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.


9 Responses

  1. Great post. I love the direction you are taking and how you are building on the ideas of others.

    Remember there will always be early adopters. You might enjoy this posts that is somewhat related.

  2. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the comment to me and my students on my blog. I’m just starting to understand Will’s idea of the power of networks on my own learning as a teacher. In the last 8 weeks or so I’ve been using Twitter to experiment with being a part of a learning network. I have to say, I’m convinced. I have learned more through my Twitter connections in the last 2 months than I have in a year and a half of staff dev. in my school. That’s crazy, but true for me. See ya on Twitter. 🙂 George

  3. Educators come from all sorts of backgrounds, interests and content areas. I’m willing to bet there are a lot of educators who haven’t learned to learn. I do think educators need to look critically (transparently) at their practices and find areas where they need work (i.e. – inquiry-based learning, constructivism, [insert your own here]). Understanding and practicing quality teaching gets often gets lost. Designing programs that promote models and strategies for learning is much needed. In fact, I know the SD we provide needs an overhaul very much the same fashion. (We’re workin’ on it.)

    I’m thinking the path you desire is along these same lines. I’m not sure a continuum would help, as we know, learning is not linear. Is a continuum an old-school model? Do we need to invent another one? I don’t know.

    Remember: “Learning is Messy”. For everyone.

  4. Thanks to all who responded. It’s humbling.

    Brian and Sheryl:
    I think the PLP experience is providing me with much the continuum I need. I can’t tell you how much its changed the way I think and learn. Hopefully I can return the favor by spreading the word.

  5. George:
    I’m truly inspired by experimenters such as yourself. Thanks for that!

  6. Mike:
    Great post! I agree with you about reading a lot and feeling like it is time to write.

    My district is beginning to focus most of our professional work into learning communities. The first question we ask our PLCs to answer is, “What do we want our students to learn?” In the PD world we are trying to answer, “What do we want our teachers to learn?” In the PLP model, it is up to us and is VERY non-linear. If schools continue to teach students in what they believe is a linear way, do you think that teachers, as a whole…not just the visionaries, will ever look beyond workshops and conferences? What sort of incentive should there be? Should there be an incentive beyond our students learning? Every once in a while I get a glimpse of what I want PD to be…and then I come back to work. Know what I mean?

  7. As I expected, everyone’s repsonses are raising more questions in my mind. So here’s a question back…

    Consider this scenario: A parent has twins attending the middle school. Twin A has a Teacher A who has completely bought into social networking, has projects connecting with students in other parts of the world, has kids posting blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc… Twin B has Teacher B (who is in the same department as teacher A) but is doing none of those things.

    Is that acceptable, given the world our students are inheriting? And I am in no way suggesting we limit Teacher A’s ingenuity or passion.

    I re-read, by the way, Kurt Paccio’s comment in answer to Pete Reilly’s post I quoted. He says…

    “Just for fun, let´s insert another profession for teacher and see if we still think the same way.

    I would be willing to bet that in the medical profession we have doctors whom we could label Mr. Total Control, Ms. I don´t have time for questions…

    Would you take your son or daughter for medical treatment if your doctor determined that using 21st century medical techniques were just not compatible with his/her style?”


    I personally think we are beholden to our students to try and chart the path for their teachers to best help them. That path is unclear at best right now. I don’t think that means we shouldn’t endeavor to chart it.

    My boss often says, “The best way to predict the future is to make it”. Makes sense to me.

  8. Mike,

    I agree. Scary. If you take the technology out of it – say Teacher A differentiates and Teacher B doesn’t. Which teacher do you want your child to have? Is it really that simple? What exactly are the standards for best practice? Best instruction? Best anything in education? Every time I think that I get an idea of what it is, it changes. So can there be a standard?


  9. One of the best parts of a book I read “One Teacher at a Time” by Jane Pollack followed the story of a teacher who stopped giving traditional grades for everything but the benchmark assessments that students were required to complete. There were no “effort grades”, no check, check plus grades, no grades for homework completion. The teacher described how he changed his traditional instruction model to a more differentiated approach-with a focus on feedback to students and what that meant to improving their progress. You can only imagine the peer pressure, parent pressure and even student pressure he endured. He stuck to it, and bottom line, his students outperformed all others at the same level. His filter was his children….would this lesson be good enough for his kids? would he want his kids in that lesson? It has changed by view- not just for technology use but for the instruction that is being delivered in classrooms-

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