Reflections on Teaching for Tomorrow

You know, every time I host a Voicethread conversation here on the Radical, I walk away professionally refreshed.  There’s something incredibly satisfying about joining together with like minds for three days of thought!

And our recent conversation on Teaching the iGeneration was certainly no exception.  Brilliant thoughts were shared, y’all, and if you didn’t have time to stop by, be sure to check out the daily summaries posted here, here and here.

But now, it’s time to take action.  Good conversations are meaningless if they don’t result in change at the classroom, school and/or district level. 

For me, those action steps will include:

Continuing to encourage teachers and principals to focus on teaching instead of technology:  One of my favorite comments in our entire conversation came from Dan Greenberg, who wondered whether conversations about tools are actually preventing us from having conversations about good teaching.

My answer would be a resounding yes!  Principals talk about wanting Interactive Whiteboards.  Teachers talk about wanting sets of student responders.  Policymakers promise to put computers in the hands of every student.

Outside of the edusphere, though, those conversations rarely include any real articulation about the specific learning goals and/or behaviors that new tools are supposed to encourage and support—and that’s sad. 

The result are classrooms filled with technology that is being used to reinforce the kinds of instructional practices that teachers are comfortable with.  (Note to teachers and principals:  Showing students how to insert music into a PowerPoint ain’t exactly revolutionary!)

The solution is a simple one:  Anyone interested in seeing our schools become institutions that are effectively teaching for tomorrow needs to have constant conversations about what that looks like in practice. 

We need to rethink the flow of information in our classrooms—a point Adam Garry made in our conversation.  We need to rethink what “control” looks like in our classrooms—a point Meg Ormiston made in our conversation.  We need to start by focusing on the kinds of topics—instead of the kinds of tools—that engage today’s students, a point that I like to make all the time.

Only then should we start to talk about tools. 

 

Continuing to encourage teachers to be digitally resilient:  One of the most powerful strands in our T4T conversation was about the fear of failure that teachers carry around each day—a fear that increases exponentially when working with technology.

And while those fears are understandable—no one wants to have lessons bomb, especially when they’re being evaluated by bosses—those fears are also preventing real change from coming to our schools.

Teachers—and the principals who are evaluating them—need to be comfortably persistent when working with new tools and techniques.  Techno-hiccups are inevitable, and without a willingness to move forward even when things don’t go right, we’ll never see our classrooms become the kinds of student-centered places that we dream of. 

 

Continuing to argue for more responsible assessments—of both teachers and students:  There should be no more disturbing comment to policymakers and school principals than this one, added by my good friend Paul Cancellieri:

I find myself constantly feeling pressure to abandon attempts to reinforce "21st century skills" (even though many of them have been critical for decades) because my effectiveness is measured by a different yardstick. 

How do we motivate teachers to teach in this new way without new assessments?

Here’s a guy who is super intelligent openly admitting that he’s drifting away from responsible instruction because it isn’t something that he—or his students—is held accountable for. 

The tension that Paul is feeling doesn’t surprise me, though, because it’s a tension that I feel all the time

There is literally no motivation to make information management, collaboration, communication, visual literacy or problem solving a more important part of my classroom instruction because none of those skills—despite being trumpeted by outside organizations—appears in the tools used to evaluate me or the exams used to evaluate my students.

Until we start assessing students and evaluating teachers differently—efforts that will require training for administrators and commitment on the part of policymakers—nothing is going to change in the vast majority of American classrooms.

For teachers, that means transparently documenting the learning that is happening in our classrooms—and the impact that policies are having on our instructional choices.

For principals, that means spending more time in progressive classrooms noticing differences between the traditional practices that we’ve grown so comfortable with and the new kinds of skills and behaviors that children must master to successfully participate in a borderless, knowledge driven world.

For parents, that means putting the squeeze on policymakers.  There is no more influential group in conversations about change in schools than moms and dads—who also happen to be voters.  Ask your child’s teacher about the impact that standardized testing has had on their classroom—and your child.  Then, call up your legislator and make some noise.

And for policymakers, that means turning away from the simplistic view that we can learn all that we need to know about teachers and students from one test given in June.  Y’all have GOT to know better by now. 

Take a stand, would ya?  Push back against your peers that are creating the kinds of policies that prevent  our schools from moving forward.

 

Whew…Can you tell that this conversation has changed who I am as a thinker?  All I can say is thank you for participating. 

Y’all mean a lot to me, and I’m jazzed that you’re willing to help to shape and to polish what I know about Teaching the iGeneration.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on Teaching for Tomorrow

  1. Deb

    Mr. Ferriter,
    As a pre-service teacher, (K-8 and Middle Level Math) there is a lot of talk about putting more technology into the hands of each child in the classroom. Even within my Education program, however, there are differing opinions of how this should look – both professors and students.
    Is it technology for technologies sake, or only when it makes sense pedagogically because it gives students a new way to see and understand the pedagogy?
    Are computers only used as glorified ’word processors’, or used to enhance and expand what resources are available for students?
    If public education is to be fair and equitable, yet schools reside in differing socio-economic districts, is it still fair and equitable?
    Here are some of the questions that I have:
    We are required to use an iTouch as part of our pre-service training. I am very curious to know how this technology is or is not used in classrooms and why. If they are used, yet cell phones and other electronics are discouraged, how is this handled?
    The digital divide is also a concern for me as I look forward. How do you ensure equitable access to technology both in/out of the school if you have 50% or greater free and reduced lunch and/or children who are homeless? What resources exist to ensure these children can access and participate fully?
    For schools that are required to administer High Stakes Testing and only on computers (no paper/pencil), how is this being managed when many schools do not have enough computers to support this requirement?
    Blogging can be a great tool for sharing and allowing children to have a more global learning experience, yet how are schools ensuring privacy, no pictures, names, or ability to trace back to the child/their location, etc.?
    I look forward to any thoughts or resources you may be willing to share.

  2. Paul C

    Bill,
    Thanks for the energy and insight that you bring to these conversations. I keep coming back to these conversations because they have become the best example of what a PLN can be.

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