Sunday, September 27, 2009

9 Common Principles for 21st Century Schools

I've been reading and talking about "21st Century Schools" lately and just remembered this post I wrote on a wiki a while ago. It is based on Ted Sizer's Common Principles for the Coalition of Essential Schools. I thought it was worth reviving here.

What do you think? Do you agree with these? Am I missing something? Are these really "21st century" principles or principles for/from all time?

9 Common Principles for
21st Century Schools

1. Build
Community - The school should bring all learners together into a supportive community that nurtures both the individual and the group. The community should permeate all possible spaces, in the classroom, in the home and Online.

2. Encourage Critical Thinking - The school should actively encourage learners to think critically, continually asking the question, "Why do we teach what we teach?"

3. Reward Risk Taking - The school should actively encourage learners to risk failure in the pursuit of understanding.

4. Focus on all Learners - The school should surround the learner with ideas and information, encouraging the learner to pursue a wide variety of paths to knowledge, and supporting the personal growth for all who inhabit the community.

5. Value Diversity - The school should actively encourage and value the input of those both inside and outside the community with a diversity of opinions and experiences. The school should consistently check that it is inclusive and supportive of learners from diverse backgrounds.

6. Nurture all learners - The school should provide opportunities and encouragement for all members of the community including teachers, students and parents to learn and grow.

7. Pursue Innovation - The school should actively explore, pursue and assess new ideas and technologies, while always keeping the learner at the heart of the pursuit.

8. Teach Empathy - The school should actively and explicitly teach learners to think beyond themselves, encouraging students to value kindness and generosity.

9. Break down the walls - The school should provide access and opportunities for learners to reach outside the walls of the school to the neighboring, national and global community.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Letting Go...

Change is hard. Change is painful. Change is frustrating. Change takes time. Blah Blah Blah...

You have heard it all before. We humans get attached to things. We don't like to let go. In many ways this serves us well, especially when we are married with young children. At times my children are very lucky that I am so attached to them, but I digress...

Teachers can get attached to certain technologies, certain email clients, certain ways of word processing. Moving from one application to another application can be a very painful process that involves a fair amount of anxiety, fear and whining. At the rate that the world is moving, switching technologies is happening more and more often.

We have to learn to let go. We have to learn to trust in the skills we have and know that they will transfer. We need to trust our ability to adapt and change, not fear it. We need to let go, breath and move on, reassess and potentially move on again. When the tide is coming in it is better to swim with it than to fight it. We do better to take a deep breath and enjoy the ride than to drown.

Image source: Big Wave from Tom Plunkett's Photostream on Flickr

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Power (and Peril) of the Retweet

Back in the olden days (2006 ;-) when I first started using Twitter, we didn't have the Retweet. If I liked something someone said or shared on Twitter, I would pass it along with a comment like "Check out @xxx's great post" or Thanks @xxx for sharing... or I might reply @xxx great point, but I think... Now if someone posts something interesting people "retweet" it by adding the letters "RT" before the persons @username and then their original post (preserved as well as possible). Click here to learn how to Retweet.

I have mixed feelings about the Retweet...

On the positive side, the Retweet spreads your message much farther than you could spread it yourself. I just recently blogged Ten Tips for Teaching Technology to Teachers and it was retweeted 42 times. My unique visitor count spiked to almost 400 unique visitors in one day (compared to 200 for my last post). And my post generated 25 comments. Clearly, the retweets helped to bring people to my blog (Thanks to everyone who took a look and took some time to comment). Retweets allow certain tweets to float to the top. My August post was not as strongly Retweeted and must not have resonated with as many people as my September writing. In the same way, when I follow my Twitter stream, retweets point me to posts by other bloggers which I might otherwise have missed.

The problem with the Retweet is that it sometimes stops the conversation. Rather than replying to what a person has tweeted, we simply pass it on. Rather than turning back to the person and replying, we turn away and repeat what they have said. While there is power in repeating, it does sometimes cut off interaction. I appreciate the passing on of my ideas, but I would also sometimes like to engage in a conversation, a back and forth that takes my idea a step further than I could have taken it myself. (Granted - the comments on my blog do continue the conversations.) Retweets are like a pat on the back. I appreciate the sentiment, but sometimes a hug is much more satisfying.

What do you think about the Retweet? Do you use it? Did you get to this post because of a retweet? Did you retweet this post to someone else? I look forward to reading your thoughts (here or on Twitter).

P.S. I just found this interesting analysis of the Retweet: Tweet, Tweet, Retweet: Conversational Aspects of Retweeting on Twitter

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

10 Tips for Teaching Technology to Teachers

I have been working with teachers to learn to integrate technology into their teaching for almost ten years. Here are a few of the things I have learned - in no particular order (number 10 is probably the most important).

Please share your thoughts and suggestions!

1. It isn't really about the tool it is about how you use it: It isn't the word processing software, it's the skills and usefulness of word processing. It isn't the presentation software, it's how to create a meaningful and effective presentation.

2. Differentiate: Provide lots of different avenues for teachers to learn. Create visual handouts, offer group training, create video screencasts and provide one-on-one instruction.

3. Don't be the only teacher: Encourage teachers to work together and coach each other. Get students involved, let the kids be the teachers and provide opportunities for them to help their teachers out.

4. Ask lots of questions: If you are working one-on-one or with a small group try to get to the pedagogical goal for the tool.

5. Enlist your PLN: Reach out to your PLN for support and ideas, read blogs, follow folks on Twitter, ask questions, share your frustrations.

6. Remember there is great teaching without technology: There are many ways to teach and many great lessons that do not use technology. Respect the expertise of your colleagues.

7. Acknowledge your teachers' anxiety and expertise: When I'm working with a teacher who is having a hard time with something I find easy, I always remind myself of all of the things that person knows how to do that I don't know how to do. Teachers are not used to not knowing, looking "dumb" or feeling out of control. I often hear teachers tell me "I'm bad at this." Remind them how they respond when their students tell them they are bad at something. They aren't bad at it, they just haven't learned how to do it yet.

8. Start with the early adopters: If you are new to a school and are trying to make change, start with the easy folks, the ones who want your help. Once they are successful, word will spread and you will be able to get to some of the more resistant teachers. Don't beat yourself up about the hardcore resisters. There are some people that you just can't change - see number 6.

9. Observe your colleagues: If you can, try to get in and observe classes at your school. Go in without an agenda, just watch your colleagues teach. You will gain a greater appreciation for their skills, it will give you some ideas of ways you can support them and you will get to know them a little better. This is also really fun to do.

10. Don't touch the mouse: Tie your arm behind your back if you have to, but try not to take over mousing for your teachers. This is one of the hardest things for me to do, but also one of the most important. When people mouse they learn to do things themselves, when I do it for them they learn to watch me do it.