Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Some Ways to Support Teachers Learning Technology by Laura

Earlier this month, I was invited to spend the day with a team of teachers that has volunteered to be their school district's technology team.  They are committed to working together this year to learn more about teaching with technology and to begin to implement more technology in their classrooms.  The district has contracted with the Hudson Valley Writing Project, which asked me to spend some time with them.

I coined the term "Dream Team," after working with them for just a short time.  These teachers were excited and a bit nervous, but each one had hope, curiosity and enthusiasm for what the future might hold.  The day led me to be thoughtful about what can make the adults in a school embrace the incorporation of technology, and here are some ideas from my own experience and from my experiences working with other teachers:

Working with a small, eager group is a great way to build enthusiasm and support. 
My own school piloted its 1:1 laptop program with the 7th and 8th grades, and many teachers of the other grades became enthusiastic about adding laptops to their students' lives as the 7-8 team met with success.  Being part of a pilot group meant the teachers could easily find each other for support and ideas.  That first year, the technology support staff really had the piloting team as a priority and we were able to set up routines and troubleshoot without stretching that personnel too thin.  Teachers and students were excited and, felt special and supported.  Together we helped to create a buzz about the future during the first school year of the program.

Student work is the best promotional material possible. 
With all due respect to innovative blog writers, educational theorists, and the  21st Century booster club, good teachers will understand why they should add new methods to their classes when they see student work with their own eyes.  Whenever I present, no matter what I say or how many times I manage to make the audience chuckle, the light always begins to shine in the participants' eyes when I begin to show student work.  Teachers are professionals and experts, and we like to make up our own minds.  Showing student work makes this possible.

Classroom management with technology isn't what teachers seem to worry about.
This has been a happy realization.  I have heard teachers, who want to include technology more, agonize over restrictions placed on them by school administrators.  Because of this, I had the impression that teachers must have concerns about student behavior.  It's not the teachers who are concerned, though!  Teachers that do professional development are good teachers.  They understand how to manage a classroom and they understand how to keep students focused on the work at hand.  Because their classrooms are well run, the presence of laptops rarely encourages students to stray off task more than they would given any other type of material or equipment.  Professional development that is focused on how to assign meaningful student work using technology takes care of almost all the classroom management issues.

Honesty is the best policy
Every group of adults I have spoken to, formally or informally, seem to eventually ask the question, "How do you have time to learn all of this?"  The honest answers:  I take the time.  I do work outside of school hours (don't all teachers?)  I do sometimes give priority to learning a new technology instead of, say, responding to student work super fast.  I also get help from others, and from my students.  And, I can honestly guarantee that for every new technology a teacher learns, learning the next one is faster.  Being a life-long learner means plunging in, and that is well worth modeling for students.  Learning something new makes my whole life better, not just my school life.  So, the time I use is as much an investment in myself as it is an investment in my students and my school.

The trials and successes in the adult community of a school certainly set the stage for the experience of the students. My own experience, and likely my whole career,  would have been different if I hadn't been in a school that values professional development tremendously.  So, my last BIG point:  Find good professional development, cultivate a support network, and support teachers who do so.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Teaching, Changing, Doing - by Shirley

As a 6th grade humanities teacher, I am always thinking about my curriculum, my teaching and my students. Questions are always flying through my mind and making me think more about my teaching and what is important to me. Here are a few random thoughts…

What can I do better? What adjustments should I be making? Are my classes interesting? Do I create fun projects and activities?  Are my students challenged in as many ways as possible?  Do my students make their own decisions? How important is the content curriculum? The questions are never ending but always evolving.  I have come to some conclusions that I would like to share….

Teaching is an ever-changing profession and it is essential that we as teachers keep up with everything new, thought provoking, interesting and challenging. How do we do that and stay abreast of this rapidly changing world of education? We need to be following the paths of really great educators but doing it in a way that does not take hours more of research, planning etc. The first step for me is the building of a useful Personal Learning Network (PLN) involving my colleagues, my Google reader, and my Twitter friends. A few minutes a day and my network continually grows as I learn about new web 2.0 tools, read about useful ideas from other teachers as well as sharing what works for me with fellow educators all over the world.

As the world changes, so do the expectations and goals for students and educators in this 21st century of learning. The differences are vast between what I thought was important over 30 years ago when I began teaching, and what I believe in now. I wish I knew then what I know now...

The following poem, written by Lee Crockett, Ian Jukes and Andrew Churches and found on Tony Gurr's All Things Learning blog has given me more food for thought…

                                                      What is a Teacher?
A guide, not a guard.
What is learning?
A journey, not a destination.
What is discovery?
Questioning the answers, not answering the questions.
What is the process?
Discovering ideas, not covering content.
What is the goal?
Open minds, not closed issues.
What is the test?
Being and becoming, not remembering and reviewing.
What is learning?
Not just doing things differently, but doing different things.
What is teaching?
Not showing them what to learn, but showing them how to learn
What is school?
Whatever we choose to make it.

With this poem in mind, this is what I will strive to do this year…
  • Talk to my students about everything under the sun and get to know them better as individuals and as learners
  •  Listen to what my students have to say. That means making time to listen not just in the classroom but in the hallways, in the lunchroom, outside at recess, etc. etc.

Students Speak out about what they need in education –

      • Be very clear with my goals and expectations for every project, activity, homework assignment or class work 
      • Give more decision making, choices, planning, sharing, teaching over to the students 
      •   Do Not talk too much and have the students dooooo more

            • Continue my technology journey with the students and learn and share together
                •  Give more time to asking the students what it is I can do to help them
                    • Involve and educate parents more in what goes on in my classroom 

                    What are you as an educator striving for this year ?