It’s Time to Get Real About Education

Teachers and school leaders are tired of being scapegoats for political ambitions and campaign talking points. We’re tired of photo ops and symbolic gestures.

It’s time we get real about education.

It’s time we recognize that concentrated poverty has adverse effects on student well-being and learning. Education reform leaders and politicians must develop a more comprehensive plan to address certain issues, such as the lack of healthy food choices in poor neighborhoods or business/job opportunities.

It’s time we recognize that the school-to-prison pipeline is really a neighborhood-to-prison pipeline. Education reform leaders and politicians must address government housing policies and policing policies.

It’s time we recognize that school leaders and teachers are not scapegoats but are the very people who sacrifice their own lives to help improve the lives of students, on a daily basis. Education reform leaders and politicians must move beyond repeating the “bad teacher” or “bad school” narrative and more towards a posture of listening more and blaming less.

It’s time we recognize that top-down bureaucratic policies tend to stifle innovation and creativity, and not foster or cultivate it. Education reform leaders and politicians must shift their focus away from “serving” as resource or content creators/curators to resource distributors based on actual bottom-up – or dare I say differentiated – demands.

It’s time to recognize that school choice and vouchers are not an actual strategy to improve neighborhood public schools. Education reform leaders and politicians must be accountable for designing policies that are developmentally appropriate and scientifically sound.

It’s time to get real about education. It’s time to have a serious conversation about the state of our neighborhoods. If the current education reform leaders and politicians cannot do so, then it’s time for them to change or leave the business of educating our students to the real experts, on the ground.

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2016: Teacher Appreciation Year?

Last week, I visited my former school, colleagues and students. Although I anticipated an enjoyable reunion, the visit proved worthwhile, to say the least.

As soon as I walked through the front door, I was quickly greeted by former colleagues, ranging from administrators to security guards. The main reason for this camaraderie is easy for educators to understand. However, for those who have never worked within a school building, the school year, inherently, nurtures a sense of community between most, if-not-all, educators. I’d even argue that this educator camaraderie is necessary. Needless to say, I expected to exchange hugs, smiles and stories with my former colleagues, and, to a large degree, I also expected a similar outcome when I ran into my former students.

To my delight, my kiddos did not disappoint.

Although I planned to spend time with my former students, during their lunch period, a few students “caught wind” that I was in the building. At the risk of sounding narcissistic, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy seeing my kiddos press their faces against the classroom door window while trying, in vain, to open a locked door so they can say hello. Or, being greeted by a mob of kiddos, during their recess period, on the outdoor basketball court. Both scenes, and others, are now permanently stored in my memory bank, FOREVER!

After my visit, and during my walk home, I learned a valuable lesson: Regardless of the current education reform dialogue, both in terms of policy and politics, teachers do, in fact, make an enormous difference in all of their students’ lives.

Why?

Well, it comes down to simple mathematics.

For teachers, 180+ school days is more than enough time to make a meaningful impact in their students’ lives, which is precisely what all talented teachers do best. For 180+ school days, these teachers wake up, even before the sun “rises,” determined to “make a difference”. For 180+ school days, these teachers often sacrifice their personal lives for the lives of their students. For 180+ school days, these teachers are your child’s/children’s parent, away from home.

Put simply, all talented teachers deserve more than a token celebration, such as “Teacher Appreciation Week.” They deserve more than a lack of professional trust. They deserve more than a “seat at the table.” They all deserve a teacher appreciation culture and mindset, within the education reform landscape, throughout the year.

So, as we approach a new year, I kindly ask you to add one more item to your 2016 New Year’s Resolution(s) list: Appreciate your child’s/children’s teacher(s) throughout the year.

#TeachersChangeLives

The Edtech Trinity: Time, Training, and Tools

Edtech Trinity

Edtech tools will never replace teachers, but teachers who use edtech tools will replace those who don’t. There’s absolutely no denying that edtech tools are changing the teaching profession. As a result, I’ll argue that the edtech trinity in education must include time, training, and tool searching. As the edtech industry grows and becomes more advanced, every teacher will have the following choice to make: either get ahead of the learning curve or fall further behind.

Time

Regardless of your education reform perspective, the classroom teacher is, and always will be, the true agent of change. Even though teachers may feel powerless, at times, they must remember to assume responsibility for what they can control. Therefore, when it comes to edtech, there’s no substituting time and knowledge. Teachers need time to “play around” with edtech tools. This cannot be in the form of a “one-off” meaningless professional development presentation. A one-hour training session on the benefits and features of a particular edtech tool isn’t going to “cut it.” Yes, less tech-savvy teachers will need exposure to the edtech landscape, but, more than anything else, they’ll need an ample amount of time to learn how to effectively use these tools within the classroom.

Training & Support

In addition to time, teachers need a safe space to risk successful implementation. Every teacher navigates through an educational field filled with competing interests. For example, teachers face pressures from education policy-makers, district staff, school leaders, parents, and students. Therefore, to maximize teacher buy-in, teachers need to feel supported throughout the transitional period. Put simply, teachers who risk success need technological and pedagogical support from the entire system (i.e. from the district superintendent/chancellor to the school’s administrators). With time and space established, teachers must show a willingness to learn new instructional delivery systems. Undoubtedly, edtech tools will change a teacher’s role from a “sage on the stage” to a “face-to-face (F2F) facilitator.”

Since “change” isn’t always an easy process, school leaders must focus on recruiting and selecting teachers who have successfully demonstrated self-reflection and risk-taking abilities. Let’s not view edtech through rose-colored glasses. Some teachers will not spend the necessary time, especially outside of the school building, to learn how to leverage edtech within their classroom. So, instead of focusing solely on “scaling up” as fast as possible, school leaders must appoint certain teachers to serve as the school’s edtech guru. This way, fellow teachers can observe an edtech classroom and learn from a colleague, and not a district appointed “expert in a suit.”

Tools

First, let me start by dispelling a popular twitter-verse myth: edtech tools aren’t the Bill Gates, et al., Trojan horse. Although private companies are forming partnerships within the American K-12 public education system, we need not fear ALL edtech. Are some edtech tools designed by big companies? Yes. Are some edtech tools costly to use? Yes. With that being said, there are an abundant amount of tools that are neither designed by private companies nor costly to use. In fact, many of the edtech tools I’m currently using within my classroom are teacher-created and FREE! So, again, not all edtech tools are part of a grand plan to end public education. As long as you view them through this lens, you’ll surely miss the opportunity to “step up your teaching game.”

Since I have only five-weeks experience, and counting, using certain tools, I highly recommend using edSurge and Graphite to search for edtech tools. edSurge allows you to set “search” filters, including subjects, platform requirements, and costs. In my professional opinion, edSurge is 100% teacher- and administrator-friendly. I’ve attached a screenshot of its “Edtech Index” page for your review.

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Graphite serves the same purpose, and offers a filtering mechanism as well. However, to experience the best results, you’ll need to create a free account by signing up first. I’ve attached a picture of Graphite’s educator search page for your review as well.

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Personally speaking, I find edSurge more navigable, especially after establishing search criteria filters.

Without a doubt, the edtech industry will continue to expand. Teachers, both novices and veterans alike, will have to choose between two outcomes: 1) leading from the front or 2) trailing from behind. There’s no substituting for time, training, and tool searching. However, one thing is certain: edtech is changing, and will continue to change, the teaching profession. Even though edtech, itself, will never replace teachers, those who effectively use edtech will definitely “rise above the rest.”

Knowledge is Power, but Learning is Personal.

Personalized learning allows for each student to learn at his or her own pace. It provides me the opportunity to target instruction and assessment. This model ensures equity in education.

Many of my middle school students have large academic achievement deficits. As a 2014 CityBridge Education Innovation Fellow, I want to give them personalized instruction via online instruction, such as noredink, curriculet, exitticket, etc. They deserve a quality education.

I have the privilege of teaching 7th grade students at a Title 1, economically disadvantaged D.C. Middle School. My students face a great deal of challenges, but are some of the most resilient kids I’ve ever met. Although they are “rough around the edges,” I have a great connection with many of them. In fact, I consider them my children. I often advocate for them, as I firmly believe they deserve a quality education and personalized instruction.

I’ve started curating various online programs that target specific skills, such as reading comprehension and grammar. I will use blendspace to create a playlist for my students. With this program, and with a 1:1 laptop ratio, using the 4 Acer Chromebooks I am requesting, my students will be able to work on their own pace. In addition, I will be able to analyze the data on a more specific and meaningful level. Students will use the daily tasks and complete them, as they progress along specific learning pathways. Although I teach social studies (ancient civilization), I will use resources that offer historical context, as well as develop fundamental skills (i.e. reading comprehension and grammar).

Without a doubt, personalized learning (blended learning) is a game changer in education. This project will give my students with the opportunity to receive the best available educational online resources, to date. Although they have grave academic deficits, they can benefit greatly from personalized instruction.

Can you help make this goal a reality? If so, follow this link: http://www.donorschoose.org/project/personalized-learning-pilot-equity-in-e/1196516/?rf=link_siteshare_2014_03_teacherid_2215459&challengeid=367345

Your contribution is much appreciated!