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EdTech Update





Overcoming the crab mentality in education

Crab mentality, sometimes referred to as crabs in the bucket, is a way of thinking best described by the phrase, "if I can't have it, neither can you." The metaphor refers to a bucket or pot of crabs. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the pot, but instead they grab at each other in a useless "king of the hill" competition which prevents any from escaping and ensures their collective demise. The analogy in human behavior is claimed to be that members of a group will attempt to negate or diminish the importance of any member who achieves success beyond the others, out of envy, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings, to halt their progress. Wikipedia

The topic of educators exhibiting "crabs in a bucket" syndrome was raised at a meeting the other day. Do teachers keep other teachers from shining out of "envy, spite, conspiracy, or competitive feelings" - or, I would add, the culture of a building, district, or profession?

Personally, I have rarely experienced this, but perhaps it is because the only teachers I get to know are the ones who don't allow the other teachers to keep them from achieving. These are the true district leaders - those who go above and beyond by directing activities with students or other staff members outside the classroom; those who serve on district leadership committees (in technology, especially); those who are unafraid to help their building administrators set goals, plan initiatives, and face criticism for wanting to move others outside their comfort zones. Those willing to speak to me, to speak out, on behalf of their students and fellow teachers. The crabs at the bottom of the bucket, I guess I just don't see very often since they are, well, at the bottom of the bucket, invisible.

Outside the district I also encounter very little crab mentality, not because it doesn't exist, but because those with whom I interact - the bloggers, the tweeters, the article writers, the conference speakers, the professional association leaders - are those who will not be held down. These are practitioners of their crafts - classroom teachers, librarians, building and district administrators, technologists - who share and provoke and envision and challenge me. And provide me the courage to escape my own bucket now and then.

I am very happy to report that I have seen new teacher-leaders informally rise in our district. We have brave souls who are creating the kinds of help sheets and guides for our new student information system that the company that produces the code itself cannot or will not provide - those written from the POV of the classroom teacher IN OUR DISTRICT. Similar initiatives are starting for our learning management system, developing a teacher-led support team to improve the ability for all classroom teachers to use the LMS well.

Schools can no longer afford, if they ever could, the crab mentality among staff members. Perhaps technology intitiatives' real worth lies not in the power of the technology, the power of bringing people together to use the technology well.



BFTP: Inventing your technology future

A section of the final chapter of the book The Classroom Teacher's Technology Survival Guide.  I'd love to hear more ideas on this topic.

How you can invent the future and take charge of your own technology environment

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Alan Kay

The biggest mistake teachers can make in technology use is to simply let the future happen to them rather than be a serious part of creating their future. But how do you do this as a teacher and still teach full time?

1. Have a personal vision of education and how technology should be used in it.
One of my favorite recipes for change is the simply stated formula: C = V X D X F > R. Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher posit that Change = Vision X Discontent X First steps > Resistance. Both vision and discontent are plentiful supply in most schools and communities. It’s figuring out how to develop a shared vision and then get the resources needed to make those “first steps” toward making it come true that is lacking.  

Teachers who invent their own futures take time to reflect and formulate a personal vision of what education ought to look like and the role technology plays in that vision. And then modify what they do – even slightly – to move toward that educational model.

2. Have a voice in school technology policy-making and planning

I often hear comments like this from teachers who are upset about the technology policies in their district:

  • "They" are blocking school access to YouTube.
  • "They" make us use PCs when I’d rather have a Mac.
  • "They" won’t let me access my grade book from home.
  • “They” won’t let me use my personal laptop computer on the school’s network.
  • “They” insist we have long and complicated passwords and make us change them all the time.
  • "They" make us teach to the test.

The question I have when I hear statements like this is: “Just who is this mysterious ‘they’?”

Can you actually name "them"? Or are "they" just a convenient scapegoat for poor policy-making procedures? Can you as a single teacher influence "them?" And are you personally working to change such decisions from being made by a faceless "they" to being made by a known "we?”

If not, you should be. It's your professional obligation.

By its very nature, policy and rule making is influenced by human values. Nowhere in schools is this more evident than when it comes establishing appropriate policies for the relatively new and often confusing field of educational technology.

Larry Cuban suggests such value conflicts present not a solvable problem, but a dilemma that needs ongoing management. In other words, policy-making is an area in which there will always be conflict, no matter how hard we work to resolve issues. Technology use disagreements have at their heart two very different sets values, resulting in two sets of priorities – one set held by the technical staff and one by educators.

Technical people have the responsibility for data security, network bandwidth conservation, and the reliable operations of far too many machines.  Techs desire rules that will decrease the likelihood of technical problems. Taken to the extreme, this results in a “if they can’t touch it, it won’t break” mentality. Limited access, over-blocking, and long-passwords are the byproduct of prioritizing security, reliability and adequacy.

Teachers want as much access and convenience as possible. Security systems requiring multiple log-ins eat into class time and restrictions on what is accessible and from where can discourage technology use and innovative practices. Those for whom access, convenience and ease of use are the primary concerns often seek home access, simple passwords, private computer use, and minimal blocking.

Both parties – techs and teachers – have legitimate points of view. And both parties are interdependent. Teachers won’t use the technology unless it works. Technicians are irrelevant if educators don’t use technology.

There is no simple resolution to this ongoing dilemma of conflicting priorities, but I know this about making better policy decisions: the best rules and guidelines are those developed collaboratively.

District and building technology advisory committees and building technology committees have policy development as a major task. These small groups that meet a few times each year are comprised of a variety of stakeholders – teachers, librarians, administrators, students, parents and community members with our technology personnel serving as ex-officio members.

Technology use issues raised are given a full hearing. I often use Edward de Bono’s PMI tool, asking about a proposal “What’s Good, What’s Bad and What’s Interesting” to get a constructive discussion flowing during meetings. It’s a simple activity in which a statement is made – “The district should allow personal computers to access our wireless network.” – and then small groups list the positive (+), negative (-) and interesting (?) potential consequences of the statement, with each group required to have at least one item in each column.

Collaborative policy-making can have two results – an agreement is reached that everyone can live with; or an agreement is reached that some members don’t like, but understand why it was made.  Either way, such decisions are better than those made unilaterally by a faceless “they.”

Don’t let “they” make technology use less productive than it can be for you as a teacher. Find the policy makers in your school and district. If there is a technology committee in place, get on it and contribute. If not lobby your administrators for the creation of one. Turn the “they” into “we.”

3. Experiment.
Educational technology use is sufficiently new that there is not a body of “best practices” all educators should be following. The happiest and most effective teachers I know have the confidence to try new approaches to teaching and learning with technology. And they fully expect that not every experiment will work.

Survival tip: Let your principal know about your experiment before conducting it, what you are hoping to accomplish, and discuss what worked and what didn’t work afterwards.

Successful technology-using teachers “monitor and adjust” during these experiments, learn from them, and then modify or discard the activities that simply are not effective.

4. Look for a mentor, coach or guide.
Find someone in the building will to teach you about new technologies. Oh, consider that this might be a student, not an adult.

5. Share information.
Professionalism requires that practitioners share their knowledge with other practitioners. This can be done informally with fellow teachers during lunch or afterschool and at staff meetings. Effective practices should be shared formally:

  • during staff and curriculum meetings
  • at in-house staff development workshops
  • at state and national conferences
  • though school and professional publications
  • in personal blogs, “tweets”, and social networking entries

Parents also like knowing about how their children are using technology in the classroom. At parent-teacher conferences, in the school newsletter, and through the local media, information about interesting units that are augmented with technology are always greeted with enthusiasm.

Survival tip: If your class is doing something interesting and new with technology, call your local newspaper and television station to see if they would be interested in doing a story. The school gets good PR and the practice may encourage others to try something similar.

6. Support others and use a teaching team approach.
The movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch and Sundance find themselves on the edge of cliff overlooking a river far below with a posse rapidly closing in. It’s only by jumping together that they have the courage to escape. What we might find frightening to try alone, we can often do with a partner.

Other teachers and especially your librarian make great partners when attempting to use a new technology or an old technology for the first time. Students can make wonderful partners when give responsibility for figuring out how to use a new technology when given that charge and responsibility.

The giant and the ants: How big problems are really solved

A tour guide in Nairobi told me this pourquoi story about how the Ngong (Knuckle) Hills just outside the city came into being.

A giant once ravished the surrounding land. The animals of the savanna were determined to be rid of it. The big animals went in first: the elephants, the rhinos, the lions. Each in turn were soundly trounced by the giant.

That night all the ants gathered and decided each would carry a few clumps of dirt and place them on the giant while he was asleep. They reasoned that they made up for their lack of size by their sheer numbers.

By the next morning the giant was buried so deeply that he never rose again. All that can be seen today are the protruding knuckles of one hand – the Ngong Hills.

As teachers, sometimes we feel that we cannot make a difference in solving “giant” problems in education. But I would encourage you carefully consider who in the long run can make the most improvements in education: politicians, departments of education, consultants, administrators -  or every teacher making some small changes every year?

Original post April 3, 2011

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Why we should all be required to move now and then

This is a very moving year for me - in both senses of the word. I have sold my beloved house on the lake and moved to the suburbs of Minneapolis, minimizing out of necessity. (I just don't really need that lawn tractor or third recliner anymore.) It's been moving as well since a lot of good memories were left along with the dock. I cried at the closing.

My school office space is moving as well, from one building to another along with other district departments - the Superintendent, HR, Finance, etc. Our new space will be nice - on the ground floor, not basement, with real windows for everyone. Yes!

Along with we few district-level employees, it seems about half the teaching staff in the district is also moving. Grade re-alignments are moving 6th grade teachers to middle schools and 9th grade teachers to high schools. A "senior campus" is closing and those teachers will be moving to a new addition at the high school. In implementing a middle school model our 6-8 grade buildings will move grade levels into proximity rather than leaving classrooms grouped by curricular areas. Several elementary buildings are moving their offices to place them directly at the building entrances for security reasons.

You might want to invest in cardboard moving boxes and tape right now.

Perhaps all of us in education ought to be required to move on a regular basis. I know I have been using some quiet times in my office to sort through old file drawers, tossing manuals and contracts and plans that are 10 year old and older. I am down to a single file drawer from about six. Some materials are going to an archival vault, but most just hitting the recycling bin. Yes I might regret tossing that manual for Windows 95, but I'm willing to risk it.

My hope is that all employees, teachers especially, will undertake a similar process - looking at old materials asking...

  • When was the last time I used this? Did it work then?
  • Does this align to the current curriculum?
  • Does this reflect the values of cultural proficiency?
  • Can I do this activity or present this resource digitally?

We all of us grow comfortable in our habits, routines, and familiar lessons. But when we move, our perspective can change as well as our location. The window view should be different looking both into and out of our classrooms and offices.