A time for change…

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I recently came across Tom Whitby’s insightful blog post, “Educator Fear and Discomfort.” His post provided me with some important perspective on how we approach integrating technology and learning.

Whitby highlights two counterproductive beliefs that stand in the way of fully integrating digital tools into the classroom: 1) that all kids are digital natives who know everything about technology and 2) that teachers cannot make mistakes in front of students. These beliefs coupled by a misguided notion that before a teachers can use technology with students they must know everything about the technology and all applications. Whitby correctly points out that this is simply impossible given the incredible pace of change.

The constant in education should be the learning and not the status quo. If society is moving to change at a rapid pace, then we need to develop in our children the skills and abilities to change as well, and that requires the same abilities in the educators who are charged with teaching our children.

Integrating digital tools into the learning process shifts “the learning dynamic for teachers and for students.” As he notes,”It requires a commitment to life long learning which goes beyond just the words.” In short, we must practice what preach.

He concludes by emphasizing that: “…we can better educate our students if we better educate their educators. We should never hold up our past as our children’s model for their future.”

Whitby’s post serves as an excellent reminder to educators who are focused on preparing children for their future, not our past.  Our work toward this goal needs to be focused on the learning first, not the devices. And, more importantly, bringing new digital tools into the classroom must be guided by a commitment to creating the conditions that make it possible through training, support, collaboration and encouragement for educators.

What are some ways that we can create the conditions that make this kind of transformation in teaching and learning a reality for students and educators?

Back to the Future?

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This morning I read a thought-provoking blog post by John Bernia, “The Landscape has Changed, the Skills are the Same.”

In his post, Bernia argues that what many refer to as “21st Century Skills” are really no different than the skills that successful people in the past have needed:

If Doc Brown and Marty McFly were here to fly you “Back to the Future,” and we arrived in 1955, the skills and habits of successful people would be identical to those which are now cited as 21st century skills. Leaders and innovators of the mid-20th century had to solve problems, communicate and work with others.

Bernia concludes that: “The skills are not new. The landscape, tools, pace and communication medium are.” He calls upon educators to change our strategies by embracing  “the new landscape and tools” and remembering “that the skills that learners will need to succeed in the future are no different today than they were 58 years ago.”

His post really got me thinking about the essential skills and habits of mind that our students will need for their success and how they compare with those of the past. Are the skills really the same? Continue reading

On the moral obligation of sharing

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I’ve been developing a personal learning network (PLN) through Twitter and online forums for the past few years. I found my initial forays into social media to be a bit disorienting. The flow of information was overwhelming. It was difficult to get my bearings. But, I stuck with it — dipping in, then stepping away, and then returning. I found it to be a process — at first I mainly “lurked”, viewing the contributions of others, then gradually I began to share and engage with others.

Through this process, I have discovered what Lyn Hilt (@L_Hilt) has referred to as “Effort In = Reward Out.” Along the way, I have benefited in real ways from the ideas, practices and insights shared by the amazing and thoughtful educators who are part of my PLN. Engaging with the work of others has nudged me to take risks, pushed me to think more deeply, and opened up new ideas for empowering students in their learning.

In the (tongue-in-cheek) words of George Siemens, these powerful learning experiences led me to conclude that “My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever!” Siemens’s piece challenged my thinking about PLN’s, in general, and helped me to think differently about the importance of my network and my place within it. Continue reading

Into the Stratosphere

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I just finished reading Michael Fullan’s, Stratosphere.  In this book,  he outlines how: “the ideas embedded in the new technology, the new pedagogy, and the new change knowledge are converging to transform education for all” (p. 3).  Fullan’s book resonates with a driving question I have grappled with in my own work.  How do we create meaningful change throughout our system to truly innovate teaching and learning?

Fullan’s argument is something to consider as we work to make our schools and systems more responsive to the students we serve. In some ways, Fullan’s book treads familiar ground. In his earlier writing, Fullan has correctly warned that technology as the solution can be the “wrong driver” for school reform if it is not paired with “smart pedagogy.”

In Stratsophere, Fullan issues a similar warning.  I agree with him. We should not mistake the tools for actual student learning. Using upgraded technology will not automatically transform pedagogy. Continue reading

Moving forward in the face of fear

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one’s fear.”  — Ambrose Redmoon

In my work, I frequently hear profound trepidation about the big, wide world of social media. The chorus of voices bemoans the ubiquity of Facebook and issues cautionary tales of how social sites are diminishing our personal connections to others. And on and on…

Underneath this reluctance, I hear a genuine sense of fear — fear of our world spinning out of control. In an effort to regain some semblance of control, there is a tendency to react by wanting to “shut it down.” Instead, I’d like to urge us to be courageous in our leadership and move forward in the face of fear.

As Redmoon’s quote suggests, being courageous does not mean “the absence of fear.” Rather, it is “the judgment that something else is more important that one’s fear.” As educators, I would also add that our ability to prepare our students for their future and to engage with our communities to accomplish that goal, in a world that is growing ever more complex and fast-paced, is more important that our own fear.

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I recently revisited Open Leadership, by Charlene Li (@charleneli). Li’s book provided me with a bit of a road map to begin grappling with my own uncertainty. While the book is not geared specifically for those of us toiling in the field of education, I think educational leaders will find plenty of resources here to get started.

At the outset, Li assesses the new terrain which has been characterized by the “fundamental shift in power” from institutions (like schools) to customers (such as our students, parents, and community members).  With new social technologies, more people are online, using of social sites and sharing digital resources like never before. Li points out that conversations that used to take place in more private realms of offices, phone calls, and even the parking lot, are now taking place online. While these developments may make us squirm, we are powerless to stop them.

The question, then, is how do we manage our fears as we navigate forward in digital spaces to connect more meaningfully with our communities? Li offers four key take aways for educators. Continue reading

Why Twitter is the hub of my personal learning network

A few days ago a teacher in our district asked me about different online publishing platforms for her students. She was looking for ways for her students to share their writing with others, get feedback and publish their work. 

In the days B.T. (Before Twitter), I would have headed right for Google and dug in. But I didn’t. Instead, I sent out the following tweet:

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Within a few minutes, I received two responses.  Continue reading

Rethinking problem solving

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Increasingly in the twenty-first century, what you know is far less important than what you can do with what you know. The interest in and ability to create new knowledge to solve new problems is the single most important skill that all students must master today. — Tony Wagner [1]

Problem solving has been identified as an essential skill for success in the 21st Century [2]. I certainly agree. Problem solving is high on my list of essential outcomes we need to cultivate for students to be productive, engaged citizens. After all, we live in a world that is constantly changing. The challenges we face are complex, requiring a delicate balance between multiple, and often divergent, perspectives and competing needs. Who could dispute the self-evident fact that problem solving is a critical skill? It seems so straightforward. Or so I thought.

Continue reading