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Archive for the ‘SocialMedia’ Category

This morning, I read a great blog post  by Michael Smith entitled “Believing You Are Great Leaves Very Little Room for Improvement.”  In it, Smith asserts that teachers’ unwillingness to change may in fact be due to a belief in the excellence of their methods, lessons, colleagues, and the school program/curriculum  itself.  I thought this was an interesting take on the situation, as I had seen the problem more as a lack of desire to change, and satisfaction with the status quo.  But when you think of a school as a microcosm, where the community is often small and closed, you can easily understand how the ideas and myths perpetrated there could come to be accepted as truth over time.  The characteristics of the faculty, students, and parents remain fairly static.  So, thoughout the years, feedback and comments may also remain the same.  In addition, because the community is fairly closed, exposure to the methodology of others outside the school is fairly uncommon.  This leads to a misconception: that something we’ve done in the past considered excellent, continues to be excellent forever.    The problems is, that as time passes, our expectations and standards should evolve.  Lessons applauded ten years ago cannot be assumed to be excellent today.

This is where social media comes in.  In order for teachers to be able to see excellence in an unbiased way, they must reevaluate their lessons in light of the work of other educators.   They need to see and hear what other teachers are doing in their classrooms, and become familiar with the tools that they too can use.  Because for most of us, attendance at multiple conferences each year is a financial impossiblity, teachers should take advantage of the free information on the web.  Using Twitter and blog posts, for example, can greatly increase exposure to worlds outside our school walls.  Information from others can help us reevaluate our plans to best serve the students.  What new sources and tools exist that can create a more authentic learning experience?  Constructive criticism is available from well-respected peers, if we’re open to have others look at our plans.  Teachers have at their fingertips a wealth of information that can lead to the develop of truly excellent lessons, if they’re only willing to try.  Educators can go on assuming that what they’re doing is excellent, or they can take a brave step into the world of information and evaluation to see their lessons as others would.  After all, how can we assume academic excellence if we’re unaware of what is possible?

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Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to some former students who are now seniors in high school.   After the ceremony honoring them (that’s another story), the young men came into the library to talk to me, and a simple conversation about school evolved into an educational policy discussion.

First, they told me about their “silent” library.  They laughed as they told me how they can’t talk in the library, and are threatened with demerits if they do.  “It’s different than here,”  they said.  (I never was known for a quiet library).  I have always tried to encourage discussion and sharing, and have tried to make the library a fun space that students would be happy to come to and stay in.  After all, in a student’s world where social learning and exchange is commonplace and constant, imposing silence seems not only artificial but stifling. We have to encourage enthusiasm and collaboration. And that sometimes results in more noise than most find acceptable, and may look a little chaotic, but it seems to work.  

We talked about past lessons and research, and how I had changed things to incorporate some newer tools like our class wikis, twitter, googledocs, and wallwisher.  All our middle school students have gmail accounts that they use to login to other sites and to communicate with the faculty.  I don’t think of any of these things as revolutionary; conversely, I think they’re a pretty basic step into web 2.0 tools appropriate for students this age.  If anything, I think we could be more progressive than this, and I’m working on incorporating more collaborative tools into their lessons.  I thought my former students would laugh at their simplicity, but the reaction I got was quite different.  My high schoolers look at each other in astonishment.  It seems that social media tools and most types of communication are being blocked at their school.  “They don’t trust us,”  they said.  They laughed as they told me that the school has a twitter account, but they’re blocked from reading the feed at school.  “We can’t use any of that stuff” was the general comment.

That got me thinking — how are schools preparing students for the 21st century, if policy becomes more restrictive as the students get older?  I always thought with maturity comes increased responsibility.  Where have the benefits of social media gotten lost?  Or perhaps, more scarily,  why have they yet to be recognized?  Who is driving the policy that is preventing young adults from using the tools they use now in every other facet of their lives, and will continue to use in the years ahead?  It’s a little scary when middle school curriculum and policy is more progressive than high school policy.  When 18-year-olds recognize the absurdity of a school’s blocking and filtering policy, what does that say about the educators who are perpetrating it?  Out of the mouths of babes —

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Attendance at Educon 2.2 this weekend has only reinforced the idea that conversation between educators is perhaps the most important professional development tool.  Of course, it was wonderful to listen to the great minds in education present, but the most invigorating and productive sessions seemed to be those in which the group took an issue and began to discuss it.  The conversations that evolved grew in an organic way, producing conclusions and aha! moments that would have been impossible to reach on an individual basis.   The sad fact is that once most of us return to our schools, that the discussion will no longer take place.  Educators are not given much time to collaborate or discuss the “big” education issues during the school day.  Some of us are lucky to have time to eat lunch, let alone meet with other teachers on our faculty. 

So what is the solution?  Well, Twitter has become an invaluable resource to listen to educators around the world.  Best resources, best practices, and best tools are all being posted and discussed.  We’ve built a community that cares about the education of children.  Until this weekend, I didn’t know most of the members of my PLN, although I respected and admired their knowledge and dedication.  Had I never met them, I still would have benefitted from our conversations.  But this conference was a gift that allowed me to meet them face to face.  And I think we’ve all learned from the conversation.

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Sometimes just when you’re at your lowest energy level and discouragement and frustration have snuck in, events coincide to turn everything around.  Yesterday, after pleading with faculty members to take advantage of our faculty wiki to share information and resources, one member inadvertently deleted the entire page.  This I discovered after a long day of helping students establish e-mail accounts, respond to invitations to join class wikis, and set-up Turnitin accounts.  It was not a good day, and I was exhausted.  But last night, I joined the #edchat on the use of social media in the classroom, and was invigorated by the passionate and knowledgeable discussion.  After an hour, I was feeling much more hopeful.  It was then that I ventured into our middle school wikis to see great discussions going on about literature and math.  Students were responding to essays, answering homework questions, and helping each other with technical issues.  It was just as I had envisioned.  It was as if all the stars had aligned to completely change my perspective.  I guess the old adage holds — timing is everything.

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