supporting all of the decisions and mandates that have worked their way down to the classroom. Teachers serve: The superintendent, the IT director, the principal, the parents, the law, and the students. Now there are also questions of teacher accountability being tied to many things out of the teacher’s control. Again, this leaves little time for weighty research to support every decision affecting education in the classroom.

Now at the bottom of the list, but never the less a decision maker in the education system, is the student. The ultimate decision to be made in the entire education system is dependent on what has worked its way down from the top. The final decision is whether or not kids will accept the opportunity for learning being offered to them by the system. Their decision will be based on relevance, curiosity, and personal need. How much of this is addressed once the decisions affecting the learning in the classroom have passed through so many lenses. Are we focusing those lenses on the needs of learning for our children, or are we losing focus because of everything else?  Maybe we need to refocus our support so that most decisions are made with education in the classroom as the prime directive.

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Ever since I started writing my blog, I wondered when I would reach the end of my road and run out of things to rant about. It seems that every time I approach that point, something pops up to get me started again. As luck would have it, two such events occurred today. One incident happened early today and the second came later in the day. Of course, for dramatic effect I will begin with the later.

Late in the afternoon I had an appointment with my dentist for a cleaning. It’s one of the many ways my dentist has arranged for me to pay his rent. I see my dentist quite often. When I arrived at the waiting room, the receptionist greeted me with a big smile and three pages of blank forms. She apologized for inconveniencing me, but THE LAW required her to have me fill out the forms. I immediately looked at her desk and asked what catastrophe had befallen her computer? She was puzzled. I told her that all of the blank spaces on three pages of forms were requiring me to complete information already in the computer. She agreed, but again said THE LAW requires us to have you fill out these forms. Again I said, “You already have all of this information and more in your data bank.  Why am I being required to handwrite out on three forms information that already exists on your computer?” She quickly left the waiting room in search of a supervisor. I must admit, I might have been strongly influenced by the Occupy Wallstreet demonstrations that I had been following all day. They were also being shown on the TV in the waiting room. Was this my stand against THE LAW for the 99 percenters?

Emerging from the dental-technology-filled rooms in the back, the supervisor approached me. The first two words from her mouth were THE LAW, and then continued; require that you provide this information on these forms.  Again, I said, “you have that information already.” She reluctantly wrote a line at the top of the top form” nothing has changed” and placed a check next to it. I signed the form.

The other incident, earlier in the day, was more education oriented, but just as vexing. As a matter of fact it was probably more egregious, because educators should know better in 2011, almost 2012.  I observed one of my pre-service teachers today. She has a student teaching assignment in a high school English position. She delivered a great collaboration lesson and we were debriefing the lesson after the class. I asked about the next lesson planned for the class. She looked at me with a reluctant look on her face. I sensed that she was about to tell me something, that she knew, I was not going to be in favor of. She qualified her answer with the fact that she was obligated to do as her cooperating teacher directed her. I agreed, and again asked what was next, since she referred to an upcoming essay in her lesson. She came clean. The class is to handwrite an essay in class before we go to the computer lab so they can type the essay on the computer.

My students know that word processing enables kids to write at a higher level, and they are more likely to make corrections and rewrites when using a word processor. A word processor is not a typewriter. We write in a word-processing world and our students should learn in the same way. My students also know that this is my strong belief. However, I could not fault my student, since it is not her choice for the students, but that of their teacher. I have been burned in the past when I approached cooperating teachers on some ill-conceived methods used in class. I have learned to smile, say thanks, leave, and then have a long talk with my students in the safety of my own classroom.

If we, as educators, do not understand the reasoning and potential of technology, we will not use it effectively and then blame that inefficiency on the technology. It is too easy to use technology without understanding and find fault with it not fulfilling the implied promise. We assume everyone understands that computers collect, manipulate, and communicate data in any form needed. We assume everyone understands the power of computers in regard to writing, publishing, and communicating the written word. Unfortunately, I have come to believe that we cannot make these assumptions. We need to educate or educators if we are to have any hope to educate or children.

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The idea of being connected in the Twentieth Century had a very different meaning than it does today. Back then being connected conjured up visions of pinstriped suits and shoulder holsters. Today, being connected brings up visions of computers, Smartphones, and tablets. A general misconception is that to be a connected educator, one needs to be a computer geek, with a vast knowledge of all things having to do with social media. Of course this is a vision that could be overwhelming to anyone who is only familiar with email, word processing and the ability to put a PowerPoint presentation together. Of course educators many have ventured onto Facebook to connect with relatives and old high school friends, so the connected thing is not a totally foreign concept. Connecting is a process that we take one step at a time. The key however is to continue to take those steps to build and improve a connected network.

Back in the day, for teachers to keep up with what was going on in education, they needed to read journals, attend conferences, and hope that their principal would pass along information to the staff. Often times the latest topics in education were brought to the faculty by way of a keynote speaker on a conference day. Administrators looked to bring experts in for these days of professional development. Principals found speakers through conferences that they attended, as well as recommendations from other administrators. The best informed principals often had the best informed staffs.

The internet and the advancement of social media have changed the way things are done in general. Those changes are not limited to education.  As educators we are no longer limited to information provided by principals and journals. We can reach out and connect with our own sources that we develop on our own. As educators we are no longer forced to limit our students to what they can learn from textbooks. We can guide them beyond what those books are limited to through connections.

When I first started incorporating internet sources in my teaching there was resistance from my colleagues. They were satisfied with the text that we were using for our methods classes for teaching English. I began to bring in other sources from websites and blogs. My colleagues asked why I needed to do that.  They felt that they had a great textbook that was written by a great author for English Methods class, James Burke and that was enough. I agreed with them in that Jim Burke wrote a great Text for English Methods for teachers, but I did not think it was enough. What I had, that my colleagues did not have, was Jim Burke himself. That is what I provided to my students. Jim has an outstanding Ning site for English teachers, The English Companion. I connected my students to the site of 25,000 collaborative educators and some with Jim Burke himself. This connection brought my students beyond the limitations of the text and their teacher.

The very concept of connecting with others in order to takes one’s self further, is the driving force of connectedness. For us to be involved in the discussion of our profession, we need to be up to date on what topics are driving the discussion. Educators can wait for someone to pass along information to be presented as a workshop topic, or they can be involved with topic as it develops. Connections can be made with the very people who are driving the bus for change. Free discussions, panels, and webinars are offered every day for connected educators to participate in.

Too many educators are overwhelmed by the process. To some, there seems to be too much to learn. To some, there seems to be too much to know about who to connect with and how to do it. To some, there seems to be a negative effect from the bad public perception of Social Media and educators specifically. To others, connections have become an essential part of their profession. To others, spending time connecting with educators and educational sources are changing the way they teach. To others, connectedness has had a profound effect on their profession.

I am a connected educator. It has had a profound effect on what I do, and how I do it. It has taken me to places that I could not get to without being connected. It has taken me to discussions with the leading authors and educators of today. My connectedness has made me a better educator. I am also not the best ambassador for connectedness for educators. I am much too passionate about it. I tend to blurt out all of the great things about it and that in itself intimidates people. When I see the great value in something I become a passionate advocate and that also causes skepticism in some people.

Being connected as an educator is becoming part of the profession of education. Connectedness leads to communication, collaboration, and creation. All of this enables, if not enhances, learning. Learning is what our profession is about. Educators must get over all of the obstacles they are putting up about connectedness. It can be done slowly, one step at a time, but it must be done. We need educators to be connected.  I was always intrigued with the other “connected” with the pinstriped suits with bulges under the arms.

 

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I have spent the last two days with some really wonderful educators exchanging ideas and in many cases changing ideas. Solution Tree Publishing sponsored a three-day conference highlighting 99 of their education authors in presentations, panels, and intimate, informal gatherings with attendees. Solution Tree had the foresight to invite a number of Social-Media-using educators to attend the conference, all expenses paid with no instructions, or restrictions other than to attend the conference, tweet and blog. It was a great opportunity for us, but it was a big chance taken by Solution Tree. They were asking us to control our own learning and create content as we do it.  That certainly is a unique thought among some educators.

The educators selected to represent the social media community of educators were all bloggers who are also very involved with Twitter. In addition to me, the others were: Steve Anderson, @web20classroom; Kyle Pace, @kylepace; Nick Provenzano, @thenerdyteacher; and Angela Maiers, @angelamaiers. We were all familiar with each other after being connected through social media and many face to face meetings at conferences over the last few years. For all five of us this was a dream assignment. We got to do what we love to do, and we did not have to pay to do it as is usually required.

I made a major assumption about the conference entering into this assignment. Not having access to the registration data, I assumed that most, if not all the participants, would be administrators. Since there were no vendors other than Solution Tree, the ticket price was a bit steep. The return on investment however, was very high. Instead of going to a conference where speakers would do presentations quoting and espousing ideas from the most recent books on topics of education, this conference provided the actual sources, the authors of those works. This was a premiere conference that was being done for the first time. My assumption was that with today’s economically strapped school budgets, most districts would send a limited number of their lead administrators. In two of the sessions that I attended however, a poll was taken, and it was apparent, that in those presentations, at least a quarter of the audience was made up of classroom teachers. There were 1,500 educators in attendance.

The conference was kicked off with a keynote by Daniel Pink on motivation. I was familiar with much of what Pink had to say after reading Drive and viewing several of his videos. Two parts of his speech really reached me. The first was a big negative. Pink used the targeting term of “Bad Teachers” needing to be fired. This is a hot button to many creating an atmosphere that scapegoats teachers as a group to be removed in part, in order to reform education. That is the part I did not like. What I loved was the fact that Pink highlighted the accomplishments of Josh Stumpenhorst, an educator named teacher of the year, and a social media user who connected with Pink through Social Media. I felt pride in the recognition of one of our own as well as a guy I am connected to. A great part of this conference involved the authors taking part as participants, as well as presenters. After the keynote, it was off to the sessions.

We began tweeting out reactions from the very start of the keynote, and we will still be tweeting about things after it ends tomorrow. The idea that we were providing a view of many of the sessions to educators who were not in attendance, was new to many, who knew little of the application of social media to education. Many audience members took notice as the Authors presenting recognized the tweeters in their presentations. Most authors are aware of the impact that social media is having. It was the participants at the conference who were beginning to recognize its effect; many for the first time. Each of our group members experienced people discovering or at least taking Twitter serious, or discovering it for the first time. It was then that it became apparent that a room for people to go to during any conference was a necessity. It could be a place for novices to learn how to travel the conference with Twitter. Twitter back channeling could add a whole new level to presenting. Those of us, who have experienced this, understand it. A backchannel screen for a number of sessions would soon make this apparent to many more educators. The Twitter tutorial room could support that to make it happen more successfully.

The response from many educators, who did not attend in person, to our tweets was overwhelming. The numbers came back indicating millions of tweets and retweets on #authorspeak went out each day. Tannis Emann was able to do a Blog Post on the conference based on the tweets sent by us since he was not physically in attendance. Wes Freyer, @wfryer is credited for the photo,#authorspeak. It was an impressive showing of the effect social media can have on a conference. It extended the reach of ideas to those who could not attend. This was accomplished with a focus on only five “Teachers a Tweet’n”. Imagine the possibilities of communication, collaboration, and creation once we get all 7.2 million educators “a Tweet’n”? Professional Development may become more relevant and focused to move education reform forward in a positive way. I am looking forward to what next year’s #authorspeak has to offer whether I attend in person or virtually through Twitter.

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