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Letter to my Colleagues

Posted Jan 07 2009 6:26pm

I have been spending some time recently responding to a listserv discussion that has many brilliant, award winning teachers on it who are not sold on the idea that we really are going to have to change education to remain relevant; that *they* are going to have to change.  I thought I would share my most recent letter.

Change2One member writes-
I've been waiting and wondering when someone would take up the thread that Mark began during our "Here Comes Everybody" discussion, wherein he talked about how the printing press put scribes out of work and wondered whether or not technology would have a similar effect on teachers.

I am often asked as I travel to various places to present why I would spend so much time talking about technology knowing that with outsourcing and such that I am undermining job security in that computers could replace teachers. To that I respond,  If you can be replaced by a computer then you probably should be! The truth is that technology will never replace teachers, however teachers who know how to use technology effectively to help their students connect and collaborate together online will replace those who do not.

Change is Here
The way we "do" school in the 21st Century will change. Teacher will be/is being redefined. (Lord knows it is time- while the rest of society has changed in its response to technology, education has
remained timeless the last 100 years.) What we have to do is ask ourselves what principled changes need to take place in order to remain relevant in the lives of the students we teach?

It Doesn't Change Some Things- It Changes Everything
With knowledge expanding at the rate it is and the world changing at a dizzying pace- to keep the status quo is to accept obsolescence. Teachers will need to accept the fact that even with all we have invested, the pace of change is going to demand us to unlearn and relearn. Every major technological innovation through time has demanded it of its users.  Think of the world and how it functioned before electrification and the how it functioned after electrification- before television- after television (the way we fought wars and politics alone because of TV changed drastically)-- As Mark alludes to, technology doesn't change *some* things, it changes *everything*. Before TV, the thought of allowing someone to interrupt you constantly trying to sell you things you didn't want was unheard of- people were run out of town for such antics. But now it is part of our culture- to the tune of 500 channels-- which have figured out that by providing mediocre content (like reality TV)  we will sit still and let them sell us things we do not really need and we will hum their jingles and use their products, all the while our culture becomes more and more superficial and kids lose out on developing deep, meaning (which they are so capable of grasping).

Incremental is becoming Exponential

Stages_of_change_5 Technology is and has changed society and the students we teach. The question isn't are you preparing for 21st Century teaching and learning- rather the 21st Century is here. The party has started. The kids have already arrived. We are 8 years into it.

Ask Them- They Know
Want to know how a 21st Century learner learns? Ask them. You will be amazed at what you hear and if you are smart- you'll act upon it. Sylvia Martinez says we are trying to solve this 21st C PD issue in schools with 6% of the population (teachers) when 94% of the population (kids) are better positioned to help us learn what we need to know to be successful. Turn your classrooms into learning ecologies- learn with and from your students. Get rid of top down, expert driven instruction methods and nurture self-directed discovery- both your own and theirs. Turn your passions into classroom curriculum. Get excited and mentor your kids integrating your passions with core content and foundational knowledge. Help them develop a love and understanding for culture and our rich heritage. Advocate hard to get the metrics we are using to measure classroom effectiveness changed- for we teach what we measure. Leverage NCLB to push for personalization of curriculum in an effort to meet AYP and all the various needs of your subgroup populations.

It Isn't "If", it is "When"
Technology WILL redefine schools- good or bad- it will/is happening. We are one node, one means, one stop in a 21st Century learners learning journey and options. We need to be having conversations about how to make sure that their time spent with us is preparing them for jobs that haven't been invented yet and enabling them in authentic ways to be a productive member of society now. As Dave Mathews says, "The future is no place for your better days." 

And teachers need to be driving these discussions and this change- not policy makers. However, it will require you to redefine yourself. It will require you to unlearn and relearn which means an implementation dip in terms of personal power and knowledge-- but oh well, you are in this for kids remember? This will be messy, but you can't give away what you do not own. You have to own these tools and concepts before you can give them (empower) your students with them. However, once you do- get out of the way and let them show you all the ways to use them to learn that
you never dreamed possible.

Want to be amazed? Check out Laura (a 5th grader's blog) from a project I helped lead in WNY. How many of you can say you have the attention of 30,000 readers and that companies who are known for their giving acts are in regular contact with you? http://twentyfivedays.wordpres    

We think as teachers -- oh ok blogs can help kids learn to write - they will supplement what I,  the teacher does. When the kids think-- hmm blogs, you mean people can hear me? Watch what I can do with this- outside of school- in another node (space) of learning- my home.

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
Virginia Beach
Networked Learner

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