Aug 3, 2012
Comments Off on Is Incremental Change Enough?

Is Incremental Change Enough?

I was charged by a colleague and friend for being someone who wanted big change. Guilty.

I was charged by the same colleague and friend for being someone who expected people to recognize the need for change. Guilty.

Her claim was that I expected big sweeping changes and I don’t give enough credit to small incremental change and that the latter is the only thing that will make the big changes we need.

And she might be right. Maybe I need to focus on the little changes.

A teacher sets up a class website. Celebrate. A teacher uses some formative assessment. Celebrate. A teacher uses one less worksheet. Celebrate.

I see her point, that if I’m so stuck on waiting for the big stuff, I never acknowledge the movement that is taking place. At a certain point, I try to rely on that. I pride myself on my “incremental change” when it comes to the environment, my buying habits and parlaying principles into actions. I recognize that I can’t live free of all the damage we do. I always say the best step you can take is the next one.

But this is different, isn’t it? Education is already 10 years behind.

The way our students interact with the world is changing so much quicker than incremental change will allow. Check out youtube, Khan Academy, heck even Instructables,  they are all a demonstration that education is now truly public. Something is being added to that list weekly. A spot where any student can get what they need and to know what they need is within reach.

Yet, we rely on textbooks and worksheets. A fixed place, time and subject of learning. We still expect students to sit still and listen to me. Non-stop, all day in subjects we deem important.

And so I say to my colleague and friend, I am guilty of wanting big change. I am guilty of expecting people to recognize the change and make it happen. Because, the way I see it, incremental change is important, but it’s not enough.

Aug 2, 2012
Comments Off on The Age of Networked Intelligence

The Age of Networked Intelligence

It’s not about the tools.

That’s what teachers say after getting off their iPad, disconnecting their netbooks and closing the Skype window.

It’s not about the tools. It’s about the teaching.

The problem with that, of course, is it is about the tools. The internet has changed learning. It has changed knowledge in much the same way the printing press changed knowledge and learning.

Don Tapscott refers to it as the “Age of Networked Intelligence” in his recent TED talk. Therein lies the radical, tactical shift.

Knowledge, learning and intelligence is now distributed. It is no longer limited in time or space. It is only limited by desire.

It is only limited by desire.

Access, being what it is,

The question is:

What are you doing to foster that desire?

In my mind, that is the question that is at the root of public education. We aren’t churning out soon-to-be physicists and doctors. We should be churning out kids who love asking questions and exploring and reading and writing and engaging in the world around them. That’s our why.

Subjects taught in isolation, memory testing, work for the sake of work can no longer be what we do. But we need the tools to make it happen.

The pedagogy must come first, but we are pissing in the wind if we don’t have access to the intelligence.

Jun 18, 2012

The Teacher vs. Teachers

Too many people don’t like teachers.

They don’t like them for their summers off, their short work hours, their “gold-lined” pension and their high salaries.

However, the reality is many people love the teacher.

They love the one in the room, helping their kid achieve great things. They love the teacher who coaches the sport, who supports their child when times get tough, who tries everything to connect with the child off the tracks.

Too often the conversation is about “teachers” and rarely about “the teacher”.

That’s how the narrative needs to change.

It’s too easy to throw us all into the pot. It’s too easy to point at the nameless, numberless mass of tax-sucking workers and call them redundant, expendable. I don’t believe parents are ready to say that about the teacher who calls home, the teacher who is sitting waiting to talk at parent’s night.

As teachers, we need to do a better job talking about the teacher too.

Change the conversation from the collective to the individual. From the nameless to the named. From the heartless to big hearted.

People support the teacher. Let’s start talking about that.

May 31, 2012

Entitled.

As a teacher, what am I entitled to?

Am I entitled to inherent respect from my students? Silence when I demand it? Uncompromising focus of the tasks I deem appropriate?

Am I entitled to students who are never late? Absent?

Am I entitled to students who want to learn? Love to learn?

Am I entitled to students who leave their dramas at home? Have no dramas at home? Recognize when dramas are real or perceived?

Am I entitled to a cell phone free classroom? Facebook-free computer lab? Social media free interaction?

Am I entitled to laugh every day? A work environment free of politics? A work where your value is fairly acknowledged?

Am I entitled to a quiet space to do my work when not directly working with students? Access to the technology I need?

Am I entitled to a succinct, clear understanding of what my responsibilities as a teacher are? A set of protocols of which I must adhere?

Am I entitled to my own classroom? A teacher’s desk?

Am I entitled to time? Space?

Am I entitled to freedom to make mistakes? Freedom to try something new? 

Am I entitled to say no to change? Maintain the status quo? Be jaded, cynical?

Am I entitled to teach how I have been teaching for the past 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? 30 years?

Am I entitled to sick days? Personal days? Family care days?

Am I entitled to stability? Job security?

Am I entitled to fair compensation for my effort? My success? A pension? Recognition of my aptitude?

Am I entitled to feedback? To offer professional feedback? To speak for myself?

It seems to me there are many questions about entitlement that are being asked explicitly and implicitly in education right now. There is an expectation of entitlement that is creeping into the daily rhetoric of educators.

The problem with entitlement is we’ll never receive what we are “entitled”. The problem with entitlement is that we’ll never be happy.

These questions can be asked from different perspectives as well. Parents, administrators, governments, students all have a feeling of entitlement.

So, who is entitled?

May 24, 2012
Comments Off on No Room to Charm and Disarm

No Room to Charm and Disarm

With the ubiquity of technology and a growing integration of online teaching, training, applying, and learning, our students are required to learn new skills of communication. We need our students to be able to express themselves succinctly in writing, be able to build connections with little to no face-to-face interaction and the ability to understand tone in writing. However, a colleague of mine made an astute observation a while ago.

The need to build the ability to charm, disarm and create empathy is fading. Here’s her example:

“Deadlines are more important then ever. No longer can these kids talk, negotiate and charm deadlines to be extended because more and more deadlines are a technology. The portal to apply, submit, connect shuts down. That’s the thing with technology, sometimes there is no human on the other side.”

Are we doing our students any favours by extending deadlines because they ask us?

I think of my high school experience where I know a few of my teachers let me by a course because I was a nice kid. I was charming, polite. These skills have served me well. However, more and more, as technological tools create a buffer between humans, are those skills less valuable.

The same colleague made note, “When working in an online work environment, you have to fulfill the requirements, there is no wiggle room. Not only that, you have to fulfill all the requirements.”

There are more and more instances where technology is removing the “soft” skills that are a key element to public education.

So, the two questions I’m left with are: Do we start enforcing tougher deadlines and institute technology to help students remove the natural human elements of charm and negotiations or do we start to rethink and rework our technology and online courses to ensure a more human element to it?

May 14, 2012

Mr. Kemp, Could You Stop Talking.

It’s easy to tell the stories. I like telling the stories. And, over my years of teaching, reading and living, I seemingly have a story for every lesson I wish to impart on my students. Not to mention, I think I’m a pretty crackerjack storyteller.

I understand description and nuance. I can even use different voices, if needed to maintain pretend engagement.

But, that’s not my job anymore.

It’s time to realize that I need to shut up.

Given the tools and the opportunity, students need to be released from the clutches of my soul-sucking storytelling ways. They need to dive in and learn their own stories.

May 7, 2012
Comments Off on Agree to Disagree, than Agree to Keep Discussing

Agree to Disagree, than Agree to Keep Discussing

It is too easy to shut off when you don’t hear what you want. It is easy as a teacher to walk away, shut your door and go on with what you are doing.

Too easy.

At the opening ceremonies of a Fire Chiefs conference I attended yesterday, the opening speaker, the Fire Chief of Kitchener said, “To continue the progress that is needed, we must come together and have discussions and debates. Sometimes we will agree. Sometimes we will agree to disagree, but we must always agree to keep discussing.”

This struck a chord.

Too often there is disagreement and then silence. We can lose semesters easily in poorly designed and implemented professional dialogue strategies where the only people who suffer from our lack of discussion are our students. Silence is not leadership.

We need to disconnect the idea for education from our personal investment and be willing to undertake disagreement. If someone disagrees, it is not a personal affront.

No one theory, idea or reasoning is right. I get that. It is the integration of ideas in the discussion that often determines a great course of action. However, too many voices in the education discussion are silent.

For some, it is by choice. We need to encourage these quiet innovators to open their door to the world and encourage their participation. For some, it is by habit. We need to encourage these experienced educators to join the conversation. For some, it is because they have been silenced before. We need to encourage these professionals that our students and education need their voice.

These “difficult discussions” are essential to our mitigating of the rough waters of the education revolution.

In all my blog entires, I encourage you to disagree with me. Challenge my thinking. We will all come out better on the other side. Let’s agree to keep discussing.

Apr 29, 2012
Comments Off on Counting to Mastery

Counting to Mastery

While sitting having lunch with some progressive, insightful educators, the ideas around assessment were being bandied around. The struggle between the quantitative and qualitative, the balance between formative and summative assessment, and how to find a balance of assessment that most benefits students.

This idea came to my head: A student’s final mark should never be lower than their mid-term mark.

I said it, knowing it may sound crazy, explaining that I hadn’t fully thought it through. However, here was my logic:

A student’s quantitative evaluation, according to Growing Success in Ontario, should be based on “observations, conversations and student product.” (39) Nowhere in Growing Success does it explain the necessity to calculate a student’s numeric mark. In fact, if you read through the document enough, there is considerable evidence to suggest that teachers should be considering what students do as demonstrations of their learning.

And this brings it back to my idea.

As the year progresses, a student can not un-demonstrate their skills. They can not un-demonstrate their knowledge. This is where it gets tricky. I believe that Growing Success wants us to look at the curriculum as stated and evaluate where each students’ skills are at that moment, thus “most recent, most consistent”. What that means is a student’s numeric mid-term mark, should be looking at that student’s demonstrations against all the skills necessary for that credit.

The idea that a student’s final mark should never be lower than their mid-term mark is contingent on the idea that the teacher is determining that mid-term mark against the entire curriculum, not just an isolated part of it.  I know the English curriculum and I would suggest that this idea works. Students at mid-term surely have demonstrated the various elements of reading, writing, oral communication and media studies. A more content driven curriculum, does not fit into this notion.

The one hitch: Growing Success still implies that a student’s final evaluation be determined from 70% of their term work and 30% from a summative. Therefore, at most, a student’s mark should only drop by 30%. However, Growing Success also states, “Determining a report card grade will involve teachers’ professional judgement and interpretation of evidence and should reflect the student’s most consistent level of achievement, with special consideration given to more recent evidence,” (39) which implies that summative evidence may be taken with more consideration.

I leave it to you. My question, considering the ideas, as outlined in Growing Success, is my idea accurate. Or is it the random nonsense of a radical?

Is a mid-term mark, the first instance of our counting to mastery and therefore an indication that a student has successfully demonstrated a specific level of the skills? 

Should a student’s final mark ever be lower than their mid-term mark?

Please comment, question, challenge, and be part of this conversation. I’m wrestling with this notion and would love to hear your thoughts.

Apr 24, 2012
Comments Off on Put It On Paper

Put It On Paper

In the next few weeks I have my Teacher Performance Appraisal. I will have it determined, in a single visit to my classroom, whether I meet the satisfactory requirements to be a teacher in Ontario.

Simply put, I’m not worried. Sorta.

You see, as part of the process, I have to show the paperwork of my teaching. Unit plans, lesson plans, assessment rubrics and accounting formulas. Now to say that this isn’t my strength would be an honest assessment of my abilities as a teacher.

But it is also the limitation of any one-shot assessment model, be it standardized test or performance task or examination. The definition of success must be limited. It must be limited because the time is limited. The space is limited. The assessment is limited. But more importantly, the learning from this performance appraisal is limited. What valuable feedback will I get from a one-shot deal? The operative word being valuable.

The thing is, I don’t think good teaching is a unit plan. Sure, a good teacher has a sense of direction, but that doesn’t always look like a unit plan. I don’t think good teaching is a lesson plan. Sure, a good teacher needs to know what they are doing today, but they have to just as easily have to leave it behind if the people in the room require that.

How do I put a student-centred learning model on paper? How do I provide the things that my VP will be looking for, when they don’t fit so easily in a box? How do I demonstrate the relationship of me being a learner as critical to my assessment plan?

How do I put what I do on paper?

Apr 15, 2012
Comments Off on It’s Easy on Days Like These

It’s Easy on Days Like These

The other day was one of those days.

You know, one of those days where I marvel that I get paid for this gig.

My students wowed me with their engagement. From an on-fire class debate about political power, economic power and our inability to sometimes know the difference, to another class “bringing it” in a major way on their spoken word poems, rants and raps. I was left beaming.

And the thing is, I can take very little of the credit.

The success of the class wasn’t because I had worded the learning goal most precisely or scaffolded the learning in just such a way. The success of the class was precipitated by students making other students better.  They inquired, challenged, cajoled and supported each other. Exactly what learning should look like. The thing is, I have no doubt the teacher matters, but the teacher matters less when students are giving time, space and opportunity to learn.

I did my job flawlessly, on that day, as I got out of the way. I was able, by fluke most likely, to know when to shut up. I just observed, provided minimal feedback, and stopped acting like I needed to “manage” the classroom.  This doesn’t happen often, especially the shutting up part.

Is the flood of “classroom management” techniques inciting us into a winless cycle? Is good teaching the small, unnoticeable details that build confidence and not the noticed lesson plans and scaffolds?

When talking about student success, how do we move teachers away from the conversation about themselves?

 

 

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