Our conversation centered around the increasing trend by #edtech companies to offer both certifications and ambassadorships to core users — and the increasing trend by teachers in social spaces to “badge up” their profiles.
People are just as likely to identify themselves as Apple Distinguished Educators or Google Certified Teachers or Flipgrid Student Voice Ambassadors as they are to identify themselves as classroom teachers. You can become a Dremel Certified Teacher or a NearPod Certified Educator or a SeeSaw Ambassador. I know Star Discovery Educators, Alpha Squirrels and EverFi Certified Teachers.
On the surface, all of these programs have value to individual teachers, don’t they?
Most have some level of professional development tied into them — providing teachers with the chance to hone skills with tools that can help them to reimagine learning spaces in some meaningful way. That in and of itself is useful, given that most districts struggle to find cash for teacher professional development in strapped budgets.
Most also provide teachers with opportunities to network with other educators who are using the same tools and services in their own classrooms. Members of those networks challenge one another by sharing ideas and applications that rest comfortably at the edges of box for each other. People who are passionate about similar things are the most likely to introduce you to new paths that you may never have discovered on your own.
Finally, most give teachers a measure of recognition that is sorely missing in education. That recognition starts simply: With badges and titles that most teachers “wear” with pride in their social profiles and auto-signatures and with free swag — computer stickers, pens, and tote bags given out at meet-ups and conferences.
Opportunities to present at local, state and national conferences follow — complete with invitations to private after parties stocked with apps of the edible variety. Power users may eventually be invited to travel to private professional development sessions held in big cities and asked to help develop curriculum or inform future corporate plans.
But I’m starting to question these kinds of certifications and ambassadorships.
(1). They promote a “tool first” approach to teaching and learning:
You guys know my “Tech is a Tool” graphic, right? Most people have seen it by now. The gist is simple: We need to stop thinking about tools and start thinking about what good teaching and learning looks like in action. It ties into my argument that teaching geeks > tech geeks.
But that kind of “learning first” approach to new digital tools feels like it can get pushed aside in our rush to become certified or to be recognized as an ambassador.
And once we publicly tie ourselves to a tool or a product — adding badges to our blogs, listing our Ambassadorships in our auto-signatures, accepting free t-shirts and computer stickers and tote bags — we are far less likely to continue to question the value that the tool plays in creating meaningful learning experiences for kids or to look for better alternatives. To do so would mean turning our backs on the companies that we said we believed in — and the people giving us tangible and intangible perks in return for our loyalty.
Heck, we often become “branded” by our commitment to a company. We ALL probably know a Google Junkie, a Flipgrid Guy, a SeeSaw Fanatic or an Apple Fanboy — people who are so product focused in their professional work that you can’t separate them in your mind from the brand that they support anymore.
That troubles me because it takes our focus off of what matters most: Kids and curriculum and solid pedagogical practices. Wouldn’t our schools and classrooms be better off if we set out to become the Formative Assessment Junkie, the Problem-Based Learning Guy, the Equity Fanatic, or the Feedback Fanboy?
And wouldn’t that be easier if we weren’t swearing our allegiance to individual companies and products?
(2). They promote an easily quantifiable but not terribly reliable definition of innovation: I was presenting in a district at the end of last summer that touted the number of Google Certified teachers and SeeSaw Ambassadors that they had in their schools in a dozen different places. I saw it in the marketing materials on their district website, I saw it in district newsletters that were sent out to faculty and staff members, and I saw it in social media streams for both the district and for several individual schools.
It was clear that for district level leadership, those numbers were evidence that their employees were standing on the cutting edge of education — progressive thinkers that were committed to using technology to drive change.
Here’s the hitch: Despite having dozens of teachers who had earned certifications and ambassadorships, there was little evidence that classrooms were changing in a meaningful way within the district. Sure, teachers were using Google Classroom to deliver digital content to kids and yes, students were taking pictures of the work they were completing and sharing it with their parents in SeeSaw — but those are low-level substitution practices, y’all.
I’d rather see the district celebrate teachers who had mastered individual practices that really DO matter.
Don’t tell me who has earned Google Certification or who is a DEN Star. Instead, tell me who your “Voice and Choice Ambassadors” are — people who are regularly giving students some measure of control over what they are learning and how they are going to demonstrate mastery of important outcomes.
Or tell me who your “Distinguished Assessors” are — people who have figured out ways to gather meaningful information about just what students know and can do, and then use that information to change their instruction in a meaningful way.
Or tell me who your “Relationship Ambassadors” are — people who have made a commitment to making sure that every kid, regardless of background or ability, has the chance to feel appreciated by an adult during the course of a school day.
Those are the kinds of core practices that we should be celebrating in our marketing materials and on our district websites because they are the kind of core practices that result in a real change in the learning spaces that our students have access to.
Maybe I’m biased here. I’m not Google Certified or an Apple Distinguished Educator or a SeeSaw Ambassador or an Alpha Squirrel.
But I don’t think I’m missing a thing. I’ve been able to learn about tools without earning certifications or badges or gathering titles. And that’s also given me a measure of professional flexibility. I don’t hesitate to walk away from popular tools that don’t fit my professional needs because I’m not walking away from a badge that I’ve earned or a title that I want to keep.
Either way, my point is a simple one: Pedagogy should always come first in our conversations about teaching and learning — and I’m not sure that pursuing or celebrating corporate certifications and ambassadorships are the best way to get that balance right.
Related Radical Reads: