The whole integrating technology discussion that many have been chronicling of late has been sticking in my craw for a couple of reasons. First, a couple of weeks ago I had a bad teacher day while I was doing some training, the kind that really gets me pessimistic about how difficult a road this is going to be.
With this particular group, it was made clear that the only reason they were in attendance was that they were getting paid for the day, that any teacher who came in during the summer and wasn’t getting paid was ruining it for everyone else, that the technology wouldn’t work in their classrooms anyway, that they didn’t have time to practice what they were learning, that, well, fill in the blank. It was one of those days, and they don’t occur very often, but it was one of those days when I walked out of the room thinking “Thank god my kids don’t go to this school.”
Depressing, to say the least.
The second reason is that it’s becoming exceedingly clear that we have an outdated perception of what teachers need to be. Like David, more and more I think there is a “T” word that we should stop using, only mine isn’t technology. It’s teaching. And let me say up front that this is one of those “I’m blogging this so people will help me figure out what it is I think” posts as my thoughts are still somewhat murky. But here goes.
When we say “teacher,” what we are really saying is “the person in the classroom to whom students look for knowledge” or something like that. In the traditional classroom that almost all of us grew up in, the teacher was the focal point, the decision maker, the director, the assessor. Teachers, well, teach, or try to. We hire teachers based on how well they know their subject matter and how well we think they can deliver it to students. Teaching, the way most of us see it, is all about imparting knowledge in a planned, controlled way.
In a world where knowledge is scarce (and I know I’m using that phrase an awful lot these days), I can see why we needed teachers to be, well, teachers. But here’s what I’m wondering: in a world where knowledge is abundant, is that still the case? In a world where, if we have access, we can find what we need to know, doesn’t a teacher’s role fundamentally change? Isn’t it more important that the adults we put into the rooms with our kids be learners first? Real, continual learners? Real models for the practice of learning? People who make learning transparent and really become a part of the community?
I hesitate to make blanket statements about teachers because a) they are seldom appropriate (the statements, that is) and b) they get me in trouble. But when I ask myself what percentage of the thousands of teachers I’ve worked with over the past two years are practicing learners, I have a hard time convincing myself that it’s more than half. Maybe even one-third.
I’m not saying this is necessarily their fault. We teach teachers to teach, we don’t teach teachers to learn. Even in professional development, we teach them stuff they need to be better teachers, but do we give them the skills they need to be better learners? Do we evaluate them on what they’ve been reading? On what they’ve been writing? On their reflectiveness?
There is a section in Henry Jenkins’ book that somewhat goes to this titled “Collective Intelligence and the Expert Paradigm.” I’m going to blog about it in this context when I next get a chance (which might not be for a few days.)
But for now, I’ll keep trying to think it through. What if we hired learners first?
Debbie Harris says
As long as there are standardized tests there will be a need for teachers. If things are to change it needs to start with the standards, as David points out. But how do we do that?
Barry Dahl says
Spot on, IMO.
Learners are changing and adpating to change all around them on a regular basis. Teachers (who only teach and don’t have time for other things, such as learning) are not changing and adpating to the change all around them. They continue to teach in the same old ways while their learners continue to learn in new and different ways. That is why informal learning is becoming so much more important…because formal learning (using old-fashioned methods) is becoming more and more irrelevant.
I also run into a fair amount of the “I wouldn’t be here if they didn’t require me to” or “if they weren’t paying me extra to do this” and rarely see teachers who who are constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve and on top of their craft. They’re out there, but you have to look hard to find them.
When we go to Ed Tech conferences and workshops we love it because we are surrounded by mostly like-minded people. However, that may only be 3-5% of the teachers out there and the rest hope that we never darken their doorways.
Yes, I too am a bit cynical today.
Take care, Barry
Debbie Harris says
Sorry – the David link in my previous comment should be to here. My HTML is rusty.
Kim Cole says
I just wanted to let you know that I was one of many teachers touched by your enthusiasm for blogging this summer. You spoke to a group of about 25 of us in Kennesaw, Georgia in July. You may not have made a difference with many of the teachers who were there (they haven’t updated their blogs since July), but you did make a difference with me. Please feel free to stop by my 8th grade gifted Language Arts/Reading class blog at http://ksublogproject.org/martinlutherkingjr/ and see what we’ve been up to. I know I have not held “true” to blogging, but it is a good start, and I have high hopes for the future. Also, through my attendance at your workshop, my husband has been able to begin his 11th grade American History blog at http://southcobbhs.typepad.com/acole/ . You continue to be an influence.
Thank you for what you do. You are an inspiration to more than you might know.
Tom Hoffman says
You do have to remember your place, Will. You’re an outsider. An outsider from a very wealthy and privileged district. An expert called in by the administration to tell people how to do their jobs (or at least that’s how you’ll be perceived until you can prove otherwise in a very short period of time). It is a model which, on the whole, doesn’t work, and everyone knows it doesn’t work. As a corollary, you’re not in a particularly good position to judge the teachers you work with, because you simply aren’t going to see many of them at their best.
David Jakes says
Start with standards? I disagree. Teachers need to get past the standards thing! It starts with dedicated, knowledgeable teachers who are life-long learners, believe it, live it, and demonstrate it. If you have that, standards are simply irrelevant. Those types of teachers respect the need for a standard expectation of learning, work collaboratively to do it, find it a challenge, and make it happen.
Kimberly Moritz says
Excellent, excellent, excellent post. The curiosity quotient, the desire to become more, to learn, to try new things–all the stuff we want our kids to have–is exactly what the best teachers have and what some are lacking. They need to also be curious about the learners in the classes they teach, enough so to learn what works for each of them.
This was your best post in my two months of learning in the blogosphere. I will have to seriously consider the interview questions that I ask and include something that goes to these things. I need to hire teachers who are passionate about something outside of teaching, who want to learn and grow–thank you Will.
Theresa Gray says
Coming to education from another field that was/is not highly respected (law) I continue to be shocked by how we don’t respect one another as professionals. For teachers to not respect the experience of another teacher, regardless of whether they are being paid or not, lends credence to the perception that teachers are not learners. And that perception is probably not too far from the truth!! Whether an “outsider” or a peer, our minds should be open (as we teach our students!) to what they have to share and we should chew on it to see if it might be something we can use before we reject it out of hand. I have seen teachers react the same way to their colleagues as they have to an outside consultant – unprofessionally.
I agree with Will – our current education system does not foster teachers as learners. Coming off of two great days working with teachers on writing, I am hopeful that it is closer to one-half of teachers that are reflective learners than one third. I don’t think I have to look hard to find them – I just need to be better at encouraging them.
Dean Shareski says
I would think that because he’s an outsider that the response would be better. That’s my experience. I’m surprised the participants were honest enough to express their disinterest.
I’ve felt the same way at times when I hear teachers complain about PD by saying, “Just let me teach”. I don’t think it’s as much about them not wanting to learn as it is that there daily classroom routine is such that it’s difficult to think about anything other than maintaining sanity or even the status quo. This is partly a system problem but at the same time, it’s got to be and is a grassroots movement that we need to encourage and seek out that 1/3 group to move on.
To some extent I agree, but at large, as people see the value add of a presenter, they internalize some application, then integrate into practice.
Remember, without questioning, there is no growth…whether that questioning comes from an internal person or external, it will provoke thoughts for growth.
learners….learners…..learners….how often do the ‘teachers’ listen to the learners…what woudl the impact be of inviting students (learners) to each of your talks…let them listen, then have lunch with them. The students can share their thoughts and experiences with the decision makers. Listening to someone else explain their faults is very powerful when it comes from ther primary ‘customers’
I really enjoyed this post — and I’ve been having similar thoughts myself over the past few months. In fact, just last week I wrote a post related to this — and it was inspired by Jim Collins comments on the idea of being a “Learning Person”. Collins was addressing an audience of non-educators in this statement, but I canâ€™t help but reflect on the fact that too often I see adminstrators and teachers who fail to be â€œlearning peopleâ€ in their work. They act as if they are the experts â€” the authorities on the subject matter or on management of the schoolâ€¦ and this is where too often we fail in education. We fail to be â€œlearning peopleâ€ â€” people focused on continuous improvement by learning more about our students, our work, our learning environments, and our future.
I understand your delimma and have often found solace – or maybe just accepted reality – by recalling a passage I read years ago in Seymour Papert’s “The Children’s Machine” in which he remarks that in his experiences there are the majority of teachers to are “schoolers” by which he means just what you described – the traditional, I have this knowledge to impart – educators (albeit, often good people, well educated, intended, etc). Then their are “yearners” who are always reflecting on what is the world, what is learning, what am I doing, etc. In his mind, the “yearners” should be given their own environments in which to fly and in time some of their efforts will filter out to others. As a lifelong yearner who at age 60 has had more defeats that successes in the field (but the successes have made it worthwhile – at least personally), I encourage you to keep putting out. We appreciate it.
Tom Kennedy says
In my experience the best teachers have always been individuals who themselves are passionate about learning; people with hungry intellects who thrive on new opportunities to learn and the chance to put that learning into practice.
I attended a great workshop a few years back. During the course of it one of the presenters shared a personal insight. He said that it had occurred to him that he was never going to live long enough to learn everything that he wanted to know. Spoken like a true teacher.
Brandi Caldwll says
Hey Will, I understand your frustration. I took a job last year in a “technologically advanced” school. Well, their equipment is top notch. The teachers have training available. They just often choose not to use it. It all can best be explained by the quote my department head made to me last year when she questioned, “Is this blogging thing ‘academic’ enough for our seniors?” My answer was a resounding YES! as I went into the ongoing discourse and opportunity for voice and a global classroom that it provides. I still feel that I am surrounded by those questions, though. Our school is one of the top in the state as far as test scores and percentage going to college. I am just afraid that our old strategies are not going to equip our students for the face-paced college tech education they will be headed towards.
Dave Bauer says
Making learning, especially lifelong learning is the focus of unschooling. I think I have mentioned it before. Basically, you keep getting to the same place, making learning available to anyone who wants to learn, instead of delivering teaching.
Andrew Pass says
Will, I can honestly say that I have learned far more as a teacher than I ever learned as a student. Why, because as a teaher I have to engage myself in the learning at hand. If I’m not engaged and thinking about the material, grappling with tough questions asked by students and asking tough questions to my students,, none of my students will be engaged. I have to be a role model for learning.
At the same time, I recognize that most teachers don’t truly see themselves as needing to be learners. Some teachers think they know everything about their subject.
I once had a pre-service teacher education student of mine tell me that when he thought of California, and San Diego and Sacramento, he had no idea of the distance between the two cities. He went on to explain that he thought you could easily walk between the two cities an that there was no reason to actually know how far the two cities are from one another. This student also told me that as long as you knew when the Declaration of Independence was signed, within 100 years, it was fine. He expressed the idea that it was not important to know how to find the accurate information, either. This student obviously didn’t value knowledge or learning. (I messed up with this student; I should have found a way to help turn him onto knowledge instead of simply arguing with him.)
I wonder how many teachers feel this same way. (I’m assuming (hoping) not many.) But there are many teachers who are not eager to be learners.
Effective teachers know that we have to start where the students are, whether they be adults or children and enable them to pull themselves up to where they should be. As PD consultants it is our responsibility to determine how we can best work with teachers so that they want to learn and take the risk of trying new things. We have to model effective learning for them. (When I start a PD workshop I always say that I’m not the only expert in the room. Since I’m only in my mid-30s I acknowledge that there are participants in the room who have far more teaching experience than I have. I tell people that my greatest strength is facilitating conversation and learning, not teaching.) We can’t expect teachers to learn if we don’t model learning for them.
(Sorry about the length of this.)
Steve Dembo says
I hate to say this, but it sounds like the same education reform that has been bantered around the edubloggosphere for years. Can’t reform the teachers? Then look to the teacher prep programs. Of course, the teacher prep programs are going to design their program to be compatible with the schools they’re preparing teachers for.
Catch 22. Want to change the schools? Change the teacher prep program. Want to change the teacher prep program? Change the schools.
I had to be a downer, but I don’t think we’re going to see mass change until we get somebody in the state or federal government mandating the changes. Whether you agree with NCLB or not, there’s one thing that’s certain: Threaten to take away the money and changes will be made (of course, positive changes would have been nice).
It is one reason why I’m a fan of what Discovery is doing with the DEN. Regardless of whether I work there or not, they’re creating a community devoted to self-organized professional development. Obviously there are business reasons that they’re doing it, but the end result is something that is essentially a grass roots educational reform movement.
Otherwise, the only way that I see changes being made are the same way we’ve been doing it for the last few years. One glass of Kool Aid at a time.
Pat Carson says
I think that educators need to form their own little pods within their county or district with regard to encouraging and experimenting with technology. Sort of a tech underground movement, changing the face of a district one department at a time.
Coming up with good professional development topics can be hard – I’m part of a committee for that in my district. We have to just keep at it and try to reach staffers with ideas that will encourage them.
I head a school in a small town in India and what you say resonates with me. But I am, in a sense, going the other way and saying the reverse. I find that the teacher’s role in many schools should be ‘watered down’ and made more prescriptive.
Cut out the imagination in a bulk of the classes (not because th kids are not equipped ofr this, but because the teachers cant handle it), and focus on the basics.
Check it out on my lastest post.
Rob Wahl says
Been there too. At least you have a platform. I give a similar workshop tomorrow with beginning teachers. Perhaps it will go a bit better.
But I have to say an expert IS a learner. An expert who stops learning soon stops being an expert. (Unless your course is “outdated biology”.) I’m a former Biology teacher– originally trained in the late 70’s! Only the very core of what I was taught is still taught today. But I still use books, mags and the web to keep up with the field.
But students still need teachers who know their subject matter– even if knowledge isn’t scarce. Expertise turns data into insight, provides specifics, recognizes trivia and points out key concepts. Well studied teachers show learners the best sources, point out the cutting edge, the mainstream and the various schools of thought. A good guide knows the whole forest and can still see the trees.
All the Best
richard pierce says
What is the best way to set up a blog for my science students? Also, how would you present the idea of using podcasting and blogs to administration to gain approval. It seems like a neat way to run a class.
Andrew Pass says
I already posted one comment in regards to this post but Christian Long at Think:Lab urged me to post another:
In Hebrew the word scholar is Talmid Chacham. Talmid is translated as student and chacham is translated as wise. Together Talmid Chacham means “wise student.” A scholar is a wise student. Teachers should be wise students, as well.
Kevin Ryan says
Per: The role of teachers in education.
In CALL (EFL/ESL with computers) John Higgins proposed two models (1984), that of Magister and Pedagogue, where the magister (German) is the task-master/evaluator and the Pedagogue (Latin) is the Greek slave that tutors rich kids. For more detail, http://www.marlodge.supanet.com/magped.html.
I’ve been using this distinction to balance my classes for decades.
Meredith Broderick says
Perhaps you forget how truly boring and pointless most “professional development” for teachers historically has been.
Perhaps many of the non responsive teachers in your audience are enthusiastic learners in a forum they feel safe in, there classrooms.
I think many teachers go into self-preservation mode when they attend forced PD.
Not that I mean to imply you were boring or pointless,(on the contrary I had the good fortune to be in two of your sessions at BLC06, wonderful stuff),
This is a conversation we are having at our school. I know wonderful teachers who read the paper during pd, because years of boredom have “shut them down”.
If you spend years presenting pointless drivel and pawning it off as “professional development”, how do you get them to pay attention to anything?
Well one way is to only offer relevant, and inspiring pd.
Pat Aroune says
As I read your blog, I cannot help but think of the two terms that guide my personal growth as a teacher, rigor and relevance. As a teacher of the 21st century, I agree that we are at a crossroads within our profession. There will be those individuals who will look at the new technologies and recognize that these technologies will enhance their individual instruction with rigor and relevance; however, this enhancement forces the teacher (facilitator) to re-engineer thier individual role as a classroom leader.
In any environment, change will be lead by a small percentage (10 – 15%) of the population, trying to convince the middle percentage (40 – 60%), also known as fence sitters, of the value and validity of such change. There will alwyas be the naysayers, those (20 – 30%) of the population, whose work ethic, individual ego, or myopic view of their educational role, that will resist any true innovation, that holds them more accountable for greater rigor and relevance in the 21st century educational environment. These individuals will not factor into the equation of change what so ever! In my opinion, change will snow ball into an educational force that cannot be restrained by shorth-sighted, dogmatic instructional guardians of knowledge. I do believe that change can occur. When a group of teachers begin to re-engineer their role in the classroom and construct more rigor and relevance (i.e. blogs), the students will adapt their learning and force instructional change, either directly, or indirectly. Recently, I had a student in an Economics course reflect on the value of classroom blogs and wikis. This student commented on the value of educational blogs in understanding the content of economics, and elaborated that her intention was to continue using blogs and wikis in the upcoming school year, in a class that would not be using these tools. She simply bucked the instructional institution and plans on bringing these tools into an environment, where her instuctor, a very senior and experienced teacher, has no plans to implement these tools. In essence, the tail (students) will begin to wag the instructional dog, and teachers will have to modify and adjust their role, or lose their students. The key phrase in the role of a classroom teacher in the future is student engagement. Keep up the fight!
Your loyal disciple. Pat
In 1992, Lewis J. Perlman, in his popular book “School’s Out”, wrote this (p.22):
“With knowledge doubling every year or so, ‘expertise’ now has a shelf life measured in days; everyone must be both learner and teacher; and the sheer challenge of learning can be managed only through a globe-girdling network that links all minds and all knowldege.”
Every once in awhile I like to revisit his thoughts of 15 years ago since he was on the mark for many of his predictive ideas!
If you are relatively new to the education ranks, check out this old book!