A paper in a binder is dead

If you haven’t already noticed, the reign of binders is over. Sure, binders still have a place–especially in the field of education–but even educators are finding that a document in Google Drive is more powerful than an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper in a binder. The cloud has allowed us the ability to easily collaborate, access information from anywhere, and link to webpages all over the internet.

Here’s what hasn’t caught on quite yet: crowdsourced videos created by educators that are embedded on an easily accessible webpage.* We’re moving there, but it’s slow going. It has taken me a while to come to the following conclusion, but I think it’s safe to say that strategies, best practices, and protocols that aren’t codified in a one-stop-shop video and hyperlink format aren’t even real.

Think of social media. Many people use the various platforms to record events in their lives. There’s evidence to suggest some people believe deep down if they don’t memorialize personal events on Instagram, Facebook, etc., the events didn’t truly happen. Traditionally speaking, this is a ludicrous idea. “Of course it happened!” one might say. “I was there. I saw it. I lived it!”

Yes, it happened, but the internet is becoming our collective memory. What the future holds, I cannot fathom. What I do know is people need short videos and Google Docs to refer to in order to learn, implement, and sustain all the strategies, best practices, and protocols thrown at them. Being able to go back to a training session (in video format) and watch something again that you may have missed makes implementation successful. A paper in a binder is dead. As far as our collective consciousness is concerned, it’s not even real. 

YouTube is revolutionary. I’m not ready to say it’s comparable to Gutenberg’s printing press, but it very well could be. With its ease of use, most knowledge will eventually be shared in video format. It truly will be (and may already be) the best way for learning and sustaining new initiatives.

In education, we’re great at implementing. Videos and other online resources will make us great at sustaining. And hopefully if we’re proficient at sustaining, there will be less implementing.

* Millions of people use YouTube. What I’m suggesting is educators are still not ready to publish videos in the same prolific manner that they’re creating Google Docs. Students need videos, and thankfully YouTube, Khan Academy, etc. exist. However, teachers and administrators needs to start making their own videos for professional use. It’s necessary to consume resources, but we need to create them, too. 

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BE LIKE HITCH

Have you ever seen the movie Hitch? It’s the one with Will Smith in which he plays a Casanova-like matchmaker with a heart of gold. (Maybe that’s how it was pitched to studio heads?) My favorite part is when Hitch (Smith) is teaching Albert (Kevin James) how to dance. Here’s a clip:

Albert believes dancing is the least of his problems, and Hitch is immediately suspicious. It’s all down hill once Albert showcases his moves.

After Hitch watches for a while with a disapproving stare, he tells Albert to never dance like that again. It’s clear Albert has at least two problems:

  1. He doesn’t have any developed dancing skills.
  2. He’s doing too much.

Hitch’s solution is simple: Keep it simple. Albert lets his enthusiasm get the best of him, and unfortunately it results in an outlandish mess. Hitch’s solution involves a short step back and forth with his elbows close to his body. The simplicity of this movement makes it possible for Albert to dance successfully with the woman he loves, and it leaves open the opportunity to later incorporate new moves as he learns them.

It’s important edtech leaders keep this approach in mind when helping teachers blend technology and instruction. Sometimes educators will receive 1:1 devices and act like Albert. Leaders need to gently show them how to keep it simple, for it’s only by starting with a strong foundation that a teacher will be able to successfully incorporate technology within a classroom.

“Shiny objects” are any software, hardware, or programs that can be implemented at a school site. Shiny objects aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves, but their use can be misguided based upon timing. In other words, MinecraftEdu might be OK to implement, but it could be a horrible time to do so.

Hitch

So this is what I propose: Help teachers become proficient using Google Apps for Education–specifically Drive, Docs, Slides, and Classroom–before anything else. Once this is accomplished, teachers can begin implementing more. Cloud based software that allows students to produce and communicate is where all good 1:1 usage begins.

Keep it simple.

Stick with Google Apps for Education.

Be like Hitch.
 

FIELD OF DREAMS lied to me

It has taken me a long time to arrive to this conclusion:

Traditional professional development (PD) for teachers is not effective.

Teachers are busy. They’re still learning how to teach Common Core standards. They’re grappling with intervention, adopted curriculum, finding time for PE, and a myriad of other issues that have been around for decades (grading, parent conferences, classroom management). Of course, they have personal lives, too.

That’s why traditional PD doesn’t work. Traditional PD provides training after school. Maybe you get a day or two off to travel to a training center–away from students–and learn the newest program. Then you go back to your classroom and implement it.

In the past, I’ve set up the majority of my PD sessions after school where teachers can come to me and learn something about technology. I was convinced this was the best way. Then I learned it wasn’t. Teachers are too busy to go to a PD session after school–there’s just not enough time in the day. I thought just providing a training was enough. Like in Field of Dreams, I believed if I built it, they would come.

Field of Dreams lied to me.

I’ve even tried going to school sites and conducting training sessions, which usually results in poor turnout, too. This is a problem, because I truly believe I have quality material that will positively affect student learning. I have to share what I know. What’s the solution?

SKIN IN THE GAME

The solution is that I go to the teachers, in their classrooms, and teach their students while teachers watch. At first, people told me I wouldn’t receive enough bang for my buck. 45-60 minutes in one teacher’s classroom? Isn’t it better to have a PD session where there’s an opportunity for many teachers to show up?

No. Being in another teacher’s classroom affords me the opportunity to teach approximately 30 students and the teacher. Those students will get excited about technology, and they’ll help their friends. Teachers will see how engaged the students are, and they’ll tell their friends. Capacity (which is partly a shared knowledge of skills) grows in both students and teachers. This helps me build student and teacher leaders on campus who spread the awesome power of technology to others. This is stronger that a measly PD session. Plus, it shows I have skin in the game in regards to what I preach, and it helps me gain credibility in the eyes of teachers.

I still promote after school PD sessions in moderation, but most of my time and energy (PD-wise) is spent preparing lessons and teaching, which is what I love to do after all.

Be bold but understand the parameters

The world is changing quickly, and education is no exception. Technology and a glut of data either fill us with hope of possibilities or paralyze us with the burden of infinite choices. Those who choose to be positive and embrace the chaos have supporters, but unfortunately there are naysayers–the people who want to bring you down. How you handle those who aren’t as openminded and energized is important–for your own professional happiness and for promoting positive change.

Even though your new or unconventional views on student learning may be correct, you have to understand that others will be blind to the reasons for your position. Don’t flaunt your outside-the-box thinking because it only leads to frustration. People may incorrectly believe you only want attention, or maybe they’ll think you’re bashing their style of teaching. Change is difficult because it can be perceived as a threat to how we normally operate. Most of the time adults like to set up systems and enable cruise control. Tapping the breaks, changing routes, or speeding up become a nuisance–if not fodder for anger.

Embrace this reality, just like you embrace the uncertainty in which we teach.

It’s best to share new ideas with colleagues who share a similar philosophy. These individuals will appreciate your uniqueness and benefit from your knowledge. Politely ignoring the naysayers is the best course of action. As you share with other passionate educators and build a personal learning network within your district, teachers hesitant to adopt new ideas will slowly let their guards down and join in the conversation.

Going against established ideas is always difficult, so it’s important to stay within the “norms” that have evolved throughout the decades within the field of education. Openly scoffing at ineffective practices isn’t wise. It’s much better to stay positive, work within the established parameters, and slowly influence educators by beginning with those who are likeminded or interested.

The answer begins by not doing anything

Educators get a whole summer to reflect upon the last school year and be introspective: What advanced student learning? What didn’t? How can I be a better teacher?

I’ve used June for reflection, and I’ve come to a conclusion I believe is important: It’s arrogant to think we understand all the implications constant changes to education bring to the classroom.

When a country invades another country, there’s no telling how out of whack the invaded territory will become culturally, religiously, economically. When you take a medication that affects one number obtained through blood work–let’s use cholesterol as an example–there’s no telling how all the other intricate metrics will be altered. When the government chooses to subsidize certain industries or companies and not others, there are going to be consequences. When pollution pours into water sources and the atmosphere, it’s a no brainer our ecosystems will be affected.

When you deploy technology into the classroom, there are going to be certain outcomes. The same goes with implemented curriculum, intervention strategies, and standards. The hope is the positive consequences will outweigh any negative results that may be detected. This leads me to another conclusion I’ve come to in June: It’s misguided to know there are negative implications to what’s being implemented but choose to ignore them in hopes they’ll go away or won’t be a factor. 

In education there’s a big emphasis on doing something. Do this, do that, read this, implement that, deploy this… Is time taken to reflect upon whether anything worked? I’d say the fact that we’re always trying something different is evidence that nothing is working.

The answer begins by not doing anything. Hunker down and get good at what you currently have as a school district. Create lessons and units with resources you already own. Share. Avoid paying consultants. Ignore the calls from tech vendors and publishing sales reps. Revel in the immobile pendulum you helped create because you realized the foolishness of the schizophrenic actions education policy has committed throughout the decades. 

Happiness is found when you stop looking for it. I think this sentiment can effectively be implemented in the education realm, too.

When it comes to edtech, be like Siddhartha

One of the conundrums within the field of education is the schizophrenic understanding of best practices. All you need to do to get a taste of this is create a Twitter account, follow a whole bunch of teachers, and read their tweets. Better yet, follow along during a Twitter chat. Edtech platitudes are plentiful.

There’s nothing wrong with teachers tweeting at each other in 140 characters or less to share ideas, but it sure is confusing when you sit back and try to decipher what our best practices should be as educators.

Should we spend time learning how to be better presenters, or should we become more accustomed to a student-centered, project based learning (PBL) approach? Is “play” important or is it better to squeeze each instruction minute through the use of Direct Interactive Instruction (DII)? Is spending money on 1:1 devices essential for students to learn in the 21st century, or should we listen to studies that say technology isn’t an important factor? (Side note: Many edtech proponents have marginalized the use of “Studies say…” when arguing against technology in the classroom. Unfortunately by doing this, these edtech proponents are doing a harmful spin job.)

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I think there’s a lot of truth to this sentiment, and maybe that goes for education as well, but it sure is hard as a teacher to always feel like you should be doing something other than what you’ve planned to do. This is why the advice of edtech gurus is so attractive right now.

I’m weary of the edtech experts out there who claim to have the solution for student learning. I’m reminded of Siddhartha, who came to the realization that truth isn’t going to arrive from any one enlightened person. Teachers must view the plethora of edtech opinions through this same lens, even if it’s uncomfortable. In this way, the Twitter cacophony can be harnessed effectively.

Yes, we have a lot to figure out in the field of education, mostly because every student is his and her own universe. My only suggestion is to avoid making gurus out of people who have Twitter accounts.