This is a bit of an experiment in collaborative writing. How it works is that you copy this entire post verbatim, and add one thing to the list below. If you put this on a blog, please tag this post with “goodschoolproject” if possible to make these posts easier to find later.
You are free to share and modify this post, but whomever you share it with must enjoy the same freedom.
guest written by Karen Greenhaus
The #edchat topic this past week was “If tomorrow your school was told to go all digital by September, what would need to be done to make that happen?” My first thoughts: disaster! Anything expected to happen that quickly that involves so many variables, such as hardware, software, personnel, training, etc., is bound to fail. If anyone out there is actually in a situation like this, SLOW DOWN! Those of us who have been in education long enough know that changing anything takes time, training, support, and practice and trying to do something like going “all digital” should not be something done quickly or without careful planning and thought.
What do we mean by going digital? I interpreted this as meaning students and teachers would be working with technology on a regular basis, as a means of both teaching and learning, either via computers, iPads, or notebooks. There would be etextbooks and a reliance on technology resources that would be integrated into instructional practice, from learning tools, to grading, to classwork, to communication with parents, etc. This is the definition I am going to focus on for the rest of this piece, though you may have a completely different interpretation.
What follows are my suggestions for going digital, though honestly, I think these are some basic guidelines that would work anytime you want to change what and how things are done in a school setting. Planning, support, and time – key components!
1) Plan – What are your goals and what tools/resources/strategies are needed to meet those goals?
This is the most important component and one that is often overlooked in the rush to get the latest and greatest technologies or resources. Just because something is new and sounds great does NOT mean it is great for your situation. Planning involves looking at goals – standards, instructional methods, school culture, student outcomes, etc. and determining the priorities. What do you WANT things to look like? What do you WANT teachers to do? What do you WANT students to be doing and achieving?
Goals and prioritization should involve all relevant stakeholders – administrators, content leaders, teachers, parents, students. Once goals are prioritized, THEN look at the available resources/tools. In the case of digital, that might mean computers vs. tablets, or different types of software or apps. It might involve incorporating social media. It again, depends on what goals and priorities you determine and asking what tools/resources will address your specific goals? It may NOT be the same answer for every subject area, and hence could be multiple options. Do your research.
Once goals and resources/tools have been matched, then think about support.
2) Support – What is needed to make these resources/tools work to meet your goals?
There are lots of things involved in support. What is the hardware, software needed? Who is getting the materials? Who is going to install, set-up, download, etc. all the digital resources? Who will be in charge of inventory? What technical support is needed when things go wrong or break? What policies are needed (i.e. student’s use of social media for example, or taking home computers/tablets)?
An important component – one that is often short changed – is training. Who needs to be trained, who will do the training, and who is going to continue to support teachers/students after training? As anyone knows in the edtech field, short-term training on digital tools/resources doesn’t work for the majority if you want sustained and effective use and change. Most teachers/students need follow-up training and support, so it is important to plan for this, especially in the first year of anything new.
So, how are you going to support teachers/students on a continuing basis? If you can’t answer that, then you might want to reconsider what you are planning. It is important to build in long-term support, whether that means ongoing training, or arranging collaborative support among content teams or grade-level teams, or using mentors/coaches. Whatever you decide, decide it BEFORE you try buy or implement – if there’s no plan for how you are going to support new things such as digital resources, you are doomed to failure. Support includes, technical, pedagogical and managerial aspects, so make sure you have planned for this and have the personnel and other resources to carry it out.
3) Time – How much time are you allowing for teachers/students to learn, practice, and integrate? Have you allotted time for collaborating with others, sharing of ideas, modeling, analyzing mistakes, and focusing on instructional strategies?
Expecting teachers, students or a whole school to implement anything new needs time; ideally the more the better. There needs to be time for learning new tools and strategies, naturally. There needs to be time to try those things in practice and see where changes need to be made or different strategies tried. There needs to be time to make mistakes and time to figure out how to fix those mistakes and do things better or different. So, as part of the plan, time should be a major factor. What is the time frame for getting the infrastructure set up? What is the time frame for training? What is the time frame for allowing everyone to take what they learned and put it into practice? How are you going to provide time for collaboration or feedback or follow-up?
My suggestion is, after infrastructure is in place, to roll out a slow implementation time-line. Say for example, each content area (or grade level) choose ONE app, or one lesson or one software, or one social media platform, to learn, try out, come back together, reassess, and try again. Then, next month, add on something else. Don’t expect everyone to do everything all at once and immediately – choose specific resources/tools that are appropriate for each person/content/situation, and set a certain period of time for them to learn, practice, and assess. Then, add on to that.
If you focus on planning that meets the needs and goals of your school/classroom/students, anticipate and plan for all the necessary support that will be needed, and provide sufficient time to learn, practice and reassess, you will find implementation will be more successful. This applies to digital, but also to anything ‘new’ or ‘different’ you want to add into an educational environment. Change is hard, but if done right, change can happen.
About the author: Karen Greenhaus is currently the Director of Education Technology Outreach for Key Curriculum (http://keypress.com), a math technology company that sells The Geometer’s Sketchpad (http://keypress.com/gsp), TinkerPlots (http://keypress.com/tinkerplots) and Fathom (http://keypress.com/fathom). She provides professional development for teachers all over the country via face-to-face workshops, blended learning, webinars, and online courses. Karen taught in public schools for over 17 years as a math teacher and math administrator at the middle and high school levels. She has a BA in math from Virginia Tech, MA in Curriculum & Education from Virginia Commonwealth, and is currently working on her Ed. D. dissertation on professional development in education technology at The College of William & Mary. Her passion is helping teachers integrate technology effectively into classroom instruction. Karen blogs at http://greenhauseducation.blogspot.com
guest written by Justin Baumgartner
I am currently at a point where big decisions are quickly approaching. I’m engaged and planning a wedding, considering having children, and looking for a house. In a world filled with political and economic turmoil, I have to consider what the world will be like for any children I might have. Working as a Technology Coach, I get to see all the wonderful teachers at my school and how they interact with kids, and I get a first-hand view of the school system. I participate in #edchat, go to conferences, and read education blogs. And through all this, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I were to have a child that was entering school age right now, I would be seriously considering homeschool.
I don’t want this to be a reflection of the teachers I work with. That would be unfair. Blaming the teachers would be assuming that if they were a little better, they could overcome a broken system. This assumption would be like saying Edward Norton could make Dark Harvest 2: The Maize a good movie had he been in it, or that Custer’s men could have turned the tide of that battle if they were better soldiers.
There are several factors that play into my consideration of the homeschooling route.
1) The current public school system isn’t funded well enough to help kids reach their maximum potential in any given area. While teachers are generally able to identify aptitude in a particular area, and in some cases give some minor opportunity to go beyond the curriculum, these opportunities are already limited — and in states like Walker’s Wisconsin will likely continue to decline. I want my kid to be able to devote more time during the day to develop these advanced skills. A lot of how I feel is articulated best by Sir Ken Robinson.
2) This ‘The Customer Is Always Right’ culture is pervasive and debilitating. I saw on Twitter (and I should have favorited it) someone say that we live in a society where the children know their rights but not their responsibilities. As taboo as it is to say, I don’t like the idea that a group of parents (who learned parenting in the ‘don’t hurt your kid’s ego’ days) that continue to make villains out of teachers and principals for not doing a better job of raising their children are influential in dictating the direction a school system goes. An inadvertent result of the School Choice system seems to be that parents deflect responsibility for their child to the school, and if the child continues to have social difficulty the parent just changes the school instead of dealing with the root problem. This has resulted in a generation of unnaturally entitled people. I’d rather not have my kid’s future dictated by parents that feed into this entitlement generation.
3) The Education System has spanned into an industry rather than a public service. Too much money is involved in the school system, which means that too many political lobbyists are influencing the direction of our national education policy. Lawrence Lessig spoke about this at a Wiscnet conference and his talk was very powerful.
4) The internet, when properly used, is the single most powerful resource every conceived. However, it seems to me that the common reddit user has better sense than people give them credit for. The information and the community ability to curate this information is pretty astounding, which means that I don’t have to worry about my kid’s access to information if I were to homeschool them. They’d have more than what they need.
5) There are nearly infinite extracurricular activities, clubs, and social organizations that give ample opportunity to socialize and make friends. A bonus is that if my kid is in the activity, they probably want to be there, and if they behave poorly, the consequence is that they no longer get to participate. There is no unconditional inclusion clause. My child gets to learn the hard lesson that the outside world doesn’t cater to them and love them unconditionally (and that they can always rely on their family for unconditional love) and can then learn social and cultural boundaries.
With the negatives of the current education system, combined with the ability to provide ample resources and opportunities in a homeschooling situation I feel that as long as my family can swing it financially, homeschooling is a viable (and possibly better) option to traditional schooling. Honestly, that I am even able to consider this makes me a little sad, because I know that even though my kid will have more room to grow at home, they would be missing out on the connections that they would otherwise make with some of the very excellent educators out there.
About the author: Justin Baumgartner is a Technology Coach for the Merton Community School District. You can follow him on Twitter: @MertonTech.
Last year, I wrote a guest post for the Grammarly blog about writing, and how it is one of the most important skills you can develop. Today, this post on Iserotope (one of my favorite teacher blogs) inspired me to write a sequel about the importance of reading.
Specifically: the importance of reading fiction.
You might think that I’m a big fan of reading because it makes you a better writer. Or that it allows you to explore parts of the shared human experience that may be difficult to explain in a non-fiction format. Both of those things are true. But they’re not the reasons why I’m such a big fan of fiction.
The internet has made readers out of many, many people that almost never pick up a book in their entire lives. They read blogs, they read the news, and they read pithy little status updates from their friends. It may not be heavy duty stuff, but it is reading.
Without the kind of brain that sorts through the incredible amount of information we take in every day (174 newspapers worth, apparently) and makes connections between the relevant bits, we’d be no smarter on Tuesday than we were on Monday. And we would be getting quickly left behind by our friends, our family, and (most important, job-wise) our colleagues.
The ability to build mental bridges between all the random things we read and organize it all into a coherent network is a skill that is vital to a knowledge worker — and we’re all knowledge workers to some extent. This is what allows us to learn a lesson in one context and apply it broadly to other aspects of our life.
Nowhere is that kind of a talent development more naturally and organically than through fiction.
When a child reads the Chronicles of Narnia, for example, he is learning about the importance of exploration, of honesty, and of virtues like courage and forgiveness. He isn’t reading a pamphlet that spells it all out in bullet points. It’s not a blog post or a self-help book, but it is something that has the potential to stick with him for the rest of his life. And it’s a foundation upon which many of lessons can be based.
The more fiction we read — and the more great English teachers we have — the more we see that these works of fiction are more than simple stories or diversions. And we begin to connect the lessons we learn in one book with those we learn in another. We draw parallels, create connections, and build mental bridges.
The better we get at that, the more suited we are to dive into our modern world, where more information is created every year than the year before it. Understanding how to make sense of it all is not just a nice bonus. It is an essential element to being employable and staying relevant.
Sure, we can create high-level college courses to teach kids how to connect seemingly unrelated thoughts and build functional databases in their brain. We can call it “Mental Data Filing 101″ or something, and claim it’s a new science.
Or we can give them some great books to read as kids and they’ll start doing it on their own.
Don’t let an obsession with The Test strip fiction from our curriculum. There are cheap, online flashcards to help with test prep. (Did I mention we make those?) And there are excellent tutors out there to fill in the gaps. Teachers have skills that go far beyond preparing students to take a test. Let’s make use of them.
guest written by Justin Ballou
Earlier this week, I had some time to catch up on current happenings in the business sector while waiting for an appointment to begin. From time to time, I find some really good links between the so-called “Real-World” and the one that is currently the standard for education.
While reading, I came across a great article entitled: Netflix’s Unlimited Employee Vacation Policy: Why It Works and was pretty impressed with what I saw! Looking at major business models, perks to employees, and keeping productivity and responsibility high, Netflix went to UNLIMITED VACATION!
Yes, you read right….UNLIMITED! Meaning….um…..no limits on the amount of time that one can take “off” from work. As I read the article, it became apparent that with strong guidelines and staff responsibility, Netflix, (along with some other companies that are pushing the limits on workplace expectations) are taking more of a cavalier approach to how the employees are responsible for their actions.
I got to thinking about this, and as an effective practice, it makes sense! Give your employees freedom and the ability to be motivated and self-directed, and they will get the job done. Heck, with an unlimited vacation policy, I would imagine with the personal responsibility factor that some employees continue to work, (albeit in short spans) while on vacation to make sure they are pulling their own weight.
So, the question is…..why not the classroom? Why do we force kids, (especially at the high school level) to sit in a classroom, at a desk for ninety minutes at a time, moving from class to class and calling that education? What would happen if we, as educators said, “Here is the expectation…..I will be here to assist you in this if needed…” and then allowed for students to rise to the level of expectation, personal responsibility, or rigor?
Some states, (New Hampshire for example) has done away with seat time and moved to a competency based model. Students prove proficiency in their education and can, within reason, pace their education according to strengths and weaknesses. And, in this transition, we have seen some good, bad, and ugly results.
For the positives, it can be clean cut and a high motivator for students. When they are responsible for their own education and have a “choice and voice” in what they do, more often than not, there is authentic learning that occurs; both structured and implied lessons alike, as failure can be just as strong if not a stronger influence on education than success.
We do see some issues emerge as well. One is that there is ALWAYS a learning curve to any action. It is part of human nature to want to manipulate and our environment for gain, and students are no different. What we found is that with teacher consensus, organization, and careful implementation, the change can alleviate some of the transitional pain if the bar is set and understood.
As for the “ugly,” there may be instances where the old system is so ingrained into the community that the scrapping of seat time is seen as a “dumbing down” of education… which then, in turn, can be used against the teachers. Also, with terms/semesters/quarters still the “go-to” for assessment practices, what do we do with those that complete the work in half the time? How about a quarter? Theoretically, we could have 30 different students in 30 different locations….a NIGHTMARE for any educator.
Either way, if planned out and supported….we may be onto something that can benefit students. What are your thoughts on possible successes and pitfalls?
About the author: Justin Ballou is a high-school Social Studies teacher in New Hampshire. Besides teaching, he is active running an education startup called EduTech and enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife. With edtech and authentic learning as his go-to topics, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask questions or leave comments and follow him on twitter (@nhjbteach).
Topic: What changes could be made to the present management structure of education to make it more effective for educators?
This was another #edchat that I was prepared to basically sit by the sidelines for – not because I had lost interest but because I feared that I would have nothing to contribute (not being an educator). Luckily, there’s always so much going on with #edchat that it’s almost impossible to sit by the sidelines unless you are firmly committed to keeping your mouth shut even when you might have something useful to say or a good question to ask.
I think a certain amount of conflict between employees and management is unavoidable. Management is tasked with making do with limited resources (and in the education world, those resources seem to keep getting more and more limited all the time) while teachers are tasked with educating our children the best way they can. The same dichotomy exists in any business. The employees are expected to perform while the management is expected to keep costs as low as possible. It’s a balancing act.
Unfortunately, this balancing act becomes slightly more important when we’re talking about a child’s education instead of a firm’s profit margins. And when you consider that public education budgets will likely take a hit as federal spending inevitably slows down in the US, striking the right balance between teacher needs and managerial decisions will only get more difficult.
Enter Tuesday’s #edchat discussion. In essence, it was asking how we can work to improve the relationship between teachers and administrators so that a school’s scare resources can be allocated most efficiently and so students won’t suffer from the inevitable budget cuts. At least, that’s my take on things.
Main themes from the discussion:
My favorite tweets from the discussion:
cybraryman1 The key point is including teachers (students and parents) in the process.
mrdglhs Administration should be required to be in classrooms observing (not evaluating) 1/2 day per week. Helps them see needs first hand.
apospirit Have all people relaying the same info –> not be in conflict with one another. I’ve heard some teachers/admins learning conflicting things in different training programs.
tomwhitby Getting buy-in from teachers for policy changes would be a nice touch to leadership.
DrThomasHo We have the means to take our story directly to the community & do NOT need admins to do it for us. They do it so badly anyway!
weisburghm Community, parents, administrators, and communities must work together to improve education. Nothing works in a vacuum.
MertonTech What roadblocks are teachers hitting that would spark a change in management structure?
davidwees What I would like to change about education structure is not the management structure, but the learning structure.
tomwhitby The revolving door for administrators often allow things to fall through the cracks without follow-up or consistency.
tomwhitby I have always thought it would be interesting to have all admins take substitute teacher positions for a few days each year.
To follow the complete discussion, look for the full archive here. They’re usually posted up by the end of the week.
Looking to discuss #edtech in depth? Check out the LinkedIn group: Edutech Trends, Visions, Passions.
New to #EdChat?
If you have never participated in an #Edchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Tuesday on Twitter. Over 400 educators participate in this discussion by just adding #edchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please check out these posts:
If you’re new to hashtag discussions, then just show up on Twitter on any Tuesday and add just a few tweets on the topic with the hashtag #edchat.
What do you think? Leave a comment! We would love to hear from you.