Cover Letter to Everyone

If you haven’t discovered 750Words, you should.  It’s unbelievably liberating.

This is a recent rant that I think may make a decent cover letter.  I’ve been wrong in the past. Please tell me if I am so here.

I am a change agent. I will not apologize for this, nor make exceptions about or alter the course of this. There is a need within all organizations, especially within education, to remain relevant to their constituents. I go to find the steps between the pending irrelevance of the current system and the innovation necessary to continue the vital role that education plays in the development of productive citizens in the United States and beyond.

It has been said, by wiser minds than mine, that we live in exponential times. The information landscape that our current teaching staff evolved with is no longer a relevant model, but the skills they carried through that process are. How do we, then, take those critical analysis skills, those precise tools of skepticism, and apply them to the current, and ever-evolving flow of data that overwhelms our student populace of today?

I am a change agent. The paradigm is shifting in education and information ownership. It’s only the institutions of learning that are failing to realize this very simple fact.

“When Gutenberg invented the printing press, we didn’t have Europe plus books. Instead we had a whole new Europe.” (Postman)

There is no hubris in echoing the same sentiment today. We don’t live an a world where there is unfettered access to information and the existing institutions of higher learning. Rather, we live in a world where there are information-consumers and information-prosumers: those that can access information and those that can make information work for them.

Time is the one commodity that technology has traditionally promised to save. Every single invention created for the sake of time salvage has only done the opposite: we have increased our ability to work more meaningfully through the automation of tasks. Why would information gathering and displaying be any different? It is my distinct feeling that we as students, teachers, and administrators waste far too much time seeking information, when we should be aware of and acutely accessing systems that force information to flow towards us. RSS, social networks geared towards educational professionals, and the creation of personal learning networks should be a pre-requisite for any educational professional entering the field, or migrating one’s practice from one year to the next.

Data is omnipresent in our society. We have more meta-analysis about what works in education than we ever have before. We know that the most important factor in a child’s education is the quality of the educator in the room. We know that there are elements of instruction that each teacher can incorporate into their practice that are proven to increase student achievement.

Yet we struggle to incorporate those strategies into our practice as educators in a way that meaningfully leverages the social and cooperative nature of computer technology. This is not to say that our students have to be connected every minute of every day. To the contrary, we are seeking wisdom, not ubiquitous connection, but the restriction of learning to the moments we spend in the classroom with our students is disrespectful of our students time. Why should we set parameters on their willingness to engage in learning? We can provide everything we would have done to “deliver” content digitally and customized for each student we have and according to their needs, thereby reserving class time to that which is most important: discussion and engagement. Along with our detailed research on how children and adults learn, we know that we learn best in cooperative structures where we have the opportunity to learn socially with a mixed ability group whereby each member has a stake in both the contribution and distribution of knowledge.

Our current teaching staff exists various levels of technological dexterity, much as they exist at varying levels of pedagogical proficiency; we have teachers at all levels of expertise in all areas of professional domains. It is not practical to assume that if a teacher is not incorporating technology into the daily practice in their classroom that they are a poor teacher, much as it not practical to assume that a teacher who is incorporating video, social networking, or social media into their daily practice is an excellent teacher. What we have to engage our staff in is a bigger discussion:

What does it mean to be well-educated in today’s society?

Once we have an answer to that question that our whole staff and student body can live with, our journey to understanding what effective teaching is will take on its own life.

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7 thoughts on “Cover Letter to Everyone

  1. Nice essay, so true, thanks for the thoughts. Would it be appropriate for me to show an example of how I’ve worked out some of the 24/7 access opportunities? It’s simple, humble, but is proving to be vastly exciting. Seems to be working well.

    You wrote: “Yet we struggle to incorporate those strategies into our practice as educators in a way that meaningfully leverages the social and cooperative nature of computer technology.” –and so I wanted to share where my struggles led me…

    This is my entry in the PBS Innovators Awards. It’s a simple summary, and yes, sure could use a few more votes. Thanks for checking it out if you have time.

    http://to.pbs.org/d97hOS
    Thanks for your forthrightness; you are exactly right on. This is one of the best summaries I’ve read for a long time:

    “We know that we learn best in cooperative structures where we have the opportunity to learn socially with a mixed ability group whereby each member has a stake in both the contribution and distribution of knowledge.”

    1. Connie,

      Thanks for your comments, and for sharing your methods. A few questions:
      -what do you use to run the social network they use?
      -how did you decide on the project themes? It looks like they are fairly focused on environmental issues.
      -Do your students have any interest in collaborating with other students from other parts of the country.

      I have to be honest; I wrote this out the need to try to figure out who I am and what I believe. I haven’t felt the need to do that in a few years, but recently, something was telling me that I was being pulled way off center. This was my attempt to get myself back to my core beliefs.

  2. I also posted this on Scott McLeod’s Posterous where he clipped the following segment:

    “restriction of learning to the moments we spend in the classroom with our students is disrespectful of our students time. Why should we set parameters on their willingness to engage in learning?”

    There is so much here to respond to, but I will restrict my comments to the clip above.

    There seems to be a cultural/societal mindset that learning is limited to the classroom. Then again, maybe that’s not true. People admit learning outside of formal, structured environments, but that learning seems to fit in a completely different category than the learning that takes place in school

    There seems to be a clear delineation between learning “in” school and learning “outside” of school. I posit that this is because schools continue to perpetuate themselves as places of formal learning, informal learning is seen as inferior and a detractor from the “rigorous” work of school.

    During my MA action research work I noticed that my students (8th grade literature students) spent the moments before class talking about the IM chats from the night before. I made an early decision to appropriate the technology and add it to my research. Twice a week I provided seed questions to each reading circle and had them discuss them in AIM, and send me a transcript of their discussion. I also gave them authority to add questions to their discussion at their own discretion. I also made myself available for generalized discussions every Wed evening for an hour. This was a student directed session where we discussed elements of the book (Tale of Two Cities) at their whim. These sessions evidenced some of the most powerful learning and insightful thinking. This weekly session was also purely optional. By the third session it was being “attended” by almost 90% of the class (I had two sections of 22 students each on a three day a week basis, in the classroom).

    An essential obstacle to creating a new learning culture in our schools is the barrier at the front doors of our schools, designed to keep informal learning at bay. When we refuse to allow this artifice to exist we will make great strides in reestablishing learning as the reason for our schools.

    1. Greg,

      Your description using the doors of schools as the end of informal learning is fantastic. “Barriers,” as you said, that keep the informal learning at bay, these doors are as much cultural as they are physical.

      Why is that? Why is it that we view our schools as integral, yet completely isolated places within our communities? Why is that that the learning within them is only reserved for those under the age of 18? What if we blew the roof off of them and allowed the knowledge and information from the community at large to pore through our schools? I’m just thinking out loud here, but I think we need to re-imagine the structures that we hold schools and learning to.

      And thank you for sharing the IM piece. Your Wednesday sessions are a prime example of expanding the idea and structure of learning to a time and place that is more respectful of your students.

    1. Kevin,

      Thanks for commenting (and the follow via twitter). When we place too much emphasis on the “stuff” in classrooms and lose site of the people, we run into big problems. I look forward to reading your reaction.

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