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Tuesday
Jan272015

The pleasure of anticipation

Pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory.
― Julian BarnesFlaubert's Parrot

I am at my happiest when looking forward to something. The planning, especially, gives me joy. As 2015 gets rolling, here are some things I am lucky enough to be looking forward to...

Adventures

  • Trip to Borneo for the EARCOS conference in March. The chance to do a two day hike of Mt. Kinabalu.
  • Trip to Columbia for a librarian's conference in Cartegena. Definite four day hike to Ciudad Perdida in May.
  • Week-long canoe trip to Quetico Park in Canada with grandson Paul in July. 
  • Trip to Washington DC with Paul and Miles in July (the annual summer trip with the grandsons).

House move

We are hoping to sell our house and buy one in the Twin Cities. First time in 14 years I've moved and I have never lived in a real city. It's work, but also exciting.

Book

My new book comes out, I believe in April. Great fun to mail copies to friends and relatives. And to have the project DONE! How many months before the drive to start a new one???

Referendum and work-related projects

The possibility of passing a $2.5 per annum technology referendum is pretty good for next month. I am thinking 1:1 projects, tech integration specialists/librarians in all buildings, learning management systems that allow personalization, a great collection of digital resources... A chance to make a real difference in the education of over 9000 kids. Even if the vote goes against us, there are plenty of neat things we can do with the tech we have to move the district forward.

More family

And I am in happy anticipation of greeting a new granddaughter next month!

All these great things coming up make me a pretty happy guy.

So here is my question for educators: How many things are coming up in your school or classroom that your students will anticipate? A field trip? An author visit? A special project? The latest order of new library books for ready for checkout? Time in the Makerspace? A school dance? A basketball game?

Or just the next day without school? Or summer break? 

And even worse, what might your kids be dreading (the antithesis of anticipating)? Standardized testing? Report cards? That unit on the Romantic poets?

I don't know that it is a teacher's job to make kids happy. But it sure doesn't hurt to think about it. 

Sunday
Jan252015

BFTP: Technicians - the unsung heroes

We have a "tech" meeting in our district every other Friday morning for 60-90 minutes. Both building and district level technicians attend. The agenda is usually a combination of updates, problems encountered, solutions found, short training sessions, and healthy doses of complaining about any number of things - teachers, librarians, administrators, technologies, policies, online testing problems, and, of course, district technology leadership - that would be me. Overall the meetings are productive, since among all the jobs in  schools, our technicians have one of the toughest, and these joint problem-solving and venting sessions are needed.

Under-staffed, under-informed, and under-appreciated, these men and women are the unsung heroes of making technology "work" in schools. But you see very little written about them in educational technology publications. I extended my appreciation to one tech in an old column called The DJ Factor and wrote a short piece in SLJ about keeping one's technicians happy. But unless I am just looking in the wrong places, technicians are ignored in ed tech publications.

Technicians have always been, I believe, one group of workers who are in a perpetual and steep learning curve - or need to be. (Those who are reluctant learners tend to use phrases like "It can't be done" when they really mean "I don't know how.) The shifting ground of technology impacts techs very suddenly and often without much warning. They are too often impacted by decisions in which they had no input.

While we've not talked directly about it, I am guessing our savvy techs are wondering more than a little what the long-term impact of shifting to GoogleApps for Education and Chromebooks will have on their jobs. GoogleApps is just the latest manifestation of the shift from desktop to cloud computing. While it will be some years coming, I envision that the major technology tool for both staff and students will be a personal laptop/netbook/slate/phone that holds a Chrome-like OS/web browser. These will be easily re-imaged, interchangeable, and, hopefully, maintenance-free. Fewer (or no) computer labs to keep running. Outsourced printer maintenance. LEDs decreasing projector upkeep. Wireless networks ending running Ethernet cables to new locations.

Might the building technician become the next lonely Maytag repairman???

Today, however, our techs are very busy people and an interesting discussion in several meetings haunts me:  How one should go about setting job priorities? Whose job do you do first? Some nominees:

  • the person who signs your timesheet/does your evaluation
  • the person who is always in your face
  • the person who brings you doughnuts of appreciation
  • the administrator of the building
  • the teacher in front of a class depending on the technology
  • the student needing to complete an assignment
  • first come/first served (chronological)
  • quick easy-to-solve problems first; big time consuming ones later

And I suppose you could ask the same question about the person who gets put on the bottom of the work order pile:

  • the never-satisfied
  • the hopelessly unskilled/uninformed
  • the abrasive

How about it? How should technicians prioritize their tasks? Oh, and be a lot more specific than "doing what has the biggest impact on students." I am guessing everyone will argue that what they do has an impact, either direct or indirect.

 Original post January 10, 2010

Saturday
Jan242015

When outcome becomes more important than process

... this generation of highly accomplished, college-bound students have been robbed of their independence because they have been raised in a petri dish for one purpose only: to attend an elite college that ensures their and their families' economic and social status. Instead of being nurtured towards real curiosity and a genuine sense of citizenship, these millennials are conditioned to think that everything they do is for the purpose of looking good in the eyes of admissions officers and employers: you earn good grades not because they mean you are learning something, but rather because they will help you stand out from your peers when applying to the Ivies. You engage in community service not because you wish genuinely to make a positive difference in the lives of others but rather because that is how you burnish your resume -- service as check-off box. You play sports not because they build character and teamwork and are a whole lot of fun, but because you want to try to get recruited for a college team. You study art or music not because you wish to refine your understanding of human nature, creativity and culture but because it will help you look smarter. Michael Mulligan The Three Most Important Questions You Can Ask Your Teenager HuffPo, Jan 20, 2015

Long time educator, Michael Mulligan asks why so many of today's kids are depressed, despite their affluence, their sense of social responsibility, and their ambition. After painting a compelling case that we have "raised a generation that is plagued with insecurity, anxiety and despair," Mulligan summarizes: 

... when we teach our children that outcomes are more important than process they lose the ability to enjoy learning for its own sake. Everything becomes about the end-game. The problem is that the end game - whether it turns out as they anticipated or not - is often not intrinsically rewarding."

So what's the fix? The author suggests that instead of questioning kids about grades, teams, awards, and other extrinsic measures of success, we need to help them answer 1) Who tells us who we are?, 2) Where do we want to go with our lives, and 3) How do we want to get there?

Should this advice hold true for teachers and guidance counselors as well as parents?

Not surprisingly, I learned of this article from my daughter via a Facebook share. Coming from a family that enjoys respectable but not especially high social standing (cripes, her mother and I are both in education after all), perhaps it is easier to raise children who do not simply see education as a means of attaining or maintaining wealth and power. Carrie, her husband, and her boys seem to be a pretty happy crew and I would imagine that indirectly they ask my grandsons Mulligan's three questions often. These boys get good grades, they participate in music and sports, and are active in church and scouting. When they do community service, I rather doubt it will be for a little extra gloss on the Harvard application form. Thank goodness.

Read Mulligan's post.