We didn’t have control before

I’ve been spending a great deal of time with educators who are thinking about the changes that will be necessary once a greater saturation of technology is present in their schools and classrooms.

The most frequent topic under this umbrella – classroom management.

Principals and teachers are concerned over a lack of “control,” and that students will be distracted to greater extents now that devices are in their hands. Students will be distracted and engagement will flag, they worry.

Instead of doing what they are asked or expected to, many teachers worry students will do something else, something they choose.

These educators are correct. Faced with the choice to do school and learning as they always have versus an activity or piece of content of their choosing, students are likely to favor the latter.

I cannot blame them.

To prepare for this distraction and tension of control, schools are readying policies and school-wide language for students. They share it with parents who are equally concerned their children will stop paying attention and choose anything else over the prescribed curriculum and tasks.

Schools will tell students when they are allowed to have their devices out and when they are not. There will be signs in the classrooms that teachers can turn over or point to for clarification. Students who are repeatedly off-task will meet with restricted freedoms until they can show a greater ability to act in compliance.

I wish the answer they were giving was a different one. I wish when educators spoke to parents they made a different promise and instead said that they would be working to make their classrooms more interesting, responsive, spaces connected to students’ curiosities and questions. I wish they committed in faculty meetings, not to a common signal, but to a common agreement to be better at asking students to do things that matter in the moment.

We have been skating by in our classrooms. This was a hard truth I ran into head first when I started working in my first 1:1 environment, and my instinct was to intensify the ways in which I showed my students I was in control of their learning. It’s not an instinct of which I’m proud, but that’s often true of the novice learner.

Luckily, I had access to communities (online and physical) who shared both their practices and their thinking about interacting with students in well-saturated technological learning spaces. Following their lead and writing in this space as a place to reflect publicly, I came to realize holding tighter to control wasn’t in the interest of my students or my peace of mind.

Any shift so seismic as the introduction of connected devices to a classroom calls for a greater awareness of practice. We may turn toward that awareness or we may dig in more deeply to what we have always done and choose not to examine our practices and beliefs about learning.

My hope is that teachers and principals will choose to lean in to the conversations and reflections during this shift of opportunity and begin asking what they should stop doing and start doing, given the affordances of a shifting landscape.

Of Papert and District Politics

This piece was published about our district’s Board this week. I particularly like this section:

Mike Schiers, who generally represents the Frederick High School feeder system on the school board, said the district needs to make teaching its top priority.

“Our focus has changed from teaching to following up on the requirements,” Schiers said.

In any regulated industry, compliance with the regulations takes over all functions, Creighton said.

Today, I read this from The Daily Papert:

The very nature of a curriculum requires subordinating individual initiative to the Great Plan. Schools can see no way to make it work other than by exactly the methods and principles that have now been discredited in the Soviet system. All over the world, more and more people are recognizing that these principles do not work in economics. I think that more and more people are also beginning to see that they will not work in education either. These principles fail in the two cases ultimately for exactly the same reason: They hamper individual initiative, and deprive the system of the flexibility to adapt to local situations.

I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this kind of intersection of theory and practice. I also remain hopeful as to the Board’s new direction.

Connecting Families and Schools: A New Framework

The U.S. Department of Education, the Institute for Educational Leadership board members, and Karen Mapp of the Harvard Ed School unveiled their jointly-created “Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships,” and it’s a quick read worthy of the eyes of anyone who’s ever wondered how to get families and schools working together.

Most noteworthy is the recognition within the framework that both families and schools often require increased capacity for facilitating and maintaining such partnerships. More specifically:

If effective cradle-to-career educational partnerships between home and school are to be implemented with fidelity and sustained, engagement initiatives must include a concerted focus on developing adult capacity, whether through pre- and in-service professional development for educators; academies, workshops, seminars, and workplace trainings for families; or as an integrated part of parent-teacher partnership activities.


The framework, itself is only three pages long (plus requisite infographic), so I won’t dissect it too much here. What I will point to are the successful examples of the kinds of programs the Framework can help to create. It’s not as easy to find on page 3 of the Frequently Asked Questions, but helps point interested folks to models of what’s possible:

The idea of this framework sits well with me as an immediately actionable way of thinking about bringing community members and schools together to support students’ learning. It does the further work of honoring the households from which students arrive at schools by outlining a key outcome for school and program staff as the ability to “honor and recognize families’ funds of knowledge.”

I’ll be interested in the next few months to see how more specifics and examples of programs working through this framework come to light. For right now, this looks like a helpful tool and frame for doing some important work in our schools.

#wellrED Week 2

José, Larissa, Scott, and I got together Thursday night in an on-air google hangout to discuss Lisa Delpit’s Other People’s Children for the second week running. While the schedule said we’d be talking about “Part 1” of the book, our conversation focused only on “The Silenced Dialogue.”

It was a thought-provoking hour of conversation that I’m still mulling over, and likely will be until next week’s conversation. You can read about the catalyst for the reading group here, and join the group here.

As for my part, I’m enjoying having a space to look forward to each week where race, ethnicity, culture, privilege, equity, power, and other critical issues that are easily overlooked in education is the set focus.

Last week, I switched from the print to Kindle version of the book. You can track highlights and comments here.

More importantly, consider joining in the reading. The book is a collection of essays, so you can easily jump in mid-book. Next week, we’ll be talking about pgs. 48-69. Join the hangout or the twitter chat. Maybe just post to the discussion board. Either way, let’s elevate the conversation and critical thinking around these important issues of practice.

In Defense of the Digital Footprint

Image from acruas via flickrAt least once a day, I hear it maligned – the digital footprint. I’m not sure when, but at some point in the not-so-distant past the digital footprint became a cultural boogeyman.

Hiding under the bed of every child’s future is a digital footprint ready to reveal the darkest mistakes and actions of their past to any future employer, partner, loan officer, or in-law who knows how to google.

It may sound like hyperbole, but listen the next time anyone warns children or warns teachers to warn children of their digital footprints and the tracks they can leave. From folks who love kids and see only the best versions of who they are becoming you will hear language that makes it sound like any kid with an Internet connection is immediately drawn to deviance, felonious acts, and sins of untold peril.

Instead, let’s flip the script of how we talk about students’ (and adults’) digital footprints. Let’s remind people that they have an opportunity to leave tracks online that speak to the kind, creative, intelligent, wise, and collaborative people they are in the physical world.

Instead, let’s not frame their actions in what we would hope them not to do but in the opportunities of what they can do and the imprint they can leave on online spaces.

Instead, let’s ask them to think of the Internet of the place and ask what community service they can perform.

Yes, there are issues of safety. Yes, people make mistakes online. Wouldn’t it be better, though, if an individual’s mistakes were awash in accompanying links to the myriad examples of how they’ve leveraged their connection to the world to do something good?

Talk to students about digital footprints, yes. Just make sure you’re reminding them those footprints can lead to more than depravity.

Some Things I’ve Been Saying

two men talking

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time in quite a few schools in our district lately. Whether it’s middle school teachers who will have new mobile devices in their hands and their classrooms in the next month or elementary teachers who have a couple years before the full deployment of mobile technologies in their room, they are beginning to think about how this change in setting will lead to a change in practice.

I find myself saying many of the same things. Much of what I’m saying is related not at all to devices or technology. Below are my current top three ideas in heavy rotation at the moment.

  1. It’s about the things kids are doing, rather than the things they are holding. I get the learning curve for the basics of turning on devices, loading them with content, etc. To make the impact, though, we’ve got to think of what we are asking students to do. We always have. The difference now is the things they are holding have become “personal” and mobile. The best question, “Are they doing things they couldn’t do yesterday and that you couldn’t do when you were in their place?”
  2. What is made and exists within the classroom in the time you have with your students that didn’t exist at the beginning of that class? It’s basic constructivism, and we don’t need to wait for computers to be guided by considerations of what we are asking students to create in our classrooms. If students are making things, it’s not guaranteed, but it’s much more likely than not that they are learning.
  3. Equally important are the questions of what is being created and for whom. There’s always going to be a piece (hopefully a sliver) of the teacher’s promoting in the things our students make in our classrooms. That’s okay. Dewey was sure to acknowledge that there was a reason teachers were in the room. He chalked it up to greater maturity. Still, if teachers finish creating with the answer of “Because it was assigned” or a derivative thereof when asked why they made what they made, we’ve missed the mark and missed the possibilities of choice and creation. Often this means envisioning what we want them to hold as ideas and understandings in their heads at the end of a project and leaving what they hold in their hands to them.

If we can grab hold of these three ideas as we investigate how coming technological changes will allow for shifts of teaching practices, we stand to see a sea change in the depths of our students’ learning.

Image via lovelornpoets

Leading from the Back

This piece from Ed Batista has me thinking about the kinds if leaders we need in the classroom. Batista’s point is well taken. Those who rise to leadership roles in organizations where their former contributions were aligned to separate skill sets n-ed to put those skills to the side to contemplate their role as leaders in the organization. They don’t need to be the craftsmen of the shop any longer. They are crafting new things.

Something similar can be said in the classroom. When I was teaching English to middle and high school students, my role shifted. I was no longer primarily to be learning about literature, writing, and reading the way I had been in K-12 or during my time in university.

Instead, I needed to understand what it took to help my students surpass me in learning about words and their uses and powers. My job, like the leaders xxx describes, was to step off the shop floor and start thinking about setting a vision for the space toward which all my students could work and in which they could all see their success.

This is not to say I stopped reading, writing, speaking and listening. I did those things, but they were not my primary roles.

In the math classroom, math teachers should still be curious about math, but the goal should be to make way for their students to surpass them as students of mathematics while they, the teachers, learn the new leadership skills key to teaching and fostering high-quality learning environments.

It might be easy to read the above as a suggestion that teachers relinquish the content areas they claim as specialties. This is not my intent anymore than I would suggest organizational leaders outside of education begin to neglect whatever domains in which their organizations specialize.

We must remain historians, musicians, scientists, etc. We must focus, though, on making way for our students to be better learners of any and all of those subjects than we are.

Image via Leo Reynolds

If Your District is Doing This, Convince Them to be the Adults

It’s at :51 in the video below that my disagreement with these local policies comes into sharp focus.

“I think it clarifies what an inappropriate student-teacher relationship is,” the interviewed teacher says, “and it identifies the means by which we have learned some of those relationships begin.”

That sound you hear is the intent missing the mark entirely.

It makes sense that a school district should want to protect students from inappropriate adults not because they are a school district, but because it is the job of the community to protect its youngest and most vulnerable from such influences.

Closing down all means of communication online doesn’t keep students safe, it makes them vulnerable or leaves them that way. I’ve always had online social networking connections with my students. Initially, in the days of myspace, I attempted keeping two accounts. One was the Mr. Chase who would accept student friend requests. The other was Zac who would accept the odd invite from college friends and people I was meeting in life.

Moving to Philadelphia (and Facebook), I collapsed them into one account. When it came down to it, Mr. Chase and Zac weren’t far apart and I found myself wanting to live by the standards I was hoping my students would adopt as our district attempted to terrify them into online sterility with threats of the immortality of their online selves.

Throughout all of that time, I’ve never once worried that I would be setting an improper example for students or calling my professionalism into question. In my online public life, I act as I do in my physical public life – someone who is charged with helping students decide whom they want to become and then being worth of that charge.

Moreover, this is how you break down communities. It is how you leave children unattended. It is how you miss cries for help and avoid bonds that can lead to lifelong mentoring and assistance.

Telling teachers they can have no contact in social spaces with students is not “clarifying inappropriate…relationships.” It is avoiding the conversation about what inappropriate relationships should look like, adding to the implicit accusations that teachers cannot be trusted outside the panopticon of school walls, and reducing the common social capital possible in online neighborhoods.

Instead, teachers must be given the tools and space to consider appropriate interactions and online content, helped to understand the proper channels when students share sensitive information online, and be trusted to be the same guides for digital citizenship that we should be expecting them to be for offline citizenship in our schools, communities and classrooms.

134/365 What Keeps our Ideal from becoming Real in Education

The ideal is not necessarily ideal if we want to get things done.

Digging through the files I’ve been squirreling away to read “one day” I finished Laura Valentini’s article “On the Apparent Paradox of Ideal Theory” yesterday.

While much of it invited re-reading a time or two to really dig into the intense philosophical text, I got enough practical understanding to move the furniture in my brain around a little bit.

I’ll outline the basics as I understand them here, and let others who understand these things better than I chime in with clarifications.

The paradox Valentini describes is akin to letting the great be the enemy of the good. The problem of basing our goals or understandings of the world on the ideal comes in the application to the real world. The ideal is not the real world.

The imagining ignore the reality.

Then, as I understand Valentini, the application of plans to move toward the ideal runs the risk of nullifying the ideal because we didn’t think about the real world in our imagining.

The good, becomes the enemy of the great.

Another way to think about this.

A. I have a plan for an ideal school.
B. I build the structure necessary for the school.
C. The people who populate the school are not ideal.
D. I treat those people as though they are ideal and have ideal abilities.
E. Frustration sets in because people are not who I imagined them to be.
F. The school fails because we did not take into account the non-ideal nature of people, thereby nullifying my image of the ideal school.

While Valentini is talking about ideals of social justice, the argument travels nicely to systems like schools.

If we imagine the ideal school and take into account that people and extant systems are not perfect and ideal, then we can move the pieces of practice necessary to help all actors increase their ability to create the ideal.

In social justice terms, Valentini refers to the application of affirmative action toward the ideal of social justice as a recognition that people do not act without prejudice even after discrimination has been outlawed. The ideal vision holds while the system is adjusted in recognition of the unideal actors.

In the school scenario, the example would be the teachers and other school leaders who imagine all that needs to be done is working harder and longer hours to make up for their shortcomings in making their school the ideal.

This amounts to working much harder to fall short and not build the envisioned school.

Instead, other steps must be taken. Practically, this could include adjusting the school’s schedule, teacher course loads, course materials, training in new practices, etc. Whatever it takes to adjust for the unideal reality can keep the ideal vision from fading away. It might also include things like focusing first on whether or not all students have access to proper medical care, questioning the dietary needs of students and what the school can do to help, connecting students to adult mentors, etc.

The ideal need not die in education because the system isn’t build to bridge the gap between the ideal and reality. It can remain a viable possibility if we realize the needs of the system and move them toward the capacity of the ideal.

A letter from a student teacher to a student teacher

As a final activity, I asked the four student teachers I had the pleasure of supervising write letters to next semester’s group. The instructions were something like, “Write what you wish someone had said to you at the beginning of this experience.” Below is the letter from Jessica Post to those who follow. Jessica is an amazingly creative teacher who is dedicated to improving her practice and connecting to kids. Here’s what she had to say:

Dear Future Student Teachers,
I was very apprehensive before student teaching and was not sure I was
entirely ready for such an intense experience. All I heard from people about this
necessary step in the process was how much work it is and several unfortunate
stories. The thought of planning and teaching four classes was incredibly daunting
and my confidence was shaky. Time flew and before I knew it I was preparing to say
goodbye to the students whom I had grown to know and love. I feel guilty
sometimes when I think about how my 130 students probably taught me more than
I could ever hope to teach them. They continued to show up everyday and stayed
with me when lessons fell flat. They tolerated my cheesy jokes and random
tangents about my pets. They saw me as a teacher before I ever saw it in myself.

Sure, there were days I was tired and dreaded teaching and I imagine, some days,
the students felt the same. But I made it and more importantly I enjoyed it.
Currently, I feel invigorated and excited to have a classroom to call my own. Job
searching and planning for the future is now more daunting than student teaching
could have ever been.

Student teaching gives you the unique opportunity to talk through lessons,
try things you learned in class, and observe the inner workings of a school while
having a plethora of support. I had a wonderful and educational experience and I
sincerely hope that you have similar journeys. I have learned more about myself,
both as a person and as a teacher, during student teaching than I could have learned
in any class. Looking back on the past four months I can pinpoint some key things
that I believed helped me have a positive experience. I share these, in hopes that
they may be of service to you as well.

The most important thing is to accept and remember that everyone’s
experience is different and you should not feel pressured to do things a certain way
or at a certain pace. I observed and co-taught with my CT longer than some of my
colleagues. I had a very gradual transition into solo teaching while other members
of my group jumped in right away. At times I felt slightly inadequate for my sluggish
transition. Did my CT not think I was capable? Am I not qualified to do this? I
pushed my self-doubt aside and accepted the fact that this is what I am comfortable
with and how I learn best. Looking back I am glad I did it this way.

Secondly, make sure to continue doing things you enjoy and ask questions. I
was very busy but I made it a point to hangout with my friends and continue to be
active. This provided some much needed stress relief and made me a more amicable
teacher. Zac and your CT are here to help you and they are really good at answering
questions-especially Zac, he is awesome and you are lucky to have him as a
supervisor. Listen to their suggestions but always be yourself. If something doesn’t
feel right, even if it was their suggestion, don’t do it because if you’re not invested in
it or believe in it, neither will your students.

Accept that some lessons are going to be awesome and others will fall flat.
Always be reflective and critical and write down suggestions as if you were going
to teach that lesson again. I kept sticky notes and stuck them to my lesson plans
to remember what worked, what didn’t, how I would change it, and if the students
liked it. I also went through my CT’s file folders (with his permission of course) and “borrowed” lots of project ideas, rubrics, and assessments. This will undoubtedly be of service to me when I land a job of my own.

For some weird reason I cannot explain, my friends do not find my stories
about the student building forts in the corner of my classroom or my really engaging
lesson that mimics Tosh.O’s web redemptions amusing. Therefore, I befriended
the other members of my cohort and we met every weekend for breakfast. The
first hour we were at the restaurant consisted of eating and sharing stories from
the week. I found these friends are much more responsive to my stories. Then we
would lesson plan, bounce ideas off each other, complain about the TPA, or grade
papers for 2 or 3 more hours. I suggest finding a restaurant is not incredibly busy
and does not mind if you camp out for several hours (I was a server for a long time
so I am very sympathetic to the server’s plight and customer dining etiquette).
Always let them know you intend to stay for a long time and tip your servers well.
Serving PSA aside, this was very beneficial and it provided some much needed help
and support. I strongly suggest this.

Nearing the end of my experience I visited other teachers I have come to
know and respect throughout the school. I observed them and took pictures and
notes of things I liked in their classrooms. In particular I focused on daily routines,
resources, and classroom management. These observations were much more
fruitful than the ones done in practicum because I have experience and specific
things I am looking for. It was also fun to see students with other teachers. Some of
them act completely different than they did in my class. This was very helpful and
allowed me to see other teachers in action (something we won’t get to do as much
when we have our own classrooms).

Try not to get overwhelmed and remember that you are in control of what
you get out of this program. I sincerely wish you the best and I am very excited for
you. I hope you have a wonderful time student teaching and learn a lot from the