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Archive for the ‘Teachmeet’ Category

This is a topic I have written about before, and I will probably continue to write about in the future. I guess we should start by defining a big education conference. For the purpose of this post and my experience let’s make it conferences of over 1,000 attendees. Most big education conferences came about by professional organizations wanting to provide a gathering place for their constituents to meet and share ideas and best practices, as well as the latest tools for learning. The goal is to best educate educators about education. It seems like a simple goal, which should be easily accomplished. The easiest method of delivery is to have teachers teach other teachers. This shares experiences, successes and failures.

The first hurdle is the “when” of the conference. Someone determined that it must be held during the school year in order to get the best access to the most educators.

The conference can’t conflict with other big Education conferences. It would be a drain on the number of attendees, as well as a smaller pool of keynotes and key presenters to draw on.

The second hurdle is the “where” of the conference. Once a conference gets over a certain number of attendees there are limits to access to hotel accommodations. There is also the geographical deterrent. We live in big states in a big country. Whatever the location selected, some educators will need to travel further than others. To be equitable locations are often rotated in order to share the burden of travel. Unfortunately, some educators live in areas where the burden of travel will always be a consideration no matter where the location.

The third big hurdle of the big conference is planning. Most organizations planning the big events have some full-time staff, but they mostly rely on volunteer help to plan the big events. These volunteers are also full-time educators. Some organizations employ professional planning organizations to plan the event. Many of those planning organizations begin to determine the needs and direction of the event with less consideration to the culture of the organization. The event becomes the focus and not the organization.

The fourth big hurdle is the overall expense. The planning organization, the venue, and the need for a transportation system to and from the event all contribute to the overall expenses and ultimate ticket price of the event. To offset these expenses Education and Technology industry is often asked for contributions in the form of sponsorships. With great sponsorships there sometimes comes influence in the conference. Not every session is conducted by an educator. Often there are vendor sessions. Some are informative and objective, while others are blatant product pitches.

The planning of the vendor floor is also a hurdle. It is a great source of revenue, so it must have a prominent part in the conference. Sessions are planned around access to the vendor floor. The organization and support of the vendor floor is a priority at most conferences. Technology and scheduling are the biggest considerations for this segment. The vendor floor is the conference bread and butter.

Of course the heart and soul of any conference is the session planning. The printing of the program has a very big influence over submitting, approving and scheduling sessions. It creates the deadlines for the Requests For Proposals often ten months to a year before the next conference. Once RFP’s are approved, rooms need to be assigned in consideration of anticipated attendance to the session. Times need to be adjusted to address the length of the sessions. Signage must be made up.

These conferences are not just thrown together, but meticulously planned. We need to give more thanks and recognition to those who take this on every year.

The complexity of this endeavor however, tends to shift the focus from the original goal of way back when to that of a new goal. Somehow we got from “how to best educate educators about education”, to “how to best deliver a conference”.

Of course this does not apply in total to any conference, but every conference shares some responsibility for going at least a little astray from the original goal. It must be about the learning and not just the conference.

It would be great for educators to have a list of expectations for a session before they write their RFP. Having the rubrics used for assessing the RFP is also a winning strategy. It is most important to provide feedback to the rejected RFP’s so that educators have an understanding of why they were rejected. We do that as educators working with kid learners, why would we not apply the same method to adult learners.

We realize and appreciate the need to meet a printing schedule for session descriptions, but would it be possible to stagger RFP submissions, so they were not all submitted a year before the conference. How is a year-old plan relevant in a technology driven society?

If we as educators recognize that lecture and direct instruction are not the most effective methods of learning, should we not expect conferences to rely on those types of sessions less? Maybe more interactive sessions, more conversation driven sessions, more panel discussions weighed more heavily with audience questioning would all reach that goal of learning more effectively at a conference

In light of the Edcamp model of PD, as well as the connected PD of the personal Learning Network, maybe the big conferences need to seek more relevance. We need to understand all that goes into planning and executing a big conference, but conferences may need to reassess their goals. Educators need to learn more about their ever-changing profession in the most efficient, effective and relevant ways possible. That will take a number of methods to accomplish. None of it can be done at a conference unless it is efficient, effective and relevant. We need better ways to share what we learn from conferences. More live streaming and hashtags might be a strategy.

Conferences are much-needed for educators, but if we add up all the attendees at all the conferences for an entire year, it is a very small percentage of the total number of educators in schools. Sharing and collaboration need to be a focus for attaining the goals that we have set. We need to better educate our educators in order to better educate our kids.

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I am very fortunate to be able to attend a number of Education Conferences each year. This offers me a perspective of education conferences that is not afforded to a majority of educators. When one considers the total number of American educators compared to the total attendance at these conferences and then factor out the people who repeatedly attend each year, it is easy to see that most educators do not get to these national conferences. That is a shortcoming I believe that hurts the profession. There is much to be learned and shared at these conferences that can make a difference to an educator.

Of course many of these conferences are so vast that it is difficult to report on the whole conference when one can only experience a small part of it. It brings to mind the five blind men trying to describe what an elephant looked like based on only one part of the elephant that each had physical contact with. Each description was completely different, and not one accurately described the whole elephant.

My last three conferences were Educon, FETC, and TCEA, wonderful conferences all. In each of these I met with many connected educators and participated exclusively in sessions of discussion or panel-driven discussion. I find these types of sessions more in line with what suits me in learning. I feel that I can personalize the sessions for my needs, and I can even participate in the content of the discussion personally becoming a part of the learning.  Educon of all the conferences is the one conference that focuses on these types of sessions. Of course that would make it my conference of preference.

The other conferences generally depend on “sit and get” PowerPoint demonstrations, or “bells and whistles” software presentations. There will always be a need for these sessions, but I question the balance, or lack of balance, they have when compared with discussion sessions at any given conference.

The glaring deficiency in any session is that it must be submitted and approved 8 to 12 months in advance. How does that maintain relevance? How is the latest and greatest in education even represented at these conferences, unless it is discussion? Discussion can be more timely than any presentation that is eight months old.

Discussion adds the ability to deal with topics of pedagogy and methodology as opposed to just the mechanics of a lesson. Discussions of education that do not take place in school buildings can take place with educators of varied experience to share and elaborate. This is the fodder for reflection. Reflection goes a long way in changing the way we approach things. It often prompts change and promotes reform.

I believe that the success of the Edcamp format where discussion and collaboration are the focus, and the popularity of real-time chats on Twitter and Google Hangouts are all indicators of change. Educators are personalizing their learning in larger numbers. This may be a trend or something bigger. Whatever it is, we need to adjust the way conferences are providing what educators need as a profession.

As a connected educator, I loved being with and sharing ideas and discussions with other educators with whom I am connected. Our conversations were not the same as those of unconnected educators at these conferences. As I talked with educators who were not in collaboration with others on a regular basis, I found a need to define and explain things to them that are discussed and understood online by connected educators daily. I am not saying that these unconnected educators are not good teachers, but maybe not as informed as a  professional needs to be, or as relevant as a professional could be. We are in a profession that deals with information and learning. We need to be relevant in two areas, content and education. Online collaboration enables that to happen more efficiently and on a constant basis. These online discussions are carried further in a face-to-face setting of a conference. Those not involved with online collaboration are often playing catch up in the discussion. A worse alternative is that they withdraw from involvement in the discussion altogether.

Technology has moved collaboration from a way of learning that only happened in a limiting face-to-face setting, to one that takes place anywhere at anytime breaking down the previous borders of time and space. For educators not to take full advantage of this new-found ability is a missed opportunity. We need to support, enhance, and encourage collaboration in all of its forms, online and face-to-face. Ideas that are born at conferences can be continually evolved online. The discussion need no longer end after the closing keynote. Ideas that are born online may be expanded and improved in the face-to-face collaboration of the conferences. We don’t need the opening keynote to start the thinking and connecting. We are professional educators who need to do a better job educating ourselves as educators. If we are to better educate kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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A question that I often get from educators is: How do I get to do what you do?  Always intrigued by that question, I continually have to consider what it is that I do, that would appeal to anyone other than me? In reflection, I love what I do in this second career that I stumbled into about five years ago. I get to tweet, chat, blog, broadcast, podcast, interview, comment, write, speak, consult, and travel around the world. I guess I could be considered a professional social media educator. Of course it is not something I could devote enough time to, if I was not retired from teaching after 40 years in the classroom. I find myself on, or near a computer all day, every day. I know of several dozen educators actively involved in doing many of the same things. Most of these educators started as early adopters of social media when it began to gain momentum in our society.

What were the conditions in education that empowered certain educators with the ability to influence, to some degree, the profession of education? Who is responsible for recognizing and validating certain individuals as education thought leaders? What changed in education that diverted us from the usual more traditional spheres of influence in education to a social media-driven influence?

Traditionally, education authors had influenced education with published works. These experts, many from Higher Education, would write books and Journal articles that affected the profession. Recognition came through published works from highly credentialed educators. These are the same experts who would also speak at education conferences. Recognition was also given to educators who successfully presented at the National Education Conferences. For decades these were the influencers of change in education.

As Education became more political the influencers changed. Politicians, and business people began to enter the discussions in education. Big companies making big profits in education began gain more influence in the discussion. Before long the educators’ voice in education was barely a whisper. Discussions resulted in mandates and laws, which was the culmination of influence of many non-educators with little transparency in the system that produced these directives.

With the rise of social media, educators began their own discussions online. The education community started to grow on LinkeIn, Facebook, and Twitter. The educator discussion began as a collaborative sharing of ideas for teaching. Soon educators began to compare notes on pedagogy, methodology, policies and mandates. Questions about inconsistencies and flaws began to be explored. The discussions were interactive, and reflective. It was educators questioning educators about education without influences of re-election, tax implications, profit margins, or public opinion.

Collaboration revealed ideas that were practice to some but innovation to others. Social media is global and that influenced ideas as well. Ideas from other cultures entered the conversations. The community soon noticed those educators, who embraced the ideas, and exposed the hypocrisies, and inconsistencies. Recognition came to those who were consistent with good and original ideas.

Those same educators who tweeted their thoughts needed to expand their ideas and moved onto blogs. Some still felt limited and found a need to author books. The pathway to thought leadership had become more democratized. People were recognized for their ideas rather than their titles. Educators had access to other educators for vetting ideas. Access through collaboration using technology as a tool to make collaboration an anytime, anywhere endeavor was a game-changing advancement.

Potentially, any educator today, who has the ability to collaborate with other educators, can share their way to thought leadership. It takes: a collaborative mindset, a love of learning, ability to creatively think, ability to effectively write, ability to comfortably speak, and a driving desire to affect change in education. These are the skills of the several dozen people that I know who have become thought leaders in education through social media engagement.

Collaboration has long been a factor in the education profession. It is through technology that this element, this form of learning, has been turbo-boosted to become a driving force in learning. It empowers people to gain control over what it is they need, or want to learn. It also enables that person to intelligently and responsibly shares their learning with others in order to fill a void created by the isolationism of education in the past. It was that isolationism that made educators vulnerable to influences of outside forces that may not have had education improvement as their main goal. That is the stuff that makes a good education thought leader. It is within the reach of most educators to get to that position, and the profession, as well as the system, will benefit with every attempt by educators to do so.

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When I think of Professional Development for teachers in the traditional sense, I am more and more convinced that being connected as an educator is more effective in accomplishing the goal of professionally developing. The biggest roadblock to teachers connecting may very well be the way teachers have been programmed throughout their entire education and career.

Any course, or workshop that a teacher has ever wanted to take for academics, or for professional development was either controlled, or in some way approved by someone in authority. Some districts put this on the responsibility list of an Assistant Superintendent, or that of a Personnel Director. The determining factor for acceptance of any teacher’s PD would be: does the course, or workshop comply with the specific subject that the teacher teaches? Some districts require that teachers stipulate how the specifics of the course will impact the subject that he or she teaches. Once the course is completed, usually some proof of seat time in the form of a certificate must be provided before permission for acceptance can be granted.

This traditional method of Professional Development has gone on in this fashion, or something close to it for decades. The question is: Does it work? Of course nothing works 100 percent of the time. I would venture to say however, that if we base our answer on an observation of the dissatisfaction with our education system, and the grass-roots movement of tens of thousands of educators in search of something more in the way of PD, our current method may be failing us miserably, or at the very best, falling a bit short of the mark. Either way, PD in its current form is not making the grade.

Someone other than the learner directs the learning in this model, because it was designed around control, compliance, and permission. It would be a big plus if the needs of the learner aligned with the needs of the director, and I imagine that sometimes it does. However, that would probably be more coincidental than a planned outcome. The methodology of a majority of this PD is pretty much “sit and get” or direct instruction. Of course some teachers of the PD might use other methodology, but “sit and get” is pretty much the staple of most PD.

With the era of the Internet, came the idea of very easy-to-do self-exploration of topics. Educators could look stuff up on their own from home, or school. The idea of self-directing leaning suddenly became much easier, and I might add, a whole lot cheaper. The problem for districts however was that there was no way to control it, or to regulate it, or even give, or withhold permission to do it.

The entire self-directed learning thing was further complicated with the advent of Social Media. SM was at first thought to be the bane of all educators. As soon as educators stopped yelling at kids who used it, and tried it for themselves, things changed. Educators began connecting with other self-directed learning educators, and shared what they had learned. The learning has become more collaborative and through observation, and reflection, and based on the interactions of other educators, it has become more popular and more clearly defined.

There are two factors that seem to be holding many educators from this self-directed collaboration. First, it requires a minimal amount of digital literacy in order to connect and explore, and collaborate. This seems to be lacking for many educators, as well as a resistance to learn the literacy. Ironically, educators are supposed to include digital literacy in their curriculum for their students to be better prepared.

Second, educators have been programmed to the model of Control, Compliance, and Permission for Professional Development. That is also the accepted model still employed by most districts, and a huge roadblock. As tough as it is for educators to buck the system, it seems worse for administrators. They too have been programmed, but additionally, they are in the position that has the Control, that demands the Compliance, and that grants the Permission. To give that up by some who are in a position of power is a much more difficult leap of faith. Maybe administrators need to be reprogrammed as lead learners rather than just administrators. It becomes an obligation to continually learn. If they become self-directed learners collaborating with other educators globally, what effect would that have on their leadership capabilities?

In regard to professional Development maybe it would prove more effective to have teachers demonstrate the effects of their learning, instead of a certificate for proof of seat time. That would become the portfolio of a teacher’s learning placing more emphasis on the brain and less on the ass.

The term “connected educator” may be a term that scares people. This was mentioned at a recent education conference. If that is the case, why not use the term “collaborative learner”. Learning through collaboration has been done from the beginning of education. The tools to do it however have dramatically changed and improved, enabling collaboration to take place anytime, anywhere, and with any number of people. It is done transparently, recorded, and archived. Never before in history has collaboration occurred this way. As educators, we would be more than foolish to ignore this potential. As learners we would also be remiss to ignore the personal opportunity to expand and advance.

As educators we recognize the importance of reflection and critical thinking. We need to employ those skills to examine where we are, and what we are doing with the things that we rely on as educators. We need our professional development to be useful and relevant in order to ensure that we, as educators, remain useful and relevant. We can’t have a relevant system of education without relevant, literate educators.

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This is the original post that I submitted to Edcsurge. Under the expert editorship of Christina Quattrocchi it appeared under this title Board The Bullet Train: The Culture of Connection

I have been a connected educator throughout most of my 40-year career. My professional life has always been built around personal learning and collaboration. The difference between the 70’s and now is the ability to use far better tools to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create. The willingness to learn and use these modern tools designed for connectedness is a major factor in creating a gap between the connected and the unconnected educator. Reducing that gap should be a goal of every educator.

The value of connectedness, to a professional educator who actively practices it, is quickly understood as it is used. Too often connected educators are the worst advocates of connectedness because of their enthusiasm for what, and how they are learning. They tend to overwhelm the less informed with too much information that would scare off anyone who already views technology as an obstacle to overcome, as opposed to a tool to be learned and used effectively.

A connected 21st Century educator is an educator who is digitally literate, or at least open to learning the technology needed to basically connect and collaborate with others. It requires at the very least the same openness to learning as we ask of our students. It is a life long learning mindset. Connected educators find a value in, or even a moral imperative to share ideas and sources with others. They also trust enough to openly ask for help of other connected educators.

The dynamic of teaching is changing from a content expert disseminating information to students, to that of a learning expert of sorts, acting as a source in guiding students to learn. In this role the teacher often becomes a learner to be a better educator. Connected educators are constantly shifting between the role of learner and teacher. It is part of the mindset of a life long learner.

Connected educators are continually searching out other educators who can help in their goal of professional and personal learning. They seek out and collect and organize these educators as sources for information through social media. Social media being what it is, social, real relationships often result. This is never more evident than at education conferences. Connected educators meet face to face for the first time, and it is as if they were childhood friends. Virtual connections are deepened with face-to-face encounters. Faces and names are connected and acquaintances become friends.

The collection of educators becomes what is referred to as a Professional Learning Network; PLN. Access to one’s PLN is done through social media apps like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. Each of these Apps has unique bells and whistles, but they are all designed to connect, exchange information and sources in the way of links to that information on the Internet. This would include: discussions, blog posts, webinars, videos, podcasts, websites, charts, diagrams, panel discussions, and virtual tours. Face to face collaboration can happen anytime with Skype, Google Hangouts, or Tango.

Connected educators find blog posts a mainstay for their relevance in the profession of education. These posts are not just read, but interacted with. Comments on posts question, praise, elaborate, clarify, and refer readers to additional, similar posts. Connectedness takes the educator beyond just the consumption of information to interacting with it. Many interact to a point where they develop their own Blogs.

The amount of education authors, bloggers and speakers enable any connected educator access not only to the ideas of these thought leaders, but also to the thought leaders themselves. It is not uncommon for a connected educator to start out micro-blogging on Twitter, move to posting on their own blog, and then authoring a full-length book.

Connected educators are interacting with the thought leaders who are coming up with the ideas, as well as the first educators who are using these same ideas. These are practicing educators who take the ideas and theories into the classroom. They share the experience first hand with other connected educators with all the successes and shortcomings. The Flipped Class, Bring Your Own Device, Problem/Project Based Learning, Professional Learning Network, 1:1 Laptops were all topics discussed online with connected educators months or even a year before they hit the halls, faculty rooms and meetings of most schools. Some unconnected educators are not yet talking in-depth about some of these innovative education topics.

Relevance is the key to connected educators. It is not that connected educators are better than unconnected educators. However, we as educators find ourselves in a transition period in Education in regard to how educators maintain their relevance. The technology of the 21st Century has enabled educators to capitalize on collaboration and simplify creation. The 20th Century model of how educators stayed relevant continues to be less effective each day. We are in a technology-driven society that is driving things faster and further than ever before capable, and the technology itself continues to advance. Connecting is like stepping on the bullet train, while not connecting is like sitting at the train station awaiting a more comfortable train to ride.

One does not need to be connected to be a good educator, but if one is a good educator, being connected can make him, or her a better, and a more relevant educator. This is not a course that is taken, but rather a mindset. It requires a love of learning, and a trust in other educators to be sharing, caring, and transparent. It is not Utopia; it is the culture of connected educators. It requires participation. Fifteen to twenty minutes a day to start out would work fine. The easiest way to start is with a Twitter account. Twitter will become the backbone of the Personal Learning Network directing you to many other sources. Starting is the key. Once an educator buys in, and starts, the connectedness will soon take over.

The culture of connected educators was not designed. It developed and evolved with the advance of technology, and the evolution of social media. Digital literacy has been a requirement of the connected culture, but digital literacy has now also become a requirement for all educators. “Resistance is futile” is the phrase that comes to mind in this connected revolution.

Irrelevant educators may provide irrelevant education. To better educate our kids we need to better educate our educators. It is through connectedness that we can accomplish this most efficiently.

 

What does it take to be a Connected Educator?

Willingness to be digitally literate

Willingness to seek out and connect with other educators.

Willingness to explore and share ideas with other educators

Willingness to develop and maintain a Professional Learning Network of sources

Willingness to peruse, engage, and share pertinent Education Blogs

Willingness to be a lifelong learner in pursuit of relevance

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There have been a great many comments and posts recently on both the successes and shortcomings of the BAMMY AWARDS. I was recognized at the ceremony as a Co-Founder of #Edchat and an innovator in education. There were some blatantly obvious mistakes made at that ceremony, but it should also be recognized that the entire event was set up to recognize and celebrate educators. I do not want to enter the fray on this, but I do need to take issue with one criticism that I have seen in a few posts that I think is off the mark.

If there is one subject I have consistently written about for years, it is the idea of what a modern connected educator is. If there is one thing we should strive for as connected educators, it is collaboration. It shares, questions, refines and improves ideas. Collectively, we are smarter than we are individually. Collaboration makes education more transparent. It enables educators to examine, and explore what is relevant in their profession. It highlights the best and exposes the worst in education. Connected educators are educators who engage in this collaboration with the tools of technology to efficiently maximize their collaboration in ways that were never before possible.

The Bammy Awards were set up to recognize and celebrate that very aspect of education, the successful collaboration of educators. Why then are educators criticizing the Bammys for recognizing connected educators?

Some blog posts were critical that this was a popularity contest with the most popular connected educators. If an educator is a successful collaborator in social media, he, or she will attract a following. That following however is based on the ideas that the educator shares, and not on who likes them personally. There are many educators who have social media accounts, but that does not make them connected educators. I have a list of over 200 superintendents on Twitter. Most have barely tweeted 100 times, and I suspect they were more for PR than for collaboration. They have followings as well, but that is not necessarily based on their collaboration and most are not substantial.

Many of the connected educators at the BAMMY AWARDS, which was probably less than 50 or 60, are educators who do more than just tweet for collaboration. Most of them Blog, some of them have written books, many have done webinars, speak at conferences, and conduct sessions at Edcamps. All of these actions are forms of collaboration, and the result will be a following of educators, who recognize and appreciate the value of each of the contributions of each of these individuals. These connected educators are going beyond what we have now come to expect from educators, doing exactly what we need them to do to improve our profession through collaboration. Why would anyone then question or criticize them for being too popular. Why would anyone want to discount the validation of these educators? The number of followers is the very measure that validates their efforts.

If we did not want educators to be recognized for their ideas and have people publicly stand behind them, we should not put any names on any work. If the rule is to be that we need to collaborate, but not be recognized for that collaboration, then we should all write and collaborate anonymously.  No names on books, posts, speeches or any work that is public collaboration.

Connected educators cannot control their “popularity”. This following or “Popularity” is a consequence of how their ideas are vetted and approved by other educators and in so doing, their names are recognized. This to me is a good thing. I can name the best people who can model what it is to be a connected educator based not just as my opinion, but one born out by other educators as well. It makes no sense to me to say that we need to recognize collaboration in education and then condemn connected educators for being successful for doing it. It is a fact in collaboration in social media that one measure of successful collaboration will be the “popularity”, or following of the collaborator.

We are each entitled to our own opinions on how we measure and value things. I am becoming more and more aware however, that the forms of measurement that we use for things may need to be adjusted, or even scraped, as we change the way we do things. I would offer that advice to both the organizers of the BAMMY AWARDS as well as their critics.

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From time to time I am asked to answer interview questions for some organization, or upcoming conference, so that the interview can be shared with other educators. Many educators are asked to provide these videos as a common practice. It is not as timely, or spontaneous as SKYPE or a Google Hangout, but it is portable and controllable, so that makes it preferable too many people. They can edit and tie it into others and then send it out to their audience, or present it in a gala presentation for all to see.

Unfortunately, not every video interview makes it to the final production for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes only a snippet of a larger version makes it into the final production. For those of us who figured out how to make a video, and took the time to do so, it is always a little disappointing not to make it in the final production. My best takeaway is that I figured out how to use iMovie on my own to put it all together. Of course I should point out that this is but another connected learning benefit.

The organizers of The BAMMY AWARDS recently asked me to do such an interview tape. It was to be a rough-cut video that they would edit to professional status. It would include a quick introduction of myself, followed by my answers to three questions.

1 How has being a Connected Educator helped you in dealing with all the demands of an educator today?

2 Can you give a specific example of how being a Connected Educator has changed your practice?

3 What would you say to a non-Connected Educator to convince him/her of the value in being connected?

I pondered the questions, considered the creativity, checked out the App, found a relaxed setting, gathered costumes, screwed up my courage, and took the plunge. After a few starts and stops, I began to get the hang of it, and I was off on yet another thing that I was doing for the first time as a result of connected learning, and the support and encouragement from my social media colleagues. I even opened a YouTube account to house my production upon its conclusion. My 6 minute and 13 second production was uploaded to a predetermined file-sharing app, so that it could be edited by the BAMMY Staff before the big event.

I attended the Washington D.C. event awaiting the unveiling of the Connected Educator Production before the hundreds of educators in the audience. After all it was a red carpet, black tie affair, so I began to feel as if it was my personal premiere. The video came up on the big screen with the images of education thought leaders giving their answers to the very same questions that I had deftly dealt with. Of course they had no costume changes. That a little something extra that would most likely assure me the creativity award, if anyone were to give one. About three-quarters through the production, I was still on the edge of my seat knowing my digitized face should pop up at any second with pearls of wisdom cascading from my lips to the throngs of applause from the gathered crowd of educators. Then it happened. I did appear on the big screen. My heart stopped for about 10 seconds. Not that my heart stopped working for 10 seconds, but that was how long my appearance was in that very professional, and very impressive production – 10 seconds. My creative informative sage wisdom of 6 minutes and 13 seconds was edited down to about 10 seconds. The worst of it was that no one even knew I had three costume changes.

Of course I asked what happened of the folks in charge, and they had reasonable explanations for the cuts that they made and the pieces that they included. I had no recourse, but to accept my fate and go unrecognized for my video creation. That is when I realized I am a Connected Educator. I do not need an organization, producer, or publisher to share my ideas, works and accomplishments with other educators. I can count on myself to do that. I could also get it to a much greater audience with the added power of my Personal Learning Network and Social Media.

Without further ado, I would like to share with you, the very rough-cut version of “My Connected Educator Interview”. Please feel free to pass it along to friends and colleagues connected, or not. Please take special care to note the costume changes.

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I think everyone has certain phrases, or catchwords that tend to set them off. Some of us, of the more passionate persuasion, have phrases that send us over the edge. I am not talking about the conference clichés like “that’s where the tire meets the road” or “Let’s not kick that can down the road” and the ever-popular “I wouldn’t give your troubles to a monkey on a rock’. I am talking about phrases that are couched in the comfort of country-speak to conceal the true intentions of what the phrase represents. I attended a wonderful Edcamp this week where I shared and learned a great deal, but I encountered the frequent use of two such expressions in more than a couple of sessions.

If you need an explanation of what an Edcamp is, I will make an assumption that you are not yet connected, or at best a newly connected educator. Edcamps started a few years back and have become a growing movement for educators to personalize their learning of their much-needed professional development. The existing models of PD provided by the education system over the last few centuries don’t seem to be providing the necessary elements for success for educators. A growing number of educators have designed a new form of PD called Edcamps. Edcamp sessions are discussions of what the participants find relevant. There is no pre-set schedule of approved sessions. People volunteer to lead discussions on topics chosen by the attendees. There are no vendor sessions. There are only educators. If a session is not meeting an attendees needs they are free to move on to another session.

These Edcamps are a direct result of connected educators efforts. They are organized, advertised, criticized and evangelized all through the means provided by social media as it is used and refined by educators to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create within their own profession. It enables individuals to adjust and refine their learning to meet their specific needs. Connections made at the Edcamps provide ongoing support and a perpetual flow of sources to arm educators with the means necessary for their own learning and that of their students.

Ironically, when this concept was presented to a group of administrators at an ISTE Conference a few years back, it was not warmly received as acceptable alternative to the existing outdated models. The seemingly preponderance of concern was the lack of CONTROL. Administrators had no control, over the learning either as a group or for individuals who have the ability to personalize their learning. It baffles me how we individualize our students’ learning with IEP’s, differentiation, and accommodations, but when it comes to educating educators we strive to control the learning, so the group gets its proper dose. It doesn’t matter that educators learn; it only matters that it can be demonstrated that it was taught and everyone was exposed to that teaching. It is but a check on an administrator’s list. How often do we talk about assessing PD? How often do we study the effect of educator learning on student learning in specific schools?  What support do schools supply to educators to share and collaborate what they do learn in the form of PD?

An amazingly large number of educators fully see the urgent need and agree that we need to drastically change the system. Get ready for me to go over the cliff at this point. Many say however “WE NEED TO TAKE BABY STEPS”. Why??? We are not babies. We are among the most educated group of people this country has to offer. We hold advanced degrees. We are proven thinkers and learners. Taking baby steps implies a lack of consideration, a lack of understanding, lack willingness, a lack of confidence, a lack of urgency, and most obvious to me is a lack in taking full responsibility for change. Taking baby steps to me means moving slowly enough to gauge the reactions of others. It goes to that “Teacher mentality” of “educators make no mistakes in public”. The fear of failure is often the thing that produces failure. It is a combination of all of this that has allowed the national discussion on education to be taken over by non-educators. The very baby steps educators are taking to move from a 19th century model of education to a model for educating kids for their future has made educators targets and not innovators. Educators are being held accountable only for the shortcomings and none of the successes. If our baby steps take us 100 years to move into the 21st century, we will need to start all over again in the 22nd.

“Comfort Level” is another over-the-edge term for me. It is the one phrase I find to be the biggest obstacle to reform. Learning is not always easy. It can be fun, and engaging, but for many it can be hard. Something that is hard to do is rarely comfortable. When I hear an educator say that there is something that is not in their comfort level, I think that they are saying “that is more than I am willing to learn because it’s hard for me”. That is not a comfort thing; that is a learning thing. We can’t have educators, the very people we need to learn and maintain relevance, not be willing to learn because they find it hard, and not comfortable.

Connected educators and Edcamps are bold steps, not baby steps. Being a connected educator is not always comfortable, because sometimes it’s hard. We need more bold steps to take us forward as uncomfortable as that may be. We need bold leaders to take us forward. We have no time for baby steps because we are not babies. We are thinking, learning, educated educators and sometimes that’s hard and uncomfortable. Uncomfortable however, should never be a roadblock. We need to take strides with confidence not baby steps.

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The latest big thing in education is getting educators connected. The Department of Education is even declaring the month of October as Connected Educators’ Month to place an emphasis on and using, information, sources, and recruitment as key components in supporting a goal of connecting educators.

What is a connected educator? As a generalization, defining anything for educators is always a task, since educators try to make all definitions as inclusive and complete as possible to account for any contingency. It is as if someone can point out an exception to the rule, the definition must be flawed. As a result some bloggers try to qualify definitions in order to accommodate skeptical, or questioning educators. With that in mind, this is my definition of a connected educator. If it does not suit you make up your own. For me a connected educator is one who uses technology and social media to personalize learning for both personal and professional growth.

Of course someone will step up and say that we can do that face-to-face so we don’t need technology. Of course that is true, and that is the way that it was for many thousands of years, but we are no longer living with the limitations of past centuries. With the advent of the printing press, the radio, the telephone, the television, the calculator, the computer, and now the Internet, we have tools to get beyond face-to-face limitations. We can connect globally or locally without concerns for time or space. We live in an anytime, anywhere communication culture. Why would any educator dealing with thinking and learning not use that to his or her advantage, or the advantage of his or her students?

The big picture in being a connected educator is the idea that you as the educator are first connected to the general flow of information, and then secondly, focused on specific connections to drill down to the detailed needs specific to you, or your students’ needs. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are all applications that may be used to connect educators. Like it or not however, Twitter is the backbone of a majority of Personal/Professional Learning Networks for educators. Educators have taken Twitter beyond its intended use, making it a professional tool for collaboration. Approving or disapproving of the application is like approving or disapproving of a hammer or screwdriver. You can hate them all you want, but try building a house without them. Being on Twitter and following 200 sharing educators is a general connection that will meet general needs, and promote great reflection on education. Your Twitter timeline will flow with education sources and information 24/7. Information and sources are simply there for the taking. Using that timeline to focus on educators in your area of expertise will render ideas and lessons beyond general education philosophy to meet specifics in your area of study. If you teach English focus on English teachers. If you teach second grade focus on second grade teachers. There are thousands of connected educators in your specific area of expertise willing to share with you. Your task is to find them and connect.

I referred to Twitter as the backbone of a PLN because it is a constant flow of education sources and connections. You can literally post a question on Twitter and get answers back in seconds, if properly executed to a developed network of educators. To get beyond Twitter educators need to locate and follow Blogs that are in line with their needs. More and more bloggers are becoming our educational thought leaders. The benefit of blogs is that you may interact with the blogger, as well as the ideas in any post. Educators may question, test, and reflect on any ideas put forth in a post.

Ning sites are communities of educators with like interests. Joining any of these communities gives access to Blogs, discussions, videos, and groups specific to the needs of that community of educators. Ning sites are a great source for expanding connections

Skype and Google hangouts allow educators to select individuals for specific face-to-face interactions. Educators may connect with authors, experts, speakers, or other educators for personal, or classroom interactions. These interactions may also be recorded in order to be shared later. Making these connections lasting connections should be your goal.

There are several hundred education Chats taking place on Twitter each and every day. Participation in these chats enables educators the ability to exchange, consider, reflect, modify and adopt ideas from educators around the world. These chats are a great place to find, and connect with other educators based on the acceptance of their ideas as opposed to their title. Follow the chat hashtags.

Of course the irony of this post is that if you are reading it, you are more than likely a connected educator. You are also more than likely already familiar with all that I have said. There is however a purpose in sharing these ideas with you. We need to take these ideas to share with your non-connected colleagues. As we increase the number of connected educators in our connected community, we are increasing our knowledge pool. In doing so, we are getting more educators focusing on their needs in education. An idea not shared is just a passing thought. As individual thinkers we may be good, but collectively we are better. Convince a colleague to connect and we all benefit.

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I am participating in the national plan to promote Connected Educators’ Month (CEM) for this year. I was very honored to even be asked to participate on this committee, because I am committed to collaborative learning for all educators. I believe that social media and technology afford our profession the best opportunity to date in order to connect educators for collaboration and exchanging ideas to develop and maintain relevance as professional educators. Technology offers our best tools to enable, promote, and practice life long learning, the very thing that educators hold up as the “Holy Grail” for their students. As I have pointed out in many posts, Life Long Learning should also be the personal goal of all educators, and ideally everyone else in our country as well, even if that reality may be unrealistic.

The leaders of this planning committee have their hands full, trying to orchestrate an effective plan with input coming from more than 30 individuals. Each of the committee members has his, or her own vision of what Connected Educators’ Month should look like. Each of the members has strong opinions, each has a strong personality, and each is a leader in his or her area of expertise. Trying to include everyone’s position in one plan will be a herculean task, but it is certainly doable through collaboration.

My position on the committee is simple. I want to connect the unconnected educator. There are far more unconnected than connected educators. We as a profession are not taking advantage of our best opportunity to date to collaborate and advance our education system for the benefit of our kids and our country. We are not participating in great enough numbers to discuss, collaborate and improve our system. Educators have left themselves out of that discussion allowing the void to be filled by business people and shortsighted politicians.

My fear is that we will place an emphasis on adding content for connected educators and miss out on actually connecting educators. It is my belief that by connecting more educators, we will be adding content by the added participation of more collaborating educators. Adding content for those already connected has a limited impact on the unconnected educators. Using social media to advertise connecting more educators does not target the unconnected. They are not on social media to be affected by the advertisement.

If we are to connect more educators, we need to ask those connected to do more. We need them to model their connections. We need them not only to share their sources with the unconnected, but also to cite how Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or a particular Ning site provided the source. We need administrators to recognize, establish and support the positive effects of connected collaboration. Our professional organizations can give up a few iPad sessions to make room for connected educator sessions. Any conference requiring nametags can certainly have a field for the educator’s Twitter name. Twitter names should also appear on any printed media where educator contact information appears. We need to prioritize the need and the ability for educators to connect. The path to collaboration and connected educators needs to be made easier and seemingly natural. We need to go where the unconnected educators can be found and that is not on connected venues. If we believe in collaboration of connected education for life long learning than we need to promote connections for our educators, who in turn will educate and hopefully connect our students.

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