The Vatican is More Transparent Than The Classroom.

This year, as we wind to a close around here from the student side of things, amid all of the chaos of the crescendo that is the end of a school year, all I want to think about is transparency.

I don’t usually get parent phone calls in this position, but when I do, it’s almost exciting in a sick sort of way.  The best are when there is a little time to prepare, as in when someone from one of the schools passes me a heads up so that I can prepare some resources.

The few calls I have received as of late all point to one of the most puzzling problems we have: (to quote) “I don’t see anything coming home.  I have no idea what is going on in the classroom.”  Our teachers are excellent and among the hardest working I have ever been around, but why was I hearing about this so frequently?

Puzzling?  Extremely, and here is why.

Look at this example, and this one, and this one.  There are teachers who are leveraging the power of their students to produce evidence and examples of what is occurring in the classroom if not on daily basis, at least a weekly one.  This idea, of course, did not arise with the Google’s purchase of Blogger, but rather has been around forever; however, as our children rise out the elementary school and leave the trappings of the elementary classroom behind, the practice of the “Friday Folder” appeals less and less to them.  The neatly typed and clip-arted newsletter just isn’t making it to the refrigerator in 6th grade.

Use the technology to increase transparency.  These four organizations, long considered bastions of rigid secrecy and privacy, are far more likely to divulge information about what is going on within their walls than a good percentage of classrooms around the country.  Why?  I think we should be proud of what is going on in our classrooms and schools, and we should invite discussion and dialogue into them around student work.

Going one step further, the rebirth of the student portfolio has me intrigued within this format.  Teachers who have worked with their students to create a blog often run into one big problem: what do you do at the end of the year when those students no longer are yours, yet they still have an account in your class blog?  Does their work permanently reside with you?  Several schools around the world are using platforms like Moodle, WordPress MU, Google Apps for your Domain, or even local server tools available through the Mac OS X server to house student work in a manner that it follows them through the course of the years within a district or school.  Let’s promote that!  Let’s talk about having easy access for students, and parents, to student work as it’s in progress.  How many conversations have you seen occur on-line between students who would never speak to each other in class?  Will the same be said for parents and children who cannot relate to one another well in person?  Will their on-line interaction over their published work help them relate to one another at the personal level?

Perhaps I am taking it too far, but there is merit here, and I am actively looking for examples of how schools are doing this type of work.  Please add yours!

Cross-posted at TechLearning and Ecology of Education.

Matching the Two.

My wife asks me all of the time if I am happy in what I am doing, because it is so much different than teaching, or even being tech coordinator; the successes are not as easily seen by either her or I.  There never is a real straight answer given by me because what I do is so difficult to get an immediate read on whether it works or doesn’t.  In October, I presented at TechForum in Palisades, NY and had a blast.  I got great feedback from those in attendance and truly had fun talking and listening.  Something clicked on the way home that day: how much fun I had, how passionately I had expressed myself had to be the way I addressed the departments and staff I work with.  I was holding back, and it was showing in the way I was received.

I dig this learning business.  There are some great ideas out there about how to get more people to learn in myriad ways using unlimited methods.   My goal in coming back from TechForum was to let the ideas just fly, let the people I work with shoot them down.  Coming off of EduCon, I realized I hadn’t yet done it in my practice.  Being in the presence yet again of such passionate advocates for kids, for their futures, made me promise to myself as I drove up I-95 towards home that this month would be different.  And so far, it has.  From my last department meeting:

vpa-who003

Let’s see that this continues.

Teacher Reactions to Connective Writing


In an effort to be as transparent as possible, I would like to post the reactions to the Connective Writing Class that just concluded yesterday. Here they are:

Overall Summary:

I felt the the community of learning theme was hit by skyping with all of the bloggers. It was very worthwhile, we were exposed to so many different applications and began to make our blogs.

This course was very good. I would like to have had more time to actually set up the blog accounts. I felt a little rushed.

Although I do not consider myself tech savvy I am going to implement blogs for my students this year, slowly at first, I feel it will provide a larger outlet for my students to express themselves.

Patrick is very knowledgeable and made the course easy to understand, and easy to relate to. It opened my eyes to the many possibilities that technology can bring to the classroom.

It was a lot of information to take in but was well worth the time. I can use it all in my classroom. Blogging, Wikispaces and their uses as well as ways to incorporate writing through the technology available to us.

I felt that this helped me feel less intimidated about using the technology and better understand ways I can use these tools in my class.

How will you apply what you learned?

I will start a professional blog for myself and a book blog for my students in September.

I will set up a blog for the first novel that we read in September.

I will start with a basic class blog page and grow from there!

I will set up a class blog for my students to communicate with each other in a different way than routine class discussions. I also plan on setting up a professional blog to communicate with teachers all over the world, instead of just the ones down the hall. I’m excited to get started!

I would like to include book chats and classroom discussions with the blogging sites as well as use the Wikispaces to promote more research and discussions.

I will try to blog with my students and encourage them to share their thoughts and reflect in a productive way. I also hope to not only read various blogs, but jump in from time to time.

My question to myself right off the bat is mostly about why I didn’t push the issue of personal professional development more? Will’s post regarding his intentions and the reactions he gets rings similarly to what I felt as I talked about using blogs as personal learning tools. However, this was a great first step taken by a great group of teachers. It’s easy for most of us to simply forget how hard it is for many teachers, especially those that are further removed in age from the students they teach to embrace the changes that these technologies bring.

These teachers worked very hard to assimilate blogging into their own framework, and I am excited to see where it goes.

Transparency

Based on the sheer abundance of ideas that came out of today’s session with Will Richardson at Science Leadership Academy, I apologize in advance if this post goes wildly off topic. The main reasons I traveled to Philadelphia for the day were inspiration and curiosity; both were pronouncedly satisfied and yet piqued beyond what I had expected.

A while ago, I had clipped some segments off of David Warlick’s blog about the term “transparency” and how using Web 2.0 technologies allowed our schools to become open not only to the parents of the students involved in the learning, nor the community in which the school exists, but also the world at large.

The business world has always had some good examples of companies that were transparent and authentic with their customers, but there would likely be agreement these were too few and far between. …There is no doubt that the technologies we call Web 2.0 have both required and produced transparency and authenticity. Blogging, especially, by its very nature, helps create transparency and authenticity–both for ourselves in our own thinking processes (see this thread on Will Richardson’s blog), and for our organizations. This is why true blogging is so hard for companies that don’t have an open culture.

What is it that we would want to hide in our schools? Making our schools transparent to the world at large will only serve, as Will discussed today, to allow our students and teachers alike access to more teachers. The world is full of “teachable moments” as we like to say in our profession, and we must seek them out in order to give students of the 21st Century the tools they need to succeed in the emerging economies.

I look at the staff I work with at both schools, and I can’t wait to take what they do to the transparent level. Whether that is through blogging with them or whatever medium they become comfortable with, I don’t really care yet. What challenges me is the idea that we are able to teach them the ways in which to bring their students into the realm where they already exist, yet I haven’t started to make a dent yet.

Chris Sessum’s blog recently included the following:

Many schools operate out of fear of their constituencies and stakeholders. Many schools are afraid what the public would say if they knew what was going on inside.

This, from my own experience, is not what is happening. Becoming open to the world involves some serious soul-searching and expiation, and the fear of revealing what is going on inside the walls of schools is not what is inhibiting. Rather, shifting the paradigm in which a school has forever existed, and further, in which a teacher has always existed, is a groundbreaking move. As much as we embrace it, we have to be mindful that people need to be reassured that they will not be hurt in some way in the process.