Independence from interest

122154814_462df2f7c6How much important are you putting on ‘independence’ in transforming classroom practice?

If you walk about talking to people about the ‘wow’ of the week, your favourite Web2.0 gizmo this week, sooner or later people switch off. The honeymoon period is over. Initial interest can fade as people get lost in the fog of technology.

You might think what you are talking about is crystal clear, but others are simply looking into the murky unknown. Too many conversations, too many tools leads to confusion and inaction.  At times I have thought, ‘wow, I thought they were getting it, but what happened?’

Now I have learned that from an educational development perspective, there are some critical questions you have to ask yourself before saying much of anything.

For example : I want to create podcasts for my distance students. How do I do that?

The easy answer is : Audacity, Podomatic and a microphone. But that answer is incomplete.

We have to also ask

  • How will what I do/say next build independence, so they can sustain this?
  • How will the way I maintain this build capacity in the department to do more?
  • How will this intervention in the established ‘norm’ – strengthen learning?


We want to ensure that whatever we do to develop education creates independence in those we help. This adds value, and prevents you being the ‘go to tech’ person – to ‘do’ it for them.

Capacity building

How will your instruction be recorded, shared or published so that it can be re-used by others repeatedly. What is the cost of this? Developing a resource such as a wiki or creating a screen cast has is a cost outside that of the mastery skills needed. This is normally measured as your time.

If you are able to create an independent teacher, with supporting materials – then they will be able to model the educational development in others.

Strengthening Learning

Locating and aggregating quality supporting resources will strengthen learning. This could be connecting the person with people who have experience and passion in this area (their blog, wiki or actually having a conversation).

Setting out terms of reference to evaluate the benefits to learning will assist in turning the intervention in the existing ‘norms’ in to a measured argument to sustain or modify it. It is likely that un-seen factors will affect this. Bumps in the road, such as access issues, technical issues or policy issues. Documenting and addressing these will help with maintaining the use of the technology over a period of time, not being a one off field trip.

Educational development requires more activity than the act of ‘teaching how’, it has to predict issues, challenges and further opportunities that will create independent advocates, that build capacity to do it again and again. This has always been the issue with ICT in schools – how to maintain and build on any given ICT introduced into learning. The major difference today, than a few years ago, is the amount of existing freely available materials and connected intelligence that we can draw on.

We simply don’t need to show people everything, but we do need to ensure that we scaffold resources and provide wider information that they can explore, knowing that it has been provided a result of our own evaluation.

Three questions I ask myself, whenever someone asks me for help.

Capacity through intervention strategy

What do we mean by capacity building in Educational Technology. Perhaps right up front, it is advisable to remind people that you are working with that you don’t mean ‘learning computer skills’.

That is often the assumption that people attending workshops make as that has largely their prior experience. PD + Computers = Mastery Challenge.

Capacity should be addressing critical areas such as participatory planning, curriculum, units of work, lesson design, implementation, evaluation, research, information, advocacy, networking and financial planning.

Building capacity in yourself is far easier than attempting to do this at the whole school level. All that knowledge and connectedness that comes with the acquisition of capacity in yourself – is not easily replicated.

Often in our eagerness to see reflections of our own advocacy and practice in others, it is easy to forget just how confusing, frustrating and massive it was to climb out of the 20th Century teaching norms and look towards the horizons of what could be possible.

Flash was easier to learn when it was version 1, Photoshop was far less complicated in version 7, and RSS was far easier to deal with when there was less information flooding in. The capacity of all of us to generate information that we think helps the rest of ‘them’ – means that early adopters are critical to any educational institution to interpret and lead.

To me, it is an ongoing tragedy that these people are often not empowered to ‘lead’ – hence the perpetual question ‘how do we effect sustainable change’ that senior educational leaders orbit. It is hard to plan your future, if your point of reference is the past – specifically, time served is preferable over capacity to lead change.

Friere (1973) Pedagogy of the Oppressed argues

“the process of learning to read and the act of reading are deeply political: our reading of the word is shaped by our reading of the world”

Student’s own experience of technology combined with teacher interventions are mutually reinforcing in building capacity – for change. We simply don’t need to know ‘everything’ anymore. Mastery ICT skills are less important that understanding how technology changes learning.

“We are going to blog” or ”We are using Web2.0 tools in the classroom” and other statements are unlikely to improve learning outcomes for students.

I say unlikely, unless they are seen as interventions essential in strengthening teaching practice. To say you are working to build capacity is

“Meaningless unless you insist on using language and terms that have precise meanings.” (Moore, 1995).

While we are talking about promoting change, the interventions that teachers are doing right now in their solo-classrooms are part of a wider social transformation.

“We are going to blog” – is an output of increased capacity not mastery skills – writing a blog is no harder than writing an email in that regard.

Capacity comes through understanding how using blogs is an intervention within wider social change. In education it directly relevant to renewing pedagogical approaches, developing media literacy skills, reflective learning over passive learning etc.,

In fact web2.0 is part of the digital-soup of Learning Objects within curriculum.

Chiappe defined Learning Objects as:

“A digital self-contained and reusable entity, with a clear educational purpose, with at least three internal and editable components: content, learning activities and elements of context. The learning objects must have an external structure of information to facilitate their identification, storage and retrieval: the metadata. ” (Chiappe, Segovia, & Rincon, 2007).

Any professional development seminar, workshop or in-service – that promotes ‘learning about Web2.0’ – has to address ‘capacity.

It must clearly explain the wide reaching implications that it has to have to become sustainable, and that on their own, Web2.0 applications – such as blogging are unlikely to improve learning outcomes for students.

Once you done that, you are in a much better position to understand which Web2.0 tools could be used in ‘capacity building’. And it may be that you shortlist a relatively short, but considered list.

What are the interventions? What are the learning objects? What are your criteria for capacity building? – The tools are easy in comparison.

“And I can’t understand a word you say”

I read Jabiz Raisdana’s post about Recruitment2.0 which has a great description of the characteristics of what I’d call a 21C teacher. In fact I think that the word ‘teacher’ is now a little mis-leading, as the 21C teacher is also an information architect. But I wonder if out ‘leaders’ have any capacity to understand the diagram posted.

I also read Beth Holmes talking about her experiences in watching and listening to K12Online this week in which she says

The timing for reading Stephanie’s post could not have been better. Last night I was completely “taken” with Alec Couros’ K12 Online Conference presentation “Open, Connected, Social: Reflections of an Open Graduate Course Experience.” The viewing experience is a total package – a real “trip!” The viewer is entertained, taught, challenged and extended.

This is a very important passage. Firstly, Beth is talking about learning outside school and outside school hours. She is also connecting with Alec (who is influences everyone) and about a conference that is online. She is then talking about the learning – and that statement to me is exactly what teachers should be doing in class.

If I compare the two posts, it illustrates one of the major problems that ‘leaders’ talk about when they publish comments such as “We have such a diverse pool of talent in our schools.  It is important that we tap into, challenge and engage our talented teachers if we are to continuously improve the learning and teaching”.

I am not sure that they are any good at measuring this. I think that it is something that executives believe that they can buy in, and indeed any teacher who is not ‘tech savvy’ is going to increasingly struggle to be employed. At the same time there seems to be a mentality that all this read/write, gaming, virtual world, collaborative classroom stuff, is not something that executives themselves need to buy into. I am sure that they have a list of ‘yeah buts’ for that, but that is of no consequence.

Leadership is not about authority and it is as much about listening as it is talking in my view. Someone has to create opportunities for this leadership to be effective, but I think that at time’s our battle plan is almost 17th Century.

Leaders on the hill who’s point of reference is a classic view of engagement, based on a set of established protocols and procedures.

Unfortunately Beth’s passage does not fit that notion of leadership. Beth leads herself. Jabiz is talking about moving forward as a teacher and learner.

He’s answering the ‘executives’ call to ‘tap into talent’ loud and clear – but the criteria that he suggests is needed for 21C teaching – the very things that we have to embed into practice in order to be a relevant professional in the classroom – are not the criteria for pay and promotion, leadership or professional development in schools.

While teachers are being flexible in the way they learn – and deliver new ideas (for free) into the classroom, the systems are not.

For example, schools do not fund home internet connectivity or flexible work place practice. They are yet to recognize that the hundreds of free hours 21C teacher spend learning at home is directly related to classroom – and therefore school performance and the future of our students.

I really believe that the nature of the school workplace, the terms in which teachers are engaged needs to be reformed. I just don’t think that our most senior leaders are quite ready for just how much.

It is simply unacceptable to drop laptops into classrooms and expect teachers to suddenly become effective media age developers of 21C pedagogy.

It is also morally bankrupt of executives to issue this a significant criteria for employment without recognizing that these people are ‘leaders’ – in ways beyond a ‘pat on the back’. 21C teachers are not foot soldiers, don’t make that mistake.

If you do, then there is no avoiding your own Executive Waterloo.

The coalition is all of us. Despite decades of Empire building, you are at risk of loosing it all as the control mechanisms used to define ‘career paths’ are less and less relevant to the ‘connected teacher’. You have to understand that, not ignore it. If not, then you are left to argue ‘morality and loyalty’ to retain teachers, nothing more – which I think is patronizing, given the effort that most 21C teachers have made to get where they are.

In response to the idea of the Intrepid Teacher – 21C teachers – connected to the metaverse – are on one hand welcomed as agents for change, but at the same time are not invited into the officer’s mess. This is a remnant of the industrial age. If you work hard over a long period of time, then you may be selected over someone else from the shop floor. But the new shop floor is the metaverse, where teachers are connected to media bloggers, teaching bloggers, futurists, gamers, technocrats and all those people thinking very seriously about change – who are not ‘just out’ of Uni.

Just as in the art of war, technology changes everything that went before. Clay Shirky talks about how … the German Panzer commanders defeated the French with lower numbers, because they understood the power of communication using radio to co-ordinate and react to ever changing circumstances … They were connected. He also talks about how a group can be it’s own worst enemy.

My constant concern about education (and don’t get me wrong, I want all teachers to succeed for the sake of themselves and students) – is the lack of executive ability to acknowledge the need to build CAPACITY – and to be brave enough to appoint innovators and student-leader teachers to positions where that capacity becomes SUSTAINABLE.

That to me is impossible if no one in the officer’s mess has any understanding or what Jabiz and Beth are representing. We are frantically reporting what is happening, but the message is not heard.

Maybe executives and administrators are hoping they can hold back the lines until help comes. But no one is. Each day they leave it or employ policies of the past to control the organization, it gets that much harder not to become a landmark in history.

My final salvo is aimed at pre-teachers and those at University. You really have to decide which army you are going to join right now. You have the opportunity to base your teaching on the theory of the past, but with the tools of the future – and make sure that when you arrive in the classroom, that you are a leader. You lead your students – and really, you don’t need anything more than an internet connection to do that. On the other hand, you could wait to be invited into the mess – eventually. Don’t do that – learn from your collegues experience, and apply it to conversations in the metaverse.

Graphic-a-day #2 of 30

Dan Mayer asks ‘How easy would it be to take short cuts’. I read this a while ago, tracked back from Chris Lehmann, and its something that during a discussion today, that kept ringing in my head as the conversation was laced with conflicting pressures over loyalty and responsibility.

I work at an extraordinary school, doing extraordinary things with learning – in extraordinary times.

I think that the choices I’ve made in being part of that have been the right ones – most of the time. Anyone making hard choices knows self-doubt, trepidation and fear – yet you make them anyway.

There is a huge personal, spiritual and emotional cost involved, from the first time you question yourself as a teacher and realise that we are actually at the beginning of learning again.

The challenges kids face today are infinately more complex than even 5 years ago, trying to identify these, and find solutions – in a system that isn’t intended to allow you to do that is hard.

Seeing the efforts of others – is a constant ‘energy recharge’ – that those making the easy choices are unaware. There is a spirit of co-operation that transcends culture, geography, religion and wealth. From the most underfunded comes advice to the most affluent and visa versa. Conversation is the currency, and students are the investment houses. The recharge outlet is called Twitter, Skype, Gtalk, Google Reader and Second Life. We hear and see things that makes us believe that it is possible through the fractured conversations in the metaverse – despite our localised reality.

Within the confusion of our present culture, we are faced with opportunities the like of which we haven’t known. And I believe that our present ‘crisis’ has a lot to do with the fire and water through which we must go if we are to grasp those opportunities and make the most of them. This is of course just one of many situations where the global community is struggling with the question of the local option – and where, of course, multiple ambiguities can be found which muddle up the moral dilemmas.

One of the phrases and tactics used in advertising to get the maximum out of workers used to be – “if we don’t get this done, then we’ll loose the client”. That mentality still strikes me as ridiculous. Firstly, the was rarely a ‘we’ – as they mean ‘you’, and secondly, the client was never ‘yours’ but theres. There was never an ‘all for one and one for all’ bargain between us.

There are multiple reasons that something could or could not get done – and often quite beyond the control of the poor sap that was being told it. I heard it a hundred times, but never saw a client walk because some designer didn’t knock out that logo colour variant by 4pm.

I think its the same is schools. School will go on regardless of one person. Its not one persons school – but the sum of all the passion, effort (or lack of) between all the participants. If there’s one thing that I feel administrators need to do – above everything else – if find out who is making the hard choices – like Dan Mayer – and if what he’s doing, is something that you want – then for goodness sake – also look at how he’s doing it and don’t try to apply 20th Century Management Strategies to demand or retain that. That won’t build the capacity needed to get from ‘storming’ to ‘norming’.

Time served is is not the most essential criteria to make judgements on teachers pay or conditions – if you are talking about 21C schools, and I think one of the biggest challenges to the way school systems are operated. If time served was the secret to success, then how come all those experienced, institutional executives just wiped out trillions of dollars of the world economy. Anything is possible it seems, but change starts with a choice. I made mine.