The Forever Teacher

A regulation MLB baseball sits on my desk in a plexiglass cube. It is accompanied by a ticket stub from the game of its provinence – May 12, 2001 Reds vs. Astros, Cinergy Field, Aisle 105, Row 10, Seat 2.

I wasn’t at the game. I didn’t catch the ball, nor was it tossed to me by one of the players during batting practice.

The best of us realize the value of connectedness beyond the days when these young people are in our charge.

The ball has a signature on it. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at it – Scooter Gennett #11. The S in Scooter is fashioned to look like a lightning bolt. The rest of the text is in the cursive of a young hand.

Scooter was 11 at the time. He’s 25 now and playing pro ball for the Milwaukee Brewers. When he handed me the cube at the end of my first year of teaching, he was just finishing 8th grade. The ball means something to me because it meant something to him and he handed it to me, I’ve always believed, to fill the space between us when our year as teacher and student ended and he headed off to his last four years before being a professional baseball player.

This ball has made 5 moves across as many states, and it lives near the box of things I’ll grab on my way out of the house in the event of a fire.

Scooter, or Ryan as I insisted on calling him, gives me the tremendous gift of knowing where he is and what he’s up to by way of being in the public spotlight.

This past weekend, I got to share a couple of meals with former students while I was in Philadelphia for ISTE. A recent education grad, an employee of the city, another college grad on his way to a pottery studio to make his art, a film-turned-communication major, and a neurobiology major who might want to be an engineer or a dentist.

We sat at these meals and I shared as briefly as possible what I’ve been up to since we’d last met. Then, I got to find out who they’d become in these newest versions of themselves. They are beautiful. They are tremendous. They give me hope for the People we will become – together.

I don’t know what it was like to teach students with whom I couldn’t connect after they’d left my classroom. I find it difficult to imagine a world where I don’t get to see status updates of their growings and mistakes, their discoveries and setbacks. Simply saying goodbye at the end of 180 days is a foreign idea.

I’d be able to find Ryan, sorry – Scooter – with a google search no matter what. To be able to shoot out a message when I’m coming to town and be able to sit down and hear about their lives first-hand, though, that is an affordance of the modern world.

What’s more, it speaks to the communities I hope schools will be. More than once, I’ve said to parting students, “Let me know what you need, and I’ll do my best to help you out. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been.” I’ve meant it every time.

Perhaps that’s a part of the new contract that’s written between teachers and students rather than districts and unions. The best of us realize the value of connectedness beyond the days when these young people are in our charge.

That’s a world I want to live in, and it’s what I want to model. I want my students to know I’ll be here. I want them to see that as a way of caring for those around them.

Yes, to those who read these words and worry about boundaries, perhaps this approach invites difficult conversations about what I can’t do to help students. It’s true. When I think about those students I’ve lost or the world has lost after I’m no longer their teacher, though, I’d much rather have the difficult conversation than grieve a life that might have been.

Much is made of the importance of lifelong learners. This weekend, and this baseball sitting on my desk, make me wonder if we’re not missing a chance to think about lifelong teachers.

Dana Boyd proves ‘It’s Complicated’

Dana Boyd’s It’s Complicated has been on my Kindle for longer than a book of its quality should have to wait in digital limbo before a person gets around to reading it.

Complicated is Boyd’s distilling and examination of years of exploration of the online lives of the American teen. Making the title apt, the text shows that teens’ relationship to online spaces is complicated and best summed up for me in the closing pages:

As teens work through the various issues that emerge around networked publics, they must struggle with what it means both to be public and to be in public.

I tried, as I made my way through the book, to figure out where I was agreeing with Boyd because she was making points I’ve made in public before and where I was agreeing with her because she’d masterfully unveiled a new line of thinking. In the end, I tipped my hat to Boyd because she’d made points that had never occurred to me and woven them together with what I realized were my own simple ways of thinking.

Explaining Complicated to a friend the other day, I explained, were I designing a syllabus that included the book, I’d follow it quickly with Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American City.

Because that’s what Boyd does here, she pounds the digital concrete of modern American cities and attempts to understand how teens are hanging out there the way they used to do on stoops and in malls across the country.

Additionally, she works to understand adults’ fears that have driven teens to these spaces and adults’ fears now that they’re there. Boyd writes, “[S]ocial media services like Facebook and Twitter are providing teens with new opportunities to participate in public life, and this, more than anything else, is what concerns many anxious adults.”

I read the book with a constant refrain in my mind, “What kind of adults are we forcing these teens to become?”

For adults to make their way through that fear, Boyd later adds, “For adults to hear the voices of youth, they must let go of their nostalgia and suspend their fears.”

Perhaps this idea is where Complicated hits its highest note. In helping readers to pull apart the fear from the fact, Boyd sets the stage for a measured, informed conversation of how we create and monitor online and physical spaces for our teens.

I read the book with a constant refrain in my mind, “What kind of adults are we forcing these teens to become?”

If you’re looking for something more informed to say than, “Kids these days!” then it’s time to pick up Dana Boyd’s It’s Complicated.


You can find a full list of Kindle notes and highlights from the book here.

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.

40/365 Build Your Own Faculty Lounge

A group of student teachers sits around a table in a classroom long after the school day has ended. They are participating in a seminar required of them by their university. The intent is to help them through student teaching. Still near the top of the semester, they’re not yet in the long grass of the student teaching experience.

“I’m just not clear on why,” one of them says to their supervisor, “I mean, I don’t know why twitter would be important to teachers. What’s the point?”

It’s a fair question, considering each of the student teachers has just been asked to sign up for a twitter account and assigned to participate in #engchat, one of the many weekly twitter meetups of teachers from around the world dedicated to generating conversation specific to the discipline of teaching English.

It’s a fair question not only for these student teachers, but for any teacher who’s ever looked at twitter or some other type of social networking tool and asked, “Why?”

My answer to these teachers, though seemingly flippant, “You can’t control who teaches next to you.”

Perhaps more explanation is in order.

Only a small percentage of our school culture where faculty is concerned is within our own individual locus of control. We may sit on interview committees or help to recruit talented teachers we’ve met into our schools. For the most part, though, the grim reality is that we may not connect with or be inspired by the other teachers with whom we work.

Social networking tools allow for the construction of the faculty lounges we wish we had. For most people outside of schools, the teachers’ lounge remains a mythical place where teachers retreat during lunch or planning and then return when it’s time for class with no hint of what they’ve done in the interim.

For those who work in schools, I know what depressing, pessimistic places faculty lounges can be. All it takes is one teacher who’s been in the classroom past his expiration date to turn an otherwise reflective space into the physical equivalent of anonymous online commenting.

Social networking tools allow teachers to escape those physical spaces and curate networks of colleagues from across the world to help improve practice, augment resources, and build conduits of collaboration. In their book, Student Achievement Through Staff Development, Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers argue moving from a situation of practicing theory with low-risk feedback to one of coaching, study teams, or peer feedback moves incidence of application and problem solving from 10-15% saturation to 85-90% saturation in teacher practice.

The issue? Not every teacher finds himself surrounded by peers to whom he can turn for such coaching and the like. This is where the digital network should come in. Through connections with other like-minded teachers and those teachers who act as the loyal opposition, teachers can build networks of professional development while working within schools that would otherwise let their learning languish.

These are networks of people who can improve spirits on an otherwise dreary teaching day, work collaboratively in a document to help build a unit plan, and share links to the perfect resources for helping students access learning.

While there are no set ways for developing online faculty lounges, some approaches have been anecdotally helpful in building networks of support.

  • Begin by reading. The Internet has no shortage of teachers offering their thoughts on everything from education policy to professional practice. Many new to online networks take solace in knowing they can lurk and read long before they ever begin to craft their online selves into existence.
  • Comment. Some of the best conversation that can come from connecting via social networks is not the production of new content, but the questioning and commenting on the work of others. This is by no means an encouragement to recklessly argue. It is more of a push in the direction of creation. If you’re reading, you might as well stop and comment, right?
  • Follow the bread crumbs. While linking online can lead to an echo chamber at times, it more often can be counted on to help introduce you to new voices. In the physical world, this is the equivalent of meeting a friend of a friend and finding out you’ve got similar interests. One of the great benefits of hypertextual writing is that you are reading along with the writer and able to trace many of the ideas that influenced what she is saying and the ideas that influenced those ideas.
  • Embrace the fire hose. This may be the most difficult. If you were to look at the listing of online voices we follow at this moment, you’d find hundreds of posts we’ve not yet had the time to attend to. In traditional texts, this would be frustrating. Online, it need not be. There will always be a fire hose of information waiting for you to put yourself in front of it. Some days, you’ll have time. Other times, you’ll step aside and mark everything as read. That’s okay. In the same way you have the right to put down a book without reaching its end, you have the right not to read everything on the Internet. No one is expecting you to. Read what you want. The rest will always be there if you change your mind.
  • Make your own path. You were likely taught to approach a book in a certain way, to look for certain markers and to take note of certain things. This need not be the case in online spaces and in curating your online networks. Let your love of learning mingle with your love of pictures of kittens. Sometimes, those posting the kitten photos are the ones who can challenge your ideas about what it means to learn in new and powerful ways.

While these are five ways to approach building your online faculty lounge, they are just as easily five ways not to build that lounge. This is the democracy of online spaces, and it is key as a contrast to the physical space where you might find yourself. You have control over those to whom you turn for support and advice, and you can always move away from those who bring pessimism to your practice.

31/365 Three Infographics You Should See (plus one more)

Infographics are fun, right? I mean, who doesn’t like their data with a side of pictures?

The three here (plus one more) have been open tabs in my browser for weeks now. While I question some of their findings and methods, it’s in those questions that I see the opportunity to a deeper conversation about the work we’re doing, whose doing it, and why.

1. The (Australian) Achievement Gap

via Nancy Rubin, developed by Open Colleges

While focusing on the Australian perspective, this graphic strikes me as interesting to deploy into a classroom where (U.S.) students are investigating other cultures and attempting to make sense of charts/graphs.

2. Teachers Embrace Digital Resources to Propel Learning

via Josie, developed by PBS Learning Media

While the use of pie charts is questionable, dropping this graphic at the top of a faculty meeting or using it to start the development of a school or district tech plan could generate some great conversation. Of particular interest: How is what we see here reflected in our own learning space? What do we see that we want to know more about?

3. The Social Media Cheat Sheet

via Alex Shevrin, developed by Flowtown

Alex shared this in our ongoing conversation in our Antioch University New EnglandP2PU course on social media in education (come join), and I love it. I’ll be using it whenever I get the chance to talk to teachers about affordances and constraints of social tools in the classroom. If I were teaching right now, it’d also be a starter for a class conversation about how we could build things in class that were useful and connected to the outside world. Love it.

4. The Changing Face of the Teaching Force (I promised one more)

via Penn GSE, developed by Richard Ingersoll

One of the conversations I keep coming back to as I work with student teachers is, “What will your impact be in the classroom?” If you’re guessing I’ll be pulling in this graphic for one of our future seminars, then you are correct. Ingersoll’s work is presented in a provocative and consumable way, and I’ve had many conversations about what the shifts he highlights might mean for the shifting picture of the students in those classrooms as well. If I were working in a district HR office, this would be how I started thinking about hiring practices or examining what we already have in place.

5/365 I’ve Been Prepping My Class

As a wrote months ago, I’ve been asked to teach a course as part of Antioch University New England’s Next Generation Learning M.Ed. program. More specifically, I have the pleasure of teaching a course called Social Media (I’m not kidding). While I’ve been collecting pieces of planned implementation since I was asked to lead the course, the last few weeks have had me seriously planning for the course’s launch.

I’d forgotten the joy of planning, the thrill of sitting down and saying, “How will I organize this pathway to learning?” and then setting about outlining the thing.

Two days ago, I tweeted out this link to the modified UbD for the course asking for comments on my plans.

Today, I offered up to the social networking populous this link to the course’s syllabus – again, asking for comments.

The plans for things are to take the course beyond Antioch’s LMS and into a more public forum. Namely, we’ll be using Peer 2 Peer University’s platform for the course. This will allow for a greater plurality of voices and situate the course in the type of social environment we’ll be talking about, rather than the (high) walled garden of other course.

My hope is participants will be a mix of those students who are completing the Antioch program for their degree, those who are dropping in to take the course for credit and those P2PU users who want to join in the learning for the learning’s sake. We shall see.

What is for sure is the excitement I’ve felt these past few weeks prepping materials and trying to craft something that goes well above and beyond those online courses I once encountered. I know it’s not going to go perfectly. Everything is about iteration. Still, it will be a new adventure. So, check it out and join in.

Something else social media does in education

Somewhere along the line, the tide started to turn regarding opinions on the place of social media in the classroom and as a conduit for connecting teachers and students. Whether those making policy have seen reason or whether the market reached an inescapable saturation point, I’m unsure.

Yes, arcane policies are in place in districts and schools across the U.S., drafted in fear that’s been labeled protection. Still, the more teachers I talk to and schools and districts I visit, the more social technologies are becoming commonplace in formal educational settings.

My own interactions first started in this space. Then, my students started asking for my myspace address. I had a page, but I was a novice teacher and was listening more to the fear I heard in the conversations around me about connecting with students online than my own argument for the affordances of such connections. Eventually, I made a second myspace page and shared that with students. It was bland and more often than not included updates having to do with homework rather than whatever we’re supposed to use those spaces for.

When I moved to teach in Philadelphia, regional standards dictated Facebook be my new online home.

“What do you mean you don’t have a Facebook,” my students asked me in my first few days. I’d moved from an environment where even connecting with my students through a profession-specific online profile was questioned to a space where it was abnormal not to connect with students through your one true Facebook page.

I had a profile within the week. My rule persisted. If they were still my students, they needed to invite me to be friends, I wouldn’t seek them out. This wasn’t out of fear, but of respect. Facebook was their common space. Though I saw its use for leveraging learning, I respected the division of school and home.

In my four years at SLA, Facebook, IM, email, twitter, et al. proved invaluable tools for helping students navigate assignments and offering them a safe space to seek counsel.

But this is an old conversation in the compressed timespace of online tools.

Today, I was reminded of another reason for teachers and students to be connected online. One of my former students, Matt, lost his father a few years ago. A tremendous human being, Matt looked up to his father in the most touching of ways. Matt’s now a freshman at university in Philadelphia (half the country away from me).

Today, on Facebook, Matt announced he’d completed a media project for one of his courses, saying:

Exporting a wonderful film I made for my Dad now @ the tech center on Temple Campus. It may not meet all the requirements, but I put so many hours into it, I don’t care if I get a C, I am proud of what I made! It is really nice =)

I chimed in that I looked forward to seeing the film. Minutes later, he posted a link to the video below in the comment thread. It is a beautiful memorial to Matt’s father and grandfather. I am proud of him for its creation and for his own pride in that creation.

This is the benefit of social media in education that’s not often mentioned. I am connected to those students I was fortunate to have in my care. Ten years ago, the end of the school year was the end of my interactions with most of my students.

That needn’t be the case anymore. Connections between teachers and their students are no longer bound by 180 days. The impacts we make and made can be seen, felt, and built  upon indefinitely. I was a small piece of Matt’s life and the lives of all my students. Still, I realized today the connection I am able to continue to have with so many of them as they grow and build lives more incredible than I could have hoped.

Social media – +1

A Tribute To Mario & Nunzio Scuderi from Matthew Scuderi on Vimeo.

What’s the barrier between gov’t. agencies and civic engagement via social media?

“We do agree agencies aren’t doing the best job of engaging on these networks yet,” wrote Dash in an e-mail to techPresident in response to some questions about lessons learned from the Expert Labs experience. “One key finding we’ve focused on in our final reports is that the division between communications/outreach arms of agencies, which typically manage social networking accounts, and the policy making groups within agencies, which actually impact the decisions being made, is a pretty significant barrier to public participation.”

via Expert Labs: Putting The ‘Public’ Into Public Policy Wasn’t Easy | TechPresident.

Things I Know 141 of 365: The message about the medium matters

Whoever said that things have to be useful?

– Evan Williams, Twitter co-founder and CEO

NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller wasted space in his own paper last week.

In his column for the Times Magazine, Keller wrote a piece titled, “The Twitter Trap.”

I don’t take issue with Keller’s dislike of Twitter. My mom doesn’t like Twitter either, but she and I get along fine.

Keller wasted space in allotting column inches to an argument that’s been had since the service’s launch in March 2006.

Technology’s depleting our ability to remember, you say?

Social media is curtailing “real rapport and real conversation,” you contend?

Excellent, you’re ready for 2007.

I’ve seen several speakers recently bash twitter and then be rewarded with full applause.

“This guy’s onto something,” they cheer, “We’re all stupider because of Twitter!”

Then someone makes a joke wittily tying in the word twits.

It’s not that Twitter’s making us less thoughtful that’s worrisome to me, it’s that it’s allowing us to make the less thoughtful arguments.

Knocking Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook is easy.

Writing for the most important paper in the country should mean you don’t get to make the easy argument. It should mean you swing for the fences every time.

Keller’s argument would have been fine as his Facebook status or as a post on his blog.

From the column in the magazine, though, I was hoping for a meditation on the fact that many people learned of Osama bin Laden’s death via Twitter before the Times website could publish the story. Working through a reasoned argument why deep, long-form journalism remains relevant and important in an age when people like Andy Carvin are harnessing Twitter to cull immediate reports from the ground during the middle eastern revolutions would have engaged me as a reader.

To use his pulpit to make a case that’s nearly half a decade old, strikes me as easy. More troubling still, making the easy argument, Keller’s not trying to do anything with his writing. He should be.

Writing that attempts to inspire, change and challenge – now that’s fit to print.

Things I Know 95 of 365: Aaron has more followers than I do

Aaron has 2,489 followers on twitter.

When he started following me March 13, it felt a little strange. He was only following 65 people at the time. Now he’s up to 69.

Normally, I’d have a strange tinge of embellished pride if someone so discerning started following the brain lint I put out on twitter.

This was a different matter.

Aaron is one of my students. In the eleventh grade, he has over 1,000 more followers than I and has a little more than 1300 fewer tweets.

The whole thing made clear to me the fact that social structure and hierarchy are subjective in online environments.

Add to that the possible number of empty accounts I’m following or who are following me and then apply that same reasoning to Aaron’s account and the perceived prestige connected to higher or lower numbers in the physical world crumbles.

My human drive is to make meaning, but the schema I’m equipped with doesn’t apply.

All these tweets in and I’m still trying to decide what makes someone worthwhile on twitter. I’d like to think it’s more than virtual speed dating, but I’m not sure.

Beyond all of this, I was curious about Aaron’s relationship to twitter. Easily, I could have written him off as another teen statistic engrossed in his social media like all the kids these days. But I’ve sat through that argument and read that study.

Today, I sat down with Aaron to talk about twitter. Our conversation is posted below.
Aaron and Twitter by MrChase

If you have any follow-up questions, feel free to post them in the comments, and I’ll make sure Aaron sees them. Then again, you could just hit him up on twitter – like 2,500 other people.