ILA Literacy Leadership Brief: Democratizing Professional Growth With Teachers

brief-coverAs teachers and teacher educators prepare for a variety of workshops, conferences, webinars, institutes, and other events this summer, I am pleased to share a timely publication I’ve co-authored with Misty Sailors of the The University of Texas at San Antonio: “Democratizing Professional Growth With Teachers: From Development to Learning.”

One in a series of Literacy Leadership briefs published by International Literacy Association, this brief begins:

In efforts to create classrooms that represent microcosms of U.S. democracy, teacher education encourages culturally sustaining pedagogies, development of the radical imagination of youth, the creation of personal and engaging learning experiences, and the use of authentic assessment that recognizes individual and collective growth, all within communities of practice. However, teachers themselves are not often afforded the same opportunities for their own professional learning.

Often, teachers must submit to the very type of instruction (e.g., in workshops, conferences, webinars) that teacher educators ask them not to use with their students. Teachers are not engaged as active learners with their own questions and goals. Instead, they are treated as if they need to be developed, an idea that we need to problematize, challenge, and reconsider if we wish to create empowering and equitable experiences with teachers. This shift requires that we democratize professional learning.

Read more here, please share widely, and let me know how you take up conversations about the shift from development to learning.


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The Future (Shock) is Now

Future Shock Cover (Wikipedia)
Future Shock Cover (Wikipedia)

Having been on my “to read” list for quite some time, I was finally able to dig into an oft-mentioned book: Alvin Tofler’s 1970 look at, well, today, Future Shock.

I had not read it before, though I see one of his quotes mentioned quite often: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Quite awhile ago, I had heard a story about the book on NPR, and was reminded that a copy still sat upon my bookshelf. Why I hadn’t cracked the cover, I am not sure. And, of course, hindsight is 20/20, so there are tributes to Toffler’s insight, as well as critiques. Prediction is a tough business, so I don’t really want to offer either. Also, I will be honest… I made it about 2/3 of the way through, and then took a fast-forward jump to Chapter 18: “Education in the Future Tense.” So, some of the quotes below are from earlier in the book and some from that section, and I need/want to finish the entire book.

So, here, I want to just pull out a few quotes that speak to the current state of debate when it comes to education, school choice, and ed tech, without offering too much additional commentary.

On education:

“Failure to diversify education within the system will simply lead to the growth of alternative educational opportunities outside the system.” (274)

On technology:

“Moreover, in the educational world of tomorrow, that relic of mass production, the centralized work place, will also become less important… A good deal of education will take place in the student’s own room at home or in a dorm, at hours of his own choosing… he will be freed, for much of the time, of the restrictions and unpleasantness that dogged him in the lockstep classroom.“ (275)

On individuality:

“It is obstinate nonsense to insist, in the face of all this, that the machines of tomorrow will turn us into robots, steal our individuality, eliminate cultural variety… technology, far from restricting our individuality, will multiply our choices—and our freedom—exponentially.” (282)

On mass schooling:

“Mass education was the ingenious machine constructed by industrialism to produce the kind of adults it needed… The inner life of the school thus became an anticipatory mirror, a perfect introduction to industrial society. The most criticized features of education today – the regimentation, lack of individualization, the rigid systems of seating, grouping, grading and marking, the authoritarian role of the teacher – are precisely those that made mass public education so effective in instrument of adaptation for its place and time.” (400)

He goes on to know how progressives such as John Dewey were trying to instill ideas of “presentism,” and to push back against the ideas of the education industrial complex. I’m still not sure that we are all reading enough Dewey. At any rate, back to the quotes:

On the connection between school and work:

“In such a world, the most valued attributes of the industrial era become handicaps. The technology of tomorrow requires not millions of lightly lettered men, ready to work in unison at endlessly repetitious jobs, it requires not men who take orders in unblinking fashion, aware that the price of bread is mechanical submission to authority, but men who can make critical judgments, who can leave their way through | novel environments, who are quick to spot new relationships in the rapidly changing reality.” (402-3)

On the study of history and social issues:

“It is no longer sufficient for Johnny to understand the past. It is not even enough for him to understand the present, for this here-and-now environment will soon vanish. Johnny must learn to anticipate the directions and rate of change. He must, to put it technically, learn to make repeated, probabilistic, increasingly long-range assumptions about the future. And so must Johnny’s teachers.” (403)

On the structure of schooling:

“This trend [toward a knowledge-based industry] will be sharply encouraged by improvements in computer-assisted education, electronic video recording, holography, and other technical fields. Parents and students might sign short-term “learning contracts” with the nearby school, committing them to teach-learn certain courses for course modules. Students might continue going to school for social and athletic activities or for subjects they cannot learn on their own or under the tutelage of parents or family friends. Pressures in this direction will mount as the schools grow more anachronistic, and the courts will find themselves deluged with cases attacking the present obsolete compulsory attendance laws. We may witness, in short, a limited dialectical swing back toward education in the home.” (406)

On the nature of truth as it relates to schooling:

“Given further acceleration, we can conclude that knowledge will grow increasingly perishable. Today’s “fact” becomes tomorrow’s “misinformation.” There is no argument against learning facts or data – far from it. But a society in which the individual constantly changes his job, his place of residence, his social ties and so forth, places an enormous premium on learning efficiency. Tomorrow’s schools must therefore teach not merely data, but ways to manipulate it. Students must learn how to discard old ideas, how and when to replace them. They must, in short, learn how to learn… By instructing students how to learn, unlearn and relearn, a powerful new dimension can be added to the education.” (414)

My hope is that I can find some time to read the last third of the book and, perhaps, watch the documentary.

In the meantime, I just wanted to share the quotes that I found compelling in hope that it will give me some ideas to talk about/from in the PD events I have coming up this summer. My hope is that Toffler (and his wife’s unattributed) work still resonates for you, too.


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Keynote from David Berliner: Myths (and Lies) That Deceive the Public and Harm American Public Education

Image from Amazon.com

Notes from David Berliner’s talk here at Central Michigan University with many ideas from his book 50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education.

  • What is the greatest invention of America: public schools
  • Value added models built on standardized testing are not endorsed by major professional organizations, yet state legislatures still adopt them
  • Most of the elements related to achievement related to out-of-school factors
  • Every Student Succeeds Act — we cannot guarantee that every child will succeed; this is a way to shift blame to teachers and administrators
  • ESSA is an admission of failure — by returning education back to the states
  • 60% of most state budgets are for education
  • Many states are under Republican control, and more cuts are likely
  • In writing the book, they took certain ideas to guide it
    • “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.” – Thomas Jefferson
    • “You are entitled, sir, to your own opinions, but not your own facts.” – Daniel Patrick Moynihan
    • “Educational reform is a euphemism for the destruction of public education.” – Noam Chomsky
  • Why is ed funding going up?
    • Special education costs are going up because the population of special needs kids is going up; we should be proud of this, not upset
  • What is happening with NAEP long term trends?
    • In every single case, the test scores are up
  • Since the great recession, we have more and more students facing even more challenges at home and in their communities
    • Additional challenge — the high performing students are moving out of the public schools
  • STEM: there have been calls for more science, math, and tech for decades
    • But, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that we have 277,000 STEM vacancies per year — but we have plenty of graduates and H-1B visa holders to fill the jobs
    • Plus we have 11.4 million STEM degree holders in the workforce, working outside of their field
    • 28% of engineers are unemployed or holding jobs not congruent with their training
    • Tells the story about the “migrant engineer” who works for five years for one company, then for another, and another… “indentured professionalisms”
  • Referring to many additional education systems around the world
    • How good are regular schools if students have to go to “cram schools” after the regular school day?
    • Report cards on 40 different aspects of behavior; standards-based report card for kindergarten
    • Not against asking kids to learn these things; but against rating kids on them
    • This is the “child’s garden” — we seem to have forgotten this
  • Quote from Arne Duncan (via Diane Ravitch)… ““We should be able to look every second grader in the eye and say, ‘You’re on track, you’re going to be able to go to a good college, or you’re not.’”
  • The argument that the USA will perish because the schools are failing our kids:
    • Russia will beat us, Japan will beat us…
    • Our military is suffering because our schools are so bad…
    • Constant criticism of school
    • Old people typically complain about youth
    • The Grand Myth: our kids don’t do well in international competition
      • Need to disaggregate the data — the kids who are in schools with lower poverty rates are doing better than the OECD average; kids in poverty are doing worse than OECD average
      • We are living in “apartheid lite”
      • 2/3 of our teachers are in schools who have the majority of children in poverty
  • Where you live and who you go to school with matters
    • As middle income kids go to schools that serve wealthier kids, their scores improve; family wealth matters, school population matters
    • Pre-school matters, too. The more you support kids in early life, the better they do on the tests.
    • Michigan had a great record for public education for 100 years, but it is being eroded in modern times
  • If we don’t do work to save America’s public schools, we will be in danger of losing them

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Networked Conversations and Transformational Technology

CC licensed image from Flickr user Frau Hölle

This past week has been a busy one for me, with professional experiences ranging from face-to-face workshops and two webinars, to our first school-based field experiences with pre-service teachers; additionally I met with my writing project leadership team, facilitated two writing groups and ended last night by helping to moderate a panel discussion amongst principals for helping them secure a job. Whew…

In and amongst all of these activities, I have been reminded of the power of teacher networks. In fact, my entire professional life centers on the idea of teacher networks. Identifying networks. Building collaborations. Nurturing novice and veteran teachers alike. Putting them in conversation with one another. Asking smart questions about curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Creating new networks, and beginning the process again. It’s part of who I am, part of what I do.

In that sense, part of what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers this semester to do — through the use of Twitter — is to build a teacher network. I am not simply asking them to “use Twitter.” Instead, I am coaching them in the process of using Twitter as a tool for building their PLN. This happens both online and off. As evidence of this, I spent about 20 minutes of class time last week introducing some of the nuances of Tweetdeck as a tool for monitoring and participating in hashtag conversations.

At the core, what I am attempting to do with my pre-service teachers is about using technology in a way that moves well beyond simplistic integration. As Ruben Puentedura describes it in his SAMR model, I want pre-service teachers to move from technology as a tool for enhancement of teaching practice into an opportunity to transform their practice.

Yet, I find my pre-service teachers, even the most engaged Twitter users amongst them, to be hesitant about using social networking in this manner.

Of course, change is hard, and I am working to ease them into it. I want to provide them with the opportunity, yet not foist Twitter upon them. At the same time, we cannot move fast enough. There are so many conversations, so many ideas that they need to jump into, so many networks that they can learn from.

Indeed, my colleagues in teacher education could take a play from the Twitter/PLN playbook, as I do not often see teacher educators participating in regular conversations. There are exceptions, of course, but when I was in a recent college of ed meeting about reforming our teacher ed program, no one presenting mentioned how we could tap into these existing networks as a way to recruit mentor teachers, build school partnerships, and learn about current trends in the field. Many of my colleagues need to rethink how they, too, participate in networks as a broader component of their own (and their pre-service teachers’) professional learning.

At this point, I am still pushing forward with Twitter outside of my methods class, though I think I might use it in class next week to hold a backchannel conversation, too. I’ve resisted the urge to place any kind of grade on Twitter participation, though I have told students that they will be evaluated on their participation in class, both at the mid-term and at the end of class. So, I will keep working to get them involved, and to get other teacher educators involved, too.


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Digital Literacy Leadership Dare

Looking to the future of digital literacy (Flickr image from by Schlüsselbein2007)

This morning, on the final day of our digital literacy leadership workshop, we watched Chris Lehmann’s Ignite talk about “School 2.0,” and I borrowed some of his ideas to create our writing prompt: What do you dare to do as a digital literacy leader?

One of the themes that has emerged for me over the week, and especially at our dinner conversation last night, is that I have been doing lots with digital literacy just about everywhere in the education world — through the National Writing Project, in K-12 schools, in partnership with colleagues at other universities — but not much right here, on the campus of CMU. Perhaps a bit too aloof, I have often pushed off my lack of involvement here by saying that “I can’t be a prophet in my own land” or that the bureaucracy of the institution is too much.

Today, I am daring myself to do better, to be better. I am daring myself to be a digital literacy leader here, in my own backyard, on our campus. What might this look like.

  • Well, to begin, I will schedule time to talk with our director of composition and the director of the writing center, perhaps both together, to talk about digital literacy and multimodal composing.
  • Second, as we revise the English education curriculum, I will be more of an advocate for digital literacy in our courses and program as a whole.
  • Third, as I get involved with our department curriculum committee, I will also be thinking about possibilities for professional development as it relates to instruction and integration of technology.

I’m using Letter Me Later to send myself a note for later in the year, asking whether or not I have been proactive on these goals.

I hope you, too, digital literacy leadership dare!


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Response to 2016 MDE Assessment Survey

The Michigan Department of Education has issued a “2016 Assessment Survey” that I encourage every teacher and parent in our state to reply to ASAP.

There is a public hearing on the future of assessment in Michigan that will be held in Lansing on July 30th, but I can’t attend in person… so, I am sharing my thoughts here: Response to MDE 2016 Assessment Survey (PDF).

Please take time to do the same. The future of education in our state could change if we take this opportunity to break out of the stranglehold of standardized testing and, instead, move toward authentic assessment.


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Connected Learning Webinar

Today, I enjoyed a conversation with a number of colleagues about the “The Digital Influence on Looking Closely at Student Work.” Definitely worth a listen, and be prepared to write down lots of ideas about how to engage deeply with students’ work as a tool for assessment and professional development.

  • Andrew Sliwinski – Co-Founder of DIY.org; designer and engineer focused on improving how we play and learn
  • Kylie Peppler – Assistant Professor in the Learning Sciences Program at Indiana University; Director at Creativity Labs
  • Tina Blythe – Co-author of “Looking Together at Student Work”; Learning Group Leader at Project Zero

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