What do you notice about this picture? It doesn’t really bother me that the people are moving in different directions. In fact, I think moving in the same direction without questioning our purpose could be dangerous. In some ways this is analogous to education.
Education is filled with some of the most dedicated and selfless individuals on the planet. These people are trying to make a difference for kids in the best way they know how. Some strive to integrate technology while others question its utility. Neither approach is inherently wrong, but there has to be a purpose and pedagogy behind our teaching that is just as important as the teaching itself.
Before we dip our oars in the water we should be able to identify two things:
- Purpose: Why is the direction, idea, or path we’re pursuing important to our students?
- Pedagogy: How might the approach we take be more relevant to the lives of our students?
All students deserve the opportunity to experience a relevant and connected pedagogy that leverages the promises of the digital age. This does not mean that every learning experience needs to involve a device or Wi-Fi. It does mean that the context in which we are teaching has changed dramatically and the pedagogy we implore must be responsive to these changes. Creativity and collaboration are not soft skills that can be sacrificed in the pursuit of student achievement. The pedagogy we implore must prioritize digital age skills and tools while helping all students learn at a high level.
Perhaps a new direction is warranted. What’s your perspective?
Most people are willing to concede the world is changing for the better. Education is changing. I tend to agree and I also think our students would benefit from some additional urgency and intentionality on our part.
We have opportunities to connect and learn from others that were unfathomable a decade ago. We simply need to accelerate the merger between how ‘school’ has always been done and what it needs to be for our kids.
The evolution of technology has unleashed new levels of learning, creativity, content-creation, and sharing. However, pedagogy has not been as nimble. We have barely begun to scratch the surface of how ‘traditional best-practice’ should co-mingle with the digitally connected age. We need these two worlds to collide.
This week I attended an EdCamp Leadership Conference in Chicago where I co-facilitated a session that delved into this very topic. As part of the session we integrated some quadcopters and robotics, but the primary focus was on learning and connectivity.
The energy and sense of wonderment in the session were palpable. This had me reflecting on the degree to which we are giving traditional best-practice a ‘free pass.’ Are we more prone to question and criticize new ideas, technology, and innovations than we are to examine the status quo? Sometimes it feels as if past-practice has been placed in a protected vacuum chamber that absolves it from any scrutiny whatsoever.
What if we were able to realize a breakthrough and find a way to merge the digitally connected age with best-practice? What if we created a culture of innovation and risk-taking that made it OK to question things we’ve always done in schools?
Analyzing every inefficiency.
Advocating for students before we thought about maintaining the predictable practices we’ve come to accept as the only way.
How far could we go?
How deep would the learning and relevance be?
What’s the best thing that could happen?
Are you with me?!
We have an obligation to our students to invest in digital connections. They are counting on relevance and our connectivity as educators will facilitate the systemic transformation that’s of critical importance. Isolation in education is a choice and it is NOT best for kids.
This past week I spent several hours replacing a section of lights on our family’s Christmas tree. Each burned out bulb required removal and some intricate rewiring…which necessitated a lot of searching amidst the artificial branches laden with clusters of needles and burned out bulbs.
When all was said and done, I triumphantly summoned my wife to view the grand re-lighting of our Christmas tree. As I plugged each successive string of lights back into the socket I beamed with pride. It worked…all of the lights were back on. Then my wife pointed out a blaring discrepancy. The 50+ lights I had toiled to replace were completely different than the tree’s original bulbs. How could I have missed it?!
I took a step back to confirm what she noticed immediately. I had been so immersed in the work of replacing an individual section of bulbs that I had isolated my focus on one section of the tree to the detriment of the whole.
Many analogies could be drawn here, but I equate this experience to our educational system. It is critical that we work together and take time to connect and collaborate with stakeholders working in different states and capacities. The quality of education we provide each and every student is our collective responsibility. When educators connect kids win.
A system-wide paradigm shift is desperately needed. The utility of an antiquated pedagogy and misguided assessment practices must also be reexamined. Yet for each school or state that is entrenched in the status quo, there are countless others committed to real change; high achievement, creativity, and connectivity for each and every student.
It’s not about how brilliant any one classroom or school shines. Our students deserve a system that serves them well and illuminates the path to being #FutureReady. We can’t realize a paradigm shift working in isolation.
Educators and school leaders MUST cultivate the characteristic of “connectivity” to help realize real change and relevance. Our kids are counting on us to tap into the brightest and most abundant resource available; each other.
Call to action: Commit to cultivating skills for the digital age using digital tools to collaborate. Set-up a Twitter account and leverage it for professional learning. Reflect upon the degree to which you’re providing learning experiences for students congruent with the tools and technology they are exposed to outside of school. If you’re already serving as a “connected educator,” provide support to a friend that has not connected yet.
Professional Development (PD) is one of the most important undertakings a school leader can invest in. The learning experiences we offer our staff should exemplify current-best-practice. However, the predominant approach to PD remains systemically prehistoric; a pedagogical relic that is frozen in time.
Can we really expect our schools to help students become #FutureReady if we continue to rely upon prehistoric PD? The following five facets of PD have helped our school move to a more effective PD model that supports staff learning in a digital age:
Choice and Voice. Each year our school plans a series of monthly PD breakout sessions that empower staff with choice and voice.
Pretending that we unilaterally understand the needs of all teachers through obligatory attendance seems antiquated. This year our PD Chairperson and I talked about making attendance at our monthly PD breakout sessions optional. In doing so, we are holding ourselves to the highest standard while remaining steadfastly committed to offering responsive PD. If a staff member elects to participate in an alternate learning activity their professional discernment is honored. While this is a relatively new endeavor for us, Twitter chats, graduate classes, EdCamps, or blog reading/writing are all fair game.
Power to the People. Ask your all-star teachers WHAT they want to learn about and HOW they want to learn about it…then make it happen. Our school collected staff input using an online forum titled, “Empowered Learning.” Staff feedback and forum responses are driving our PD planning this school year.
We occasionally invite outside presenters to facilitate PD sessions, but the truth of the matter is that our teachers possess a wealth of experience and I’d trust them to present on anything they are passionate about.
Make it Count. Educators are very busy people, and teachers make great sacrifices outside of work to ensure their students are put first. Aside from the intrinsic value of learning, we strive to offer credit for all PD sessions. Attendees can register online to receive continuing re-licensure credits through the Minnesota Department of Education.
Never Stop Learning. If you are comfortable with your approach to planning/leading PD it may be a sign that you need to make some changes. This can be done by connecting using Web 2.0 tools and investing in digital connections. It also means that some of the BEST learning an educator can do is literally a click away. Harness the collaborative potential of Google Hangouts and connect with other experts. Leverage Twitter to glean new insights and access a plethora of resources and cutting-edge ideas that will ultimately benefit students. Never stop learning!
Monitor and Adjust. If a staff member approaches me or any other member of our PD team with feedback we listen. Period. Last year we offered some asynchronous PD using Moodle forums and research. We continue to integrate flipped PD when the approach supports essential outcomes. However, when I miss the mark and plan PD that is too cumbersome or “techie,” I rely on our staff to let me know.
I recently had a teacher approach me and share how impactful some of our PD and collective new learning has been thus far. She also shared some mild frustration because she was longing for more time to process, collaborate, and share with cross grade-level colleagues about their collective new learning. She wanted to go deeper into some of the previous PD we’d planned and this required time. It also required a change of course, so we are now planning to repurpose an upcoming staff meeting to make it 100% collegial collaboration….a deeper dive into previous PD. Note: I did not schedule an additional meeting…instead we’re altering the agenda for a January staff meeting to be more responsive to staff needs.
The PDF below is a dynamic document that reflects the work our PD team has done to create conditions for teachers to collaborate and learn in a more personalized manner. You can click on the image to download our 2015 PD flyer.