After months and months and months of planning, the Learning2Build/Building2Learn Unconference has just ended. Reflective learner and practitioner that I am, I can’t help but immediately want to evaluate and assess to what extent we achieved our objectives as event organizers. And, true to life, I find that in some ways it was a (and hear Borat in your head, please) Greeeeeeat success! and in other ways it was a complete and epic failure. In order to address this question, we have to know what our objectives are. In this case, we had several:
Create a space in which K-12 and college/ university educators can collaborate.
Gather change agents working in education, especially, but not exclusively, those in the Rochester area.
Empower learners to take ownership of their own learning.
Utilize a presentation method in which the medium is imperative to the message.
Our first and second objectives were absolutely met. K-12 and college/ university educators did indeed gather at RIT on a frigid Saturday morning to discuss how we can help students create more content than they consume, the barriers that keep us from shifting the create/consume balance, and successful methods for tearing down those barriers. There were scheduled sessions which included presentations, lectures, and demonstrations that were somehow related to this topic. There is a Facebook group, a Google+ community, YouTube Videos and a flood of #l2bb2l tweets that allow this fledgling community to remain in touch. It’s easy to see that the first two objectives were achieved.
The third and fourth objectives are much harder for me to evaluate. In reality, the event was far more conference than un.
Public charters that assume any part of the traditional educational system into their daily operations are a missed opportunity, and the educational approach is no exception.
Power to the Edge is a text that suggests pushing much of the traditional tasks of leader to the literal troops on the ground. It is a 2003 Department of Defense (DoD) publication that is part of the Command and Control Research Program (CCRP) which seeks specifically to understand the security issues inherent in the Information Age and how the military can embrace emerging technologies to maintain safety and security. In the Foreword, however, John Stenbit almost suggests it be given a discipline-specific close reading:
This book explores a leap now in progress, one that will transform not only the U.S. military but all human interactions and collaborative endeavors. Power to the edge is a results of technological advances that will… free us from the need to know a lot in order to share a lot, unfetter us from the requirement to be synchronous in time and space, and remove the last remaining technical barriers to information sharing and collaboration.
We would be smart to consider these issues when reimagining public education. An educational interpretation of the text is fruitful to explore. In the Foreword, Stenbit describes the benefits of shifting from a smart smart push to a smart pull approach in information dissemination, a topic very relevant to educators seeking to shift the heavy lifting of learning from the teacher to the student, moving from an educational approach in which content is pushed to (at?) students by teachers to one in which relevant information is pulled to students based on their interests, understanding of content, and preferred delivery method.
Unlike teachers, educational leaders don’t necessarily attend professional development opportunities related to effective technology leadership. DASA training? For sure. Implementation of Common Core? Yup. Navigating the new APPR process? You betcha.
But going paperless regarding staff communications and training? Flipping staff meetings? Harnessing the power of a social network to encourage engagement and collaboration? Doubtful.
While teachers often do get the benefit of participating in tech-specific training opportunities like the ones I suggested, these professional development sessions are certainly not required for administrators to begin to use technology purposefully. All that is needed for administrators to become effective technology leaders is for them to be purposeful in their marriage of instructional delivery method and content. Choosing the right tool for the task, by definition, is being a technology leader. Let me explain…
I am co-teaching a professional development session for teachers in my district on flipping their classrooms. We met last Wednesday in person, where my co-teachers handed out material, oriented participants to the course content and wiki, and explained expectations and methodology and where I lectured for a half hour or so about the Prussian paradigm. Since then, these 32 teachers have completed three chapters of reading, have watched 20 minutes of video of me explaining how I gained stakeholder buy-in, and have begun to consider how to build stakeholder buy-in for something as scary as flipping a paradigm. This is above and beyond their normal late-spring teacher duties which include contacting equally stressed out parents, cheerleading for struggling kids, prepping for the oncoming battery of state assessments, completing end-of-year record-keeping and collecting APPR documentation, and maintaining an atmosphere that encourages a love of learning in this high stress powder keg that is the American public school in May where no child can be left behind but where we race to the top. I respect their inquiry into flipped instruction immensely, and was shocked when the class I feared would be canceled due to lack of interest overloaded as 32 people registered.
My colleagues have mostly completed week one’s assignments, and they have begun to raise some very interesting questions about the possible cons of a flipped class that I cannot answer satisfactorily. These two questions are:
1. “What do we do when students choose not to complete the out-of-class direct instruction?”
2. “What do we do when students don’t have access to technology outside of class?”
As I mentioned in my previous post, education is simply the process of replacing ignorance with knowledge. This has clear value and can be clearly measured.
Our educational system, built on the Prussian paradigm, seems to have once been about education -replacing ignorance with knowledge – but is now more about commodification of a knowledge, which I suspect, is part of what’s driving educational reform down the entirely wrong path.
Our current educational system culminates with a degree, a product earned by a learner by completing required curricular sequences in either a high school or college. In each case, the purpose of your degree is to communicate with the next step – colleges or employers – that you have the requisite skills to be successful. The degree allows the admissions counselor or human resources officer to pawn off on someone else the task of assessing your skills: if you’ve earned a degree from a SUNY school in education, for instance, I know you have been taught what NYS has mandated new teachers learn. A degree becomes a shortcut to evaluating a candidate’s qualifications against others.
From the time I was a very small child, my mother will tell you, I never really bought into paradigms. I was a child who saw, say mixing the ingredients of Nana’s carrot cake in three separate bowls and then pouring into the baking pan as one possibility; equally plausible was simply pouring all of the ingredients into the baking pan and mixing there, saving three bowls from being washed along the way. (An epic fail, for the record.) If you said I couldn’t or shouldn’t, I took that to mean that you simply didn’t know how to, and I had discovered a challenge.
And when I look back on my public schooling, I realize that I have been active in educational reform since I was a high school student. Middle school had been full of pleasure reading and book auctions and Christmas tree forests and science fairs; high school was full of sitting in rows, being lectured, and being told what I should or could do until athletic practice began at 3:15. I was miserable, as most teens are, and I rebelled, as most teens do. And while much of my rebellion was typical teenage nonsense (see also my Angela Chase Red Hair phase), much of it was actually a pretty purposeful attempt to break the educational paradigm in which I found myself. It had been communicated to me – both verbally and through the precedent set by countless prior students – that all students take courses in a certain sequence, that it takes 4 years to graduate, that college comes after high school. Refusing to believe that the path taken by most was the only path, I successfully advocated an alternative education for myself, graduating with 38 hours of college coursework and a 3.74 collegiate GPA from a high school that graduates less than 100 per year, has a 47% free and reduced lunch rate, and offered only AP English and math. What follows are suggestions for young people about how to use the current educational system, broken as it is, to accomplish something similar, an innovating of your own education.
I struggle not to write an apology as an introduction to each of my posts. Even that sentence, I struggle not to write an apology as an introduction to each of my posts, is a kind of veiled apology. An ironic and intentional one, but an apology nonetheless. And before I get into the meat of this post, pointing out the purposeless manner in which professional educators present to each other, I want to remind myself more than anyone else why apologizing is not appropriate in the work of making change.
Public education is broken because, in a large part, the Prussian paradigm is now status quo, but is no longer serving the purpose that public education should be serving in 2013. I get it; I’m in this system too. I get 25 arbitrarily grouped kids scheduled with me for an arbitrarily determined allotment of time (4 hours week for 40 weeks) and our success is determined by a very particularly structured exam at the end of that time. But the purpose of this blog is not to bemoan the system in which we operate. The purpose of this blog is to actively and deliberately change this system by becoming completely transparent in my own pedagogical decisions and by encouraging discourse about these pedagogical decisions. This blog is called “fearless flip” to remind me that I need to be fearless in purposefully challenging a broken paradigm, not to assert that I already am fearless. It’s a challenge to my future self to continue to flip the paradigm, and to do it fearlessly and unapologetically because I know that it is important, even righteous, work.
Public education is broken, in an equally large part, because of the purposeless day to day actions of the individuals involved in this broken system. If you are not pushing against the edges, you’re perpetuating the problem. And while it makes me uncomfortable to publicly say to a friend and/or colleague This is Bad Practice, I can’t not and consider myself fearless. We’re not building widgets, or airplanes in the air, for that matter in public education: we’re trying to sculpt the future of our communities, of our nation, and, yes, even of our world. My assumption is that people simply must not be aware of the ways in which their actions are not purposeful. I hope that by calling attention to a lack of purpose, I am in a sense asking you to first recognize that you’re simply casting more shadows on the wall. If you’re fearless, you’ll want to step from Plato’s cave into the sunlight. If you choose to run back into the cave, squinting and screaming as so many do, then you’ve chosen to be part of the problem – even worse than simply unintentionally contributing to it. Either way, no apology is needed for calling attention to poor practice.