My superintendent gave me homework a few weeks ago- she asked me to consider what my “core beliefs” about education are, and why I continue to work in public education. Maybe I miss having homework (haha), but I decided to write down my thoughts.
I work in public education because I am passionate about the belief that every student deserves a quality, free education, and that opportunity shouldn’t be dependent on the family a child was born into.
I know that this reason is why many people work in public education. I also know that these beliefs can become clouded when we stay at school late every night, when we take home work every weekend, and when we feel like we are constantly fighting what feels like an uphill battle. Teacher satisfaction is at a 25-year low. Budgets are getting slashed, class sizes are increasing, and we watch other countries focus on professionalization while we see many media outlets in our own country blaming teachers for a “failing” system. It is a well-known fact that half of all teachers leave the profession within the first seven years– and the defeat many teachers are feeling is becoming more vocal. Now, more than ever, we need to know what motivates us to be in education- and what our core beliefs about education really are.
Even though I’m no longer a teacher, I don’t think my core beliefs have changed- last year, I still would have said the same three things. My core beliefs are:
- There is nothing more important to student achievement than the quality of a classroom teacher.
- The most important thing an educator can teach a student is HOW to learn.
- Effective practice is nurtured by collaboration and teamwork.
What has changed this year is my focus. Instead of focusing on students, I am now focused on teachers- and more specifically, education technology.
Here is why I am choosing to focus my core beliefs on education technology:
#1- There is nothing more important to student achievement than the quality of a classroom teacher.
I’m choosing to focus on education technology, because I believe that right now, more than ever, our teachers need support. We can’t afford to keep losing effective teachers to burnout, and the frustation and exhaustion teachers are feeling is growing more and more prevalent. Our teachers shouldn’t have to go home with stacks of ungraded quizzes every night when they can use a tool that will grade the quizzes for them. They shouldn’t have to manually shuffle resources and lesson plans when there are more efficient ways to communicate them. We shouldn’t look at technology as a replacement for effective teaching; we should look at it as a tool to help us be more efficient with what we are already trying to accomplish. We continuously talk about the future of learning; but what we aren’t communicating is HOW to make this happen. We scaffold all of our instruction for our students- how do we scaffold this shift for our teachers?
Over and over, we read articles that talk about “innovation” and “student engagement” related to implementing technology into the curriculum. I’ve argued this before- technology is not pedagogy. Also, personalizing learning is nothing new- we have been trying to personalize learning forever, and our understanding of pedagogy has been developed and refined for decades. Required reading: John Hattie’s Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. More than fifteen years of evidence-based research went into this study about what actually works in schools to improve learning. Replacing an effective lesson with ineffective use of technology should be a crime, and our focus needs to be on best practices of teaching and learning. Instead of trying to find fifty different ways to awkwardly shove an iPad app or movie-making project into a unit, we need to ask ourselves these questions: “Is this the best way to teach this skill/concept?” -and- “Is there a more efficient or effective way to do it?”.
#2- The most important thing an educator can teach a student is HOW to learn.
I had a lot of fantastic teachers, but two of the best teachers I had were my parents. They LOVE learning- and they taught me that knowledge is everywhere. When I read all of the research on “first-generation” college students (yes, I’m a first-gen), one of my biggest frustrations is the statement that previous generations didn’t value education- and the underlying implication that a formalized education = knowledge. I couldn’t even begin to guess the number of hours that my parents, siblings, and friends, (“educated” or not), spend every week researching topics and learning new skills.
I’m going to be completely transparent for a second- and I know what I am about to state might be unpopular. I have always viewed a degree as little more than a piece of paper. Here’s the problem with this mindset: I am in education. More than most people, I should believe in the power of a formal education. However, when I look at the people who I have the most respect for, I realize that my respect is founded on those individuals’ application of knowledge rather than any “formal” acquisition of knowledge itself. This is compounded by the fact that information is now everywhere– acquiring and applying knowledge is no longer limited to individuals born into a certain socioeconomic status. We now have the entire documented knowledge of the collective world at our fingertips, and we have companies who have built their entire existence around making that information “universally accessible and useful”.
I’m choosing to focus on education technology, because I believe that the Internet has changed the way we access information. Before, educators and schools were the “gatekeepers of knowledge”- now, knowledge is everywhere. If our focus is truly teaching students how to learn, providing equitable access and teaching students how to navigate and apply that information has to be the top priority in everything we do. As information becomes even more universally accessible, I wonder if the assumptions we have about who we consider “educated” and “uneducated” will evolve.
#3- Effective practice is nurtured by collaboration and teamwork.
We are constantly telling teachers and students about the power of collaboration, but how often do go into our offices / classrooms, shut our doors, and create the exact same content as the educator twenty miles down the road? For the last few months, I have been fortunate to work with about thirty other Google Apps Certified Trainers, technology integrators, and classroom teachers all over the nation on a technology integration MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). The shared vision we have for this project is to strategically support our teachers in increasing efficiency / effectiveness through the use of technology. By working together, we were able to target best practices in our own classrooms / districts, and are now creating a resource that all of our teachers will be able to use.
This collaboration has also cultivated partnerships and raised discussion on important issues- such as how we deliver professional development to our teachers. We decided that lecture-based models of PD weren’t working… so we worked together to throw a challenge-based workshop supported with blended learning opportunities. The feedback from that workshop was the best feedback I’ve ever gotten on any workshop- and 43% of survey respondents commented that as a result, they were now more interested in creating a blended learning environment in their own classrooms (other options were ‘not more or less’, ‘less’, or ‘other’). Another recent discussion we had was about crediting teachers for professional development- if we place all of our content online, does an educator who spends three hour sitting in a workshop deserve more credit than an educator who spends three hours working on the course at home (or an educator who already has the skills)? We say “no”- but that raises issues about the current standards of teacher compensation.
I’m choosing to focus on education technology, because I’m fascinated by a career that is still largely undefined. The job of a “tech integrator” (or whatever it is called in each district) is new- and is often a combination of “tech coach” / “library media specialist” / “technician” / “pedagogical coach” / etcetera. There are two things that fascinate me about this position: the open possibilities of the job, as well as the concept of the job itself. We have had technology forever (seriously, a pencil is technically “technology”)- so to have a new position dedicated entirely to integrating technology means that a serious transformation has occurred. Think about how much the business world has changed in the last twenty years, and imagine how much the Internet will eventually change education. We can now collaborate with other individuals all over the world- and we can provide even greater opportunities for our learners by working together. What will that mean for how we define ourselves as educators, and what will that mean for the future of education?
I am choosing to focus my core beliefs on education technology because our current state of technology is enabling people to connect, collaborate, and create in ways that we could only dream of before. This is a time where complete strangers will donate supplies to classrooms, where top Universities will offer their coursework for free, where one of most visited websites on the Internet is a free encyclopedia, and where complete strangers will fund the creation of schools in developing countries.
Yes, this is a stressful time to be in education- but I also believe that this is the best time to be in education. As long as we can provide equitable access to the Internet, every student IS able to receive a quality, free education- and opportunity will not be dependent on the family a child is born into.
So- why are you still in education? What are your core beliefs, and how do you focus them?