Are You An “Inny”? Or An “Outty”?

I’ve been thinking some more about this question of if we should establish clear standards in schools for Web 2.0 teaching or let teachers learn on their own, in a much less structured way via their own Personal Learning Communities.

So, I do a little more reading.  It seems my question is c

ouched in a larger conversation that lots of people have been commenting on.  Can we fix what is broken about our current schools from within, or is it better to think of a whole new paradigm and start afresh?

Here are some takes on the issue that I’ve read and would like to share. The posts, and the comments that follow them go into great depth.  More than I can try to summarize here. If you’re interested in this conversation its worth it to read them through.

Chris Lehmann:  What Is Public Education?  This was Chris’ reaction to…

Will Richardson’s: Some New Years’ Dreaming   and…

Clay Burrell’s:  On Leaving Teaching to Become a Teacher

I also came across Dina Strasser’s  In or Out? (Long Philosophical Ramble #1) 

(Dina, I started a draft of this post before I saw your title.  Great minds?)

What I’ve taken from these comments is that, I’m an “inny”.  

I subscribe to a lot of Chris Lehmann’s sentiments.  I’m not ready to abandon the system we have now.  I’d rather work from within to make it better.  Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.  It’s also easy to say “let’s work within the system” for someone who is blessed to work in a public school district that is working very well…but is striving always to improve.

I particularly liked when Chris said to Will and Clay,  “We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  Reminds me of a Sting lyric…”To search for perfection is all very well, but to look for heaven is to live here in hell.” 

I’m not suggesting that by establishing standards and clearly stating expectations that I’m endorsing an authoritarian “one size fits all” type system that will crush creativity.  I’d bet a company like Pixar expects–even demands–creativity,  imagination, and ingenuity from all its employees.  Does setting an expectation necessarily mean killing creative thinking? 

Is it impossible to imbibe our current schools with thinking modeled by Will and Clay on a wide scale?  Is it too much to expect such thinking?  Are our schools so restrictive that the ideas of “standards and universal expectations” and “individuality and passion” are diametrically opposed to one another?

Looking for some focus.

Seeking Clarity

Reading is great.  I’ve been doing a lot of blog reading lately.  (See my blogroll).

Reflecting is great.  I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. 

Time to do some writing.  I feel like Rob Gordon in High FideltyI’m a professional appreciator, but I haven’t put anything out there yet for others to read and hopefully reflect on.  

One thing I’ve been mulling over in my brain is the difference between establishing standards for learning and the less structured personal learning that goes on via the internet.

On one hand I definitely see the wisdom of Will Richardson’s idea that it’s okay to be selfish.  He wrote in a fairly recent post

Well, that’s the “different” approach I’ve been taking of late with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, whose knowledge and passion for this work I grow to respect more each day. Working off of the model Sheryl helped develop in Alabama, we’re currently in the midst of six-month long professional development programs with a couple of hundred educators from around the country, leading them through a process that we hope will allow these concepts and skills to really take root in their own learning practice. And it is focused on their own learning, not teaching, not classrooms, not kids. That’s hugely important to us, that these educators be selfish about the learning. No doubt, many of them struggle to approach this process with anything but a teaching lens. But both Sheryl and I feel strongly that what will really create meaningful change in schools and classrooms are teachers who personally understand the potentials of these connections. Already, the most powerful piece of these cohorts to me is that in the process, we’re collectively beginning to build the relationships and share contextualized experiences “that create emergent knowledge that is the basis of education.” The connections are deepening.”

I’m a member of the long term PD Will refers to, and I can attest to the dramatic impact it has had on my personal thinking and learning.  At times I’m in total agreement with that philosophy.  But then again…

What about the people who don’t have access to this type of PD?   Is it okay that they are not onboard?  And what about the people who have had access to this type of PD, but haven’t caught on yet.  Is that acceptable?

It seems to me that that we need to establish a clear continuum for adult learning, in which people can see the whole process laid out in front of them, can clearly identify where they are in the continuum or process, and know what steps they must take to get to the next level.

I’ve been reading a lot of Rick Stiggins’ stuff lately. He argues that students remain engaged and interested in their education when they know what they’ve learned, where they are in a continuum, what comes next, and how to get there. He believes that a lot of the turn off and disconnect with education is that students don’t really understand what it is that they are supposed to know or how to get there.

We’ve been talking a lot in the Teacher Center about establishing “programs” rather than classes. I think when we’ve put out our professional development course offerings there have essentially been a lot of classes, but they are necessarily linked to one another, and certainly aren’t formatted in any sort of progression. They are single “sit and gets” rather than introduction, development, review, etc… As such I think it would be hard for a teacher to know exactly where they are in their learning. It would be even harder for an adminstrator to know where their teachers are. With so many people taking a “scattered” or “shot gun” approach to their adult learning, can we ever evaluate where someone is in a particular skill or process.

But is mandatory, or even co-erced PD,  the answer either?   Consider Pete Reilly’s post Is Mandating Technology Use Enough?    Here’s a little snipet…

Will simply requiring teachers to use technology tools transform teaching and learning? What real change can we expect when we put technology tools in the hands of these teachers?

Mr. Total Control
Miss Overly Structured
Mrs. Entertains from the Front of the Class
Mr. Blame the Kids
Miss Low Expectations
Mrs. No Confidence No Control
Mr. Content Is All That Counts
Miss NCLB Scores
Mrs. Teach to the Middle
Miss Boring
Mr. Lack of Preparation
Miss I Don’t Have Time for Questions
Mrs. Because I Said So
Mr. I’m Totally Overwhelmed

I really think we need to establish some standards.   I think there needs to be some agreement about the direction we are heading.  If someone opts off the path or gets lost, at least we’ll have some idea of how to bring them along.   If there is no “path” then how do we move forward as a group? 

All this leaves me wishing I had a little more focus.  Nothing’s clear to me yet.