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BFTP: What professional materials do you actually read?

Today ... it's the difficult work that's worth doing. It's worth doing because difficult work allows you to stand out, create value and become the one worth choosing. Seth Godin

Spring - the season of discontent. At least is always has been for me. As the weather gets nicer and the bike trails clear, the lawn and flower beds peep out from under melting snow banks, and the end of the school year gallops toward us at a breakneck pace, I always question whether I belong in education at all. Wouldn't I have made a better forest ranger, electrician, pharmaceutical salesman, or long-haul truck driver? As I wrote in a column some years ago:

Spring has always been the time I seem least content with being in education. I am usually pretty fed up with the antics of students, teachers, administrators and a few parents. I am actively questioning whether I actually taught anybody anything during the year or any of my department’s initiatives did anything for kids. I am worried about the next round of budget cuts. 

This spring it seems that I am not the only one suffering from this malaise.  I received this question from a friend in Wisconsin last week:

I believe a great deal in professional organizations, as I'm a member of several, but I'm starting to get a little tired of ISTE's Leading & Learning. I just don't find it a compelling read for some time now ... do you feel the quality of L & L is slipping? Or am I getting to be an information snob?

Hmmm, I find myself skimming rather than actually reading most education journals, not just L&L. In fact, I am skimming a lot more professional reading period, whether is a book, a blog, or a white paper. But is the reason the content, the sheer glut of content gushing past, - or is it personal boredom?

In his little diatribe "Please stop spreading manure," Gary Stager writes:

Almost daily, a colleague I respect posts a link to some amazing tale of classroom innovation, stupendous new education product or article intended to improve teaching practice. Perhaps it is naive to assume that the content has been vetted. However, once I click on the Twitter or Facebook link, I am met by one of the following:

  1. A gee-whiz tale of a teacher doing something obvious once, accompanied by breathless commentary about their personal courage/discovery/innovation/genius and followed by a steam of comments applauding the teacher’s courage/discovery/innovation/genius. Even when the activity is fine, it is often the sort of thing taught to first-semester student teachers.
  2. An article discovering an idea that millions of educators have known for decades, but this time with diminished expectations.
  3. An ad for some test-prep snake oil or handful of magic beans.
  4. An “app” designed for kids to perform some trivial task, because “it’s so much fun, they won’t know they’re learning.” Thanks to sites like Kickstarter we can now invest in the development of bad software too!
  5. A terrible idea detrimental to teachers, students or public education.
  6. An attempt to redefine a sound progressive education idea in order to justify the status quo.

I don’t just click on a random link from a stranger, I follow the directions set by a trusted colleague – often a person in a position of authority. When I ask them, “Did you read that article you posted the link to?” the answer is often, “I just re-read it and you’re right. It’s not good.” Or “I’m not endorsing the content at the end of the link, “I’m just passing it along to my PLN.”

Despite the fact we disagree on many issues, Gary, I am right there with you on this one. I get the sense too many "experts" are more concerned about being the first to tweet or blogging the most links that any sense of vetting has gone by the wayside. Nothing should be "just passed along to my PLN" without some kind of personal commentary explaining why the piece is worth sharing. (I still think we'd have a better, more discriminating social network if we had to pay for each posting. See The Signs of Over Communication.)

As readers and writers, are we doing "the difficult work that's worth doing?", as Godin asks?


Original post April 29, 2013

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