Category Archives: Learning

The 21st Century Teaching Environment: A Disconnect

21st Century Teaching requires 21st Century Work Environment for Teachers

 If you talk to most people these days, many of them are in agreement that students today need to be learning 21st Century skills to prepare them for the workplace.  The list of exactly what 21st Century skills are will not be debated here.  There are many resources online to investigate further, for example at Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills and at The Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

In  Edutopia’s Parents’ Guide to 21st Century Learning, the learning and innovation skills deemed essential for the 21st Century are highlighted.   These skills are called the 4 Cs :

Critical Thinking,

Communication,

Collaboration, and

Creativity.

The Edutopia handbook explains it this way,

To prepare for college, careers, and citizenship, it’s not enough to master academics.  Students also need to acquire a set of skills that will last for a lifetime.  To be able to solve problems in our complex, fast-changing world, students must become nimble, creative thinkers who can work well with others.

                    Found in ‘Parents’ Guide to 21st Century Learning” www.edutopia.org

In speaking to friends who do not work as teachers, these are the skills that they use every day in the workplace.  Work, for a large proportion of college graduates, is about problem-solving and teamwork.  This takes the form of short-term and long term projects.  When working on a ‘project’ you must communicate effectively within your project team and with other teams related to the project.  Team members must have exceptional learning and innovation skills.  They must be problem-solvers (creativity and critical thinking) and cooperative co-workers (communication and collaboration).  Most of my friends did not grow up in a time of 21st Century Education, so these are skills they have had to learn at work, through trial and error.  At least students today have the benefit of great teachers who are trying to incorporate these 21st Century skills into their teaching.

However, the point of this post is, in fact, not to discuss 21st Century teaching, but rather to highlight the disconnect between the environment that teachers work in and the environment that they try to create for their students.  Don’t get me wrong – within our classrooms I think we (teachers) are creative critical thinkers and communicators.  I think we are putting all kinds of higher level thinking skills to work every minute of the day.  Yet often I feel we miss out tragically in the ways of working skills of collaboration and communication with colleagues.  This is of course not the case in all schools – there are many shining examples of teamwork and collaboration.  Yet I believe they are not the norm.  Schools’ budgets are stretched to the limit and they can’t spare the time and the manpower to enable real and ongoing collaboration and communication between colleagues.  I mean the kind of collaboration that focuses on an objective for students and allows teachers the time, the resources, and the freedom to experiment (and make mistakes) that are necessary for a project to successfully meet its goal.

So I think we know why many teachers’ work environments don’t match the model of the 21st Century Workplace that we hope to prepare our students for.

What can we do about it?  Here are some suggestions for working within current parameters:

  1. Help administrators understand the vital importance of regularly scheduled, extended-time team planning (vertical and lateral teams)

  2. Problem-solve to find ways to creatively schedule faculty to create common planning time within the schedule

  3. Get your team excited about a short-term goal and see if you can focus on that for a period of about 3 weeks – set goals and measurable outcomes

  4. Find like-minded teachers and find ways to collaborate with them – you need to be working with others

  5. Use the Connected Educator resources available to you online – twitter, Google hangouts, blogs, online conferences – once you get started you will see that the potential for online collaboration is endless

  6. Create a Critical Friends group at school.  Bring food; go walk the school track; make it social

And to all administrators – help your team work as a team – be their project leader!  Teachers want to ‘work well with others’!

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Connected Educators

I just finished reading Tom Whitby’s recent post on Connected Educators. It is a straightforward explanation of why one should be a Connected Educator. It also neatly categorizes educators into 3 groups: Connected, Semi-Connected, and Unconnected. I shall paraphrase, but please read his full blogpost for better understanding.

CONNECTED EDUCATORS: are digitally literate and use that literacy to learn and share with other educators; they write blogs and tweet to share what they have learned .

SEMI-CONNECTED EDUCATORS: choose to be strictly consumers of information through technology; they read blogs and they email; in face to face discussions they share what they have learned.

UNCONNECTED EDUCATORS: are not concerned with being relevant in the 21st Century (for whatever reason); whatever they need to know, someone will tell them

I think these categories are clear and neat. I think they help us understand the group of professionals who provide one of society’s most valuable resources. Teachers. I work with teachers. I work with teachers in all of these categories.

I love working with fellow teachers. I love sharing ideas and collaborating. I love their enthusiasm for their students. I love their desire to innovate, to try new things. I love their ability to be life-long learners.

You can be an Unconnected Educator and still be all of these things. Not being on twitter and not subscribing to blogs does not, in my opinion, devalue your professional ability. Yes, it does limit your frame of reference, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t draw invaluable insights from your current perspective.

I do not believe in trying to bully or scare people into doing what you want them to do. It just isn’t effective. Demanding that everyone create a Twitter account is pointless unless the individual sees the relevance of it for their profession. The vast majority of the teachers I work with are Unconnected Educators. They usually do wait for me to tell them what I’ve learned. And I’m ok with that for now.

I’m ok with that because I understand several things.

First, it takes time to become a Connected Educator. Years. It’s a process. You have to learn how it works. You have a lot to discover and there are very few experts around to answer your questions. You have to practice. Practice takes time, and gradually you get a little bit better at it. And even more gradually, you get a little bit braver. All of this takes time – and patience – and some courage.

Second, everyone’s motivation is different. I love to learn – it is what motivates me. But other people need other kinds of motivation. Their motivation is not always mine. I do not judge them for it. I work with them. I show them things that might enhance their classroom. I hope they will use some of them. I’m not expecting 100% implementation.

Third, in regard to my immediate circle of teachers, all of them have expressed a desire to be more connected. They WANT to be part of this whole ’21st Century thing’. However, it is HARD. No-one should underestimate how difficult it is for some of our veteran teachers to venture into the world of technology. I support all and any effort.

So, as I read Tom Whitby’s article, I agreed with his framework. It helped me better understand my environment. And I have to admit that sometimes I might get frustrated that none of my colleagues have read the things I’ve read on the Internet about education. It’s true. I have to admit it.

Yet these moments of frustration are fleeting. Just because they haven’t read as much as I have, doesn’t mean they don’t have valuable contributions to make to the discussion, drawn from their own experience and observation. In fact, learning from practice is the most valuable contribution that can be made to a discussion. Being a Connected Educator may add depth of reference to a discussion, but it is worthless if not grounded in practice. Teachers on the ground are the best resource.

I do not work with Connected Educators. But I love working with my fellow teachers. They are the most valuable resource.

Personally, by continuing to write this blog and reflect on my learning, by continuing to subscribe to blogs, and by building a robust PLN on twitter, I hope to make more progress on the road to becoming a Connected educator. I know that deciding to become a Connected Educator has accelerated my professional learning tenfold. And at work, I hope to continue to support my colleagues as they take their own steps on the path to becoming a Connected Educator.

Creating a growth mindset

This blog is called “Claire is learning” for a good reason.  It is a message that has always been drummed into me – You make your own opportunities; Education is the key to success; You can always learn more.  My parents believed in me, but they also taught me to believe in myself.  When it comes to learning, I believe that I can learn, and I always know there is more to learn.  Which means I am always looking for more things to learn.

So this summer I enrolled in a MOOC through Stanford with Professor Jo Boaler.  It is EDU115, How to Learn Math.  It is designed for both teachers and parents.  I am halfway through it.  It has been great so far! Follow some of the other participants on Twitter with #howtolearnmath

I have decided to post my response to one of the (many) assignments to this blog. The assignment asked us to name one or two things that we would change so that we could incorporate some growth mindset messages into our classrooms. Of course, the ideas behind this are based on the research by Carol Dweck, among others. Read on..

“At the beginning of the school year, I spend many lessons with students establishing and practicing work habits and routines for the classroom.  We have done lessons  on “What does working independently look like?”  “How do I select a station and then sustain my effort at a station?”  I now see that I need to establish and practice some ‘habits’ when it comes to how the students think about learning.

I like the phrase in the Native American School study (Edu115, Week 4) – ‘We spend six hours a day growing our brain’. So a lesson on the ‘exercise program’ that we need to do each day to grow our brain I think would be good:

  1. Our brain is growing every day.  When we learn something new, we grow a new connection in our brain – we increase our internal wiring, we add to our computer hard drive.
  2. When we know the right answer, that’s because on a different day we grew a new connector in our brain and we learned how to do that.  Now you know how to do that in Math,
  3. BUT when you get the right answer you don’t learn anything new.  When we work on a problem that is hard for us, and that we have to think about, that’s when we start to grow our brain.  That’s when we start adding to our computer hard drive.  So when we are making mistakes in class I am going to be super excited – because I can see you starting to learn something new, I can see you beginning to grow your brain.
  4. We have to talk about what we are learning and doing to really grow a strong connection in our brain.  We want that new ‘information highway’ to be ‘superstrong’ and to last.  So we must talk about what we learned and think about the strategies we used, so that our brain can remember how to get there next time.
  • Mistakes = learning something new.
  • Talking about strategies = making our brain ‘superstrong’.

These messages will be conveyed very clearly in a lesson all about how we learn.  They can then be reinforced as we go along.  I always make a poster as we talk and then hang that up – perhaps more as a reminder for me since I teach first grade and they don’t always interact with a lot of print on the walls – but then I can refer to it from time to time.  I have realized in earlier assignments that I will have to spend more class time reflecting on the strategies we use and discussing with the students the work we are doing in class.   I need to schedule this in.

Along with this, an “‘I believe in you and I care about you” lesson would be good.  Why can you do this?  Because I know you ALL can, because I believe in you.  I tend to forget my personal connection to the students after a while – I can be “all business”.  I need to remember that often it is the personal connection with the teacher that motivates a student to do well in class.  I need to use this to help my students do well.

So there are two simple things that I will change.  First, I will add messages about growth mindset to my initial lessons about work habits and ‘how we learn at this school’.  These messages will go on posters as reminders of the messages that should be reinforced with students throughout the year.  Second, I will take a long hard look at how I structure Math class with my first graders.  I need to schedule in regular discussion sessions – and they need to be extended sessions.  At the moment we spend about 10-15 minutes on the carpet talking about Math strategies before we go to independent work and stations.  However, these tend to be times that I use to introduce and practice new concepts and there is little to no time for discussion.  They are more of a teacher presentation/input time.  If I want my students to grow their brains, I am going to have to learn how to let them talk about Math and I am going to have to be comfortable with giving up the time that they need to get better at this.

On a final note, I wanted to highlight some amazing work done by a fellow student of this course, Karl Fisch.  Here is a link to something that he is going to do at the beginning of the year to get the growth mindset across to his students and parents. He is going to send out an email that directs parents and students to this website where they will learn about some of the concepts in EDU115 about fixed and growth mindset:  https://sites.google.com/a/lps.k12.co.us/mindset/

In conclusion, taking this MOOC this summer has so far been a very rewarding and ‘brain growing’ experience.  I love to learn and I am so happy that I now have these opportunities to explore areas that interest me.  Claire is always learning.