Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Becoming a Change Agent for the 21st Century Classroom...

Photo courtesy of
  I recently had a conversation with a mentor and peer in the educational field.  The topic came around to producing 21st Century teachers who were focused on becoming a change agent in the Classroom.  She expressed concern that only 10-15% of teaching candidates entering the field displayed the characteristics necessary to qualify as an agent of change.  Although I am not overly surprised by the estimation it is a troubling thought...

 It is time to shake things up, inspire creativity, promote passion, and commit to thinking outside the box.  A paramount attribute of a future Change Agent is the ability to take risks, and constantly challenge the status quo and not settle for routine.  With risk there is the potential for failure, but we must not let that hinder our enthusiasm for discovery.  It is through failure that we have the opportunity to learn the greatest lessons, and the teachers willing to try (and fail) will ultimately be better for it. 

 Embracing and fostering a culture of change can take many forms, from the incorporation of new technologies into the classroom to the differentiation of instructional practices.  We must be willing and engaged participants in the pursuit of life-long learning, committed to the understanding that our world is ever evolving, and to keep pace with the 21st century learners we must be willing to embrace this change.  The common myth regarding embracing change, is that you are throwing away everything from the past.  That is simply not true.  Instead you are throwing away practices that don't translate to the 21st century classroom, and building on and incorporating successful ideologies into a new global view of educational learning goals.

What makes a change Agent

It is also time that we embrace the role of the students in their own learning processes and goals.  We need to move our focus from past philosophies of teaching/force-feeding students the knowledge they need to a more proactive collaboration of creating intrinsically motivated students who learn what they need through pursuing what they like.  We need to leverage their natural enthusiasm to promote 21st century learning goals.
Students as Agents of Change

Photo courtesy of iClipart for Schools
Teaching is all about passion, inspiration, motivation, and change.  If there is one thing that most every educator could probably agree on, it's that there are no guarantees when you enter the classroom.  Every day offers it's own challenges and triumphs.  No day is exactly like the one before.  It is time we take the same appreciation and reflect it into our practice, embracing the unknown and being willing to become that Change Agent.  Education is all about building relationships with students, and as we fully invest in creating 21st Century Classrooms we have to be willing to be that "Change We Wish to See in the World!" (Gandhi) 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Taking Advantage of Every Technology Available...

Photo supplied by iClipart for schools
I am involved with a mentoring program with a local Junior High School, and I was having a conversation with my eighth-grade student about the accessibility of students using their cell phones in the classroom.  He told me that some teachers allow students to use their cell phones, however he was using the example of teachers allowing them to use cell phones for "free time".  He didn't understand the context to what I was asking.  Why don't teachers utilize cell phone technology into their classroom environment?

As we have discussed in previous blogs, technology is here to stay.  But it is amazing that even in this technological revolution affecting becoming a change agent in the classroom, far to many educators still lack the creativity to utilize many devices that are right at their fingertips.  Many districts and schools are pursuing the 1:1 ratio, whether by laptop or tablet, but somehow view the cell phone as a completely different accessory.  As we progress and look toward creating 21st Century learners and teachers, we must disregard this archaic idea that the cell phones of today and the future are not personal computers.  With the advent of the smartphone students have accessibility in their pocket.  Now not every student has a smartphone, and this is not to suggest that you utilize phones in your classroom as a socioeconomic divide, however this is a call to embrace technology wherever you can get it.  Part of the reservation is rooted in the old school mentality that still finds far too many of us, as educators, unwilling to give up control of the classroom and truly invest in creating a collaborative learning environment.  In my experience the students that I am teaching know far more about technology (whether cell phone or computer) than I do.  So the question we are all faced with asking ourselves is relatively simple: Are we going to mask our inefficiencies or are we going to leverage student initiative to better enhance our classrooms.  I think you can tell which I am arguing for!

How to Use Cell Phones as a Learning Tool

Sunday, April 13, 2014

1:1 Ratio in Classrooms...Positive or Dangerous???

Photo provided by iClipart for schools
I think that most educators and communities alike agree that the incorporation of technology into our classrooms is crucial to establishing and fostering an environment that embraces 21st Century teaching and learning goals.  The world continues to grow more and more connected via the internet and technological advances, and proves to be a common ground our students will need to not only embrace but utilize in their future careers-some of which have not even been developed yet.  This post is not to question the legitimacy of incorporating technology in our classrooms.  I believe this incorporation is at the heart of changes we need to affect in our vision of 21st century education.  The debate for legitimacy and immediacy is over, and the incorporation of 1:1 ratio should be the goal of every school district across America.  This brings us to the issue I feel is being overlooked concerning 1:1 ideology...Who exactly are the beneficiaries of these initiatives???

Let me start by admitting that I am by no means an expert on this topic, however I have drawn on some research and personal experience to define the scope I am concerned about.  My concern develops out of the continuing achievement gaps that plague American education today.  Gaps between minority groups-with a specific focus on Low SES communities.  When you look at the beneficiaries of the 1:1 ratio in the classroom...what percentage of these schools boast high levels of diversity?  What percentage of these schools deal with extremely high numbers of Low SES students?  My Guess:  Not many!

Photo provided by iClipart for schools
Do these initiatives simply perpetuate the ripple effect of American society???  Those that have achieve, those that don't disappear.  So much of our history is based on access.  It is not (necessarily) a sign of intelligence or ability that marks the landscape of intellectual and professional success in America, but as often it is simply a matter of access.  Although certainly an asset to the communities that can embrace a 1:1 philosophy, do these initiatives continue to increase the already widening achievement gap?  Are we perpetuating an elitist structure that reinforces the America of old?  I don't know, it is a complicated concept.

I am currently involved in a classroom that has four computers for the entire class.  Is it better than no computers?-obviously yes.  But in the context of the 1:1, many of my students do not have access to technology outside the classroom.  The learning that can be embraced inside and outside the classroom cannot be utilized equally, and I fear that the true issue evolves from the ever-consistent American theme of us vs. them, of the have's from the have-not(s).  

In case you have not fully understood my argument, I am not saying that districts or schools should not embrace the 1:1 initiative, but rather that we as a society and educators focused on the improvement of all students need to figure out how to bridge the gap that will inevitably be created by access.  How can we bridge access to Low SES schools?  The 1:1 is a very positive thing, but it is our duty as a complete society to push for 1:1 access for all American students!  As a national education policy, how can we make 1:1 a reality for all schools, districts, communities?  That is the debate that I am not hearing consistently enough.  Until we fully engage and troubleshoot this issue, it is not good enough to say 1:1 is a "great will be when we can say that 1:1 is access for every student in American public education!  Check out the link below that touches on this crucial topic facing our future.  Think about it!

Challenges and Strategies

All images provided by iClipart for schools

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Weaton Warning...

The time is now to embrace and infect change in our practices as educators.  No longer can we continue to rely on past techniques of hour long lectures and recite and recall methods of creating fact based foundational knowledge for our students.  Our educational system finds itself stuck in neutral- between the past and the future- and it is our job as future (and current) educators to push the clutch and shift ourselves and our institutions into drive. 

"All too often our classrooms are burdened with 20th Century pedagogy in a 21st Century world...That is what continues to plague education today."  (Robert Weaton, current UNI Student-Teaching Coordinator, former high school Principal/Teacher/Coach, 38+ years of experience, and yes...he is my father!)

Change does not have to be need not be feared, but rather embraced and sought out.  This post is not to suggest the pursuit of change for change sake, but instead as a pursuit to better ourselves as teachers and promote a classroom environment that can positively enhance student engagement and prepare them to successfully navigate the demands of a 21st century world.  Our utilization and incorporation of technology, multiculturalism, and language will all play vital roles not only in our classrooms', but in the students lives ahead as we prepare them to become successful contributors to society.

The debate is over (or should be) is here to stay!  The time is no longer to try and limit technology (whether that be cell phones, computers etc.) in the classroom, but rather utilize it as a tool that can help us connect with our students.  As I mentioned in my opening post I am not heavily tech-savvy.  Look I get it, I have spent a good deal of my adult life trying to avoid Facebook, Twitter, and many other forms of being constantly connected...but these realms are now apart of our new reality.  So instead of continuing to avoid them, I am now shifting my focus to figuring out how I can utilize them in my classroom, and enhance and create my own PLN's to make me a better teacher.  This will continue to be even more important as more and more schools' pursue goals of achieving a 1:1 ratio with technology and students.  Instead of telling students what they can't do, why not utilize technology to empower them to achieve what they can do?  Not only advantageous to the learning process, but also a much better use of our time in the classroom!

Laptops or Tablets???

One of the beauties of technology is that it connects us to the world.  We are closer and connected with other cultures and countries more than we have ever been before.  It is time to utilize not only the technology, but also the idea of multiculturalism to levels that have not been emphasized in the classroom before.  Students of both diverse and less than diverse experiences can be given a window to interact and enhance their own lives though cross-cultural navigation.  We can utilize cultural memoir and technology to provide students depth and context to worlds that exist far outside the twenty mile radius (bubble) they often grow up in.  Fifty years ago, multicultural experiences were only gained if you had direct contact with someone from a different background, but now we have the ability to create these opportunities in a 21st century world.

Language is the last note I would like to end with, and it too encompasses our need for a change in perspective.  Unfortunately there are still parts of the country that view "English-only" as the way to pursue the education of second-language learners in our schools and communities.  The problem with this approach is that it is rooted in the old school notion of assimilation.  Assimilation should not be our aim or objective, but rather the pursuit of acculturation should be the mission.  In an ever-growing global marketplace we need to shred our past connections to colonialism, and promote the embracing of other cultures within the American fabric.  Why isn't every school in the country pursuing bilingual education plans?  Wouldn't this be the best way to prepare our children for the global workforce?  Why when statistics show us that children's highest language acquisition occurs before adolescence do we continue to not start teaching it until high school?  Obviously there are logistical considerations in answering these questions, but it certainly is the time to start having real discussions about how to transition to incorporate these ideas into our 21st century classrooms.  Change is not to be feared- it is to be embraced! 

Gandhi Quote

First two images provided by iClipArt

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thanks for joining me!

Welcome to my first blog post...unlike many of you I am new to the world of technology.  This past month I have submerged into the world of Twitter, Diigo, Pinterest, and now the world of Blogging.  I hope that my future posts may post some value for you or if nothing else maybe we can share a laugh or two!  This will be a journey...