So, I’m tired. In the last 21 days I’ve traveled about 8,000 miles, near as I can figure, and given 11 presentations, four of them on “opening days” in front of a total of about 3,000 teachers in about a half dozen states and provinces. It’s a fun time when people are rested and ready to get back to school and for the most part engaged in thinking about teaching, learning and schooling. And it’s a good time to get a temperature check as to what’s changing, if anything, in classrooms and in schools. In a few words, my impression continues to be: not much.
That’s not to say that there aren’t more silos or islands or whatever metaphor works of teachers and classrooms with teachers who are letting students do real work for real purposes and real audiences. There are, and in general, it’s feeling like more and more teachers are taking seriously the idea that we need to start some wide-ranging reflection and conversation about just what it is we’re doing with our students. (How far those conversations ever get is another story, however.) I’m sure there will be those that read this blog and others who will disagree, who will trumpet serious efforts and rethinking things either on a personal or system wide level. And that’s all good, but not surprising. They’re reading and participating already. On some level, they get it.
But, I’ll say it again, what these condensed travels remind me is just how small the scope of all of this talk continues to be. The vast majority of those who I’ve been in rooms with the last three weeks have little idea of what is happening in the world and have given nary a thought to what this means for teaching and learning. How do I know that? By the “omg” comments that I hear as they are filing out. By the “Ugh…we’ve got a lot of work to do” responses. By the teacher/mother of a teenager who asked me what Facebook was. By the consistently less than 10% of people in the room who own a MySpace or a Facebook site. Not that the Read/Write Web conversation is the only one that matters in the context of changing schools, mind you. But it is the one that consumes my time, obviously.
Recently, after one of my presentations, the superintendent of the district and I were standing shoulder to shoulder as his teachers were filing out of the room. He’d given an extremely thought provoking introduction, articulating his desire that they enter into a district wide conversation about change, that they all had a stake and a voice in that conversation if they wanted it. But at the end of my talk, the few questions went pretty much right to the “yeah, buts” and the reasons why these ideas would be difficult to make work. “The problem,” the superintendent said to me, “is that they don’t think they have a voice. They’ve been conditioned to wait for us to lead, to tell them what they can or can’t do. Somehow, we need to change that.”
For most educators, “back to school” means “back to teaching.” And that can be good work, but it remains obvious to me that very few see it as “back to learning.” For themselves, that is, along with their students. I’m not seeing much change since I wrote this two years ago.
I hate to generalize, but the thing that seems to be missing from most of my conversations with classroom teachers and administrators is a willingness to even try to re-envision their own learning, not just their students.
I still feel that way, for the most part. Things may have moved a tic or two on the scale, but until we do that en masse, not much is going to change.
(Photo “Knives Out” by Charlyn W.)
Angela Maiers says
Will-I couldn’t agree more. This is not to say there are not pockets of movement, but as I visit schools the scope of the conversations is still very narrow-and consumed by WHAT we teach rather than WHO we teach.
Until systems, not classrooms, make the shift from teaching to learning-curriculume, content, and coverage will reign king. Collaboration, conversation, creation only become paramount when 21st century learning is addressed. Unfortunately, these are words I hear little dialogue about.
Sharon Harper says
Angela is right, until systems make the shift we are entrenched and it will continue to be an uphill battle even for the enlightened among us. I have been negatively judged this week (as a teacher who is not coping!) because of the ‘work’ that is in student exercise books. Where does one begin with a battle this big?
Bill Brennan says
Thanks again for an absolutely inspiring talk. The majority of my afternoon consisted of conversations with the staff on how effective you were, as well as follow up questions and ideas for what they want to do immediately. In addition, I was able to debrief with my administrative team and they were equally impressed with your ability to open eyes. As a future dad (in a few days) I can truly appreciate how you modeled your own beliefs through your own children’s education. The most striking comments I received was that some now realize how much they DON’T know. As a person who is addicted to my own learning, I couldn’t imagine a more intriquing presentation to help support our educational goals. Thanks again for an oustanding presentation!
Louis Loeffler says
I also sense a fear of being involved. That by contributing they fear more scrutinization. The wish that one could return to the days of putting a poster over the window on the door and then close it. Collaboration uses skills many have not yet honed – so embracing of Web 2.0 applications challenges the one teacher many students. Those teachers who already made a classroom “sing” with learning can embrace and enhance their teaching with the technologies. The “tone deaf” are unable to (with many falling in between).
Wesley Fryer captured this well in his “Live Tweeting back to School Night” – http://www.speedofcreativity.org/2008/08/29/live-tweeting-back-to-school-night/ – we need to guide teachers, and as parents be outraged when schools are not moving ahead.
You’re absolutely right. Just like in a chemical reaction, there needs to be a critical mass of each reactant in order to have reaction/transformation. Your reflections and that of other edubloggers and ed tech twitterers are not vain. Just like those who question the value of a Shoutout in Twitter: teachers new to all this need to here this. It gets them thinking. Just as those teachers leaving your presentation were saying ‘omg’ or ‘we have our work cut out’; hey, that’s great, they’re reflecting on it. Now, we also need many more of these superintendants like the one with you saying that teachers have a voice. People who are real leaders, who will work with principals and teachers and parents and the media and so on…
Systemic change is not fast enough for schools to truly be 21st century blablabla. But, if educators like you stop, man! No more adding to attain that critical mass. It’s onerous, sometimes overwhelming but oh! sooo worth it.
Time for me to tuck in my 8 y.o.after her first day in grade 3 (with a brand new teacher starting her career). She still enjoys learning at school. I owe it to her to keep on doing my very little piece at getting to the critical mass. Edubloggers inspire me, my network is my learning, so keep it up, Will!
Many teachers do not have or use social networks because they have been told by administration NOT TO. I have MySpace, Facebook and an AOL profile and have for years. Many staff members do not use the technology they have in their rooms because they have not been trained and they do not want to learn this on their own time like most of us have. Much has not changed, you are right. I have used Internet in my classroom since 1989 and been teaching since 1980. I have 120 graduate credits all in computers, with 27 taken in the past year at Drexel University (phila) in new digital technologies and education. We are trying out here to change, but sometimes administration is the roadblock. Oh, yea, my admins were given iPods, blackberries, and laptops but many do not use them….I on the other hand have paid for and bough mine own….AND I DO USE THEM
Great post….keep the message going….
Sara VanAbel says
Reading this entry on the eve of my first day back, I couldn’t agree with you more…Entrenched in online learning, my own PLN and reading, reading and reading more about how learning is changing, creates a world that (in my mind) seems so big, yet in reality–is so very small. I teach as an adjunct and each semester I ask…how may of you have heard of wikis, blogs, etc. This semester out of 20 pre-service teachers with just one to two semesters remaining…one hand went up for blogs and zero hands were raised for wikis…it amazes me. So many teachers today complain that it is access to technology…good computers, time to learn that holds them back…but I think it is their ability to take on learning themselves…to continue to explore and discover all of the possibilities that abound in the world of education…I think that even with the most up to date technology–mobile labs or 1-1 programs…many teachers today do not even have the conceptual ability to handle teaching in this new era. They would continue to use machines to word process and print out pictures to cut and paste on poster board.
I spent a very small part of my morning talking with curriculum directors and facilitators today. They’re all so freaked out about AYP and assessments… it’s all they can see! At this point, I guess I can’t blame them for that. But, they still see anything “technology” as an extra. We discussed how using better tools (e.g., authentic experience and audience in blogs vs. writing only for a teacher) could help our kids gain a deeper understanding, rather than the usual skill and drill. There were a few light bulbs going off, but maybe not enough?
I’m still not sure we’ll even make a dent this year in what we SHOULD be doing. So, our kids will be really good at taking multiple-choice tests, but they won’t know how to problem-solve or create or invent or produce… or think for themselves. My mantra will continue to be “baby steps, baby steps,” but I’m getting impatient.
Mark Ahlness says
Will, thank you for all you do and have done. Tomorrow a new group of third graders will walk into my classroom, my fourth year of blogging third graders. I am still the only one doing this at my school, and one of a handful (maybe) in my entire school district.
The slow progress is discouraging for all of us – for those who speak the vision – and for those who put their heads down and try to do it.
I just wanted to say thanks, and please keep pushing. – Mark
I definitely agree with you on that. Some, well most, teachers aren’t willing to learn about those who they are educating. Once they figure out their style, they stick to it. This mostly applies to those who have taught for years. What they should be doing is looking at how today’s students are different from those ten years ago, and try to find a way of communicating with us.
As a college student, sometimes I feel like some professors don’t care about us as students and what we are intersted in. Better way putting it is, they aren’t interested in finding a way to make the repetative facts more appealing to us. I hope that came out right.
Overall, educators must become learners too because they must understand the material they are teaching and also the audiences they are presenting it to.
Jeremy Brueck says
Hey Will, do you think that part of the issue here might be the traditional/broken way we structure the school year? From a teachers standpoint, you work your tail off for the better part of 9 months “teaching.” Classroom teachers, administrators and school support staff all know how much time and effort that “teaching” really entails. It’s draining, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. Then you get those next 3 months off to catch up with the rest of your life that you missed out on during the past 9. AT that point, learning just isn’t on everyone’s agenda.
I’ve often thought that if k-12 moved away from 180 day contracts for teachers and into a year round school schedule where teachers worked/taught/learned in some type of cycle, it might be more conducive to engaging teachers in these type of needed discussions and enable them to spend the time learning. Any thoughts?
Yes, teachers can learn from their students and students from their teachers. This is a truly wonderful video by a student that truly “gets it”. There needs to be a belief in oneself and for some teachers it is difficult for them to say “I don’t know.” But, I will try..
Example and point: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/26462525#25786242
Here is the really motivating speech given by a 5th grader that validates that children can “do” whatever they want to do in life.. They just need a passion… They want to do, create, and be counted members of our society!!!
It gives me hope for our future watching this young man.
Teachers in this case, are learning from this student… not to limit but to challenge each and every student and truly not “leave any children behind.”
Christian Long says
Will — I’m going to come at this from a slightly different position which may appear at first glance to be challenging your premise. In truth, however, it is simply a matter of voicing my own re-wiring process over this past year or so. And you already know that I (as a friend, colleague and blog reader of yours) deeply value your passion, knowledge, and voice.
In short, I’m not so sure that this trend of being disappointed at the ‘lack’ of ‘shift’ in the education community sincerely serves us beyond just further emphasizing the ‘niche’ factor of the edu-blogosphere.
I think it has become far too easy for guys like you/me (i.e. paid consultants,full-time ed-tech evangelists, early adopters, virtual network-centric mindsets, happy typers on some basic level, etc.) to use our extremely unique experiences/biases as a way to remain let down when the tides of ed-tech change do not occur fast enough (or in the right way).
Personally, I think that it may be ‘us’ that needs to re-think our intentions/approaches if we really care about the long-range outcome (not just our seat that the current networked table). And I’m no longer convinced that it is the presentation ‘audiences’ (who appear slow to drink form the proverbial 2.0 kool-aid (et al) on some grand societal level) that need to be re-trained. We’ve had half a millennium to gather our wits re: the printing press. Expecting/demanding it in terms of the 2nd iteration of the Net in a blink of that same time frame makes me a bit nervous (even if I am already sold).
Let me explain.
As you know, I’ve returned to the classroom after several years of doing a version of what you now do: flying the country/globe and giving similar keynote/workshop talks to audiences big/small, being a consultant that was compensated well for being a future-think provocateur for educator/school architect audiences, and deep-diving into the practical/theoretical edges of emerging tech as it leans into the ‘education’ sector. In fact, this is my 2nd year back as a full-time teacher, advisor, coach, and whatever else the school needs. I did not get hired to be a ‘change agent’ nor a tech-evangelist. I was simply asked to do what caring/competent teachers around the globe have been doing for generations long before anything shifted on a digital level. And while my classroom/curriculum is loaded with digital loveliness, I rarely believe it is what really matters when it comes to the kids I serve or the folks I teach beside.
What quickly became obvious as I entered my new school was that trying to spike the faculty room water cooler with a billion bits of digital edu-wunderlust would have missed the most critical point of all: if it doesn’t resonate in the heart, it matters little in the brain.
My colleagues — fresh out of college and seasoned professional alike — care deeply about their kids and use a plethora of responses to explain what they mean by ‘great’ teaching. The few times I’ve foolishly assumed that folks needed to get with the digital party to improve their teaching and students’ experiences — the old consulting/speaker voice that is oh-so hard to shake — I’ve come to realize how out-of-turn that assumption soon becomes.
Sure, wikis and blogs and podcasting and Skype video chats and all the rest can have a significant impact on what we call school. Same with understanding Facebook and Ning and the billions of other social media apps out there. But my colleagues do not need to be led to water to become proof-of-concept for my comfort zone. They deserve, on the other hand, to be complimented for the remarkable work they do in a tectonic-shifting point in history…and reminded to focus the tools around the real-life passions that they have in their own out-of-school worlds.
I wish every speaker/consultant that was blessed enough to have a paying, ticket-holding, captive audience would slam on the brakes when it comes to “here’s how it can be used in your classroom on Monday!” approach…
…and shift entirely to the “What matters to you deeply? What are your passions? What do you what do you want to learn — deeply learn — as a human being, not just as a teacher? And how wide a circle of friends/colleagues do you want on that journey?”
I wish they’d follow it up with a: “Great. Then let’s start with what matters most. YOU — as a human being — doing something that matters deeply to you long before we even begin to worry about how to integrate it into a classroom next Monday/semester.”
And I wish that they meant it.
Because the shifts we’re all really talking about, bragging about, debating about are decidedly human shifts, not technological or organizational shifts.
People are therefore slow to change because we (as edu-bloggers and consultants) are appealing to the wrong part of their body/soul. And in ways that are so hard to grasp when we’re driving the conversational train.
While guys like you/me have the privilege of being paid to speak in front a very diverse range of audiences with the license to “shift the needle”, the truth is that the change happens one heart at a time. And it often happens late at night when it has nothing to do with curriculum, publishing student work, or facilitating a robust del.icio.us fueled network.
For what it’s worth:
Since we last spoke, I ended my 3-year run as an “edu-blogger” (in spite of all the link-reach, ego-scratching, and networking that it naturally affords). The time had come.
I’ve chosen instead to focus that same energy as a ‘blogger’ (and digital fan-boy) on my own son (and child-to-be) and ‘inside’ my classrooms with my students/parents as the only folks who matter, far away from the daily 2-way input of the global ‘network’ (although the links are available for those who are curious).
And here’s the irony:
What my kids/colleagues are doing are precisely what you/others are aching to see more and more of…
…and yet at my school (for example) we’re decidedly not advertising it. We’re not posterboard workshopping about it. And we’re not hosting a global CoverItLive session to showcase it as a case study to move the larger 2.0 compass around the corner. In essence, by not broadcasting the way that we could, we are in some ways adding to the impression that it is not actually happening. Ironic.
Perhaps the blogger case studies no longer matter. Perhaps the early adopter need to showcase yet another case study has come and gone. Perhaps it is time to just get down to the work that mattered long before the digital elves came our way…and appreciate the smaller scales of change in more localized contexts where teachers and students do what they do.
While 2.0 promises never-ending manna from the heavens in terms of ‘global’ synapses firing left/right, I can’t help but now believe — after being at the 2.0 speaker’s podium many times over — that we all owe our own kids/colleagues much, much more…
..right here, right now.
Again, I offer this less as a challenge to you, Will. I trust your thinking-out-loud process here and know where you’re coming from as a dad, an educator, a speaker, a friend, etc.
All that being said, however, I can’t help but wonder if we’re collectively asking the wrong questions because we’re too close to the windshield, and moving way too fast in the process.
For what it’s worth.
Will Richardson says
As always, appreciate the time and thoughtfulness you bring to the conversation. You don’t really think you have stopped blogging, do you? ;0)
Just a couple of responses. When you say:
…that’s my message. I tell my audiences don’t think about kids, classrooms, schools etc. until you have reflected deeply on what this means for you in the context of your passions. I totally agree that this is about learning before it is about teaching. And, believe it or not, I really do mean it. ;0)
And it’s good to know that you are flying under the radar at your school with your work in these areas. Maybe I don’t see more of that type of work because schools like yours don’t ask me to come visit. ;0)
Finally, as I said to Gary below, I don’t think good passionate, care-about-kids-first teaching and these technologies are mutually exclusive. Sometimes it feels like people think you can’t care for kids and make fertile use of technology. Again, however, I think that stems from a lack of personal practice and passion around what’s possible.
Really appreciate your thinking Christian.
Karl Fisch says
@Christian I have to (have to, I say!) disagree with one thing you said – that you weren’t hired to be a change agent. I think that’s exactly what you were hired to be.
Re-envision. That is exactly what we need to be able to do. I am so tired of the excuses teachers give me: “no time, not a priority, too many other things to do. I just can’t do it. Not capable.” I think to myself, geez, what if the kids fed them that attitude for everything they require their students to do (doesn’t happen to often in elementary)? Why can’t they realize that they should be the models of what they wish for in every student? To try their best. To take risks. To venture where no man has gone before! The 70s were great. Good times. But let’s not be stuck there. Time to leave the 20th century behinds, folks. And move on. All the land has been explored. It’s time to explore new realms.
Gary Stager says
I remain unclear about the urgency of your message and the “new promise” of the technology you promote. How are rank and file teachers supposed to feel about it?
To many teachers, you’re speaking martian. You’re George Jetson with a ponytail. 🙂
I fear that all of this PLN/Web 2.0 stuff on one hand sounds exotic and on the other hand is not revolutionary despite your enthusiasm. Add to this ambiguity the implied dire consequences of inaction and it may be very difficult to win teachers over.
However, you need not worry too much about this since schools obviously want to hear what you have to say. The question is, will they have you back and what will you tell them as Step #2?
That is why I work regularly in urban schools, with “at-risk” students and in contexts where people normally care very little about, like the teen prison where I spent three years. In all of those contexts I expect much of the kids and create multiage interdisciplinary project-based non-graded environments so that even a casual observer has to think, “things need not be as they seem.” I video record as much as I can so I may share the lessons learned with audiences around the world.
Without creating radically different models in real places with real kids for people to observe and consider, the message is no more relevant or compelling than the tips and tricks guys who have been leading PD sessions for decades.
I share your frustration. In the 1980s I could teach 12-week Logo classes and districts would pay for them. In the early 1990s, “laptop schools” would hire me for months at a time to do anything I thought would benefit any child or educator in their school. Now, like you I get to perform for an hour or two while the school’s goals become more modest and its practice more conservative. That is a failure of leadership beyond our control.
We know what to do. Seymour Papert spells it out in 3 books and countless articles. John Dewey, Angelo Patri, Herb Kohl, Dennis Littky, John Holt, Loris Malaguzzi and countless others provide blueprints for how to educate all children. When are we going to do it?
Seriously, why does a teacher need a Facebook or MySpace page? I don’t. I don’t need either. I don’t need Second Life either. It doesn’t matter how neat the technology is or that other people are excited about it.
I’m a lot more concerned by teachers who don’t read the newspaper, go to concerts, attend lectures, have active hobbies or work with the teacher next door.
It’s not our job to convince teachers to be humans living in 2008.
If a teacher has not used a computer by now for personal reasons, constructivist computing projects are unlikely to ever exist be found in their classroom.
Social networking can’t and won’t cure “teacher isolation.” Let’s face it. If a teacher does not work with colleagues in their school or district, they are broken. The system is not to blame for being a loner.
The advice of my friends Seymour Papert and Idit Caperton is useful. “It’s OK to worry about what to do Monday if what you do Monday points to what you hope/plan to do SOMEDAY.”
When I have the privilege of speaking to an audience, I assume that I will never see those people again and therefore need to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. The message needs to inspire and provide a compelling reason for the audience to raise their game on their own.
Keep the faith,
Will Richardson says
Thanks, as always, for these thoughts, Gary. Glad to now know why they look at me funny.
I remain convinced, despite your skepticism, that this is different, and that it is important for educators to understand and contextualize in their own learning. And it has little to do with “how neat the technology is or that other people are excited about it.” The realities of the world right now require it, for at the very least, if I’m going to continue to send my kids to school as we know it, I want adults in the room who can make sense of the technologies that my kids are and will be using. And, I want adults in the room who can help my kids understand how to maximize the connections and relationships we can build outside of our physical space. Our ability to connect, as we are doing here, on the scale that we can do it using the Web, is different from making physical space friends as I think you put it in another comment. (Apologies if it wasn’t you.) Whether you want the world to be changing in these directions is a different conversation, one that will probably find even more frustration.
What continues to niggle at me in our very civil back and forth (and I appreciate that, btw) is the sense that I get from your comments that we can’t have it both ways, that Papert and Dewey can’t co-exist in the same sentence as Seely-Brown or Lessig or Wellman. And at times, I think you assign a much broader scope to my work, which, perhaps by circumstance, is primarily aimed at adding a few new brush strokes to a long held picture of what learning looks like and challenging teachers to examine that in their own practice. And, if I do a good job of it, to get schools to start some conversations about what it means to prepare kids for living and learning in this age in asmuch as we agree that the technologies make it different. (And maybe we don’t agree on that.)
You’re right, there are already lots of models out there for educating kids in more effective ways. None of it is ever going to occur in any meaningful way until we get teaching and learning out of the box it’s been in for (fill in the blank) years.
And so, yeah, I’m frustrated. But I don’t in any way feel that it’s less important or less relevant work to challenge these assumptions. I feel privileged that I have that opportunity.
Maybe you don’t need a Facebook, or other “social network” tool, but teachers do need to understand the function of these tools beyond being considered social/personal/dating sites. This one type of tool, amongst others, is how many businesses and institutions function now (ask NASA, ask recruiters, ask AROUND). Whether it’s Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter… it doesn’t matter what the tool is. What matters is that educators are familiar enough with the tools that they don’t dismiss them or disrespect what they can provide.
Many of the teachers with whom I work respond that “kids need to get a life instead of spending all their time on Facebook, MySpace, or YouTube.” While I will admit that many kids spend an inordinate amount of time on gossip and uploading inappropriate materials, including photos or videos of themselves, MANY kids are learning about the democratic process, philanthropy, and the mere process of networking with other human beings through these tools. Skip through the garbage and you will find some amazingly connected and socially aware individuals… and most of them are under the age of 21.
It is absolutely essential that educators understand this and are able to dialogue with students in an intelligent function. As I work with teachers and discuss this point, some of them actually say, “Wow. I never knew kids were involved in those kinds of positive activities.” If more people only knew…
As teachers, it is our responsibility to prepare our young/adult students for the world and what they can expect to see and use in the future. Sure, we need to make sure students are able to take their standardized tests..etc. But, are they ready to think “outside the box” and utilize new and useful tools that even businesses are using to creatively grow and keep their customers. For instance, blogs are fun.. But, they can and are becoming marketing research tools for big business. This video proves it!
If we want to remain competitive and grow rather than just status quo, we need to make sure our students know and use these tools of the 21st century.
Will, keep up the good work. Don’t get so frustrated!! Some teachers,unfortunately, may use these tools only when they are told they have to.
Elsebeth Hurup says
I donâ€™t think the point is for teachers to be on Facebook or Twitter or whatever, and I have serious doubts about Second Life, which I simply canâ€™t get the hang of, despite my fascination with most things technological. I also believe that we should stay clear of any idea that Web 2.0 is the one-size-fits-all answer to our educational prayers. There are many great ways of teaching without technology, and Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll continue to use whatever method we have found helpful and productive in the past.
What I find important, though, is this: ever since I seriously began thinking about how to incorporate IT in my teaching, I have become creative beyond my wildest dreams â€“ there are so many things I can do now that I couldnâ€™t do half as well just a few years ago. I teach English as a foreign language at a college of education in Denmark, and to language teachers, Web 2.0 is a godsend. Suddenly there is the opportunity for a real live connection to the outside world and therefore a real live reason for students to use the foreign language. Iâ€™m sure I donâ€™t have to spell out all the opportunities that are opening up for language learning these days, and I see my own students beginning to understand what it all means for the way theyâ€™ll be teaching English in the future.
So what is so frustrating is to have students return from their practice period, telling stories of how their new ideas were shot down by supervisors unfamiliar with, at best, more than the bare minimum of IT tools. Stories about language teachers who stick to the time-DIShonored approach of translation and comprehension Q&As with an occasional show-and-tell presentation thrown in to prove that they are teaching according to the communicative model. Et cetera. Being a terribly busy teacher myself, I understand that it may be difficult to find the time to deal with all this new stuff, but I have the hardest time wrapping my brain around the thought that a number of teachers seem to be lacking the curiosity to at least try out a few things. I mean, what is a person who isnâ€™t naturally curious doing in the teaching business?
The trouble in Denmark so far has not been a lack of funding â€“ a few years ago heaps of money were invested in hardware at most schools, but somebody forgot to invest equal amounts in training the teachers, and now much of the hardly-used equipment is outdated. Still, and in line with my previous question, why is it that some people who have made it their profession to teach others seem incapable or unwilling to teach themselves?
What to do? Grit oneâ€™s teeth and plod on. I was somewhat depressed yesterday when I suddenly realized that some of the IT-skills that I take for granted were conspicuously missing from many of my new studentsâ€™ repertoire. So Willâ€™s post hit home to a poignant degree. But today Iâ€™m ready to battle on. And I take faith in the fact that the numbers of fully-fledged Net Geners (whatever that means) entering colleges of education will continue to rise. If no one else will listen to us and our ideas, Iâ€™m sure they will.
Cathy Ikeda says
I agree that there is not enough global learning, the idea that teachers are facilitators, and that teachers can be found everywhere/anywhere. I think that is not the kind of change that can take place on a large scale in 2 years. However, I do see a jump in schools encouraging their teachers to use web 2.0 tools to enhance learning and create more authentic learning.
Andrea Hernandez says
@Christian thank you for your extremely thoughtful comment. Thank you.
@Will, you have a large audience and a lot of power to affect change. The educators you lead are your students. As an educator you should know that students don’t normally respond well to constant criticism. I understand the need to share your dissatisfaction with what you see, to stir up the conversation, etc. but how is this post and all the “I agree” comments helping to move our schools forward?
Will Richardson says
Not sure this is criticism of teachers as much as it is criticism of systems and even more than that, just basic reporting. And again, I’m past the idea that schools can move forward without first having people in the buildings who have made sense of some of these shifts in their own practice.
Andrea Hernandez says
ok, gotcha. I guess I am just expressing my immense frustration with my own situation. I am at a school with small class size, great students and, relatively, lots of resources. I was hired as a technology integration facilitator and thought I would be utilized as a resource to help make changes happen in my school. Meanwhile, I am starting year 3, and while I have definitely proven myself and have had some impact (not surprisingly with the teachers who were already doing awesome, creative work with kids and now are doing more with tech), I am treated largely as computer fix-it for printer problems and get to have the students for a once a week rotation.
The stakes are extra high as I am also a parent at this school, and see my child’s eyes glazing over as she sits at her desk and takes out worksheet after worksheet.
So, I think your post really hit a nerve with me as I am crying out for change and should be in a position to help lead others, but feel largely powerless. I waver between staying and leaving. If I look at the “big picture” over the years I’ve been here, the school and teachers have evolved. But it is not happening fast enough.
You are, of course, right that schools won’t change til the teachers make the shifts. How do we force that? Can we?
Will- I agree with you. I recently read about a young man name Johnny Chong who reflects thinking outside the box and demonstrates what happens when you go against the norm. The link to the article can be found: http://thetechteacher.libsyn.com/
I am blown away by the thoughtful comments to this blog post. It has got me thinking in so many different ways. Yes, @Christian, it is a human shift we are looking for. But when I think in terms of my own child and grandchildren, I don’t want a teacher who has doubts about the efficacy of the www or who does not challenge them to be change agents in this global society in the most efficient way available today. I don’t want a teacher who is forbidding my daughter to utilize wikipedia because “ANYONE can make changes to it” or who assigns kids to write a 10 page report for only the teacher’s benefit (what is the value in that?). And I am almost to the point where I don’t care if the teacher can’t find value in it for themselves in order to make that human shift. Because in school it’s about the kids. Get out of your comfort zone. Do something different. Stretch. Give it a shot. And don’t wait for someone else to inspire you, like @Will or @Gary. Inspire yourself. And continue to do the wonderful teaching that you do. Find ways that web 2.0 and technology can make what you do even better, can take what the kids do and publish it to the world. Can let others know that what YOU are doing in your class is making a difference.
Robert Paterson says
Good Morning Will your post rings such a bell – all you say is what I experienced in Pub Radio and TV. For nearly 3 years I too crossed the country talking with stations. But while there were lots of nodding heads – there was no change – even though death was confronting them. The burning platform is not enough motivation.
A major shift occurred 18 months ago when I stopped trying to work with the system and 2 stations that really wanted to make this change contacted me. It was all about the leadership of 2 people.
Working on a very small canvas – we have transformed one of these into the new. As we have have gained confidence, moral and financial support has flooded in. What is especially heartening is that the core of the traditional – the producers at the station – are now the most progressive and confident. The change is in their hearts.
There is such as buzz now that there are plans at the system level to expand this and to many stations this fall and of course to use our stations people as mentors.
Julie Squires says
Depressing isn’t it?
At a recent conference I suddenly realized I was hearing the same message, the same calls for change, that I’d heard years previously. Why isn’t this message causing a wave of change throughout the world? Why is change so hard?
I suspect it’s because teachers are too comfortable with working in isolation and not really ready to embrace the sharing and teamwork needed for whole school transformation.
During the conference I had one of those ‘ah ha’ moments. I realized that change is not about using the latest tools; it’s really about teachers working together and actually deciding to DO something, anything, that is heading in the right direction!
@Andrea- From a student’s perspective, I do agree with what Will is saying because today’s teachers aren’t taking students into consideration. For example, I had a sociology class that had over 400 students in it. The teacher did not think about how to keep our interest or improving our attention span by maybe doing a power point instead of just talking. And in such a big class, you can’t really hear anything unless you are in the very front row! And even then, she wasn’t announciating her words, so everything was mushed together. In the end, when half the class didn’t do so good on their midterms, she told us it was because we didn’t attend class or weren’t paying attention. Numerous students had talked her about not being able to hear or understand what she is saying, but she didn’t change her ways. She was just worried about doing what she was paid, to SHARE the information, not TEACH it. She refused to listen to us critizing her and taking in that information, and change it. With her, she was on the top of the pyramid so it didn’t matter what we said.
Overall, as a student, I have to say Will is right; some teachers aren’t willing to learn about their students or about new ways of distributing information. Because if they were really interested in us succeeding, they would do some research to keep the information interesting based on what our generation like; technology!
And this isn’t focused towards all teachers because I have had many who really were focused on us actually learning and were taking in what things worked for us and what didn’t. But there are still others who are stuck in the golden days, where no one is to talk type of deal.
Robert Paterson says
Would it help more to have a defined “project” rather than the broader idea that this is good?
With a focus on using the tools and on being different, I have found that there is more acceptance
Alex Hutchison says
I am fortunate to work with a colleague who, like me, embraces opportunities to work alongside our young teenage students in developing their self-awareness as learners and their place as global citizens. Part of the reason that they are ready to take this step is that they have been conscientiously educated by their former teachers, who are not necessarily “on the same page” as us in their educational practices, but who have managed to instill their students confidence as learners. They are willing to take a leap of faith with us because of this. I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be nice if everyone had the same vision of education we do, and sometimes we do feel a little isolated mostly because we use technology so much more than anyone else. However, what allows all of us to work together, no matter our differences in approach or philosophy is a belief that all of our students can learn, if we learn how to teach them and to appreciate the teaching strengths of each other.
Melanie Ching says
I’ve been thinking long and hard about this post. I agree that growth has been slow, but it is growth. Bear with me as I try to make a metaphorical point here. When someone decides to lose weight, there is obviously a change agent at work. Sometimes the agent is subtle (not being able to close that top button on your favorite jeans), sometimes it’s life-changing (heart attack, other health issues). Fad diets, powders, and pills may effect immediate change, but not a permanent one, whereas a healthy diet and exercise take much more commitment as the results are not immediate. Indeed a plateau may be reached, sometimes several times, with extra effort needed to push past each one. And despite this, experts know that the slow and steady approach, a lifestyle change, results in permanent weight loss and a healthier self. This is what, I think, you are asking of us as educators, to make a “teaching-style” change. Something which requires understanding and thought. Something which will effect change system-wide. Something which will not swing wildly when the pendulum next passes. Continue to have faith because that change is happening, perhaps not on a grandiose scale, but I can assure you that each of us is doing his or her part. Keep the conversation going, Will, and so will we.
S, King says
Although I could comment on many aspects of your post, Will, and the comments that followed, I think this part
struck me most at this moment. When I began teaching, teachers were charged with ‘minding the kids’ during the day, teaching them skills and information, and training them to follow rules. During ‘planning’ time, teachers smoked their cigarettes, read the newspaper, and played cards (we had a smoker’s teachers’ lounge and non-smokers one). Then, came the ‘age of accountability’ and NCLB – to which many have great objections. Yet, one of the goals I believe, of the accountability movement, was to change education and the culture of educators, so that we would realize our roles in education must go far beyond training children and developing basic skills. Yet, if you look beneath the surface of the changes in many schools – beneath the glitz of technological tools and gadgets – the broad-based change I have not seen is in the (a) belief that the role of educators is to develop critical thinkers, engaged learners (both student and adult), change agents (both student and adult), and 21st century global citizens and (b) the rigid structures and systems of K – 12 education that no longer meet those purposes and the needs of students. By and large, our school systems still revolve around age-based grouping and content separated into subject areas in a somewhat arbitrary fashion. What individual schools can do is restricted by such things as – LUNCH, BUSES, and ATHLETICS. Until we begin to challenge that paradigm, I think we will see limited changes. We keep trying to fit new thinking (and in all honesty, not new thinking; John Dewey is certainly not new) into a very old box. Tweaking will not get us there; baby steps will never get us there before we all become too old to share coherent thoughts. Although I know we do not want to throw out the baby with the bath water, and I am not saying there are no benefits from some of the things I mention (I do have a child who went to college on an athletic scholarship, but I do not believe that is the school’s mission) – we must determine what are the priorities that make the most sense for education. And then, we must build a system based on those priorities. How we get there? I think we need school leaders, district leaders, and state education leaders to be willing to lead the charge OR critical masses of people who opt for a different system that challenges public education’s stranglehold on education dollars – and I NEVER thought I would say those words!! What those of you who have the expertise, the reputation, the contact with those leaders can do – spend some time and energy there, perhaps. Last thought – if you want to see how much education HAS NOT changed – check out some of the videos our HS students post from their classes (taken, I am sure, on their cellphones, which are forbidden in school). And not the videos that take things out of context – little snippets – but those that show a full-length class. I KNOW there are many teachers doing wonderful things. I have several dedicated professionals in my school that are spending unbelievable amounts of time and energy trying to make their teaching as effective as possible, trying to learn and improve their craft WHILE they are working full time with a large class load (over 100 students). But there are far too many others who are teaching the same types of lessons that were taught 20 years ago – and were just as ineffective then. The quality of a child’s education should not rest in the luck of the draw . . . whose class they end up in!
Cierra Haslam says
As a soon to be teacher that is still in college I hear constantly in my classes that teachers must be life long learners. Since I have the up to date training right now and am not yet in the classroom completely, I have a huge focus on my learning and my student’s learning. I know that this focus will drastically change very soon and am actually a bit worried about it. I hope to stay as enlightened as you on the subject and never stop searching for knowledge for me and my students.
andrea bruno says
I am fortunate that I work in a district where they not only encourage the teachers to get back to learning they practice what they preach. We are all Blogging to the superintent about blogs..
Carl Anderson says
Why is change so slow in public schools?
Why are many teachers apparently unaware of how technology is changing the world around them?
I am no expert on this subject but I have a few hunches about what factors contribute to this.
Change in established systems is slow by design. There are numerable checks and balances in place to ensure that one new wild idea does not just sweep through and wreck havoc. Unfortunately, these checks and balances also prevent positive change from happening. I will try to lay out the role of some of these actors:
Most administrators were teachers once….Before the 21st century. Teacher performances are evaluated by their administrators. If the administrator’s conceptual model of good teaching is within a 20th century context then teachers have to fall back on that mindset and pedagogy to keep their jobs.
2. The Association
Tenure and the teachers unions are exceptional at maintaining the status quo. For as long as I know the status quo was a teacher behind a podium, with a chalk board, the door shut, in front of students in rows. These teachers took their directives from a textbook and faithfully delivered the lessons the publisher provided. Prep time was break time. Many teachers are extremely comfortable with this scenario and work together to maintain it. Change for them means not only more work but greater accountability. Tenure assures that teacher working with a status quo mindset are secure in their positions which works to reinforce apathetic professional behavior.
We block websites and ban certain forms of technology in schools on a level akin to the burning of books in Nazi Germany. Teachers are told NOT TO, and DO NOT by network administrators and school policy makers constantly with regard to new technologies. Why does censorship exist for print media? It is not the book that is banned but the ideas in the book, ideas that might upset the status quo or make us reflect or change. Why is it blogs and wikis are blocked in many schools? It is because of fear. Supporters of these forms of censorship will state that they are blocking them to protect students. Protect from what? What they are really saying either is that they don’t yet understand what this all means yet or, far more frightening, that it is not the students they are protecting but the system from the ideas that these new communication tools make possible.
My 3 year old builds elaborate environments in her sandbox. She goes out into the field next door and picks wildflowers which she brings back to her sandbox to serve as flowers in her sandbox garden. She digs tunnels and makes bridges. She often asks me to help her build castles. More than anything she takes protective measures to try to preserve her creations for the next day. She makes sure the dog toys are not in the sandbox so the dogs are not tempted to walk all over her microworld. She puts sticks up around the borders to act as a protective fence for small critters, and she will sometimes cover up her creations so they don’t get rained on. Inevitably, no matter how much she tries to preserve what she has built in sand it always falls down. The castles dry up and loose their shape, the wild flowers wilt and dry up, and the rain washes everything away.
Systems, just like sand castles, eventual fall or are reshaped by forces larger than their defenses. What are those forces for schools? What do school systems depend on for their survival? The answer is enrollment. When enrollment drops below fiscally acceptable levels the system will, just like my daughters sand castle when the moisture dries out, crumble. What could cause such an exodus? Students will leave school when they don’t see it serving the purpose it is intended to serve or when a superior vehicle to drive that purpose is available.
Exodus scenario 1: School no longer serves its intended purpose:
This could eventually happen if resources (human and/or capital) are shifted to the systems defenses in response to new technologies (both mechanical and ideological). If we spend too much time and energy maintaining the status quo we are not focusing that attention on students and learning. When the focus is on keeping the system unchanged and not on students and learning students will seek alternatives.
Exodus scenario 2: Disruptive Innovation
I think we are already starting to see this. If you had the choice of sending your kid to one school that is hell bent on protecting the status quo or another school that is flexible enough to put student and learning needs first wouldn’t you choose the latter? The charter school movement is perhaps this disruptive innovation. It is much easier to build a new sand castle than it is to try and change the one we already have.
Beth Holland says
Like many of the people who have responded to this blog, I was brought into the school both as a teacher and a change agent. What has astounded me most, is the complete lack of motivation among my peers to teach themselves. They look for professional development to be spoon fed to them in sweet -tasting, you’re on the right track, portions. I have been in several other schools prior to this one, and realize that the main issue continues to be a lack of self-learning and self-teaching. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this one.
Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one fighting the battle.
Kyle Brumbaugh says
As you know from one of the comments I made a few months back, I am in my first month of being a high school administrator after spending the last 20 in the classroom and 10 of those as a Tech Coordinator. There have been some changes for me, but this post resonates for me because of what my new district instructed us to do with teacher evaluation. When we walk in a room, instead of being in the back of the room, they want us in the front… so we can see what the students are doing. Our comments are to be focused on what the students are doing and their level of engagement. A paradigm shift for sure, but my goal is to see it create critical mass for the types of change and conversations that need to occur if the system is going to fundamentally change.
Julie Carney says
Great blog post! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on using online tools in the classroom. I am working on starting a blog of my own and you have given me some great ideas.
Like some of the comments I have read, I am fortunate to be in a district that has allowed me to provide a technology staff development approach that actually puts the teacher in the student seat for awhile and gives them time to integrate the tools into their lives…personally and professionally.
It took awhile for teachers in this program to adjust their thinking about what an effective learning environment looks like…and believe me…some still don’t see it – but I do have teachers who are teaching in a different way.
They are cognizant of our students as 21st century learners…that traditional approaches to teaching are just not cutting it. They are willing to try many different tools and approaches.
I have teachers using video chat software to collaborate between classes (one group is 2nd & 3rd grade!), I have teachers creating podcasts (themselves & with students), and I have teachers blogging!
None of this would be possible if I didn’t have a district that stands behind my program! That has made all the difference.