Friday, April 26, 2013

On: 8 Characteristics of a Great Teacher

Over at, I read a post called "8 Characteristics of a Great Teacher".  It was a well written piece, dealing with everything from confidence to how the great teachers choose to spend their time.  As a tech guy and former teacher, one of the characteristics caught my eye:

5.  They're Technologically Capable

Let's not belabor this point, after all, plenty of ink (or pixels as the case may be!) has already been spilled on this topic.  As time passes, the statement "But I'm not very good with ________." (fill in the blank with any number of technological devices) is sounding ever more like "But I'm not very good with a telephone."

The only time the sentiment above is acceptable is if it's followed immediately by "...but I'm very willing to learn!"  After all, we wouldn't accept such weak rationalizations from students regarding their work.  In 2013, as a profession, we lose credibility every time we allow excuses like this to go unchallenged.  Enough said.

The reason this caught my eye is because I still hear this as the prevailing "reason" why teachers aren't using technology or even allowing students to use it in their disciplines.

I'd like to know what you think about it.  Please post in the comments below.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

NOT Optional

John Spencer listed 11 Reasons Why Teachers Aren't Using Technology on his blog last July.  Forgive my lack of timeliness, I just came across it today thanks to my PLN on Plurk.  I took a screenshot of number 9 because I'd like to talk about it: (click image to enlarge)

The fact of the matter is that we are in a climate of compliance.  If we weren't, we wouldn't be putting aside everything we love about teaching, everything that made us choose this noble profession, in lieu of teaching to some stupid test imposed on us by people who know nothing about what we do every day (not to mention the fact that stupid test doesn't even do a good job of measuring what it is supposed to measure).  So, yes, compliance.

Compliance or not, I want to go back to that other part:  that we chose this profession for the love of learning.  To make a difference.  To inspire.  To create opportunity where there was only doubt before we came along.  Am I right?

If the standardization of people who are as unique as can be, negative media, politics, and lack of a decent and respectable pay grade haven't already squeezed that love of teaching out of you, congratulations!  Teachers are leaving the profession at nearly the same rate as divorce in this country.  If you're still in your classroom trudging away, there is very little incentive NOT to use technology.

Let me explain.  I assume that if you have put up with all of that stuff, you DO care about teaching and learning, and you care deeply about every student who enters your room leaving with a life-long love of learning that will serve them well for as long as they have a brain in their head and feet in their shoes.  If that is true, your comfort level hasn't ever mattered when it came to what your students really needed.  You have always put aside your own needs for your students.  You have sacrificed:  time, money, sanity, sleep...the list goes on-for your students.

You see why I'm having a hard time with this?  Just because it isn't required doesn't explain why good teachers still aren't using technology.  I think we are well beyond the argument that today's students need to know more about using technology for learning and creating than we did.  Yet, we still teach them the way we were taught.

There is a gigantic chasm between what we know our students need and what we are doing to prepare them for it.  The only thing I can think of is that maybe we are scared to venture away from test prep and "accountability", forcing us to "cover" as much as we can.

Why are you scared?  If you're a good teacher, what is the worst that can happen?  You'd never get fired.  It's very rare that a terrible teacher gets fired.  You're not going to get the boot because you're doing what you, the professionally trained educator, feel in your heart is best for your students.  Besides, if you're a good teacher, you'll get results.

It's beyond time that teachers take back their classrooms.  Take it back from the test development companies.  Take it back from the politicians who think they know how to do what you do, while having no clue what actually goes on inside a classroom today.  Take it back from the media, who would lambast you for belonging to a union or for thinking you shouldn't have to carry a gun to protect yourself in a place of learning.  Take it back from parents who show up only to yell at you for asking their kids to be responsible for their own learning.  Take it back from the businesses who want you to do things like Wall Street does them, as if that's a great model to follow.

It's your room.  It's your class.  It's your profession.  It's your passion.  They are your students.  You are the professional.

Now get out there and do what you already know your students need you to do.  Learn, grow, and change.  We model what we want from them.  Show your students how it's done.

Oh, and it's OK to ask them for help along the way.  ;)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tell Me How He's Wrong

Area Education Agency 267 posted a video called Education in a Digital World, in which issues around education and technology are discussed with Dr. Scott McLeod, an expert on educational leadership.

Here is an excerpt from the video:

“The world around us these days is both digital and global.  Technology is diffusing everything, we’re globally interconnected with people and places that were never connected before.  In this digital global age that we now live, we’re finding that for the most part our schools are neither of those.  Schools are supposedly knowledge institutions where we teach kids to be masters of information, and yet if you look out in the real world beyond schools and beyond universities at how knowledge workers do their jobs, they’re doing it all with computers.  Here we are pretending that we’re preparing students for knowledge work in a knowledge economy, a very hyper-connected, hyper-competitive, global knowledge economy, and yet we’re doing it with ring binders and notebook paper.” 
 -Dr. Scott McLeod

I invite you to watch the video.  In the comments, tell me what you think.  How is he wrong?  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Technology Frustration

Do you have a lawnmower that only starts if you push that little primer button exactly 4 times, and pull the cord really hard three times fast?  Maybe you have a door that doesn't close unless you lift up on the handle a bit, or a drawer that sticks unless you pull it all the way out before closing it, or a TV remote that only works when you aim at the top left corner?  Chances are, there are all kinds of things like that in your life, and you don't even notice them.  

Why, then, do we freak out, throw a fit, get frustrated, and abandon an otherwise worthy technology tool if it doesn't perform exactly as expected every single time?  

For me, technology can be more frustrating than those other things because I don't understand why it isn't working.  I can clearly see that the door won't close because the latch isn't aligned with the hole it is supposed to fit into.  I know that when it's cold outside, my car door on my Taurus might not close without a little WD-40 to help the mechanism move down over the little post that holds it closed.  But when some piece of technology that works 99% of the time suddenly doesn't, it just irks me!  

I mean, machines are supposed to work the same way every single time, unless something changes from the time they last worked to the time they don't.  If nothing has changed, there is no logical explanation for why it suddenly doesn't work.  It's maddening.  It isn't like it has feelings and decides not to work.  It isn't broken.  No one broke into the computer and manipulated the code.  It just worked this time, and not this other time.  Argh!  

But I keep using the tools, or find one that works better.  I don't give up trying altogether.  

An inevitable part of using any kind of tool is dealing with the sometimes frustrating times that it doesn't work.  When I was teaching, we had dry erase markers and a dry erase whiteboard.  I didn't see tons of teachers hesitating or refusing to adopt that method of writing on the board simply because the markers occasionally dried out.  We just planned ahead and had extra markers around.  

If using technology tends to frustrate you more than anything else that doesn't work sometimes, it might be because you're thinking of it differently than what it really is.  It's just a tool.  Like a lawnmower that is hard to start.  It's still a much better way of cutting the grass than getting out there with your scissors.  The effort of that extra pull to get it started is worth it.

In the classroom, there are tools that are just that much better than the way we've done things in the past.  Give up your scissors and give the lawnmower one more pull.  It will be worth it.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Even the Great Ones Need to Keep Up

There are lots of great teachers who never use technology.  There are so many things that go into being a great teacher that it is possible to be one of the best without electricity.  Great teachers inspire you.  They make you want to learn.  Their students are rarely absent, because they truly enjoy being challenged and the feeling they get when they accomplish what they didn't know they could do.  

Still, I would argue that those great teachers are not preparing students for their futures as well as they could be.  It is a major mistake to fail to account for the change that technology has brought upon the world.  

The workforce, the jobs themselves, the way we communicate with one another, the drastically changing rules of discourse in an online and always connected world, the ever changing ways in which we need to be aware of our online selves, the way we seek and scrutinize information that is ubiquitous and free-flowing, the list goes on-and all of it has a major impact on the world we are preparing students for.  

Failing to recognize or prepare students for that world is a mistake.  Even the best teachers cannot say that they are preparing students for life if they fail to recognize that life has changed dramatically in the last decade.  

The best teachers are models of life long learning.  We have to keep up to serve our students well.  

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Why Should I? Part V

This is the fifth in a series of posts titled "Why Should I?".  Each post will look at one reason why it is worth the time and effort to improve your 21st Century teaching skills. 

Preparing Students for Their Future, not Your Past

It's been said that technology isn't technology if it happened before you were born.  Does it blow your mind whenever you see a car go by?  Do you marvel at the images on a television screen, sneaking a peek behind the gadget to see where the people inside it are coming from?  Do you look around for the person on the other end of the phone, because they must be nearby?  Of course not.  You grew up with those things.  They aren't magic, they've always been there.  

The Internet is like that for our students.  It is just there.  It always has been.  Can you imagine how frustrating it is for them that so many of their teachers never let them use it in their classrooms?  It would be kind of like your teachers making you use a quill and ink despite the invention of ballpoint pens and mechanical pencils.  It's ridiculous.  

Yet here we are, still talking about it.  

Inside the walls of a school, ironically, is one of the last places that seems to be unchanged by technology.  Nearly every other part of the world has changed, and changed drastically.  Why do so many teachers still pretend that it hasn't?  How can we say we are doing our jobs preparing students for the future while walking into a virtual time machine to our pasts when we teach?  

Here is a fact:  your students are going to spend their entire lives in the future.  Yet, most teachers still prepare them using things from their pasts.  I've mentioned this statistic before, but when we did a survey of 99.9% of all certified staff in the district just a few years ago, more than half answered that they allow students to use computers/technology tools in their classrooms once per month, once per year, or never.  That's right, more than half.  Once per month or less.  

Sure, there are some things that are timeless.  Critical thinking, problem solving, working with others, communicating, the list goes on.  No matter what technology comes along, these will be important.  

Do you realize that these things are the very same things that are better taught with modern tools?  Technology tools help students solve problems.  They help students learn to think critically.  They can remove the things that got in the way of really thinking about the problems, so that they can focus on the creative thinking needed to solve it.  And do we even need to talk about communication?  About how much faster and more efficient it could be with modern tools than in our time in school?  How many more opportunities there are for students to create with digital tools today than even ten years ago?  

Teachers today need to stop thinking about technology as an add-on, as something else they need to do, deal with, or monitor.  It is simply the way the world works now.  

If you claim to be preparing students for the world, and you don't use technology to do it, you are preparing them for a world that no longer exists.