Thursday, March 29, 2012

Is Teaching a Noun or a Verb for You?

It is our last physical class this evening, but I certainly hope it is not the end of your PLNs. I have been trying very hard to get everyone to see the value of a personal learning network in the context of becoming a reflective educator.  The co-teaching and co-learning that has occurred in EDSS 530, 531, 541 should be a model for how you might collaborate with peers in your sites to enhance student learning and engagement.  There have been mix-ups, a little confusion, and a few technical issues, but isn't that a reflection of learning itself?  Learning is messy.  Learning is personal.  Learning is . . .

In this week's 4pm #edchat the discussion: What should be included in a new model for professional development? garnered over 2,500 tweets. . .a large amount of tweets for one hour. Problems with professional development (PD) have been around for years.  While technology can offer a clever solution to connect educators around the globe, I do not believe it can solve the problem of relevant professional development.  The current model of the educational institution dictates the professional development.  People wait around for the "expert" to enlighten the masses in a new method of instruction or curriculum that will revolutionize education.  As a technology resource teacher, I see a ton of technology wasting away in classrooms by teachers who use the excuse, "I need some more training on this. . ." or "It's too hard to monitor what the kids are doing on the computers. . ."  or "I just don't have time to learn how to use all that stuff. . ."  I think the same excuse could be used if we were discussing culturally relevant pedagogy, or integration of standards, or community involvement in the classroom, etc.  The point is that if you maintain a stance that learning, or training, is something that must be scheduled and led by an expert before it can occur, you will never be a successful teacher.
It is my experience that the best teachers are the ones who are reflective.  Reflective teachers are constantly looking for ways to improve their craft (teaching).  They reflect on what works, what doesn't work, how students respond, how students don't respond, the impact on technology in the lesson, in learning, etc.  They do not wait for learning (training) to happen to them, they seek ways to connect with others to collaborate on ways to improve, they use technology to access information, they share what they learn freely with others.  Their classrooms are messy, highly personal and there is high levels of student engagement. . . .
I find myself wondering if teachers can be taught to be reflective?  I want to believe that they can, but it has to be a personal choice and the majority of the work must come within.  All of the PD in the world will not make an unreflective teacher reflective.  And I believe that, unless you are a reflective teacher, you will never promote the type of learning that our students deserve. . .
"What is the first business of one who practices philosophy? To get rid of self-conceit. For it is impossible for anyone to begin to learn that which he thinks he already knows."  Epictetus
Whether we are talking about philosophy or education the premise is the same.  You have to be willing to let go of your pride and your ego if you want to make a difference in the life of a child.

Why do I bring this up in the context of EDSS 530?  Well, I have been attempting to get you to cultivate your PLN for the last ten weeks.  All this in a veiled, or not so veiled, attempt to get you to become reflective in your practice.  I have noticed a fair amount of success (what I would consider "A" work), but not to the degree for which I was hoping.  Those who were reflecting in the first seven weeks are pretty much the same individuals who have continued to reflect.  Being reflective isn't easy.  It isn't something that just happens overnight.  It isn't something that you schedule in your planner.  It is something that must be cultivated and given a fair amount of attention to. . .It is organic. If you are looking for a checkoff list for becoming a reflective teacher, you will be searching in vain.  I am definitely not saying that technology is the necessary component of a reflective educator, but it is a powerful medium to allow you to connect, learn, share, and grow.  If you are not taking advantage of this, you are truly missing out on a golden opportunity.

With that said, I still have hope that you will take advantage of the opportunities provided for you for the rest of the semester.  I would like to see you continue to use your blog to reflect on your practice if you have been doing that. . .If you have not been actively cultivating your PLN, time is literally and figuratively running out.

Lastly, I told everyone that I would let you know about the final assignment, the Digital Reflection Project, tonight (Mar 29).   I am going to ask that you do complete the project.  It will be due posted on your blogs by May 7.  The project, according to the syllabus is:
Digital Reflection Project (20% of grade): At the end of the semester you will produce a digital project reflecting your learning in the course and how you see yourself applying what you have learned.  It can be a website, a video, or another creative digital tool that uniquely represents a culmination of your learning experience.  The projects will be embedded on student blogs before the last day of class.  
I will give you a lot of freedom to complete the project.  I want you to make it personal.  If you were to quantify it in video terms, I am looking for a 5-min explanation of your learning in the course, which of course, could be a blending of the three.  I want you to focus on how technology has helped you learn.  You can do a screencast, a Prezi, or something else.  I am more than happy to meet with you in small groups or individually if you need help.  The finished product will be embedded on your blog.  Here is a sample of a very similar project I did with a group of students from USD:
I particularly like the examples of Marissa, Annie, and Sherilyn. . .

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