Sunday, April 24, 2016

Four Reasons All Teacher Educators need to visit Neligh NE

Last week I traveled to Neligh NE to work with a group of early childhhod educators. It was a long drive made longer by road construction. As I was waiting for the road to reopen I sat in my car and quietly asked myself if this was worth my time. LaDonna Werth of UNL extension invited me. The professional development required traveling almost 3 hrs each way. In between I was to speak for about an hour and a half. Having some quiet time in the car I came to the realization that, no, this was probably not a good use of my time.
Promises had to be kept so I continued the last 45 minutes to ESU 6. I took a rickety elevator to the professional development room, it was packed with early educators from across the region. K-2 teachers, preschool teachers and paraeducators were all engaged in learning. As I drove home stopped on the other side of the same road construction- I stepped out of the car to chat with the guy holding the stop sign. As we were chatting my mind was tallying the ways this and other opportunities ARE worth it.
  1. Taking in the landscape. It’s an opportunity for me to learn what is really happening in rural communities and their schools. I am a frequent visitor to urban and suburban schools. Visting with rural educators highlights the simalarities and the differences with urban and suburban educators. This makes my understanding of schooling in Nebraska more nuanced and enables me to serve all teachers and students better.
  2. Impact. Last year we visited a school in Lynch Nebraska to capture an educator who was integrating technology daily with her preschoolers. This time the same teacher was presenting leading the group. In addition, the video we created helped convince the school board to invest in more devices for young students.
  3. Reality check. Early childhood educators reminded me that devices are a nice addtion but that we need to emphasize all forms of play and learning. While I know that, the looks of caution in their eyes reinforced the need to remind mindself about the need for balance.
  4. Learning. I pick up ideas from every group of teachers I meet. This group is no different. Last year Heidi showed me how to use the Starwalk app and a projector to create a classroom planetarium. It was magical learning about the universe. This time I picked up a slew of developmentally appropriate apps.

All teacher educators should find their own Nelighs, places where we teach and learn with other educators. I will be back.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Now and Next in Ed

"Maison tournante aĆ©rienne" by Albert Robida
I spent some time at the Early Childhood Summit this week. It was an excellent opportunity to hear some innovative research. Quite a bit of the research presented was incremental, based on past assumptions and deeply linked to education as it used to be. In a sense, I find that the incremental advances in much of the work are too tied to 20th-century conceptions of education. The problem is, as Berliner noted that much of educational research is related to context and time. Once the context has shifted significantly, it becomes irrelevant.

This led me to think about the now and next in education. The NOW includes two changes:
The shift towards individualized or differentiated instruction. Technology is poised to make fully differentiated instruction possible since it decouples curriculum delivery from its dependence on the teachers thus freeing teachers to focus on guiding students and managing complex information systems needed to support students moving from different starting points. This process is far from over. In fact, I would say that we have only begun. There is, however, an emerging consensus that this is the right direction. This consensus allows teacher education, curriculum providers, and professional development efforts to focus on the task.
The second shift is towards Open Educational Resources (OER). I have spent the better part of the last decade trying to promote these practices from the bottom up. Now with federal support and some states buying in it feels like this tide has turned as well. We can produce quality curricular materials that will be accessible to any teacher and student making the proposition of differentiation affordable for any school. The shift in costs can help education agencies focus on the development of teachers and their ability to deliver differentiated instruction.

The NEXT is linked to assessment. Our current assessment systems are slaves to pre-information-age technologies. In the past snapshot in time assessment technology was the only one available. We simply did not have the technology to capture student performance in-vivo. We had to resort to a weekly spelling test and annual achievement tests. We have perfected these snapshots and now use technology to better and more efficiently capture them. In essence, we are still captive to this thinking- there has to be an assessment event that counts, that we prepare for and then celebrate. Technology and big data have opened the door on a completely different assessment technology. One that captures everything our students do and can measure it in real time. The need for snapshots has passed. If my students writing is captured electronically, then every teacher can get a report of their students spelling without a need for a special event. Instead, they can know how their students are spelling when they are writing authentic texts. Real performance for the real world.

I know that charting potential does not guarantee it will happen. I just hope that researchers and funders and eventually schools can move beyond the practices of the past to recognize the shifts in technology go beyond a more efficient snapshot to describing authentic performance across academic tasks.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

There are no Teachers in Trenches

World War I Trenches
I often see and hear about lessons from the trenches. This metaphor is used in education as much as any other field. And the concern I start with was raised a few years ago in this blog post. The insinuation is that  classrooms, the frontlines of education are very different from the theoretical discussions we have in conferences, academic papers, and administration halls. I agree that the lived experience in education is different, more visceral than an academic debate. What I am calling to change is the language of war (and football) when referring to education.

The war metaphor reminds me of the standup routine by George Carlin- about the way we use language to describe football and baseball. What I would like to suggest is that using war or combat metaphors sets a false sense of our daily lives. Yes, as educators we sometimes struggle, yes we have some difficult days. But, for most educators, life is not threatened, and the sum is more positive than negative. I think that the combat laden language sets up conflict lines. Conflict with whom? Who are we shooting at as we emerge from our trenches? Students? Administrators? Families? The Community? Politicians?

I think that the language of war emphasizes zero sum game thinking and increases teacher loneliness. It sets up a feeling of us vs. them. The war metaphor leads to negativity. This sense of war may very well contribute to teachers dropping out. If you define education as combat eventually the soldiers get tired they want to go home. We might lead a brilliant charge and Teach Like their Hair's on Firebut that cannot last for a full career.

We need better metaphors. Ones that admit the challenges and obstacles but also admits the positive, the possibility of collaboration. Metaphors are powerful in orienting our dispositions and choosing the right ones can change the way we see the world.