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Sunday
Dec112005

Apology to tech directors

I just re-read my last entry and it sounds like I am beating up on tech directors. This was NOT my intent. Brother and sister tech directors, we are truly caught between a rock and a hard place with our goals. My department's lament (taken from some advertisement) is "maximum expectations with minimal resources." Much of what we want and need to do is frustrated by school administrators, legislators and a plain old lack of funding. From Machines Are the Easy Part; People Are the Hard Part:

If you can't afford the whole cure, don't even start it.

I call this the Antibiotic Law of Educational Change.

If you get a prescription to kill a germ, you are sternly warned to keep taking the medicine until it is gone – not just until the symptoms disappear. If you don’t, the bug can come back, strengthened by new resistance to the antibiotic.

We in education kill ourselves by ignoring this rule. We formulate a budget for a program, a grant, or a project then happily accept less than the full amount of the funding request without changing the promised result. We then get half-assed results that demoralize the participants and increase the skepticism of those who funded us.

Don’t accept project funding if it is not for the full amount or make clear that the reduced amount will affect the outcome, and redefine your objectives.

As a tech director, I am more than willing to take responsibility for some of the unmet demands in the Manifesto below - but not all of them!

Sunday
Dec112005

The Teacher’s Technology Manifesto

(A short riff on an earlier posting "When Techies Don't Get It.")

Dear Technology Director:
I will enthusiastically embrace technology only when the following conditions have been met:

  1. Teaching students technology skills is a priority.  Until the high-stakes tests and state standards require that I teach technology skills, I will focus my teaching efforts on what is tested and mandated. Our school board goals are all about reading, writing and math. Until my bosses tell me technology skills are important, I will not spend a week in a lab teaching with technology something I can teach in a day with paper and pencil.
  2. Technology use is supported by research showing it is more effective in teaching skills than traditional methods. Until there is unbiased research that shows I can more effectively teach basic and content area skills using technology than traditional methods, I will not change my teaching methods. I will continue to advocate for school budgets be spent on smaller class sizes, better library programs, art and music programs, and services for special needs students.
  3. Technology in my school is reliable, adequate, and secure. I use the telephone, the overhead projector and the VCR in my classroom because I can count on them working. I will not use computers, LCD projectors, and the Internet unless they work 99% of the time. And if you ask me to create lesson plans for when the technology works and when it doesn’t, I will dope slap you. If I have 30 children in my class, I need 30 computers actually working in the lab. And effective means to reduce my worries about online stranger-danger and inappropriate websites.
  4. Technology use is proven to be safe and developmentally appropriate. Science just doesn’t know the impact of staring at computer screens or using keyboards on small human beings. We do know childhood obesity is on the rise because too many children are inactive. Please let me know when playing with blocks on the screen is proven as beneficial as playing with blocks on the floor.
  5. Technology comes with support people with interpersonal skills. I am neither a child nor an idiot nor a fool. Don’t treat me like one. Let me run my own mouse when learning something even if it takes a little longer. Use English when explaining something and tell me only what I need to know. And cut out the cute asides like calling a problem an SUD (Stupid User Dysfunction). I have a Master’s degree. I also need timely technical support. If I have to wait three days to get my computer working again, I will develop a negative attitude.
  6. Technology comes with effective training. Classes about a technology that I might someday use taught by an instructor who hasn’t been near a classroom recently are worthless. Teach me in a small group about the things I want and need to do today to be effective. And how about a little follow-up? We are finding Professional Learning Communities effective in implementing other kinds of pedagogical change. Take a hint.
  7. Technology is a genuine time-saver. I will not learn to use technology to make someone else’s job easier. I resent having to login three times to get to an application, especially when the usernames and passwords are all long and impossible to remember. I understand the importance of security – but it needs to be balanced with convenience.
Two pieces of advice:
Make sure a committee made up of a wide-range of stake-holders develops technology plans, budgets and policies. You want me to use technology, give the users a say in how it is used, deployed and controlled.

Remember that as a teacher, I consider myself first a child-advocate, second an educator, and only third a technology-user. You might consider thinking of yourself in those terms as well.

_____________________

Classroom teachers and librarians, what else needs to happen before all teachers embrace technology? 

Saturday
Dec102005

Being funny

Here’s a question I’d never had posed before:

 “How can I be funny?”

The question came from a perfectly sincere and seemingly very nice woman during a break at one of the workshops I gave last week for the Wake County, NC, schools. It seems the person who previously held her position was a very funny person and she’d been getting comments from her staff comparing her to her predecessor.  According to them, she’s coming up short in the humor department. Since I use humor in my workshops as much as possible to get attention, establish a relaxed working atmosphere, and make the occasional point, I guess she thought I was the go-to guy for advice about being funny.

I really didn’t know what to say. I simply advised her not to try to be funny or memorize jokes, but to use stories whenever she could to illustrate her ideas. I’ve advocated telling stories for a long time (See Once Upon a Time) and it was heartening to read Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind saying that storytelling and play  are  “conceptual age" skills.

Had I the chance to think about my response a bit more, I would have added, “And tell stories that are self-deprecating when possible.” Of course this is very easy for me to do since I have so many stories that may seem to be self-deprecating, but in which I am just telling things the way they actually happened.

There is of course danger in using humor. A joke can fall flat and you wind up looking like a real dork. A funny story is rarely funny if not told well. Forgetting the punch line tends to blunt the impact somewhat. Much humor is or can be interpreted as racist, sexist or otherwise offensive. And of course there are times when humor is inappropriate – as your wife is trying on new clothes, when talking to the immigration official at Canadian customs, or during a negative performance review with your boss.

There is a less obvious, but perhaps more important, caution about humor as well. Pain, discomfort or embarrassment are at the root of many things humans find funny. Slipping on a banana peel may bring peals of laughter to the viewer, but it doesn’t bring even a smile to the slipper. Humor at the expense of others is often just plain mean. That’s why self-deprecating humor is a wise choice. When you are the butt of the joke, you are fairly safe.

From Machines Are the Easy Part; People Are the Hard Part:
34. Work a little humor into every communication effort.
What did Ole say when the Kinsey Sex Survey called and asked him if he smoked after sex? “Don’t know. Never looked.”
All right, it’s an old joke, but it made you keep on reading. There is really no excuse whatsoever not to26.jpg inject at least a little humor into every communication effort you make. It’s a mistake to confuse dryness with professionalism.

If you want the head paying attention, you have to get the heart involved. Humor is probably the easiest way to evoke an emotional response. (A groan is an emotional response, right?) You can elicit anger, fear or sadness to get attention as well, but for my money smiles do the job better.

 Oh. I wouldn’t make my jokes any racier than the one above.

What advice would you give to someone who feels they need to be “funnier?”
______________________


Thanks much to all the wonderful people who attended my presentations in Minneapolis, Raleigh, and London, Ontario this past week. It was an exhausting, but also energizing few days. Your kindness and hospitality were much appreciated.

A few weeks at home now until heading to the ICE conference in Indianapolis the end of January. Looking forward to spending some quality time doing E-rate 470s in the district.