Tag Archives: professional development

The Power of People: An RSCON Reflection

Something I often read as a hindrance to culture change in public schools is the isolation of the public school teacher. The idea that schools are filled with disconnected, independent contractors, working alone is a pervasive one. Some of this is self-imposed isolation, or “flying under the radar” in the vernacular. Teachers might wish to be left alone for any number of reasons, perhaps their practice is flawed and they don’t want to admit it, or perhaps they are flouting a school policy that they disagree with, or perhaps they are just so inundated with the work of trying as hard as they can to educate young people that they can’t spare a minute.

Some of the isolation of the public school teacher is institutional, it is created and fostered by the system. Think about the places where you work, narrow corridors of unconnected rooms where teachers are lucky to see each other for two minutes between periods. Converted classrooms that serve as lounges for faculty, where fliers for upcoming board meetings are hastily attached to walls with yellow tape. Faculties that have been spread so thin by diminishing budgets that they see twice as many students as they did last year. I find it more than a little ironic that a system that often treats all students as if they were the same has no such checks on the teachers.

Whatever the reason for this isolation, how ever long it has been here, it is bad for us and it is bad for our kids. Teachers are learners, and learners crave interaction of an intellectual nature. Think about how energized you might feel if you happen to have a two minute conversation about a new teaching technique while you desperately wait in line to fill your coffee cup between periods. We need to sustain that feeling, somehow, and I believe we can.

I used to believe that the system was too large, to corrupt, to entrenched to ever change. But I don’t believe that anymore. Systems after all are built and sustained by people and I have seen the power of people. People like Shelly Terrell, whose infinite energy has lead to dozens of projects that touch the lives of teachers and students all around the globe. People like Kelly Tenkely, who asked herself, why couldn’t I start a school, and did. People like Clive Elsmore who believed in the cause of education so fiercely he gave up hundreds of hours, with only a thank you for reward. All of the organizers on the Reform Symposium team including Lisa Dabbs, Melissa Tran, Ian Chia, Cecilia LemosJerry Blumengarten and Mark Barnes are doing amazing things all over the world and making a difference.

The Reform Symposium was just an idea until it was empowered by people.

Then it became something else. It became total strangers with common goals working together to learn from each other. Although the Reform Symposium was born of social media it has never been about that, it has been and will continue to be about people. So don’t lose hope. Ideas are powerful.

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The Best Thing I’ve Done Online, Wanna See?

On July 28th at 10:00 am the second iteration of the best thing I have done online will begin. The Reform Symposium began as an offhand comment on Twitter, evolved into a conversation on Google Wave (remember Wave?), then turned from an idea into an event. The conference brought together a disparate group of presenters who were willing to donate their knowledge to everyone who wanted to listen. To me it represents the full potential of social media and what can happen when motivated, like-minded educators are given the tools to collaborate. I have never actually met any of my amazing collaborators, but I consider them to be my dear friends. Try to imagine organizing a global conference for educators ten years ago. Would you be able to do it with free online tools? So if you are looking for some free professional development take a look at the schedule and see if there is something you are interested in learning. Better yet, volunteer to moderate one of the sessions. Hope to see you there.

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Black Cloud: What Educators Could Learn From Ning’s Swan Song

Panic struck my PLN yesterday as it was announced that Ning would no longer be hosting free social networks. My friends and colleagues, some of whom have extremely large Ning communities were left wondering what was going to happen to all of that positive networking that was happening. Luckily my PLN is made up of educators who are the masters of Plan B and before I went to sleep I saw tens of alternatives to Ning being discussed on Twitter. While the crisis is probably just a nuisance at this point it is important to reflect on this situation so that we don’t get ourselves caught up in it again.

Web 2.0 technologies like Ning are attractive to creative educators because they are free to set up, but we need to remember that nothing is really free. Ning is a company that had investors that paid real money to get it started. These investors of course are not philanthropists, they want a return for their investment. When you boil it all down there are really only a handful of ways to make money with a website. You either make money with advertisement, charge a subscription to use it, or use it to sell stuff. Ning was attempting to make money with advertisement but I have a distinct recollection of some educators griping about Nings with ads and asking the company to make special arrangements for educators, which I think that they did for a while. Many of us just believed that Ning was allowing us to use their software and server space out of the kindness of their hearts, which yesterday became clear wasn’t the case.

I don’t fault Ning for wanting to make money. I fault them for a flawed business plan and for making special dispensations when the shouldn’t have. I also question the ethics of what looks like a bait and switch scheme. Let’s look at another website we all use that also announced a plan to make money this week, Twitter. Some of us have griped about the prospect of seeing sponsored tweets in our stream, and we may lament the eventual loss of some of our favorite software, but the bottom line is that the user experience is going to remain mostly the same. It may even improve. Imagine if Twitter had instead announced this week that it was going to start charging its users per month, or per tweet. I think that the reaction would have been quite different.

So what can we learn from this experience? We can learn what we have always known, that it is never about the tool! We have to be careful never to fall in love with or rely too heavily on one tool, or it could end up betraying you like Mollie did Junior year. It always has to be about what the tool does. To that end educators need to constantly make themselves aware of alternatives to what they are using. Luckily we don’t have to do it on our own. This PLN is filled with people constantly scouring the Internet for resources and sharing them with all of us. We just need to make sure that if we don’t click on that link, or read that review that we at least bookmark it and look at it later. We need to insist that our professional development never has the name of a tool in the title like “How to use website X”, instead the PD titles should read more like “Strategies for Critical thinking” or “Teach Your Students to Problem Solve”. These PD sessions should give you a menu of tools to use, so that you can choose what best works for you. But the learning should never focus on the tool, because as we learned yesterday if you are married to the tool you could be in for a messy divorce!

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Teachers: Go Back to School, In Your Own Building!

In this golden age of global communication and collaboration I sometimes forget that I teach in a very small district (except of course during gloomy budget meetings), with really great people. On Friday I did something that I have been meaning to do for a long time, but have continued to put off for one reason or another, I attended a class right in my own building. During my planning period I asked if I could sit in on a class that my neighbor, Mr. Sherwood was teaching about economics. Mr. Sherwood was very hospitable and enthusiastic about me sitting in and immediately the students took notice of my presence. It was great for me to see different content and teaching styles. This experience was so positive that I plan to attend at least on class per week if my fellow teachers will allow me to. I will even do the coursework when I can. Maybe I will learn even more than I intended to.

Here are the benefits as I see them:

  • You get to see what other teachers are teaching, and how they are teaching it.
  • You get to build closer relationships with your colleagues.
  • You can help your colleagues by offering possible technologies they could integrate.
  • You model lifelong learning for students.

Here are some possible pratfalls to avoid:

  • Don’t over participate. After all the students are there for a grade. Contribute to the lesson when it is appropriate.
  • Be careful about offering too much advice to colleagues. Here is where you are going to have to feel the situation out. The real purpose here is to build better relationships with your fellow teachers, not to make them do it your way.

Be sure to thank whoever it was that let you participate, and then follow up with them at another time, and then don’t look now but you are talking about pedagogy. So I challenge each of you to try to do the same. If you have already done this, or if you plan to please share your experiences.

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