“I Couldn’t Agree More” is Meh.

First off, if you rarely read the comments in a blog, you ignore the fact that some of the best learning comes from those who respond and contribute additional ideas, perspectives and insights. Grant it, many spaces, like news sites and youtube are often places where civil discourse is difficult to find. But many blogs, particularly educational blogs offer some of the best places for conversation. Blogs are by nature conversational. Posts are meant to be reviewed, discusses and challenged in the same spaces.

via GIPHY

Yet, perhaps it’s the overly kind nature of many educators or a fear to engage in meaningful debate, it’s amazing how often I read a blog with some interesting ideas and the comments are filled with replies beginning with “I couldn’t agree more.” Now certainly there are many times when that’s exactly how you feel and so you post with enthusiasm the joy of finding a kindred spirit, I’m not here to criticize you if you’ve ever began a comment like that. Well, maybe a little criticism. 😉

I’m here to suggest that if you only leave those kind of comments then maybe you aren’t putting yourself in a position to think critically or maybe you only read people that you “couldn’t agree more” with. If you own a blog where everyone tells you how awesome your ideas are, maybe you continue to share ideas that you know will get people telling you how awesome you are, I don’t know.

I should really change my blog title to include the phrase, “half-baked ideas and thoughts” since that’s essentially what I enjoy most. Even as I write this, I wonder how it will be taken. Case in point, my previous post on the Digital Divide create some nice discussion. I did feel like I had a point, I still do, but thanks to people like Darren Draper and Andrew Campbell, suggested I might not be thinking it through completely. Darren even wrote his own post pointing out a similar idea about half baked ideas. Sure, it was nice to have people agree with me but I learned more from those who suggest I may not have it entirely correct.

While this is certainly about trust and having known both Darren and Andrew for a few years and have met them both a few times, that helps. But even having strangers challenge my work is great. Recently a dude ironically named Dean found my blog and put me to task on one of my favorite pet peeves, “rigor”. He respectfully argues and makes a great point forcing me to clarify my own thinking.

Now to try and make a point. If you comment and only tell people how wonderful they are, challenge yourself and try to find people and ideas you don’t completely agree with. Not to be antagonistic but to practice and engage in meaningful discourse where ideas and perspectives can be fine tuned. Be kind but be candid. It’s not easy but it’s worthwhile. See Bud Hunt for more. If you write things and people can’t agree more, try writing things where they agree less. I think it will make you wiser in the long run. Thanks to all the people who agree and disagree with this post. Stay kind.

Sustaining Digital Literacy

I’m excited to be teaching a course in a few weeks for Wilkes University called “Sustaining Digital Literacy” as part of the new EDGE offering. Essentially this is a great way to quickly get yourself up to speed with emerging technologies.

The course I’m offering focuses on a few things:

  • Finding trusted people who are doing the heavy lifting of research and implementation

This is more than about a Personal Learning Network but a more focused look at how to find people who doing interesting work and sharing it in such a way that one can not only tap into their research but also view issues from multiple perspectives. Today’s challenge is the traditional research is often difficult to find. A shift to participating and observing action research that is less formal is critical. We can’t, and don’t need to wait until the white paper is published.

  • Understanding and valuing civil discourse

LMU Coach Frank Cruz argues

Civil discourse is something I’m highly cognizant about and when it works, it’s a powerful thing. Case in point this recent discussion on Google Glass. You don’t need to know much about Glass but you really get two distinct perspectives, some you may not have considered. You also leave the conversation with the names of smart folks on both sides of the issue who will continue to voice strong and important opinions on this and other emerging technologies. The point is not necessarily to pick the best argument but to immerse yourself in new ideas. This is such a challenge for us because we are prone to want to make judgments and choose sides. It’s our tendency to become emotionally tied to our ideas and often that results in less than civil debates where arguments become personal. My goal is to introduce a number of these kinds of issues and technologies and provide folks with a starting point on which to explore and learn and sustain and focus on civility.

  • Choose your own emerging idea to explore

While we’ll look at a number of issues together, like the flipped classroom, Chromebooks vs Ipads and other devices as well as other hotly debated educational topics. The real goal is to equip you to be able to choose any topic and quickly find reliable people and resources showcase various perspectives. You’ll be able to pick the topic that intrigues you and using some of the tools and resources we’ll look at, develop your own strategies and means to sustain this kind of literacy.

While I’ve been teaching online now for 7 years, this is my first experience teaching outside the University of Regina. My experience there has been quite liberating in terms of course development. It’s been a bit of a challenge for me developing this course as Wilkes has more stringent requirements in terms of delivery. That said, it was a good challenge for me and more importantly, I’m really looking forward to offering this come March 10th. If you’re interested in participating, I’d love to have you.

Photo Credit: mark6mauno/

It’s Not Really PD

“In a nutshell, connected learning is learning that is socially connected, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational and economic opportunity. Connected learning is when you’re pursuing knowledge and expertise around something you care deeply about, and you’re supported by friends and institutions who share and recognize this common passion or purpose.” Mimo Ito

We just finished the Discovery Educator Network’s Summer Institute aka DENSI 2013. I saw a number of people calling it “the best PD” they’d ever had. I kept thinking PD is not really the right term but it’s the closest thing we have. I guess we butcher our language all the time. Using the word “awesome” to describe a great sandwich as well as the beauty of a sunset. Or the word “love” to talk about our favorite app and the relationship we have with family. I get it, and I do it all the time as well. The problem is the words may not matter much among friends who understand what we mean but to share it with those not close to us sometimes the words fail miserably.

To many teachers Professional Development is an event, something prescribed, you know, like school is to students. I’ve participated in a number of wonderful in person events over the past several years. Unplugged was a brilliantly crafted experience that focused on community storytelling.  DENSI is a larger event with about 150 educators gathering for a week. It’s a great mix of people who know each other and people who’ve never met.  Lance kicked off the event with a clear request for people to feel comfortable with who they are and what they know. One thing about the DEN community I’m most proud of is the fact that our members are not chosen based on their skills but on their passion and desire to share.  My favorite part of the week was our “unclosing”. Essentially it was a show and tell featuring videos and artifacts and stories of people’s experience.

PD is that thing we do that consists of teaching people new content and skills. That’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s necessary. What happened in Vermont was that and more. The “more” is essentially the emphasis on relationships and people, not as an add on or bonus but as an integral part of the event. If this comes across as touchy feely, I’m sorry. While it kind of is, I’m just not sure if I want to experience learning that’s void of relationship. I think back to a post by Bud Hunt on love as an essential element of school design. I know many of the conversations about changing school because of technology center on emphasizing skills and process over knowledge and content. I think the relationship aspect, while perhaps not ignored seems less important for many. I fully acknowledge that schools and professional learning involves people who don’t necessarily choose to be part of  a community, who do not necessarily share the same  passions and interests. But I don’t think that should mean we don’t strive for increased connectedness and caring. It may not be DENSI-like but it could be a whole lot better than it is.

I’m under no illusion that I’m writing anything new or insightful but when you experience something of this nature, words seem to be all we have. I was privileged to be asked to share a bit of a closing talk and quite frankly after the unclosing efforts of the group, I felt like the warmup act following the star attraction. My message of joy seemed about the only thing I could offer but I did spend the week capturing data. Smiles. To me this was the best representation of our time together, as important as any knowledge or skills we took away.

I concluded my talk with this great quote from C.S. Lewis. It’s difficult to lump this idea in with the other PD. We played, we had fun, we learned, we connected and we took each other very seriously.

We Must Play.

Professional Development is Not That Complicated

As a follow up to my previous post on learning, I’ll add this one to the list of things we’ve made more complicated than it ought to be. In a sense it’s much the same as Professional Development is obviously learning too but perhaps needs to have a little more light shed on it.

I was thinking back about 10 years. I attended a three day workshop with several of my colleagues in Prairie South in Portland with Dr. Rick Stiggins talking specifically about Assessment but also Professional Learning Communities. It was really the first time I had heard about the Dufour model and its impact on student learning. We left those workshops feeling very excited about both these ideas. As we thought about the PLC model I pushed very hard that we not tell people what their PLC’s should be centered around but rather let every teacher choose something they wanted to learn about. I then would take all the submissions and allow teachers to self select their groups. Of course lots of concerns were shared about logistics about how we would organize these groups and how would we know it was effective.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/torres21/842414347
http://www.flickr.com/photos/torres21/842414347

But even with those concerns we forged ahead and allowed teachers to chose their topics and create their teams. The results were mixed. Several groups and individuals applauded the opportunity to explore something new and work with like minded colleagues. Others felt it was too unstructured and it was a waste of their time. We had some interesting discussions at the leadership level as to how to make things better. I maintained that it was for most the first time they had had the opportunity to work in groups. It was also the first time that teachers were given time to learn about things they were interested in. Some argued they didn’t know how to work together and needed structure and some argued they shouldn’t learn whatever they wanted since not everyone chose something directly connected to curriculum. I again argued that if we kept at it and made sure they had opportunity to share that eventually bad ideas or lesser ideas would weed themselves out. I lost that argument. The next year teachers were given three topics and had to meet with teams within their schools. The level of success remained the same. Some liked it, some didn’t.

I want to suggest that we’ve made professional development learning way too complicated. Partly because as leaders we want to be helpful, partly because teachers have little experience in owning their own learning and partly because we don’t trust them.

Too often we treat teachers like so many of our students. We want to control what and how they learn. We need to adopt Dan Meyer’s approach and BE LESS HELPFUL. If we want students to take ownership of their learning shouldn’t we want the same for teachers? Inquiry isn’t just for kids. But since teachers have rarely had this opportunity, we’re quick to say they can’t do it. This is what I felt as I watched many teachers for the first time direct their learning. They were awkward and wasted time, unsure what to do. Why would they know what to do given they’d never done it before. We also focus on the few who used the time to grade papers or disengage and worried about how many would not use the time wisely. We feel certain parameters need to be in place to be sure this doesn’t happen. Not only is this focusing on a few but sends a message that we don’t trust teachers. Whether it’s the intended message or not, believe me, most teachers take it that way.

The one mistake I made in not pushing harder to allow for autonomy was I didn’t emphasis the sharing aspect. I suppose back then in 2003 sharing online was more awkward but it still should have been a key component. This is what accountability is: teachers as researchers actively sharing their findings and practice. Accountability in this case is not designed to catch who’s doing it wrong but to share who’s doing it right. Emphasizing this changes the culture.

Professional Learning is not that complicated. There are two things and two things only that it requires. Learning something and share something. That’s it. You don’t need teachers filling out forms or templates that fit into a spreadsheet. That’s not to say that might never happen but I wouldn’t call that professional learning. Leadership then takes on a very different role in supporting teachers but need to do better in trusting the teachers they hired to do good work, learn and share.

Podcast 55 Ideas are Disposable, People Are Not

I said I would podcast more so I am. Just trying to be regular. 

Here are a few links to this podcast:

The sound is pretty raw. I recorded while walking the dog and there was a bit of wind. I used Audcaity's Noise Removal tool but I probably didn't use it correctly. It's useable but not great. Good thing it's only 7 minutes.

Also if you'd like to subscribe via itunes, this link will put them in your itunes library and sync to your device if that suits your fancy. 

[podcast]http://ideasandthoughts.org/podcasts/podcast55.mp3[/podcast]

Walking Wallace