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Sunday
Dec132015

BFTP: This too shall (not) pass

About 5 years ago at this time I was writing the draft of my book The Classroom Teacher's Technology Survival Guide and posting snippets from it for Blue Skunk reader reaction.

Last Monday our district leadership team had a conversation about human resistance to change and I offered the sentiments that this post expressed.

Being an old fart in education, there seems to be little new under the sun...

This too shall pass

As veteran classroom teacher I dreaded my administrator going to a conference. Invariably she would return with a new educational “silver bullet” for improving teaching and learning and expect us teachers to implement it. This usually meant a ton of additional work despite being already very, very busy actually teaching. And unfortunately, these new process, techniques and plans were abandoned when the next “silver bullet” rolled around. Yesterday it was Outcomes Based Education. Today it is probably Essential Learning Outcomes.

A survival strategy than many of adopted was keep doing what we’d always been doing but use the vocabulary of the new thing. We’d keep quiet during staff development sessions and quietly pray, “This too shall pass.” It was difficult not to become cynical about any change effort in school.

The use of information technologies in schools is a different matter. As we look at society in general, technology has had and continues to have a powerful impact on the way things are being done. To think that medical CAT scans, online banking and shopping, or computerized diagnostics of motor vehicles is a “passing fad” is erroneous. And to think that the use of technology in schools is a “passing fad” doesn’t make any sense either.

Classroom teachers have a finite amount of energy and time to devote to change. So why not invest in the kinds of changes that will with us, not until the next “silver bullet” comes along, but for the remainder of our careers? While technology does change – sometimes at a seemingly impossibly fast pace – the basics of its use in education will be with us for many years.

It’s the basic use of technology in the classroom that this book is about. It’s written for teachers who do not consider themselves technology enthusiasts, but still want to harness the power of the tools and strategies that can truly improve their instruction and their student’s learning.

If you are a teacher who wants the benefits of technology use but who also wants to lead a normal life away from a keyboard and monitor, read on.

Original post December 13, 2010

Thursday
Dec102015

Practices that stifle teaching innovation

This was in response to a tweet out of Tim (Assorted Stuff) Stahmer's blog post "Innovation in Name Only" on December 2. In it Tim wrote:

Over the years, I’ve met and worked with many educators I would call “progressive” when it came to using technology in their instruction (although they were certainly in the minority). I’ve also listened to far too many administrators and politicians praising those progressive teachers, saying that we need more of them.

However, those same administrators and politicians then create policies and processes that work very hard to stamp out any real innovation in the classroom.

OK, do administrators and politicians "work hard to stamp out innovation in the classroom"? And if so, how?

In my experience there has always been a constant tension between encouraging innovation and enforcing uniformity/conformity in schools. While we want teachers to try new practices and techniques that help all students perform at higher levels, there also a sense of obligation by administrators to make sure that all teachers use best practices*, teach specific content, and that their students be assessed on norm-referenced tests in order to ensure district, state, nation-wide equity.

So how I resolve this, in my feeble mind, is that we in education have a social mandate to teach to articulated state standards - Common Core, whatever - and our students are, at least in part, evaluated by the state on their proficiency in these standards. But how we teach is a matter of professional perogative. So long as a teacher teaches to the learner outcomes and is willing to be held accountable for their students' success in meeting them, very wide latitude should be given on practices, methodolgy, techniques. And creativity and innovation encouraged.

So, Dan, to answer your question above, politicians and administrators who cannot differentiate between the what and the how of teaching are those who stifle innovation. These folks are ones who demand mandated and uniform:

  • Teaching schedules and times
  • Textbooks and learning systems
  • Teaching methods
  • Methods of assessment based on norm-referenced criteria
  • Low-level "look-fors" in classroom observations
  • Methods of student discipline and student behavior (PBIS?)

I'd add that many schools don't budget for innovation. Our tech plans usually stress "equal" provision of equipment and digital resources to teachers and classrooms without a pot of money that can be used for innovate technology uses. Mea culpa.

So, dear readers, what do find in your school and classroom that may inhibit teachers being from being creative in their instructional approaches?

 

* If I were applying this to the medical profession, I want my doctor to use only best practices - until they prove to be ineffective and then innovate like hell.

 

Monday
Dec072015

Bad habits that drive co-workers crazy

You may not realize it, but there's a good chance you're doing at least one thing that drives your co-workers nuts. Brooke Howell, 7 Bad habits that are driving your co-workers crazy, Monster.com

A printed version of the article quoted above showed up in the office lunchroom last week. I don't think it was directed at me personally, but it was a good reminder that one's personal habits may put others off. The are the habits that Howell listed: [Comments in brackets are mine.]

  1. Making an unreasonable amount of noise. [I personally need to remember to shut my office door or use headphones more often.]
  2. Causing chaos on conference-calls. [My problem is not causing trouble, but staying focused. How do you contribute without sounding like you are interrupting?]
  3. Being a source of strong smells. [Both good and bad. This includes food as well as person.]
  4. Engaging in excessive chit-chat.
  5. Doing things that gross people out. [Are any of us ever aware of these habits and if we were would we continue to do them?]
  6. Touching too much or in unwanted ways. [Personally, I miss a friendly hand on the shoulder or arm, but in today's world...]
  7. Invading others' personal space. [Remember the size of personal space is culturally driven.]

I would add a few to this list..

  • Not meeting deadlines.
  • Whining.
  • Eating at one's desk.

My sense is that more of us working in cube farms has led to a higher level of awareness about how our (usually unconscious) actions impact others. I am lucky to work with a very good staff and in a building that seems 100% comprised of professionals. Lucky me, since addressing bad habits that impact others is not a favorite part of my being a supervisor.

And the bad habits that you, dear readers, find most annoying?