Teaching Naked and Afraid
Today, if educators aren’t talking personalized and collaborative use of technology in the classroom, they are teaching naked and afraid in a previous century. We are well into the 21st Century talking about cars driving themselves, and journeys to Mars, and our educators are still being talked to like they’re still covered in chalk. There needs to be a push for changing mindsets and teaching practice. Students are spending most classroom time on their bottoms, and parents continue to unpack backpacks wondering, as they sift through unfinished and disconnected homework assignments. If educators are going into classrooms today, teaching like educators did in the last century, or even just a few years ago, there is something wrong, and we all need to say and do something about it.
To get this century’s classroom we need to talk bluntly about those things that have held change back. I hate to assume anything, but I do assume that district and school leaders know whether their staff is teaching for this century, and not just saying it, with all its appropriate tools. I also assume that those leaders, through observations of their staff in lessons, know whether they are energizing and motivating the majority of their students to engage in their own learning. I also assume that any district or school looking at new solutions and technologies are looking for more than was said, suggested, and integrated at their last goal planning 3 to 5 years ago. Unfortunately, I’m not certain that’s happening everywhere. I’m afraid that district and school leaders, and I count educators in this mix, don’t always get told all of what they need to hear. Most often the sharing for change stops at what someone else, outside the district, thinks the educators will understand. That is a shame, and it happens far too often.
Have you heard, or seen, this?
If a district or school is looking to change the way learning happens, before this century is done, there needs to be a giant shift as to how we talk with educators about how things can change in the classroom in order to create a new learning environment. That catalyst can be the education marketplace. If anyone is introducing or demonstrating a new solution, or device, digital or otherwise, in a classroom—that demonstration should not only include the simple things that can be done with it, but also the things it can do beyond. There needs to be hope for more. Too many times product or solution demonstrations stop at simply sharing a gathering of materials, or something similar to a PowerPoint for presentations. That, to be fair, is at least a fifteen-year-old demonstration. There should be a prerequisite in all demonstrations of new education solutions designated as game changers for this century. That simply should be to ask educators the question, “Have you seen this?” Then knock their socks off by sharing something completely different—and with something that has the hope and possibilities that go beyond a simple demo—educators are smart enough to hear and see something that travels into the visionary realm, especially when it excites ways to include more students to participate in learning. It comes down to a change in approach. The goal is to have educators’ eyes light up, because they’ve heard, or seen, something new and different—something they wouldn’t have thought, or tried, if the new possibility wasn’t presented in a captivating way.
There is a kind of evangelism needed today that knows the practical, but offers the vision of things that can be done, too. Presentations to teachers today have to be clear to start, but not simple. It is wrong to think that educators can’t grasp the concepts of personalized learning, which lead to collaborative learning. Furthermore, educators should understand the importance of gathering daily information, using daily feedback tools, and assessing students individually, or as a group, in-the-moment and in more detail after each lesson. This feedback for learning is necessary and more easily technologically possible today. It is certainly understandable that educators, today, have the ability to collect important data that can be used to share details with parents at conferences, as well as data that can be shared with administrators and other school leaders, too. It shows whether solutions are working—or not. After all, if something can be shown to work, it makes it easier to get more of whatever you need to carry on. Projects have longer lives when shown they work—backed by data rather than stories.
Obligation to share the spark
Without explaining more of what is possible beyond surface sharing with educators, we hold them back. Educators may not ask the questions they need to ask if suggestions they haven’t heard go unsaid. Why would we leave them in last century when the survival skills they need in this digital age can be shared—and if budgets allow—set into motion. PowerPoint concepts and collecting materials for a lesson in a digital way—networking in schools—has been possible for at least a quarter of a century. Those, if you’d like, could still be a starting place, but they should not be the measure of today’s interactive classroom. We should know by now that leaving a spark of things to try beyond those is what educators need to hear. In the education marketplace everyone has to be an energetic evangelist for these new education and teaching possibilities. It absolutely requires you to know more, and to understand where education and learning needs to be—and needs to go. To do otherwise, we do students a disservice, and we slow down any movements toward changing learning and the teaching environment.
About the Author
Ken Royal is a former educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience. He has written at many of the major education publications, including District Administration, TechLearning, and Scholastic Administrator. Presently, Ken is a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.