Saturday, December 20, 2008

STUDENT Conferences are the Answer

December is a busy month! I was thrilled with an opportunity to visit Jon Becker's excellent blog Educational INSANITY. I sat down (innocently) to enjoy a peaceful and quiet read and french-vanilla coffee - not expecting to face an old and troubling issue. Then I read Jon's thoughtful December 4th, 2008 blog Conferences,Presentations, etc. - and the flurry of comments it inspired - and I felt an old concern I've learned to repress. My coffee is cold now and I am hot. Right up front, you should know that I am, at best, an education conference skeptic. At worst, I am an anti-education conference protester. Given this disclaimer, you now have the option of retreating.

I've attended and presented at more education conferences than I can begin to count. I abandoned confidence in them several years ago. I was forever changed by one surreal but pristine moment. I'll never forget it. I was attending yet another education conference on the west coast far from my east coast home. I looked up in this moment and was struck by a camera click instant - a kodak moment - a mental snapshot that hit like a thunderbolt. According to the Urban Dictionary definitions, my kodak moment, epitomized the second definition, "a horribly twisted event." For the first time in my conference experiences, I literally saw what I'd never seen before. I saw HUNDREDS of educators - glassy-eyed and disconnected - wandering through a Reno, Nevada casino in search of a vendor hall to claim cool "freebies" - simple trinkets promised by a vendor/presenter. And, all of this happened on a school day - a Friday morning! I can't reproduce the kodak moment. I can't reimage the looks on those educators' faces. I've provided a similar image of the setting in the photograph above and offer these descriptors for my colleagues' facial expressions: bewildered,dislocated, uncertain, confounded, lost, misplaced, uncomfortable. Can you see my twisted kodak moment? Have I made it vivid? Do you see the problem here?

I was struck by what seemed to be a flawed education conference system and faced five big questions that forever changed my outlook on conferences.

1.) WHO is in school teaching our STUDENTS on this Friday morning?
2.) WHAT could we do to improve STUDENT learning if all funds used for this educational "gathering" were applied directly to improving opportunities for STUDENTS to learn?
3.) WHERE does all the money generated by this conference go? Does it find its way back into U.S. classrooms - where it was appropriated to be spent on our STUDENTS' learning?
4.) WHY aren't forums like this dedicated to our STUDENTS who could benefit greatly from a conference that exposes them to the best minds and newest knowledge on the face of the earth?
5.) Finally and most difficult, WHEN will educators admit that a trip to a casino-centered conference is a blatant "perk" - a trip to an "adult playground" - possibly at students' expense? I was troubled that the public funds spent on this one conference might have supplied countless schools with the modern tools needed to upgrade educational opportunities for students.

In my own thinking, we've lost our way with education conferences. We leave our students sitting in closed nineteenth century classrooms while we jet to Reno to hear the best children's authors promote and sell their new books. We sit passively for an hour while speakers tell us what we already know. For those who wish to sight-see, seek entertainment and enjoy the ambiance of a new setting, the conference is a semi-vacation. If you are honest you know this is true. Let me ask you a very direct and difficult question: How are we any different than the corporate executives who redirect investors' and taxpayers' monies to opulent conference opportunities? How are we different? That is my question.

There is a fundamental flaw in the current conference design. The flaw - we've omitted education's reason for being - OUR STUDENTS.

My resolve is to avoid education conference that fail to focus on the STUDENT. In the meantime, I am learning far, far, far more using online professional development opportunities. I learned more in the K-12 Online Conference 2008 than I have ever learned in all face-to-face conferences combined. I see more potential in the NotK-12 Online Conference than I can ever image taking place in traditional education conferences. I find more pearls and nuggets in EdTechTalk forums than in packed conference halls. I sleep better at night knowing that I am not contributing to or profiting from a flawed attempt to "improve education." Marketing products and ideas to educators in short, one-shot, speaker-centered sessions is a poor application of research on learning. We know that. It is expensive time wasted. We are far too smart to think these conferences are improving the future of our students. We are far too ethical a profession to sit by as our profession directs funds to unproductive causes. Let me conclude with this very difficult question: If we asked our students and their parents to glimpse my "kodac moment," would they not be as infuriated as those who are losing their life-savings on investments mismanaged by leaders who recently scheduled an elaborate conference at the taxpayer's expense? When U.S. citizens look at the Nation's Report Card, do they have a point in wanting to know the percentage of education funding spent on "elaborate conferences" for educators?

I'm just saying...let's think about this. Let's get real about our reason for being by focusing on our STUDENTS. If we focused our time and best thinking on how to create an effective conference for STUDENTS, we'd quickly see a First Lego League Competition, a Mabry Film Festival, an Inventor's Forum, a Writer's Symposium, a Health and Fitness Extravaganza, a World-School Financial Summit, and on and on. Then the educators could learn through Gary Stager's "minds-on, hard-play" with one important twist. They learn with and beside their students - as it should be in the 21st century.

Photo Credit: Casino at Excalibur from http2007's photostream on Flickr.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

So Is It Possible that Changing Public Schools Is Impossible?

I'm certain that Clayton M. Christensen's Disrupting Class How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns will be viewed as a landmark - even an icon - in the quest for school reform. In my opinion, it is the "writing on the wall," the "new cheese," the "light on the path,"and the "ultimate reality" that describes the reconstruction of school as we know it. The book is powerful and I am so hopeful that our profession will rush to respond to this map for radical progress. I doubt, however, that Disrupting Class will hasten the reform of our schools. I wonder if Clay Christensen, who really understands the inevitability of his message shares my hopes and my doubts? I think he does. Let me explain.

You see, if our education culture was different, every single educator in the whole wide world (or at least most) would assume responsibility for understanding "disruptive innovation." If members of our profession genuinely understood the phenomenon of disruption, we would all make sense of the "disorienting dilemmas" that have characterized our schools for decades. If each educator truly took it upon themselves to examine and completely assimilate the impact that technology, networking and connectivity is exacting on all factions of our society and all the world's institutions, surely then, the walls of educational resistance to "change" would collapse. Surely, our profession would collectively experience the "perspective transformation" Jack Mezirow describes in his seminal work Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. Our profession might universally begin to see that our 19th century "school view" constrains our understanding of the 21st century challenges that face our institutions. It prevents us from rising to our call. If all of the world's educators truly experienced a"perspective transformation," our profession could enjoy an enlightenment. An enlightened school view would drive the profound changes required to respond to the needs and potential of 21st century students. We might even begin to develop what Christensen calls the "common language" that enables important conversations about 21st century learning and learners. Educators might actually initiate a transformation that leads to renewed ways of knowing and doing school. Our profession might even become a vital, thriving, transforming, empowering, relevant 21st century institution. All of this might be possible - if educators were to embrace their own transformation as essential to rebirth as a 21st century educator.

The key here is that each and every educator must face responsibility for constructing meaning about the disruptive innovations that are transforming our schools. We must be willing to "become the change we want to see." We'll have to live and breathe the attributes of a 21st century learners as we become the self-directed critical thinkers, problem solvers, innovators, and collaborators needed to create globally-focused schools for the 21st century. In other words, we must all be willing to make the transformation to being 21st century educators by accepting the 21st century challenges.

On page 192 of Disrupting Class, Christensen asks the defining question of the book: "So is it possible that changing public schools is impossible?" The authors believe that change is possible if education embraces the three tools that can change schools despite failed past reform initiatives. To change public schools today, Christensen first calls for common language - what he refers to as "a collective framing of the problem," a precondition to deriving useful solutions. I've described the "perspective transformation" educators must make to drive common language conversations. Second, Christensen calls for use of power - calling upon a cadre of school leaders who can amass and wield power to change the status quo. In my entire profession, I have encountered two such courageous leaders. How many can you count? Recognizing that common language and power solutions may fail, Christensen also calls for separation - the third tool which he calls "the critical option in the arsenal of school reform." Separation refers to a "setting up" of new schools in which teachers, parents, administrators are aligned in vision and committed to educating children and doing it very well. And, I would argue that in a global economy, the separated school must do it better than any other school in the world.

So there you have it - Christensen's ultimate vision for a changed public school is a separate school. This vision is born of disruption and characterized by hope and doubt. And, who do you think will lead the separated schools? I'm betting it's those who are willing to "amass and wield the power," and those who speak the "common language." I can't envision a place for the "learned" who refused a "perspective transformation." Can you? They will, as Eric Hoffer predicted, "find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists." The "separated school"... I'm just saying - and I think Christensen is saying - get ready for it.

Photo Credit: be the change in yourself from trailerfullof pics photostream on Flickr.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Yes, We Can, Mr. President-Elect!

I want to congratulate President-elect Barack Obama. We don't know each other but we've been communicating. On November 4, 2008, the President-elect looked right at me and spoke directly to me during his acceptance speech. He said,"And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too." Thank you, Mr. President-elect. I heard you and I pledge my unwavering support to your presidency.

I was moved by my President-elect's promise to me. Determined to find out if he'd really heard my voice, I began devouring information on his education platform. Yep! He appeared to have heard my deepest concern expressed in August, 2008 when I signed the CoSN,ISTE, NEA, SETA online petition in support of making 21st century classrooms a top national priority. He even seemed to respond to the petition on August 28, 2008 during his speech at the Democratic National Convention. He said, "Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy."

Mr. President-elect, I believe you genuinely want to provide a world-class education for all American children. As parents, you and I have a common understanding of the compelling, driving hope all parents share. We all dream that our children will enjoy an empowering education. Listen to me, please. I'm whispering, so you'll listen very closely.

If you want your children and my child, and all American children to have a world class education, you must connect them to the world.

The transportation to a world-class education is a sound, reliable, high-speed information super highway that can lead our schools into the 21st century. Our educators cannot possibly take our children to "meet the world" without a road to travel that begins at the schoolhouse door. We cannot join the world's growing learning revolution with patched school infrastructure, blocked information resources, minimal technical support, insufficient professional development, minimal funding and lack of coherence and vision for educational technology at the national level.

I'm very concerned that the U.S. Department of Labor reports that education is dead last on a list of 55 industries in its use of technology. I'm devastated that the New Commission of the Skills for the American Workforce in it's landmark 2007 report Tough Choices or Tough Times describes our public schools as failing in this "Portrait of a Failing School System."

I'm angry to watch as our country "bails out" Wall Street and considers "bailing out" the automobile industry. Can you see that American educators have every right to be outraged? Our country's Congressional leaders, and, yes, our President, have been warned repeatedly by governmental agencies that the U.S. education system is failing our children. Yet, where is education's "bail out?" Where is the complete infrastructure we need to revamp and reform our business? Our "product" - the nation's children - are the economy of the future - the hope of our nation. Our "business" is critical to national competitiveness and, yes, to our national security. Mr. President-elect, so many educators want to reform our failed system. We know how to do it but our road is blocked. We simply cannot transport our students to a world class education when we remain trapped in cement block walls with inferior networks, impossible bureaucratic barriers, and blocked access to many of the most powerful learning tools.

Help us, the nation's educators, Mr. President-elect. Our country's teachers aspire to become William Glasser's "quality teacher" We want to convince "not half or three-quarters but all of our students to do quality work in school," but we cannot convince 21st century learners to engage with 20th century tools! Throughout our great country's history the "tools of the age" have transported our nation's progress. The tools of the Industrial Age transformed our nation's workforce. The tools of the Information Age transformed our world's workforce. And now, as we enter the Conceptual Age, the incredible tools of World Wide Web promise to transport our global community to a "world class" education. Listen carefully, Mr. President-elect: If you truly want to lead our nation in a transformation of 20th century schools to world class 21st century schools, connect our schools to the internet, unleash some the barriers to information access and hold our profession accountable for reforming school.

Throughout your campaign, Mr. President-elect, you demonstrated an undeniable grasp of the power of technology to transform and energize your political engine. You wisely took advantage of broadband connections to inform, to communicate, to survey, to recruit, to inspire, to learn and to lead. Technology gave you a distinct advantage. I ask you now, President-elect Obama, won't you make very certain every American child has that same opportunity to use the tools of the age to reach their highest potential? I want to thank you for listening to me. Because I am able to sit in my own livingroom and communicate with you via the amazing information super highway, I have the highest hope that you will "hear me." I want you to know, however, that many teachers and students do not have this privilege in our schools. We can do something about this.
Yes, we can.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Creating a Disturbance!

It’s been a fascinating Saturday morning. There’s touch of Fall in Georgia. The drone of TV election news is compelling. The irresistible 2008 K12 Online Conference begs for my attention. My Google Reader is filled with inviting new treasure. An important new project sits on my desktop demanding my time. Does this communicate that I feel the draw, the imperative, the reality, the momentum and the TIME CRUNCH associated with CHANGE? Odd, I think, that a blog post should take priority when so many stimulating choices and obligations compete for my morning. Howe-e-e-e-v-v-v-r-r-r-r! I’m humming an old song to new steps. Go ahead! Click the video. Listen to the words. See the old ponies doing new steps to an old tune! This is proof! We can all do new steps. Click the video and hear the song that's on my mind as you read on about a new step we must take.

“And I won’t stop trying (step, step) till I create a disturbance (shrug, shrug) in your mind (tap,shuffle)!”

I started the morning by visiting a link to Stephanie Sandifer’s Change Agency to skim a post I’ve been saving for “prime time” reading. Stephanie’s personal account of moving from “KNOWING to DOING” with Web 2.0 tools describes a transformation. She’s done it! She’s moved from the stage of “familiarizing and talking about” tools to “accomplishing” with them. Stephanie took the leap from “knowing” to “doing” and adeptly describes the difference between the two in her post The Knowing - Doing Gap. I left this post on Stephanie’s blog.

I can relate to the positives of being in a “doing” situation! It is important to have opportunities to KNOW but it is also essential be able TO DO if one is to learn deeply and personally. I was very pleased to read that you too are encouraged and motivated by having a place to really apply your knowledge of Web 2.0 tools in productive and meaningful ways. I think your personal example speaks volumes about the ways we educate our students today. Too often our students are caught in the “knowing-doing gap.” Educators typically honor students’ need “to know” but fail to provide learning paths that include opportunities “to do.” There is a world of difference between knowing and doing - and your relevant example makes that point so well. Thank you for sharing!
The timing for reading Stephanie’s post could not have been better. Last night I was completely “taken” with Alec Couros’ K12 Online Conference presentation “Open, Connected, Social: Reflections of an Open Graduate Course Experience.” The viewing experience is a total package – a real “trip!” The viewer is entertained, taught, challenged and extended. But, as it is when one is taking new steps,” I was caught by ONE statement amidst the wealth of information that led me to post this comment in Alec’s blog :
Really enjoyed the entertaining and informative presentation, Alec. For me, a key point drawn from your presentation was the recommendation to “focus on HOW the new tools guide student learning rather than the ‘coolness factor’ of the tools themselves.” This important “take away” will stay with me. I agree that the real challenge is not learning to use the tools. The tools are relatively easy to use. Rather, the challenge (and innovation!) is discovering how to best facilitate LEARNING while managing the tools. Wouldn’t it be powerful to have educators keenly focused on HOW to best use *insert name of Web 2.0 tools* to deepen and accelerate student learning? Now, THAT is a course I’d like to take!
You see, there’s a “disturbance in my mind” that is rattled by posts like David Warlick’s 9/24/08 2¢ Worth "If 'It’s not about the technology,' then What is it About?" and David Truss’ 10/21/08 Pair-a-dimes post POD – a passionate and “appropriately disturbed” reaction. It appears that these two thinkers are concluding that the time for “familiarizing and talking about” tools is ending - and a time for “accomplishing” with the tools is upon us. I'm so sure of this. The time for demonstrating education's knowledge of the tools by DOING all that must be done to “accomplish” school reform for the 21st century is ripe and well overdue.

Right before I began this post, I watched Alice Barr, Cheryl Oakes and Bob Sprankle in their K12 Online presentation “How Can I Become Part of this ReadWriteWeb Revolution?” Boy, did I hear the old music and see the new steps! There they are – three educators who are familiar with the tools – making the transition from “knowing to doing” and urging us all to START DOING NOW. So, given their inspiration, I put down the remote control (leaving McCain and Obama to fend for themselves) to DO SOMETHING. This blog is a very small part. But...I'm not through. "I won’t stop trying (step, step) till I create a disturbance (shrug, shrug) in your mind (tap, shuffle, bow)!”

Friday, October 17, 2008

RSVP: I Regret That I Cannot Participate in the 21st Century

In response to Social Networking - Talk can cost nothing if you know where to look Published in TES Magazine on 17 October, 2008, By: Terry Freedman
This morning I followed Terry Freedman's intriguing tweet that promised an "article about social networking for teachers." I was pleasantly surprised to find that the article went far beyond social networking to describe a 21st century invitation to participate in educator professional development. I was moved to respond because, as a self-directed learner, my invitation to the online social learning experience was the gateway to the most effective form of professional development I've yet to experience.

Terry recommends a variety of powerful tools for personal professional development including Twitter, Skype, Ning and instant messaging. As always, he is point perfect. I'd like to add one additional plug, however, for a form of continuing professional development that supports and sustains my own 21st century thinking and learning in unique and immeasurable ways. Reading and writing blogs immersed me as an active participant in the world of online 21st century learning! In fact, I have discovered in blogging the ultimate tool for differientiating my own professional learning path! I meticulously customize and refine my personal Blog Roll and regularly adjust feeds to my Google Reader! I use a unique filtering process designed to be beneficial to ME! I learn so much from reading the blogs (and microblogs) of selected colleagues - whom I choose with great care and after a careful background check. My process of blog selection is so selective, so dynamic, and so personal that my learning path is tweeked and adjusted to my specific learning needs on a daily basis. I owe so much to my incredible "learning network!" I am growing in leaps and bounds because I made a decision to accept an invitation to participate fully in 21st century teaching and learning!

I realize that discovering the benefits of blogging is not new to many people. I understand that I'm simply "riding the high" of my new-found power to learn. While exhilarated, I'm also challenged to guide a process through which educators can self-direct in the discovery of Web 2.0 tools for their own personal professional development. This challenge is really tricky. It is far more difficult than preparing for a traditional workshop in which captive participants occupy seats and mark time. This type of professional development is an open invitation to learn. The invitation has an RSVP, which acknowledges that the guest has the privilege of saying, "I Regret." I understand and believe Carl Roger's premise that “The only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning." I know I have to give each educator the "right to regret" my invitation to learn. I just worry that the many of those who are invited to participate in 21st century teaching and learning do not REALLY UNDERSTAND the extent to which they will regret not participating in the learning revolution.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What IS 21st Century Teaching and Learning?

Last week two completely separate events inspired this post. First, I had the honor of visiting three schools to respond to the topic of this blog, "What IS 21st Century Teaching and Learning?" The topic was definitely on my mind. Then, while browsing Jeff Utecht's Universe, his link to Pro Blog Design's "25 Ways to Spice Up Blog Post Photos" caught my eye. I'm sure Jeff's intent was to link readers to tips for improving blog graphics, but I never got past the second paragraph. I stopped at, "A post without any graphs, drawing, or photos can look daunting." Now, I'm a brand new blogger and I am still learning the rules. I had not considered using pictures in previous blog posts. I apologize for publishing so much daunting text. That ends today!

I love images. I chose this fabulous graphic from the online collection Library of Congress Prints and Photographs to shape the theme of my presentation, What IS 21st Century Teaching and Learning? Does it seem odd to select an image from 1905 to make a 21st century point? Bear with me, this historic image communicates an important message. Please understand, I am driven to help teachers know and be able to "lead the learning" of 21st Century skills in our public schools. While I admire the Framework for 21st Century Skills, published by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and I genuinely appreciate the enGauge 21st Century Skills model, I know teachers need to move beyond models to "cut right to the chase." They need a clear picture of today's challenge. Thus the 1905 image and my simplified response to a loaded question: What IS 21st Century Teaching and Learning?

Take a close look at the picture the Library of Congress labeled "A modern training school." Girls are sewing and cooking. Boys are woodworking. The students are using the TOOLS of the era to prepare for the work of the era. The teachers are working beside their students, coaching and mentoring them as they refine skills that transfer beyond the schoolhouse to life in the real world. Zoom in. Look a bit closer. The TOOLS include needles, knives, chisels, hammers, picks, heat, ovens. The tools of the age are potentially dangerous - but they aren't blocked from the school. Teachers are teaching students to use the tools of the age - and use them safely.

One more picture to make this post less daunting. This image from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs is entitled 1910 -1930 Infantile speech defects corrected by games. This class is playing "train," making "ch" sound. What a great example! The students are learning the CONTENT of the era using the highly relevant CONTEXT of the era. At the beginning of the 19th century, trains were a phenomenon. The railroads were slowly joining rivers, canals, coaches and carriages in transporting people and goods across the country. The "ch-choo" train was serious pop culture in 1919 and students must have engaged in learning about them. The "ch-choo" that was so relevant and popular in that era seems remote and out of place in the schools of 2008. Yet, we persist in "ch-chooing" when we could be "cha-chinging" the critically important 21st Century lessons of Financial Literacy. Our school train just hasn't engaged the context of the 21st Century.

Let me wrap this up. What IS 21st Century Teaching and Learning? In very simplistic terms:

1. Students use the TOOLS of the era to prepare for life and work in the era.
2. Students learn the CONTENT of the era in the fascinating CONTEXT of the era.
3. Teachers COACH and mentor students who refine skills that matter and transfer to life in the real world.

1.)Tools. 2.) Content. 3.) Context. 4.) Coach. Not so very new or different. We just need to bump the focus of all four up a mere one hundred years - and we're here - in the 21st Century!

Image Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Digital ID: cph 3a15671
Digital ID: det 4a27732
RIGHTS INFORMATION: No known restrictions on publication.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

ME? Hang on Facebook?

In response to October 5, 2008 post, "Facing Facebook" by David Truss: Pair-a-Dimes for Your Thoughts

I've been thinking a lot about Facebook. In fact, I created an account several months ago. Never added a profile. Finally, I deleted the entire account. Why? I just couldn't figure out how I could "contribute" in the Facebook social environment. I could not see myself having a pillow fight with a colleague. I didn't really want to send an exotic cocktail to new a new friend. I wasn't interested in forming a new social connection with an adolescent or a college student. I didn't know how to speak the "Well, ah, like, what-e-e-vvvvr-r-r, you know" language. I just could NOT envision myself in the Facebook crowd.

So, I'd been wondering why it made sense for an educator like me to participate. My interest was piqued by the number of outstanding educators I know who enjoy maintaining Facebook accounts. When the Cool Cat Teacher, Vicki Davis, shared that she had a Facebook presence, I thought, "Well, I know you're cool - but, Vicki, you have adult connections on Linked In! What's up with you, friend?" I just could NOT understand WHY. Vicki is not the only first class educator I know on Facebook. I know many stand-up adults who are members of the Facebook community! Their career interests and professional goals are the same as mine - but they knew something I didn't know. When David Truss, an admired Twitter colleague, hinted that he'd be blogging on the topic "Facing Facebook" I was delighted. Soon, I'd be in on the secret!

Now, here you come, David, with a whole new spin on Facebook! Responsibility. You really "got me" with this appeal. You paint a picture of teachers that "follow" students for all of the right reasons: showing interest, standing up for online integrity, demonstrating altruistic values. You made me think. I have hundreds of former students on Facebook. I still care about them. I always enjoy reconnecting with them face-to face as adults and learning about their lives and careers. I am attracted to the idea of "being there" for them in Facebook - unobtrusively but staunchly standing for high standards in adult life and in digital citizenship. I'd be honored to reconnect with them as a former teacher - professionally - continuing my work with them as a mentor. I can see myself in this role - and I like it.

It is odd. When I deleted the Facebook account a pop up message appeared as I clicked "OK. Delete Account". Perhaps it was serendipity. The message touched me: "Come back to Facebook. We'll miss you." Now the message is more compelling. Facebook is missing me. It is missing the presence of adults who care enough about our young people to network in their space.

Thank you, David. I really like your post. It is valuable and helpful. "and so, like eeeeewwwwww, I'm off to hang out." ;~)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Determined to Practice

In response to Tracy Rosen’s October 3, 2008 blog post Educational Malpractice: "A Values Charged Assessment" on her blog Leading From the Heart, and in response to a comment by Heidi Glass Gable in her October 3, 2008 response to my October 3, 2008 blog post, "Well…Is THIS Educational Malpractice?”

Tracy and Heidi, you raise interesting and thought provoking ideas and questions. I thank you for getting involved in this conversation! It is not easy to step forward and share thoughts and feelings. It takes courage.

Heidi, you suggest that such conversations are “useful as a beginning step to determine what the issue is.” Thank you for making this observation. That is precisely the intent of my initial blog post, "Is This Educational Malpractice?" I sincerely believe that most members of our profession will not interpret the hard questions as a “judgment of failure.” We are much tougher than that. Most educators know they are not failing. Some acknowledge that the change mandates facing schools are not unreasonable and some accept the logic behind the directives. Some superlative educators are more than willing to embrace personal accountability on issues surrounding 21st century skills - and, some educators are embracing student-centered learning with one (functional!)computer in their classrooms! As Tracy (who knows she is not failing) points out - active, engaging, social learning does not necessarily require computer hardware and connectivity. While it is possible for students to practice many learning skills in the absence of technology, I ask WHY? I suggest that using the tools of the age is essential to building the skills students will need for success in a modern society and a global economy. In my opinion, we need all of the teachers to embrace the 21st century challenge! We need every student to have opportunities for participation in the world’s conversation - just as we are participating now. Students need opportunities to demonstrate competence in essential 21st century learning standards and performance skills. To do so, they must be able to use technology. In a time when the digital divide so seriously threatens “equity” for all students, the schools serve as “the bridge of hope” for technology literacy for many American children. We cannot let these children down.

Tracy, you suggest that we identify those who are “mal-practicing” and you put forward a far more complex and serious observation: “If there is malpractice it is systemic.” I say, thank you. While I am not at all in favor of pursuing “mal-practicers,” I am most interested in a conversation that advances our profession’s ability to articulate an argument for substantial, proactive change in our nation’s classrooms. I embrace your good observation and pose it back to you as a question: “Is education malpractice - with respect to the 21st century skills - a systemic problem?” I’m not sure it is, but I am willing to suggest that a time of reckoning is upon our profession. As a member of the education community, I am prepared to objectively consider the possibility of systemic malpractice in implementing the 21st century skills in our schools. I am willing to partner with teachers, leaders, policy makers and government officials to be certain the barriers (which Heidi describes as “what stands in the way of DOING”) are removed. Common barriers cited by educators include: 1.) lack of teacher professional development; 2.)lack of teacher time for learning and practice: 3.) fear of change; 4.) fear of technology; 5.) resistant attitudes; 6.) lack of technology: 7.) lack of technical support; 8.) blocked web access and on and on. There are many barriers – but they are not insurmountable. There are solutions. I am willing to be a part of solutions that makes it possible for educators and students to learn using the most powerful learning tools of the age - in spite of the barriers. There are scores of teachers that work toward these goals on a daily basis. There are some education leaders across this nation that work daily and diligently to eliminate barriers. But we need help. I suggest that the entire education community is needed to support the migration from traditional education practices to 21st century learning environments.

Tracy, I totally disagree that the compelling need for 21st century skills is “a values-charged argument.” I suggest that adopting, embracing and teaching the learning skills it is a responsibility. I also disagree that the whole language movement is “values-charged” movement. The whole language movement (simplified) advocates for knowledge construction as learners make meaning in language-rich environments. Promising research-based principles that point to efficacy of whole language methods attract educators. Yet, in the current decade, the 2000 National Reading Panel released "The Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read," which concludes that children benefit most from explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, text comprehension and oral reading fluency. Now, here is my point. The "reading wars" are a debate between two research-based methodologies. It has become an emotionally-charged issues for some educators - but both camps agree on the value of teaching children to read. The methods teachers use do not deprive students of reading instruction. Clearly, our nation’s teachers work to teach reading - and they are passionate about it. With respect to 21st century skills, however, a teacher’s decision not to use technology (where it is available) deprives a student of opportunities to practice and learn the 21st century skills in technology-empowered, information-rich environments. It is irresponsible to "decide" not to use technology for learning. I'm calling for a passionate teacher workforce that champions the use of technologies to advance the 21st century skills.

Heidi, I'd like to answer your good question: “Why, as a system, are we failing so miserably in providing teachers with mentors and coaches who will help them (teachers) through this change?” That is, in fact, the specific work that I do each and every day. I work with teacher leaders and mentors who “lead the learning” in schools committed to becoming models of 21st century learning. We are not failing. These educators are amazing! Education specialists who guide and support teachers through the process of transforming education are an invaluable investment. They are hard to find. They are hard to keep. They are, in my opinion, the change agents needed to make positive change happen. And I believe, they are responding to the call to "stand up" for updating our schools for the students of the 21st century. Still, there are too many educators that irresponsibly "decide" not to participate. That is a shame.

So, we have had quite a discussion! I’ve neglected some very important work this past 36 hours – and must get back to it - but I consider this conversation worth a lost night’s sleep. I’m signing off on this topic now – but leave you with an earnest question. Are we, as an education community, willing and able to consider the question of "malpractice" with respect to implementing the 21st century skills in our classrooms? I find the question intriguing. I've been thinking about it each day since I heard it. I am not discouraged and I am not defensive. As an educator, I am determined to practice the 21st century skills!

Well...Is THIS Educational Malpractice?

In response to a comment posted by Dan Callahan on October 3, 2008 in response to my October 2, 2008 blog post, "Is This Educational Malpractice?"

Dan, I'm so glad you zoomed in on my mention of "standards of practice" in my October 2, 2008 blog post "Is This Educational Malpractice?" I anticipated that readers might question the "accepted standard" caveat articulated in the definition of malpractice offered on You didn't let me down and I appreciate that! Thank you for reading my blog and for encouraging me to explain my position.

I would argue that the "standards" for 21st century teaching and learning are widely published and accepted at this time. For example:

1.) The International Society for Technology in Education updated the 2000 NETS.T in January 2008. The 2008 National Educational Technology Standards for Teachers detail and profile the internationally accepted standards for 21st century teaching. ISTE describes these standards as "a framework for educators to use as they transition schools from Industrial Age to Digital Age places of learning."

2.) In 2007, the American Association of School Librarians released the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner. These standards detail the skills, resources and tools that are crucial for students who will live and work in this century. According to AASL, the standards provide "a guide and beckon... to serve as a tool for library media specialists to use to shape the learning of students in the school."

3.) In 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007, the International Technology Education Association(ITEA) published the Standards for Technological Literacy. The intent of ITEA's standards is to help educators define and recognize quality technology instruction.

4.) The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an advocacy group composed of education leaders (National Education Association and American Association of School Librarians), business leaders, community and government leaders published a powerful Framework for 21st Century Learning. To date, nine states have adopted the P21 Framework and are systematically working to infuse standards for 21st century teaching and learning in public schools.

5.) Every state in our nation has developed and implemented technology standards for students. In our nation, there is a statutory requirement that requires schools to ensure that students are technologically literate by the end of the 8th grade. The portion of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act known as 'Enhancing Education Through Technology Act of 2001' (E2T2) requires schools: To assist every student in crossing the digital divide by ensuring that every student is technologically literate by the time the student finishes the eighth grade, regardless of the student's race, ethnicity, gender, family income, geographic location, or disability.

I could go on and on with examples of “accepted standards” but I know you get the idea.

If you are arguing that the 21st century skills are not standard PRACTICE in U.S. public schools, I would wholeheartedly agree with you, and thank you for making my point. The "accepted standard" (and,I might add LAW, see #5 above) is not the accepted practice. Let me return to the medical malpractice definition and analogy. First, I admit, I’m no attorney, so I'm simplifying to make a point. If a physician notes a suspicious lesion and fails to evaluate the cause and follow an accepted standard in practice, the physician does harm to the patient. In a like manner, if an educator is aware of a pertinent educational need of students charged to their care - and fails to assess the need and implement an accepted "standard" of instructional practice, they do harm to the student. Let's look at it another way. What consequences might follow if an educator decided NOT to teach reading in his class? What if he ignored reading as an “accepted standard” of practice? I think we know the answer. The 21st Century skills are often compared to reading – as an essential life skill for students who will live and work in this century. How can educators NOT embrace the teaching of these skills with the same passion and vigor as they embrace the teaching of reading?

Let me make an important point that you bring to my attention. I am quick to praise our nation's educators who are doing an admirable job teaching many, many, many "standards." Our teachers are masters at TEACHING content. My October 2 post, however, is calling attention to a set of LEARNING skills and abilities that students will need for success in the 21st century. These skills include: constructing knowledge in modern contexts; practicing life skills through real-world problem-solving; experiencing creativity and testing innovation through relevant projects and activities; gathering, analyzing, creating and communicating information to audiences of peers throughout the world. The "accepted standards" for these skills, in IMHO, are not widely visible in contemporary classroom practice. My question remains, Dan. Is this educational malpractice?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Is This Educational Malpractice?

I’m a new blogger and I have a writer’s block. It is not the “block” one typically associates with blank paper. It is, in fact, the opposite. This block is like trying to stream live video on very low bandwidth. The video stream of my mind pushes so much data into the narrow “pipeline” of my keyboard that the path clogs and the hourglass of “wait time” begins to spin. You see, I’m extremely concerned about the compelling need to reform our nation’s schools. Our national economic security depends on bringing our schools into the 21st century. In my small circle of influence, I have championed the progression of the 21st century skills movement for 25 years. I became passionate about the need for school reform with the first national call for change - A Nation at Risk in 1983. I have followed and reacted to a plethora of urgent “change mandates” for a quarter of a century now. I’m clearly focused on the need to upgrade schools and I’m serious about it. Now, given a blog forum, I’m eager to “push” every challenge and each potential solution into the blogosphere and I’m limited by one text stream!

I’ve decided to “beat the block” by letting the stream flow with one of the most thought-provoking statements I’ve heard in my experience with school reform efforts. It happened just last week as I attended a conference of instructional support specialists representing school systems throughout the U.S. During an administrative briefing, the topic shifted to our schools’ need for leadership in implementing the 21st century skills. The speaker, armed with data and rationale, made the challenge real. Her admonition: “Failure to implement the 21st century skills in our schools constitutes malpractice.” Simple. Bold. Clear. Finally…the bottom line!

Malpractice, according to is defined as:

“… a professional's misconduct or failure to use adequate levels of care, skill or diligence in the performance of the professional's duties that causes harm to another. In order for malpractice to be actionable, injury, loss or damage must be suffered by the person who retained the professional's services, or those otherwise entitled to benefit from or rely upon the professional's services.”

How many times have I walked through schools and left with a heart heavy for the students who are being harmed by omission of the 21st century skills? Too many children have passed before my experience deprived of opportunities to learn academic content in relevant, contemporary contexts. Too many, who are entitled to a 21st century education, sit passively in rows at the expense of learning to self-direct, innovate, collaborate and demonstrate responsibility for their own learning. I’m beyond being perplexed at the mindset that stubbornly determines to “beautifully prepare students for a world that no longer exists.” (Eric Hoffer) I find myself aligned with a brilliant woman who had the courage to call it what it is: MALPRACTICE.

I Googled “malpractice” as I began writing this blog entry. A lengthy list of links to “medical malpractice” appeared. I looked around with trepidation as site after site defined malpractice as “negligence by omission of accepted standards of practice that cause injury to others.” I can’t help but wonder how long our profession can sustain malpractice. How long will stakeholders forgive institutional tolerance for “omission” of 21st century skills? After twenty-five years of public policy, reform and change mandates pleading for upgrades to schooling, I can’t imagine continued patience. I suggest that the day of “educational malpractice” is upon us. Let every educator at every level examine “omission” of 21st century skills in their own practice. This is serious. Upgrading the seriousness of the 21st century challenge might be just what is needed to upgrade education's sense of urgency.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Swinging at the Pendulum

Those of us who have been teaching for awhile are quite familiar with education's "swinging pendulum." We’ll probably agree that the “edupendulum” has come to symbolize a never-ending cycle of minimally impactful “changes” in the schools. The pendulum has become an icon in our profession. Educators have come to accept it as an inevitable tenet of our business. The time has come, however, for the edupendulum to be examined and exposed for what it is. It is an enemy in the battle for school reform.

You see, most teachers don’t trust the pendulum. They trust it so little that without prompt or provocation veteran teachers indoctrinate “newbies” to the capriciousness of the pendulum. It is identified as a force that powers the constant ebb and flow of education fads and trends. It is blamed for swinging teacher’s attention from one counterproductive craze to another. Unfortunately, the pendulum has conditioned our teachers to sabotage “change efforts.” It is a problem of our own making. We’ve not always been selective about the tools we've introduced to our teachers. We’ve allowed societal pressures, eager vendors, ambitious leaders and funding cycles to drive “killer apps” and startling "innovations" into our classrooms. We’ve insisted that educators use them. We’ve cajoled their positive attitudes. Then, we watch in dismay as a vast majority of teachers quietly retreat to their classrooms where they continue to do what they believe to be best for students. They teach as they were taught.

It is easy to understand why so many seasoned teachers are leery of educational "change." Because we all understand the pendulum phenomenon, why then are we surprised when educators view the "21st century skills" as one more in a series of pendulum swings? Well, we aren't all that surprised but, in this matter, we have to be deeply concerned. Why? Because the skepticism that educators bring to the 21st century skills is becoming a major barrier to the progress of our students and our nation. For the first time in the history of our profession, the reluctance of educators to embrace a change is actually threatening the future of our stakeholders. Today's students live in a digital age, a global world and a new economy. These students will live and work during the morphing of boundaries, institutions, knowledge and businesses. The tools of their professions have yet to be invented. The jobs they will hold are yet to be created. Their workspace will, no doubt, be grounded in cyberspace. How will we prepare them for the challenges of exponential change? Frankly, unless each teacher "steps up," we won't prepare them. "Stepping up" means recognizing that the pendulum of traditional education cannot swing forever. The friction of change is rapidly grinding the worn, traditional gears to a halt. Perhaps it is as it should be. With the pendulum stilled, educators can cease marking time--cease a back and forth movement--CEASE marching in place within the confines of a monolithic system. Instead, educators can do what they yearn to do. They can step over the barriers of traditional schooling and step into the 21st century learning trajectory. They'll meet their students there -- on an upward and onward path that challenges all learners to master the skills and abilities needed to glide into their future.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lurking Guardians of the Past

I'm deep into my "detailed reread" of Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class, How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. My first encounter with a promising new non-fiction book is always a cursory review. I'm essentially speed reading to hear the author's foremost message. If I'm drawn to the point, I set aside precious quality time for a delicious and "detailed reread." That's what I did with Disrupting Class. I added it to my stack of "rereads." My self-appointed rule is to place a new "reread" on the bottom of the stack--but I rarely follow my own rule. I've noticed that compelling "rereads" find their way to the top to the stack by haunting my curiosity and peaking my sense of adventure. These books lure me back to them with an attraction that surely resembles the forces that drive treasure hunters. Because I know treasure exists within them, I'm compelled to mine the gold in "them there hills." I'm beginning to better understand and appreciate the "reread" stack. It is a second filter of sorts. It separates potential treasure troves from fool's gold. And true to its function, the "reread stack" catapulted Disrupting Class toward me at every given opportunity for quality time. I am into this book. I'm reading for treasures and finding them.

Here is a treasure drawn from page 112. Its accuracy disturbs me.

"Maurice Maeterlinck, the Belgian Nobel Laureate in literature once observed, "At every crossway on the road that leads to the future each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past."

I'm disturbed because I suspect that the "thousand men" may be living in my neighborhood, in my community... and they may be congregating in my schools! Why, just last week I caught a glimpse of lurking guardians of the past. I'd just chaired an exhilarating meeting with forwarding-thinking administrators that genuinely aspire to transforming schools for the 21st century. Following the meeting and filled with hope and renewed energy, I plunged into my work. One of "the thousand" slowly emerged in my thinking - out of nowhere! Just as clearly as a ringing bell, I replayed a meeting scene in which a potential "guardian"interjected, "What we are doing is changing the teacher's job description." Now, I don't doubt for a minute that the speaker intended to call attention to the fact that our expectations for how teachers teach are changing ... and for the better. But somewhere deep in the origin of the comment was a guardian of the past. The "guardian" challenged whether or not our schools had the right to adjust expectations for how teachers teach in the 21st century. After all, the existing job description did not spell out a responsibility for teaching "21st century skills." Maeterlinck's quote kicked in. It was a jolt - an epiphany. In an instant I had an intuitive grasp of the reality that surfaced through this event. It is simple and so striking. There is a "guardian of the past" lurking in the the most progressive of us. As we step into the future, the guardian of all things past is that voice that whispers, "Can we really do this?" "Is it really possible to glimpse the future and plan for progressive tomorrows? "Who am I to lead a charge for change?" Oh, that Maeterlinck's "thousands" were that small in number! Given a thousand to defeat, we'd have 21st century schools with informed teaching and progressive learning on every corner. The reality, however, is that "guardians of the past" exist within the most courageous of us. We must all battle to conquer the voices that "guard the past." It won't be easy. It will be hard. Chances are great that "the old demon" will surface every day.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Flanking the Centurions

I can't remember my first lessons about the Roman centurions. I don't recall the grade or the teacher. I have no idea why I carry a clear imprint of these ancient that closely resembles this award-winning image from Wikimedia Commons. Admittedly, I am not a history scholar. In fact, my current understandings about centurions are quite likely shaped by my schooling, old movies and my husband, the history buff. As I began thinking about a name for my blog voice, however, a synapse of stilled dendrites and axons rattled my dormant "centurion schema." After a bit of cursory fact-checking, my uncontested choice for a blogspot title was "The 21st Century Centurion." You see, on some level, I know we need a militia of highly skilled educators to lead the learning in the 21st century. I am compelled by the urgent need to energize, empower and mobilize a vast corps of courageous, innovative educators who will redefine teaching and learning for the 21st Century. Having worked in technology professional development for years, I'm able to recognize that the "season" for transformation is upon us now--in the present--today. All things past have come together - to NOW. A symphony of knowledge, tools, resources, conditions, policies, societal needs, educational crises, and the pulse of the human condition is at full crescendo. After 25 years of change vibrations, beginning with a Nation at Risk in 1983, the call for a learning revolution resonates at ear-splitting intensity. The shrill cry for change will certainly shatter the fragile remains of traditional, monolithic schools. Our students hang in the balance trusting society to rally and rebuild them. The good news is an army of 21st century "education centurions" is forming.

Having said all of that, I confess that this centurion paused before charging into the edublogosphere. It is truthful to say that she looked over the blog horizon, saw the army of naysayers, and considered a quick retreat. It is intimidating to make one's self vulnerable to arrows of criticism from the bows of colleagues. Yet, over the years, I have learned to take blows from traditionalists without negative emotion. Uncharacteristically, however, I have silently followed and learned and grown from the courageous lead of edubloggers who overcame fears and wounds to lead the net-charge for school reform. I've long been inspired by the web queen, Kathy Schrock and the flat world princess Vicki Davis. I've been energized by the passion of Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, the sheer volume of Wes Fryer's outstanding contributions, the humor and wisdom of Christa Allen, the selfless and brilliant insights of Terry Freedman, the faithfulness of Lisa Durff, the erudite rants of Gary Stager and the tireless and amazing efforts of gifted leaders including Dean Shareski, Lucy Gray, Lisa Thurrman, Scott Floyd and Bud Hunt. There are so many others. I owe so much to so many.

How can one sit on the sideline once the mission is clear? How can one "be still" when walls are crumbling and students must be served? How does an educator say "no" when colleagues are assembling to reform our profession? Here's the answer to all three questions. We will not be still. The educators will rally. They'll enlist. They'll disrupt, conquer and rebuild our schools for the 21st century. I am certain of this. Toward this end, I join the ranks of web centurions that marched before me and paved my way in the blogosphere. Thank you for your leadership.