By John Wick
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” – Genesis 2:2
One should never underestimate the importance of rest. It is easy to delve deep into the swirling waters of self-sacrifice in the education profession. After all, most good educators understand that what they do has the potential to positively or negatively impact the lives of roughly 30 children or more a year. If you’re an administrator, then you realize that every year the future of hundreds of children’s lives can be impacted by the decisions you make. Understanding this noble responsibility is important, however it can also consume a person.
We all wish to have those teachers and administrators who have that special spark and fire that helps bring education to life for the students. However, the flame must be carefully tended, or it may turn to a raging inferno that consumes its fuel leaving nothing more than the charred remains of a once bright light. I speak of course of teacher burn-out. Its something that happens for many reasons. Today, I’d like to talk about of the need for rest. Down-time should not be something that is put on the backburner and ignored. I learned this lesson a long time ago as a manager for a retail establishment. I would work 80 + hour workweeks and I burned out fast. It cost me a great deal and I learned that you absolutely must ensure that you have time to rest and reset yourself. After all, if God decided to take a rest on the seventh day, what makes us think we don’t need even more rest than he does? The question though is, “how do we rest?”
Resting is necessary
I find it interesting that there are so many teachers and administrators who are shocked when I tell them I try to leave the school site by 3:30PM. Now that’s not to say that it always happens, but more often than not it is possible. There are always exceptions. Sometimes there are situations that absolutely must be dealt with that will keep you tethered to your office until the daylight has long left this side of the world. There are also the requisite meetings, sports games, and special events for which you are expected to be present. However these should not overwhelm a person to the extent that they arrive home exhausted, have not family life, and lack enough sleep to be effective the next day. It is important to remember that we are humans. If you’re a Catholic school teacher, we often speak of the need to be a whole person and part of that is having time to be yourself. Often times, I find that teachers and administrators let their passion and fire for education burn so far out of control that they are spent and exhausted. Some have asked me what my method is and how I manage to find time for myself (Now, even I think I can improve upon this, but others certainly are burning the midnight oil). I’d like to share just a little of my philosophy and methods for remaining a whole person.
Problem solving Situation Solutions
It is going to happen. Problems will arise, though I like to call them “situations” or “opportunities”, “Problems” has a negative connotation that puts you in the wrong mindset for finding unique solutions to the situation (besides, the alliteration alone makes “Situation Solutions” so much more appealing). So how do I handle situations? Like most, I prioritize the situation. I assess if it is critical and needs to be solved immediately. If it is, then that’s what I work on until it is resolved (these should be far and few between). If not, then I place it in my to do list.
The next question I often ask as the email comes across my screen after the school day has ended is Can this be solved tomorrow? Often times, the answer is “Yes”. Now I know that there are many people who want to find the solution right away so that they are not thinking about it throughout the night. I used to be one of these people, but I found that it drastically impacted my personal family time. That’s when I came to the realization: Even if I solve the situation right now… no one will know it was solved until after the beginning of the school day tomorrow. More often than not, this is the case. Once I made this realization, I began to reclaim my personal life. Solving situations has become something that I enjoy, but it is not something that consumes my daily living. Situations are fluid and there are times when one must be sure to act immediately if it is necessary. As teachers and administrators we often put more pressure on ourselves than is fair for any one human to burden.
Vacations are just that
I’ll be the first to admit this… I am not the best at this piece of advice though I am trying to improve. A vacation should be exactly what the name says: a vacation. Its important to disconnect yourself from work emails, work cell phone calls, IM, etc. We need time to rest, to recharge our batteries so that we can approach our work renewed and re-energized. After all, our students are returning renewed and if we are not at least somewhat rested, its difficult to meet their level of energy. Often wonder why the students seem so excited and energized when they return from vacation, yet the teachers seem tired… it just might be that the teachers haven’t truly rested. I can do better in this area (I like to answer and check emails as often as possible) and it is something upon which I am actively working toward improvement.
It is important that we actively seek out rest. If the creator of the universe felt the need for rest, then we should learn by his example. I worry for my fellow teachers and administrators who burn so brightly and face the specter of extinguishing their flames. Burning the candle at both ends is no way to ensure effective longevity in education (with the last name of “Wick” I’m wary of burning two ends of any candle). Bad puns aside, the truth is that we need time to be ourselves, the problems that show up in our inbox at 7PM will still be solvable the next day at 7AM. The benefit is that you can approach the situations refreshed with the benefit of sleep and rest on your side. A tired person makes rash decisions, while a rested person can assess the situation more thoughtfully.
What are your methods of ensuring you get enough time to rest? Do you rest? What questions do you have about making time for yourself? Do you have any advice for teachers who feel overworked? We’d all like to hear from you. Click on the comment link below and share your comments!
By John Wick
“…in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy
The above quote from Tolstoy touches upon an almost universal truth. Humans, more often than not, tend to look at how they can change the world without first examining how they can change themselves. It is hard to turn the lens of critical analysis upon oneself and to embrace change as a key component to continued growth. Humans, for the most part, tend to find their comfortable niches and stick to the routines that have proven manageable. I say “manageable” because these routines may not always be the most effective; they simply have to suffice for the task at hand. We get comfortable and begin, like Garth in Wayne’s World II, to “fear change”. It would seem that the very nature of the universe is change and it is the one thing that can be counted upon time and again to strike the most fear into the hearts of humans. Fearing change is like wearing a blindfold. It hinders you from seeing the bigger universe. It is time we take off our blindfolds and venture forth into the world with our eyes wide open so that we may be able to help our students succeed in life.
You may be asking, why I’ve developed a sudden interest in change and the natural fear that seems to go along with it.
The truth is that next year I will be starting a new school and my vision is to have this school be the very essence of change. It will exist to improve student learning through the piloting of new programs and initiatives. It will become a laboratory in which our goal is to help all students achieve mastery of their subject domains. I’ve long been, and continue to be, a supporter of using research to drive instructional and organizational decisions. However, I’ve found almost zero research for one of my initiatives that will be implemented next year. I’ve conducted research in a multitude of literature journals and educational databases from the university and I’ve still found little in the way of research. That means that the initiative I am proposing is based upon anecdotal observations. I propose the following:
Every three to five years, teachers should change the grade level in which they teach.
I know that some teachers are already pointing their slings and arrows in my direction, however I ask that, if you are one of these teachers, you hold back your attack and first listen to the reasoning behind this initiative so that you might understand why I have chosen this course of action. Perhaps by the time you are done reading, you too may be swayed to take arms against a sea of troubles with me (Hopefully Shakespeare doesn’t mind me repurposing his words).
Let me preface this next section by stating that next year every teacher at my school is experiencing some type of change (be it grade level assignment, subject matter taught, or pedagogical methodology). The response has been overwhelmingly positive from my faculty and many are excited to be a part of this initiative. With that being said, here are my observations (and these are taken not only from schools in which I have taught but in visiting many other schools and observing their operations).
Stagnation can lead to atrophy
As a reminder, these are all of my own anecdotal observances they are not based on any research.
I have witnessed teachers who teach one grade level for many years. By many I mean 10 +. Some would argue that this would make the teacher an expert in that grade level and I would agree. This is certainly a possibility, however, more often than not, I have found that teachers in this situation tend to stick to the lessons they like the most, they don’t embrace new teaching methodologies, and they genuinely have a severe lack of understanding of what other grade level teachers do throughout the year.
In the process of remaining the same, they begin to whither in their effectiveness as educators. I’ve witnessed teachers teaching lessons about butterflies, dinosaurs, family trees, etc. when these topics are not even part of the standards that are supposed to be taught to their grade levels. I’ve witnessed teachers who actively resist utilizing new technologies that have been proven by research to help improve student learning, teachers who are more happy using an overhead than actually having a student interact with the subject through using technology.
In essence, teachers in this situation tend to get stuck in a feedback loop and never really develop beyond their first few years of lesson plans. The tragedy is that students suffer at the cost of keeping a teacher comfortable.
Lack of organizational understanding
The other observation I have made is that sometimes teachers who remain within one grade level tend to become an island unto themselves. They lack a clear understanding of what other teachers do for the school and only focus upon their single room. Imagine a teacher who never understands the pressures and responsibilities that an 8th grade teacher has in helping his or her students enter high school, the responsibility of teaching sacraments in 2nd grade Catholic school, or the difficulties in planning weeklong science camps in the middle school?
For some, it is difficult to develop a true respect for the roles and responsibilities of other grade levels until they have been asked to take on those responsibilities. In this regard, I seek a deeper understanding and mutual respect among fellow educators.
The god complex
I’ve witnessed this in at least two different schools with teachers that have held a single grade level position for more than 10 years. Sometimes teachers begin to believe that they are the best individuals for the grade level and that no one can do the job better than they can. I’ve heard these teachers actively throw near tantrums when a change to their curriculum is introduced or when a teacher is asked to take a portion of their class to teach because the class size is too large for one teacher. I am under no misconception. I know there is always someone in the world that can do the job better than I can. My job is to do the best I can with what I am assigned.
The danger is that these teachers develop such hubris that they begin to stop seeking better ways of teaching and actively derail new initiatives if they do not fit within their comfort zone. It is better to be humble than to build delusions of grandeur.
So, what then is my plan? As an administrator of a Catholic school I have a global view of the teaching landscape within my site. I am not hindered by thinking of only a single classroom or grade level, yet I also lack research to support the initiative. Does that mean I should do nothing and allow 200 + children to remain in a situation that I feel is not in their best interest? I think not. So here is my plan.
First of all, I need teacher buy-in. For the most part I have it. Any new teachers that are hired will be hired with a full understanding of this plan and that should help alleviate any anxiety about moving to another grade level (after all I will be upfront and discuss it during the hiring process). Once I have teacher buy in, I need to develop the implementation.
I do not believe that switching grades every year is helpful (unless a teacher specifically requests it). Rather, I believe that 3-5 years allows a teacher to develop a thorough understanding of the grade level they are teaching and to have confidence with their subject matter.
I also do not believe in drastic changes, such as moving an 8th grade teacher to teach Kindergarten. It takes a special teacher to teach kindergarten and a special mindset to teach middle school. Drastic changes such as these would happen only at the request of the teacher and only with thorough analysis and review conducted by the administration.
What I propose is that teachers move within roughly a 3 grade level setting. For example teachers moving from grades 1-3 would help develop a greater understanding of the responsibilities of these grade levels in developing literacy for students. Grades 4-5 may wish to move up or down depending on their preference. Middle school is a bit tricky.
Middle school tends to be departmentalized and I do not believe in moving someone outside of his or her credentialed area of expertise. Therefore these changes would largely be between grade levels. Most of these teachers teach grades 6-8 for their particular subject so their curriculum really doesn’t change that much. However, changing homeroom grade levels does introduce them to the responsibilities that each grade level faces.
This is truly a pilot program that I am initiating in my school next year so I will be carefully assessing its effect upon student learning. If it proves successful, then I will continue to adapt. If it does not, then I will adjust as necessary. The one thing I cannot stand doing is nothing.
As an administrator, it’s my duty to ensure that the students receive the best possible learning opportunities. I know that there are teachers out there who will read this post and have an immediate negative reaction. I also know there are some who would be excited by such an experience. The nature of my school next year is innovation and change and if all faculty members believe in this, then I believe we can accomplish great things for our students.
Perhaps Tolstoy was correct and its time we look to changing ourselves in order to help change the world. After all, Socrates believed that “The unexamined life is not worth living”. I agree. It is time we examine our practices, our lives, and start truly living in the realm of modern education.
I welcome your thoughts and comments on this topic. What has been your experience with this? Would you like to try a program like this or does it cause anxiety? I look forward to your comments.
By John Wick
Photo Credit: Chrisinplymouth from Flickr
Our little group has always been and always will until the end – Nirvana
I’ve been mulling over what it means to be a member of a generation that is smaller than the generation that came before it and the generations that have followed. You see, I’m a member of that “forgotten” generation known as Gen X. Ive been reading “X Saves the World” and finding it entertaining and informative. Because this generation is a minority sandwiched between the Baby Boomers, Y gen, and Mellennials, I’ll fully understand if you skip reading this post and move on to other compositions that appeal to the masses. However, if you are compelled to read further, then I welcome you to this reflective piece of writing.
At the beginning of this school year I sat in a room with other administrators to hear a presenter give a speech on generational differences. He asked those in attendance to raise a hand if they were born between certain years. As he did this a vast majority went up for the Baby Boomer generation. Then he came to my range. I sat in the front row and raised my hand when he asked who was born between 1965-1980. I saw an interesting look cross his face as he noted me then scanned the room and stated “just you?” I glanced around the room and apparently it was true; I was the only administrator who was a member of Generation X. I thoroughly enjoyed his speech, however it was tailored to the Boomer principals dealing with Mellennials. I found myself in the unique position of reversing a great deal of what he said to help me work with my Boomer-Mellennial faculty.
Many of the traits associated with Gen X are vital to pushing education in new directions that have the potential to help improve student learning. Here are just a few traits associated with my compatriots:
- Expects immediate and ongoing feedback & is comfortable giving feedback to others
- Highly adaptable
- Dislike authority & rigid work environments
- Eager to learn new skills
- Works to live does not live to work
- Not impressed by titles
- Technically competent
The list goes on and on. As I read through the list above, I find that there is a need for each of these qualities in order to make significant changes to education. It would seem that built into the very fiber of my generation is a need to ask “why” something is done rather than to blindly accept what has always been. This is a valuable asset when taking up arms to challenge educational practices that have been in place for more than a century.
I’m under no delusion, we also have our weaknesses. Gen Xers can be overly confident. We can sometimes push forward and think, in our own naïveté that we know best. It’s a double edged sword. Sometimes that confidence is necessary to ignite real change and to weather the maelstroms that threaten to sink our initiatives. Other times, our disdain for authority hinders our ability to change course when the rockets come at us sideways. However, more often than not, it’s a benefit rather than a weakness.
Being a member of the minority generation perhaps means that even as more and more people become administrators, the number of Gen X administrators will always be small. However this should in no way hinder our ability to affect real, significant change in education. We may be a small group when it comes to generation population numbers, but we are also innovative thinkers who desire new methods of solving old problems.
I am the first Gen X principal in my diocese; an honor and a pressure that I embrace. I consider myself the first shot fired across the bow by Generation X to herald innovative, revolutionary change in Catholic education in my diocese. However, I cannot do it alone. It will be with the help of my Boomer, Y, and Mellennial colleagues that we truly improve student learning. I may be at the helm of the ship I call my school, but it is the crew that must trust in the direction in which I steer our course. Conversely, I must trust to the strengths and skills of the other generations that sail with me.
Gen X may be a small generation, however we have the potential to enact real, significant change. I call upon my brothers and sisters of my generation to stand up and apply for leadership positions in education. The time to make our voices heard is now. In the words of Nirvana (a symbol of Gen X):
“Take your time, hurry up, the choice is yours. Don’t be late”.
Perhaps it’s that last line that means the most. We (Gen Xers) do things the way we want, but we are rapidly approaching the point where we may be too late to affect change. So don’t be late my fellow X colleagues. We need principals with your unique qualities.
I found this to be an interesting reflection on my generation and value your feedback and thoughts. I would love it if you would share with me a comment or two on this topic.
By John Wick
“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn how to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” – C.S. Lewis
I start this post with the above quote from C.S. Lewis. We have been eggs for too long my friends and we face the prospect of going bad. In this regard, I speak about our failure (yes, if we are being honest it is failure) to have every teacher use technology effectively in the classroom. We’ve been told that we need to teach 21st century skills, yet we are over a decade into the 21st century. Must we believe that our teaching should encompass 100 years as an acceptable learning timeframe for technology? Technology changes too quickly. In the latter part of the 21st century will we really want to know how to operate an iPod or post a video to YouTube? Instead we need to teach this year’s skills and look toward the future. Yet we have failed. There are many schools in which teachers have resisted technology in their classrooms and they are still resisting it to this day.
Far too often I find that administrators focus on what makes their teachers the most comfortable and not on what the students need in the classroom to thrive in our current and future society. This is the year 2013 and there are still teachers who rarely, if ever, use technology to help teach a lesson in the classroom, let alone providing the students with technology to use in their actual lessons. I was in elementary school when the Apple IIe was being introduced to schools. These computers were being placed in schools twenty years ago, yet we still have teachers who refuse to use the technology. I say refuse, because at this point there really is no excuse for not learning how to use technology and implement it with students.
I think part of the problem emerged with Prensky’s “Digital Native – Digital Immigrant” labels. At one point these labels may have been true, however I believe the labels have crippled any real progress toward teachers integrating technology. It is far too easy for teachers who don’t want to use technology to say, “I’m a digital immigrant”. Once that label is used there’s a sense of entitlement the supposed digital immigrant believes is his or hers. They need help and we have to take it slow with them. – This is their belief and, unfortunately, the belief of many of their principals. I’m sorry, but Prensky’s article was written in 2001 and for the term to still be in use over a decade later makes me want to laugh, cry, or both. Think of all the changes that have taken place in the last twelve years with technology, iPhones, iPads, Surface, etc. Technology has moved forward at an exponential rate (Moore’s Law anyone?) yet we have been taking microscopic steps toward holding teachers accountable for integrating these technologies.
Our students live in a world where they go home, use a computer, use a tablet, use a cell phone, video chat, etc. For 16 hours of their day they are surrounded by technology. The true crime is that for 8 hours of the day we put them in an artificial reality (one devoid of technology) hand them books and pencils and we tell them to learn using almost none of the technology they use on a daily basis. If we think we are doing students any real favors we are deluded. How do we expect our students to be successful in a world that demands the competent use of technology if we hardly ever let them use it in their formative learning years?
I believe its time we stop holding the hands of those who are holding our children back. I cannot sit idly by and allow students to be hindered because an adult feels uncomfortable with technology. It is important that we remember that we are there for the children and not for the adults. The only way that we are going to help the children succeed in their future lives is to have strong administrators and teachers who are ready and willing to stand up for children.
We have to ensure that all teachers are using the tools of today so that our students will be ready to handle the realities of tomorrow. I ask that you take a look at your own schools and teachers. I’m sure you will find at least one individual who is fighting the rising tide of technological innovation. We have to get through to these people that the time for change is not now… it was yesterday.
I welcome your thoughts and comments on developing methods of helping students receive the quality education they deserve. C.S. Lewis was right, we must grow or we face going bad; unfortunately resisting technology doesn’t just cause the teachers to go bad, it also threatens to cripple our students’ future lives. We should already be learning to fly, but so many of our colleagues are still in their shells. Its time administrators and fellow teachers make a stand to crack a few bad eggs.
Image: Artwork and permission to use image granted by Terry Border http://bentobjects.blogspot.com
By John Wick
Some of you may know that I work within the Catholic school system. This is an important fact because it means that my worldview is heavily influenced by this system. There are certain freedoms that are allowed within a Catholic school that are not as readily available in the public system. For example the ability to make quick changes to curriculum or programs without all the red tape that the public system has to endure. I feel for my brothers and sisters in public schools and I am impressed by their ability to carry on in this very difficult time for educators.
However, this is not a post about the differences. Rather, I’m telling you that I am part of the Catholic school system because its important for this post. I’m currently enrolled in a course at Loyola Marymount University, which focuses upon mission driven education. One of our assignments was to write our own personal vision of Catholic education. Some perceive Catholic schools as a dying entity, however I hold an opposite view. We have hit a rough spot due to an unwillingness to change (which is built into our system) but some of us have begun to take our heads out of the sand long enough to know that we must start running toward radical changes to keep our schools alive.
What follows is the paper I wrote about my personal vision of Catholic education. If it were up to me, this would be a little shorter, however there were some elements of the assignment that had to be covered. What I can say, is that I wholeheartedly believe in what I wrote, which is why I’m going to share my paper (Vision – Dream) with you.
I welcome your thoughts and comments on this topic.
My Vision of Catholic Education
In order to describe my personal vision of Catholic education, it becomes necessary to first understand a core philosophical tenet to which I adhere. Greenleaf (2002) expertly expresses the philosophical perspective I maintain:
Not much happens without a dream. And for something great to happen, there must be a great dream. Behind every great achievement is a dreamer of great dreams. Much more than a dreamer is required to bring it to reality, but the dream must be there first. (p. 30)
This statement clearly depicts the necessity of a leader, his or her colleagues, and of course the adherence to a vision (dream) that is unwavering.
My dream for Catholic education is to raise it to new heights, the likes of which have never been seen. My vision is to establish a Catholic school system that supports education for all Catholic students regardless of their socioeconomic status. Miller (2006) underscores this importance; he stated, “All Catholic children, not just those whose families have the financial means, have a right to Catholic education” (p. 15). Providing affordable education to our Catholic community is of the utmost importance.
My vision is to work toward a reality in which Catholic schools surpass the zenith of enrollment experienced in 1965 when approximately 5.6 million students were enrolled in 13,500 Catholic schools (Reardon, Cheadle, & Robinson, 2009). During this decade, roughly 12 percent of all children enrolled in schools the United States were enrolled in Catholic schools (Walch, 1996, p. 1). In order to facilitate this, Catholic education must focus, not only upon being financial accessible to its students, but also on its ability to demonstrate a strong Catholic identity while remaining on the forefront of educational excellence.
Jesus Christ must be at the center of Catholic education. It is easy to become caught up in a maelstrom of secular educational issues, however it is more important to focus upon the spiritual development of the child, lest he or she lose connection with their Catholic faith. “The gospel of Jesus Christ and his very person are to inspire and guide the Catholic school in every dimension of its life and activity…” (Miller, 2006, p. 25). Holding to this foundation will allow all that is accomplished within the school to serve the spiritual growth and development of the entire school community.
Once this foundation has been set, it becomes manifest that we must strive for excellence in every aspect of the Catholic school. My vision is that Catholic schools will provide an education experience that will surpass public schools. Catholic education has the ability to drive education research and new pedagogical implementations. Providing our schools with leading technologies and teachers, who are trained to use them correctly, will help to secure a prosperous future for our students.
Catholic schools are well poised to make this a reality. According to Walch (1996), “Where Catholic schools had once followed every innovation introduced in public education, the roles have been reversed. Catholic schools are now laboratories for the development of effective tools in reaching a broad cross-section of children” (p. 244). Maintaining this view of Catholic schools as learning laboratories focused upon the spiritual and academic excellence of our students will help to ensure that Catholic education thrives in the United States.
The key to attaining this vision of Catholic education will be to ensure that lay educators are well versed in Catholic teachings, as well as educational research and methodology. In order to make this a reality, leaders who hold a similar vision of Catholic education will need to emerge. These leaders should embody servant leadership. Jesus said, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 1:43-44, New International Version). These leaders must not be passive; they must seek to strengthen Catholic schools and shape a future in which the Catholic school is a thriving entity (Lowney, 2003, p. 33).
With the reduction of religious personnel in Catholic schools, the laity will increasingly need to strengthen and maintain the Catholic identity and academic integrity within Catholic education (Cook, 2007, p. vi; Miller, 2006, p. 5). According to Miller (2006), we know that the Catholic church will survive, and that it “… must have schools that are recognizably Catholic” (p. 7). Therefore, it is important that leaders in Catholic education emerge who are willing to shoulder the duty of ensuring the success of Catholic education.
My vision is to work with these leaders in close collaboration, across multiple diocese. This will help us to achieve the dream of raising Catholic education to new heights. This vision will enable students to grow spiritually in the love of Jesus Christ, while expanding their future horizons through academic excellence. “A Catholic educator is a person who gives testimony by his or her life” (Miller, 2006, p. 53). My desire is to give testimony through the acts of my life, which will help Catholic schools to attain my vision for their future thriving success.
Cook, T. (2007). Architects of Catholic Culture: Designing & Building Catholic Culture in Catholic Schools. Washington DC: National Catholic Education Association.
Greenleaf, R. (2002). Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness (25th Anniversary Edition ed.). New York: Paulist Press.
Lowney, C. (2003). Heroic Leadership. Chicago: Loyola Press.
Miller, J. M. (2006). The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools. Atlanta: Solidarity Association.
Reardon, S., Cheadle, J., & Robinson, J. (2009). The Effect of Catholic Schooling on Math and Reading Development in Kindergarten through Fifth Grade. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2(1), 45-87.
Walch, T. (1996). Parish School. New York: Crossroad Publishing.
By John Wick
Personal Experience for my first presentation at an education conference
This is just a short reflective piece about my rencent expereiences and the importance of being prepared…
I’ve always enjoyed attending education conferences. However, after attending many of the presentations, classes, workshops, etc. I often walk away telling my wife (also an educator) that much of what I just sat through… well… I already knew. My common statement is “I could have taught that”. I may be wrong, but I think this might be a common problem with technology educators. Many of the topics and courses are either well below our current skill set, or its old news to someone whose job it is to thrive on the cutting edge of technology integration.
This year, I finally decided to jump into the ring and offer my own presentation. The title was “Fostering Moral Development within Social Media”. I was contacted by the chair of the doctoral studies department at my university and asked to co-present on this topic. I, along with the Chair and a fellow doctoral candidate pulled from recent, relevant, literature (2010-2011 studies) to help modern educators at the ACSI conference attempt to take on this challenging topic. If you missed this presentation we will be offering a slightly modified version for the California Education Research Association’s conference this week in Anaheim. However, what I want to write about most is the experience of presenting.
First, let me say that I wasn’t nervous. I’m not saying that to be pretentious, rather, I was excited. I knew the research and I know the topic. I have performed before audiences and I treated this no differently than I would an actor preparing for a stage performance. As I arrived at the conference I knew that a large part of our presentation hinged upon our ability to have Internet access and securing this access became the paramount goal upon my arrival.
As I walked through the fourth floor lobby toward my room I encountered a hotel employee in charge of conference information. I inquired about the availability of Internet access through a hardline or WiFi and was informed that they had it, however it was very expensive… her exact words “It’s like $700 a day”. Hmmm…. “I call shenanigans” I thought to myself and simply thanked her and went on my way. Sitting down and opening my MacBook Pro I was able to find the hotel’s WiFi access which clearly stated it was available for $15 a day. I attempted to purchase this access but the authentication system did not recognize “Long Beach” as a valid city. A quick call to the national help-line for the hotel confirmed there was a problem and, after locating my MAC address on the network, the tech assistant issued my Internet access at no cost for the trouble experienced. Talk about professionalism. I was very pleased with this event. Yet, my adventures in preparedness were not yet over.
We were given 10 minutes to set up equipment (we had to bring our own projector and speakers). As I quickly went to work hooking up the necessary hardware I found that the electrical connection in the hotel for the equipment had zero electricity. Changing their surge protector did no good. Luckily, on the way out the door I had grabbed my 25’ extension cord. I found an outlet and quickly hooked up the connector. Bingo! Electricity. With only one minute till presentation time a hotel employee entered and saw my work. I informed him of the problem and he quickly thanked me for fixing it myself and said someone would be in after our presentation to correct the error. Wow. Had I relied on the staff the presentation would not have happened on time (or possibly at all).
The presentation went very well. In total I counted roughly 30 educators present. We held an interactive presentation with questions and answers throughout the presentation and we had zero people walk out (I call that a success in any presentation).
It seems that the lesson I learned as a child in Boy Scouts paid off. “Be Prepared”. I always strive to be prepared and for once, I was thankful that I could be prepared for all the monkey wrenches that were thrown my way. It was a valuable lesson I plan on taking with me to any future conferences. I must always be prepared…
What about you?
Have you ever presented at a conference and found that there were major technical difficulties? Were you prepared? How did you cope with the issues? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I may post a new blog article soon about several keys to being prepared for a conference. I wish all of you great success in your presentations. Feel free to share your experiences, war stories, etc. by hitting the comment button below.
By John Wick
Four steps to bring new life into the classroom
Hello again, I recently had the pleasure of attending a professional development seminar by Heidi Hayes Jacobs on the topic of Curriculum Mapping. I’ve long been a proponent for radical changes in pedagogical approaches within our classroom setting and it was refreshing to listen to another expert in the field of education share similar thoughts. While the topic of the seminar was “curriculum mapping” I felt a strong resonance with the underlying educational philosophy espoused during the session. I believe that if one were to choose the most important aspect of the session as a take-home point to remember, it is that we MUST serve our students by preparing them for their future. One of the great questions asked by Dr. Jacobs was to conduct an honest self-evaluation of your school and try to determine (overall) what year you are preparing your students to enter in adulthood. I have a feeling that few could honestly answer 2020 or beyond, which is a huge injustice to the students. After attending this seminar I walked away with a four step program in my head to bring classroom pedagogy into the era in which it belongs.
Step 1. An Honest Look in the Mirror
The first step is taken directly from Dr. Jacob’s question. “What year is your school preparing its students for?” When I gave this serious consideration, I was shocked to come the realization that it was somewhere within the range of 1970-1980 for my school. This era reflected a time when computers did not dominate the work force. When Apple was still just a hobby kit in Job’s and Wozniak’s garage. Now, I teach a great deal of technology in my classroom, in an attempt to prepare students for their future, however when looking at the school as a whole I was forced to come to the conclusion that many teachers still relied on paper and pencil, books, and pedagogical practices that they had been using for the last several decades. This is frightening… after all if Moore’s Law holds true (and it has for quite a while) the rate at which technology increases is exponential and doubles every two years. How then can we say we are reaching our students if we are using pedagogical methods that do not use technology that was created within the last five years? The truth is, a good honest look in the mirror is necessary so that change can occur.
Step: 2 Prehistoric tools for space-age learning
After this look in the mirror you may find that a great many of your colleagues are attempting to use prehistoric tools for space-age learning. It is difficult to fathom how teachers expect to truly prepare students for their future careers using only books, pencil, and paper. I’m sure the argument is that this approach has worked for hundreds of years and therefore should still be adequate for today. However, a hundred years ago we did not have technologies that allowed instant access to information from around the world delivered within seconds of searching for the information. A job a hundred years ago depended more upon your ability to be a skilled laborer or farmer rather than to be able to seek out information and turn it into something that can be used to support a family.
The truth is, our school system is largely outdated and needs a massive overhaul. Jim Grant in his book The Death of Common Sense in our Schools explained that our current school calendar was brought to American in the 1840s from Prussia by Horace Mann. This calendar prepared students for work in factories but also allowed students to return home to help on the farm. Essentially what Grant states is that “our current educational structure is built for a European state and an American farm economy that no longer exist”. This alone is a huge detriment to our students, and change to the calendar year and schedule is something that will take quite a bit of work to revise. However, as teachers, we have the ability to affect change on a much more local level (our classrooms). While its ridiculous to maintain a school structure built on “Expired” political and economic conditions, it is also equally ludicrous to maintain teaching methods and tools from the pre-cold war era in our information age. The truth is, we are supposed to be preparing our students for a future when they will hold jobs that use technologies that haven’t even been invented yet. How are we preparing our students for this future if we are not even using the current technology of today? Its akin to telling a person that they will one day be expected to navigate the internet to search for information effectively, however (for the time being) we are only going to provide them with an encyclopedia and a dictionary…. good luck future web surfer. If we are to truly aid our students in their ability to have successful lives, then we must prepare them for their futures by not only providing them with recent technology, but by surpassing the present to meet their future needs.
Step 3. Surpassing the Present to Prepare for the Future
What do I mean by Surpassing the present? Can it be done? I think it can. The trick is to envision the growth that may occur within the next five years and to provide an infrastructure and pedagogical methodology that enhances students’ abilities to thrive in the future. Dr. David Thornburg in his book Edutrends 2010 made the argument that we should not be striving to put into place systems of the present… because by the time we install and implement these systems, they will have already become outdated (Moore’s law in action). Instead we should be aiming for an attainable point in the future and striving to ensure that our pedagogy, technology, and students are prepared for this time. In that way, we are never trying to “catch up” to the technology trends, rather we are riding the wave and directing our students toward the rich waters of future success. What does this mean for the modern educator who has looked in the mirror and decided that prehistoric tools will no longer be used?
Essentially, it means that we must look at what exists in the present, and anticipate the future. I can easily ask my students to create a youtube video about a topic for their assignment and this will be a huge success in helping students to meet present needs. However, the future is right around the corner and a new service, or medium may arise that causes the extinction of youtube. The key is that educators need to be on the cutting edge. We need to be aware of current technologies and how they are used in the world to create jobs and stimulate the economy. If I am preparing students for their future they need to be prepared for the technology skills that will help them to lead successful productive lives. That means that we must seek to always be on the cutting edge, to embrace change and to prepare our students for a world that is rapidly changing. Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you can see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center”. I think this philosophy should be adopted by all teachers. If we live on the edge we can peer beyond the event horizon and help our students thrive in the world in which they will soon be living. Life on the edge means eliminating prehistoric teaching methods to give control of the learning environment to the students.
Step 4. From Controlling Students to Student Control
Most of our students are ahead of us when it comes to technology, and for the teacher who lives by the use of prehistoric tools this is a frightening concept. The traditional approach is that the teacher is sitting in what Paolo Freire would term an “Ivory Tower of Isolation” providing passive knowledge to those who are under them. Instead, I argue that it is important for us to acknowledge students’ advanced knowledge and to construct a more meaningful classroom learning experience by engaging them in solving real-world problems using the abilities they possess. I’m highly constructivist in my approach and I believe that students should own their learning experiences. This is difficult for some teachers though. There are teachers who believe that they must teach only from the textbook; what a frightening concept! The truth is, students bring with them a plethora of skills and knowledge that utilizes real-world technologies and that can be used to solve real-world problems. The traditional knee-jerk reaction has been for teachers and schools to bury their heads in the sand and say “you can’t use facebook in the classroom”; “You can’t use youtube”; “you can’t do X,Y,Z” etc. Educators have a long standing bad habit of ignoring the elephant in the room. Our students use technology every day. They are highly adept and efficient in its use. The day is coming when the student who is able to gather and use relevant information quickly and efficiently will be the best prepared for the world in which he lives. If we surpass the present, the future success of students will largely depend upon these skills. Embarking on this four step journey can be scary. Giving up a totalitarian grip on teaching practices is a frightening process for those who have lived by that sword. However, it is our duty to embrace change, to prepare our students for the information age in which they live. To do otherwise is an injustice to our students and our profession.
I’ve been sharing my thoughts on the topic of necessary educational reform at the classroom level. I’ve intentionally kept this short and basic because I’d love to hear some of your thoughts or questions. Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.
By John Wick
Traditional approaches, The Noose
I often write about technologies that can help educators be more effective in the classroom. However, I’ve rarely taken the opportunity to speak directly to my compatriots in the Information Technology [IT] field of education. Tonight, I woke from a sound sleep and felt compelled to let loose some thoughts. It is my hope that they encourage constructive dialogue and intellectual reflection. I tend to have strong opinions when it comes to technology and how best to implement it in education. I believe in empowering educators to make the most of the technology at their fingertips. Few would argue that a teacher should be restricted in their ability to make the most of their resources to help students learn. Yet, I find that the traditional IT approach has been to lock down computers, restrict installation of new software, and to block URLs behind firewalls that treat our teachers as if they were incapable of making good decisions about their use of technology.
I was born in an interesting time. I remember learning to type on a typewriter, yes with those hard-to-push keys that made your little fingers ache for hours. I also remember the first time computers were brought into the classroom… Oregon Trail any one? I grew up, not playing sports, but attending night classes with my father to learn how to program in GW BASIC on our commodore 64. I lived during the time of the BBS (bulletin board systems) when a 300BPS modem could take an entire night to download a game or photo. I remember resisting the Internet and thinking that the BBS system would hold its own and my slow conversion to embracing the Internet. Self-taught HTML was a fun pastime. I offer you these memories, because I want you to know where I come from. I don’t believe there is a digital native or a digital immigrant. There are simply those willing to try to learn technology and those who aren’t. With the rate of technological advances, wouldn’t we all be considered immigrants anyway?
My background has afforded me the opportunity to work with many people in IT (not just in the education field). I’ve been known to bypass networks, crack a WEP key or two in order to test the security of my home network, I know the reasons for security in technology (especially in education). However, the traditional business world approach to IT has been to lock down systems so tight that the IT person can easily diagnose problems, solve them, and put little effort into tracking down what may have gone wrong. This approach may work well for the business world, however, in education, it tightens the noose around teachers’ necks. The ubiquitous image of the IT professional (portrayed well on Saturday Night Live) as a person in a white shirt who looks at a screen and tells the person having difficulty to “MOVE” so that he may quickly enter two commands that fixes the problem is prevalent among most business IT professionals. How then do we (IT professionals in education) make a difference?
Turning IT Upside Down
I argue that we need to turn IT on its head. That means we don’t lock down our teachers’ computers so tight that they cannot pull up a useful video from YouTube that would enhance their students’ learning. We shouldn’t lock down their systems so that they can’t install new software that may, in fact, make them more productive. I know the arguments… If a teacher installs software it may compromise their system… Blocking sites like YouTube is important so that teachers don’t waste time with useless videos… These arguments may work for the traditional IT person who wants to maintain strict control over all technology within his or her domain, however in the realm of education it only tightens the noose and, just like the way the cell phone companies have throttled their bandwidth, we too essentially restrict our fellow educators’ ability to teach. I also argue that sites like YouTube can be extremely useful to students as long as policies and monitoring is put in place to ensure the protection of our students and that the work they perform is of educational value.
The key is to ensure that we empower our teachers. Will they make mistakes? I’m sure of it; after all, we do as well. However, these mistakes are valuable learning experiences and training our teachers in the use and implementation of technology can mitigate mistakes. Taking the time to work with our teachers instead of pushing them aside and solving the problems for them like a magician in an ivory tower will help them to make wise decisions. I challenge my fellow education IT colleagues to cut the noose from around our teachers’ necks. Yes, this may mean you’ll have to format someone’s hard drive at some point and reinstall the OS etc. There will be headaches; there will be challenges. However, I believe that the true spirit of the IT professional is one that loves a challenge. Those of us who have the knowledge to bypass firewalls and utilize systems despite the noose that others attempted to place around our necks know that there is liberation in being able to make our own decisions about how to improve our productivity. We owe it to our teachers to do the same. After all, the end result is that our students will improve their learning because we took a chance on helping our educators understand and responsibly use the technology we give them
As always I welcome your comments and thoughts…
By John Wick
A New Kid in Town: Planbookedu
It’s been quite a while since I’ve added any posts to this blog. The reasons are many but chief amongst them is my work on my dissertation research, enrollment in a new certificate program with LMU, and my first year as an administrator. For my lack of posting, I apologize… now onto the good stuff…
Nine months ago I spoke very highly of Hellmansoft’s Planbook. It integrated well with my mac, my iPad, and dropbox. I still highly recommend the program, however within the time that it takes to bring an infant to term a new lesson planning software has been born. I introduce to you, Planbookedu. This is the first cloud-based lesson planning solution that I have found to truly be versatile and simple enough for my faculty to embrace and use. By no means am I denouncing Hellmansoft’s planbook… instead, I offer this review of planbookedu for those who are trying to move an entire faculty (with those who traditionally resist technology) to interactive electronic planbooks.
While I was quite comfortable utilizing the Helmansoft program, I knew that, for some, setting up the lesson plans… creating the schedule…. and the use of CSV files to import standards would be too much for some people to handle. I was looking for a solution that was as close to the Helmansoft planbook as was humanly possible while providing a format and interface that was intuitive and easily adapted to the everyday teacher (including tech resistors). I also wanted to ensure that there was an easy way to share lesson plans with anyone and to have a centralized repository for the lesson plans so that administrators could easily review them. After many trials I found the solution, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in revolutionizing their lesson planning.
What’s this? It’s Free?
That was my reaction… when I first looked at the website. They offer a free plan (with a few features missing that are offered for a paid subscription) so testing out the planbook is really a no-lose situation. What do you get for free? lets take a look under the hood:
- True cloud lesson planning – No software to install – and 24/7 access to your plans
- Awesome rotation options such as: Weekly, A/B, A/B Week, and 4-6 day rotations
- WYSIWYG editor -for ease of implementation and use
- Supported by all major browsers (I’ve used firefox, IE, and Safari with it)
- iPad and iPhone supported
Not too shabby for a free trial. Of course they hook you with all the great features that you get when you subscribe to the paid plan. Oh before I forget… you can get a free 14 day premium trial when you sign up for the free plan… that is what got me hooked!
What’s this, the paid plan is super affordable???
Most of the solutions I looked into cost a great deal of money. If you’re at a school that has the funds then that’s great. If your at a school that is watching its budget, then you’re looking to get the most bang for your buck. Here is the rundown of what you get with the paid subscription:
- Everything in the free plan
- Ability to attach files to your lesson plans
- Common Core, State, and Custom standards (built in – No CSV files necessary)
- Ability to embed your planbook in your website
- Ability to share your plans with anyone for any specified timeframe
- Print from browser in single page or two page layouts
- Export to MS Word or PDF extensions
- Built in Spell checker
- Unlimited number of planbooks
Okay, sounds great… but the question is, How much? If you’re looking to purchase it as an individual… its only $25 a year… wow! dirt cheap. For the price of five coffees at the local coffee shop I can have a year’s worth of lesson plans in the cloud. Hold on… it gets better… Group Discounts are available the price plan is as follows:
- 5-14 users $22 a year
- 15-49 $19 a year
- 50-250 $16 a year
- anything over that call them for a quote
In my situation the $22 a year plan worked out great. For a faculty of 10 the price for a year is only $220. Outstanding!
There’s one more really great thing you say???
yes… just when you thought it couldn’t get any better… it is completely able to be integrated with Google Apps for education! that means that your faculty will not need to remember new login names or passwords… its all accessible from within google apps. This was one of the major selling feature that had me hooked. A simple email and they had me set up with my entire faculty.
How does it hold up?
After only one day of training with the faculty (and a great video tutorial from planbookedu) they were off and running. We’ve been using it for four weeks now with no major issues. Even the most technology resistant teacher has found the ease of implementation and use to be outstanding.
For administrators, we have the ability to view every teachers’ lesson plans as they click the “turn-in” button and to review the standards they have entered. The ability to attach files to the lesson plans means that worksheets, blackline masters, etc are easily accessible. If a teacher is absent there is not mad rush to find their plans or to go to the emergency substitute teacher lesson plan folder. The administrator can simply print up the plans and give them to the substitute. Even better, they can download any files that have been added by the teacher… no more looking for worksheet pages. I also envision leaving an administrator account open for accreditation committees so that they can view all of the lesson plans at will as they make their recommendations for school accreditation.
An active Social developer
Another great feature is that “liking” the planbookedu page on facebook gives you direct contact to the planbookedu team. they are very responsive to suggestions, requests, and questions. When I was going through the installation process they were extremely responsive and quick to answer and help with any questions I had regarding implementation. I can’t say enough good things about their product or their customer service.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions about planbookedu. Have you tried this product? What do you like and dislike about it? How do you think it compares to other lesson planning software? Share your thoughts. This is an exciting time to be in education!
Ps. Here’s a video of planbookedu in action:
By John Wick
Inkscape – The Open Source guru of graphic vector design
As, I stated earlier… my students are working on developing their graphic design skills in their 8th grade class. Specifically they are working toward developing their skill set to produce a very nice silk-screened t-shirt for their graduating class. They will eventually design three t-shirts each and the class will vote on which t-shirt they end up using. This has been a wonderful assignment with which the class has been highly engaged.
Can I just say, that Inkscape is the way to go if you really want to put a powerful software program into the hands of 8th graders? Its totally free and is a Godsend! What you see above is the result of 2 class periods working through a tutorial on how to develop floral designs.
Blogs are still your friend!!!!
In my last post, I mentioned that you shouldn’t re-invent the wheel and that still holds true. The lesson that the students followed to create their floral designs are from a design studios blog : Verysimpledesigns. If you click on this link you can follow along with the video tutorial and be producing some of your very own floral designs. My students are excited about incorporating some of these designs into their t-shirt design. I’m not going to write the instructions step-by-step because Verysimpledesgns does an excellent job of laying out the instructions. What I really want is for you to embrace the blogs that exist, grab lessons that will enrich your students’ lives and help them to understand that learning is a collaborative and constructive effort.
You cannot rely on video
Lets be clear about one thing… you cannot just turn on the video and expect everything to turn out great. It won’t. You still have to facilitate, demonstrate, and intervene to help students master the techniques being taught. Be an active participant with the students and learn with them as you progress through the tutorial. The fun part is when a student says “what if I do this…” and you let them…. Control-Z is always your best friend and everything can always be undone.
Try it out!
So try out the tutorial. Download Inkscape and let your students have some fun while learning graphic design. Share your experiences here. What are your thoughts on incorporating this type of lesson into your classroom setting?
*The images here are actual student products… simply amazing!