Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope your time spent reading various posts has been informative and should you ever have any reason for further discussion, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Ok let's start with a little disclaimer....
Now that we have that out of the way, the headline really loses some of its shock value but I always love to take the time to remind people how much I respect teachers. I think it is important, because I am also one of the first to criticize the current state of education. I am also critical of teachers that really should be in other professions. You see just like anything else, there are bad apples, and I have no use for a teacher that is going through the motions. Those types are few and far between, and I hate that they tarnish the work of so many others who bust their butt on a daily basis.
So why would I fire all teachers? The graphic above should be enough to make the point. The very simplified definition shows just how outdated things are if we are still waiting for a person who simply passes on information or skill to educate students. There will always be a need for teachers to pass on the information they know to students, but it absolutely cannot stop there.
Students no matter how tech savvy they might be, have access to information at all times. The world that our kids will enter after their time in public education does not support people that wait for someone to tell them what to do or think next. Students must be given opportunities to have a say in their learning. Learning opportunities must encourage students to process information, apply that information to the world around them, and seek solutions to new problems.
On the other hand some would say that the definition of designer isn't much different. "A person who plans how to make or change something." When combined with the word learning, a Learning Designer would be someone who plans how to make or change learning opportunities. It may be subtle, but the key is as a teacher things are centered around giving information, while as a learning designer things are centered around the student learning.
In the end it all comes down to the focus remaining on student learning. If I could, I would fire all teachers and hire back Learning Designers. It may seem like a silly conversation, but it is one simple way of reminding teachers of their true importance. I think it would also give these amazing people a title that more accurately depicts the job they do every day. Great teachers are able to guide and shape the learning despite the many differences of students. They maintain a delicate balancing act of many plates. They are not simply teachers anymore. They are designers and curators of ideas. And these ideas turn into the dreams of our learners that change the world. They are so much more than a person that passes on information.
Is public education today doing all it can to meet student needs. I am often critical of the state of our education system, but I know that teachers and administrators have the best of intentions. We can blame standardized testing and a slew of other issues, but the reality is we MUST fix whatever problems we may feel are present.
Dave and Shelley Burgess in "Teach Like a Pirate," address a topic that I have agreed with for many years. The image below sums it up better than anything I can say.
Just think about this for a few minutes. Businesses or "the real world" have to fight daily to stay alive and relevant in the marketplace. Some companies are more successful than others, and some survive despite poor practices, but the reality is they have to have a product that meets customer needs, or they will surely fail.
Despite good intentions, I think most of us would agree that education is often too slow when it comes to making meaningful changes.
Would education look different today if we approached our work with the idea that we have to EARN our customers, or students?
Can we learn from the world around us? Can we become more innovative in what we do in order to stay relevant for our students? Can we continue to adapt like Starbucks has over the years. They have had their share of controversies, but have survived by creating a brand that understands customer interests. Or will we look more like BlockBuster, a company that did a lot of things right, but in the end, just didn't read the market well enough to give customers what they wanted.
I am a big fan of the book, "The Innovators Mindset" by George Couros. If you are looking for an added spark to your thought process I would highly recommend you take a look. He does a great job of painting the picture of how simple changes in approach go a long way toward staying relevant in your pursuit of nurturing the love of learning in your students and teachers.
Changes in educational practices are often debated. The next new thing comes and goes and in the end a lot of things never really change. The reality of the matter is we are teaching students, and with that said, we must prepare students for the future they face. We must equip them with the tools to problem solve, think critically, and create. This is not some revolutionary idea that I have created, it has been debated for years, yet progress remains too slow in many ways. Teachers today have incredibly difficult jobs as they must continue to teach the core components of education, while keeping up with the world around them. How do you prepare your teachers and students for the reality they face?
As far back as the 17th Century schools in the US were centered around the 4 R's of education; Reading 'Riting, 'Rithmetic, and Religion. These early elementary schools were founded on the power of Reading literacy as an avenue for students to branch out and realize the possibilities of the world around them. Without Reading Literacy it is tough to quickly gain high levels of knowledge on many different subjects. Life is still the greatest teacher, but the ability to read provides hope and opportunity just as it did over 200 years ago, to those privileged enough to be taught to do so.
Fast forward to 2015, 239 years from our first day as a country. Reading is still the most powerful thing any person can learn to do. I would argue that digital fluency would come in a very close second. The reality is that a lot of people still survive every day with little to no technology knowledge. I know many people that live happy productive lives while their only dealings with technology revolve around what is essentially forced upon them. 239 years ago the three R's were the key to someone achieving new knowledge, but today the gateway that is opened along with digital fluency is like nothing our founders could have ever begun to imagine. When you look at the fact that the internet as we know it really didn't start to take shape until around 1995, in the last 20 years things have changed more than the previous 200+ years combined.
As teachers are pulled a million different directions and measured based on children taking standardized tests, the growth in digital fluency remains slower than students deserve. I do not blame teachers, but I do challenge all teachers, and educational leaders to fix this problem. You see as a professional educator today, it is NOT OK to simply shrug off your lack of classroom technology interaction with the idea that "you are just not good with tech." Your students deserve better, and quite frankly you deserve better.
Leaders, you must have some sense of urgency to build this digital fluency capacity in all teachers under your guidance. You must find time and make training available that allows teachers to flourish. The key for administrators is you must expect it from your teachers, and yourself. Teachers, you must let down your guard and roll up your sleeves. Don't continue to make excuses or let the fact that technology is not a big deal in your personal world negatively impact your student's future. Technology is here to stay, and you are teaching students, not a subject. Students proper use of technology should not be hindered due to your lack of understanding.
So you agree, now how do you go about building this capacity in your teachers so your classrooms run like clockwork. There are many different theories depending on who you talk to, but I firmly believe the key is to improve lessons. If you actually look at the lessons you are teaching, and ask yourself how it can be improved, I believe that you will find ways that technology tools can enhance your lesson. You see too often teachers learn about a new tool, and they want to try it, so they build a lesson for that tool. This is backwards and often unsuccessful for long term buy in. We have to think about the desired student learning goal. Then ask yourself what can you do to make sure that goal is taking place, followed by how could I step it up a notch from there. Often times this is where technology can become the avenue for lesson improvement.
The image at the top of this article is a combination of two well known 21st Century "frameworks." Using the ITL Research for the 21st Century Learning Design and Tony Wagner's Seven Survival Skills we have a mechanism in place to generate meaningful conversations with teachers. Wagner provides the reality of what the job force is looking for as they hire our students, and the ITL Design offers a way to look at a lesson and give it a rating based on the different rubrics. Neither of these pieces address specific devices that must be used from a technology perspective, but they provide the mechanism to help teachers think about how they can shape their current lessons to better match up with the skill set that students need. Once that need for change has been embraced we can begin to figure out how to work toward digital fluency.
Technology tool training is another aspect all together. If we can get teachers thinking about how to modernize their lesson, they will be better prepared to realize which tools they need to learn first. Tools change and often times the same thing can be done with any variety of tools. While there are a few core tools that can easily be introduced and used district wide, most tools are completely interchangeable. Provide the training that introduces teachers to different options, but keep the bigger picture in mind. Tool training by itself has been proven to be ineffective in making student gains. The best way to encourage meaningful change is by adjusting the mechanism to attain the desired student outcome, which is of course the lesson itself.
Until a true philosophical shift has been made by leadership and accepted by teachers as necessary, no level of tool or lesson training will make an impact. The collective whole must agree that things need to look different. When your district is ready to embrace that, the rest will start to take shape. Look for more on this process in the coming weeks, the complexity is real. Change takes time, and often will be slower than we want. If you are already behind, you cannot waste another minute.
There is no doubt that all educators want to make learning as relevant as possible. Often times our current standardized testing system makes it complicated for teachers to feel like they can teach "the stuff" that brings the real world into lessons. While we would all like to see teachers providing learning opportunities that are engaging and enriching, there is a dynamic that is difficult for classroom teachers. Sure administrators can expect certain things, but what do you do with that student that is so far behind that the lack of basic skills makes it nearly impossible to allow them to think critically and relate prior knowledge to new ideas. This challenge is very real, and with schools that have high populations of low socioeconomic students the gap that exists make the challenge even greater. This dynamic often times leads teachers to feel like "the test" makes it impossible to teach at a deeper level. With that reality, what can schools do to ensure that learning experiences are truly authentic, and relevant?
Tony Wagner has been a longtime proponent for authentic 21st century learning as this video points out. He discusses key skills that lead to innovation and success in the innovation era. If you have not listened to Tony's Ted Talk do so below.
So how can educators deal with the many challenges they face and still have time to create truly authentic learning experiences? For the Math teacher that is trying to get students up to grade level on basic skills, a cross curricular collaboration could provide huge dividends. We often talk about the importance of education reform being an elimination of high stakes testing. Let's be realistic though, there has to be some sort of testing system in place. We have to have data that ensures students are reaching levels of success as they move along the system. I understand the impact current testing has on student learning and I do not believe that elimination of all testing makes much sense. I'm all for some serious changes in the system, but I also am for schools changing current practices to ensure students are learning at deeper levels. The reality is standardized testing will not be going away entirely anytime soon, so what can we do? I firmly believe we must engage in cross curricular collaboration and learning opportunities.
In a recent conversation with a high school art teacher in my district this possibility began to take on real meaning. Let's discuss how this teacher can impact the core subject areas with what he is already doing. He is currently using a 3D printer with his art students, and they have designed smaller jewelry pieces. With sites like Bonanza, Uncommon Goods, Silkfair, MadeitMyself, DaWanda, iCraft, ArtFlock, and any other ecommerce platform available today, an authentic learning experience begins to take shape. Or tie in your school web design classes and let them build a site for you on a platform that helps ensure ecommerce safety.
Cross curricular possibilities begin to take shape. Math students could analyze pricing, sales trends by graphing data from sales, and 3D design elements that tie into lessons on volume, surface area, etc. English classes could create sales materials, write content for the Online store, and persuasive advertising pieces, touching on various writing styles. Science could look at the impact that the materials being used to create the jewelry have on the environment. Perhaps they find and make suggestions for more eco-friendly materials, or prove why these jewelry designs are better for the environment than other alternatives. Social studies classes could study cultural differences and help decide what design styles might sell best in certain cultures. Business classes of course can have a real business to study as they work to make it successful and study what mistakes may have been made and how to address those mistakes. This example could also tie into the Service Learning concepts by using profits toward a local social concern that students choose as a worthy cause.
Of course the example I mention here is just one potential idea. When teachers and students collaborate I firmly believe that they could come up with ideas that would immediately impact the world around them for the better. In my example, everyone of Wagner's 7 survival skills are addressed, and I believe that subject area essential skills could be connected at various grade levels. I believe schools must embrace these kinds of learning opportunities in order to make school relevant, and engaging for students. My district is doing a great job of getting teachers time to collaborate. Unfortunately that collaboration is mostly limited to same subject matter collaboration. And in many cases, the elective teachers that can help bring learning to life, are still not getting extra planning time.
What are your schools doing to bring cross curricular learning experiences to life. I would love to see and hear more about your examples. Authentic learning is a must for our students. Sharing ideas and working toward these kinds of lessons needs to gain momentum.
Problem and Project based learning can accomplish this as well, but I often see people discussing these trends within one subject area. If your school has adopted a project or problem based curriculum emphasis I would love to hear how you might be tying those projects together with cross curricular examples. Leave your comments here or better yet, share with us on Twitter so your ideas are shared with an audience beyond the readers of this article.
Learning can be authentic and must be considered as you look at what your school offers. We must continue to work to be relevant in a time when charter schools and other alternatives are gaining steam. Public education has to begin to look at the fact that we have to serve our communities by producing students that are ready for the real world.
Summer Vacation is a great time to get away and relax and LEARN. Watching my three children interact with our friends and total strangers reminds me of how valuable these trips really are. Sure we are getting that ever so important family time that I would hate to miss, but I'm also reminded about how much they gain from the things we expose them to. It's this exposure to life events that also helps them grow into well rounded members of society.
My children have thrived in school settings, they have had amazing teachers and for that I am grateful. We work with our kids and my wife has instilled in them a real love of reading. My children's passion for learning is fueled by the experiences they have had in life. This also points out the divide that bothers me between those that have and those that don't.
You see, the problem is that many of the students that I work with in my school district simply do not have access to a lot of things my kids and others are able to experience. I've thought a lot about how to close the gap between students of various income levels in education for years. Education and schools are the keys to saving our students raised in poverty. It is our responsibility to fight to show all students their true potential. This is not an easy task, but one we cannot ignore.
Students learn from all that they experience, both good and bad. They learn from books and other resources in school also. What we need to remember in education is that our students do not all come to us on a level playing field. We know they all have to take the same standardized tests but their backgrounds and life experiences are vastly different. This impacts them on so many levels, and we must do what we can to close the gap.
Social interaction is a large factor that relies on varied experiences to shape behavior and skills to work with others. In many classrooms students are not allowed to interact and miss out on a key method of learning because we want to be sure we guide their learning to what is important in our minds. Ignoring the benefits of students interacting with other students can be problematic on several fronts. Behavior problems cannot be addressed by muting students. It only exasperates the problems. This is an opportunity to work with students on how to properly work with others, and may be the only time our students have to learn the expected behavior in public. Us working with them in a positive manner is invaluable.
The other area I will touch on is the simple fact that learning opportunities are everywhere. If a student is not exposed they simply miss out on the things other students may be getting. This basic lack of background and connective knowledge puts students in a difficult situation. Things we take for granted and assume students know, may also be the things that cause them to feel uncomfortable or dumb around their peers. We must do what we can to make sure we work to help students close this gap.
I only touch on the basic dynamics of things here, but I hope that as we start another year with students we work to create a classroom that opens students eyes to the potential they have in the world today. I hope that we can create a spark that fuels a fire in all students to see how education can work for them. I hope educators remember that students need them as they try to figure out the world around them. This goes far beyond the standards the state says are most important. It's a difficult challenge, but are you going to take advantage of the power of the world to teach, rather than solely focusing on the textbook. I'd like to think that preparing students for the world will also get them ready for whatever test they have to take, rather than the other way around.
I know a lot more about crabs now then I did before this trip. A lot more now than I ever learned in a classroom. I wonder how I could bring that same experience back to the students in my school district? My passion and enthusiasm is probably a good starting point... good luck this year and remember to think about basic life knowledge that some of your students do not have as you shape your lessons. The extra though you put into that might be the key to opening up the world to a student. You truly do save lives.
Inspiration strikes when least expected, how do you recognize it?
Where do you find your inspiration for working with students? The challenges of teaching today are many, but yet we still see amazing things done in classrooms. How do teachers continue to do the work they do?
The answers may be varied, from the cynical view of "it's a paycheck," to the idealistic, "I do it for the kids," but no matter what is said, everything done in schools needs to be focused on the students. I am a firm believer in the fact that teachers go to work everyday because they love those "ah ha" moments that come when they are most needed. It is the carrot that is dangled in front of all educators and it is easily the greatest perk of the job.
I have the luxury to work with teachers and see them interact with students on a daily basis. The smile a teacher can put on a students face is priceless. Don't ever lose track of what a difference you can make on a child daily. Now that I am out of the classroom, I miss that power more than any other teacher superpower. Like all superpowers, great responsibility also comes with the territory, and those same words you use to inspire one student, could crush others.
I have been fighting with the idea of blogging for a long time now. I push teachers into using blogging as a class tool regularly, but have yet to really model the behavior. I often wonder why anyone would want to take time out of their day to read my thoughts. I have attempted other blogs before, and tried to center the content on the idea of offering a service like "How - To" information, but the platform doesn't make as much sense as other methods. I often read content from other blogs and learn a lot, but I wonder if the reason I get a good feeling about a blog is because of the Author or the actual written words.
I have read the book "Teach Like a Pirate," by Dave Burgess and I love the concept behind everything he discusses. If you have not read the book, stop reading this, and order a copy! The reality is teaching is a craft that requires special attention to detail. To perfect this craft, teachers monitor and adjust things regularly. I would say that it is easily one of the most fluid professions today. Through the book and the Twitter chat for #TLAP I have found the inspiration to create this blog and the Twitter Account linked here. Dave talks about keeping a notebook with him, because some of his most creative ideas come from the most random places. I couldn't agree more and I also believe that bringing the real world into play is vital for student success in all classes and beyond.
I stumbled upon three videos within the last week that sealed the deal for me to start this blog. Like Dave, I have always been a huge magic fan, and love the art of crowd control and the attention to detail required for a solid magic routine. My dream is that I will be able to make a small impact on the teachers I work with as they continue the challenge of creating lessons and learning opportunities that build skills that will help their students make a positive impact on the world around them. Shin Limm and Justin Flom have both created card trick routines that require NO words. They are both brilliant and bring to mind the concept of doing things differently. Typically card tricks center around the banter that goes with the story of the trick. As educators we must all continue to think differently as we think about how it is we are going to go about preparing students to make an impact on the world.
In a totally unrelated video, by Platinum Leadership, a Canadian company, Celplast Metallized Products discusses their corporate team building activities that have positively impacted their business. The concept behind what they did is simply to create a family style atmosphere where everyone is comfortable sharing and contributing to the greater good of the company. During the 13 minutes of the video, I just kept seeing a great classroom. As summer winds down and we prepare for the first impressions we make on students as they enter classrooms, what can you do to ensure that your culture breeds production. If we are going to build learners that are able to make a positive impact on the world, we must first make sure that all students feel comfortable enough to share and hear each other.
I do not know if I will make an impact on anyone that might read my blog, but I do know that I will continue to look high and low for inspiration as I aim to help the teachers I work with lead their students. I hope I can inspire teachers to look EveryWhere for opportunities to tie the real world into lessons as well as foster a culture that inspires students to change the world. I have no clue what that will look like, but I will be looking EVERYWHERE for things to accomplish the goal.
What are some of the things that have impacted you this summer? Will you recognize what inspires your students and foster opportunities for them to pursue that which truly inspires them?
I absolutely love the excitement in the air this time of year. As much as I hate to see summer come to an end, I also look forward to the new school year. By now educators are rested and ready to get back to a routine. Ready to try out new ideas or the opportunity to make the improvements we are certain will fix frustrations from years past. There is something special about the start of a new school year. Each one brings a hope and excitement for what is yet to come.
The end of summer also leads to the anticipation of another round of sports seasons, which reminds me of the common "hold the rope" rally cry. Coaches work hard to find ways to bring their teams together, and a sports season mirrors a school year in many ways.
Everyone starts out with a clean slate. Every team or classroom at this time of year has a chance at greatness. New stars are ready to shine, whether it's the new teacher eager to make a difference, or a player getting their crack at a starting role, anything is possible. Classroom lesson plans all look great on paper, just as a coach has high hopes for the streamlined game plans.
Team leaders are doing everything in their power to find the magic formula for the perfect team rapport, just as school leaders are preparing to lay the foundation to ensure teachers and students are performing at high levels in the classroom.
The reality of the matter is that I love sports for the same reasons I love this time of year in a school. There is an excitement in the halls, as teachers share their ideas for the things they have in store for students. Every year, my favorite teams have a chance to win a championship. Every season new players step in and take over for departed ones. Sure we know who the favorites are, but there is always that surprise player that makes an impact and shines in ways nobody expected. This time of year we get a new roster of students, some we may know, others we don't. But in that list of students, greatness awaits.
It's this time of year when teachers are at their best. Well rested, and excited about the potential. The key to a school or classroom championship lies in the same place as a state championship in sports. When is the last time you ever heard a coach from a championship team talk about how dysfunctional the team was through the year? Great teams are great because they work together and throughout the season everyone makes an impact in whatever role they hold. From the practice players that serve as "tackling dummies" to the star quarterback, throughout a championship run, everyone is important. In our classrooms and schools we need to create this same championship mindset.
In the "hold the rope" metaphor, the idea is simply that everyone is holding the rope and pulling in the same direction. For educators, excited about the new school year and all it brings, reality says the day to day grind will play a toll at some point. A championship school is only possible when everyone pulls for what is best for students at all times.
As the excitement of the new year wears off, day to day requirements pile up. It is crazy to think you can survive on your own. Just think how ridiculous it would be to play football without an offensive line. The offense would be a disaster, and if you can't score you can't win. The start of the year isn't the challenge. The start of the year is your chance to make a life changing 1st impression for your students. After that the real challenge is working together to maintain the natural excitement that is in place right now. This can only be done when you have the support of those around you. Now is your time to firmly establish your lifeline for the days when you feel you can't go another day. While you probably don't need them right now, keep in mind that support system needs to recognize when they are needed so they can lift you up when you need it most.
The anticipation of what is yet to come is exciting. If you want your classes and school to be great, make sure everyone is holding the rope. It's a lot easier to test the strength of that rope now, while your safe. As you dangle from the many cliffs you will conquer through the year, you need to be certain that rope will be strong enough. If you are lucky enough to have a solid rope and a positive support system, you will make this year a life changing year for your students.