Monday, 31 January 2011

Connect More

30th Street Station, Philadelphia 

As I said my goodbyes and left Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station I noticed a message on a banner above the door. I paused. The sign read, “Connect More”. While this was not the entire script on the banner, these words were in bold and immediately resonated with me. The remainder of the sign read, “Trains CONNECT MORE Than Cities”. I took a quick picture and was on my way.
This message lingered as I drove home. I sent out a tweet with the picture accompanied by the text “An enduring message from Educon”. This is the message we all must carry with us as we depart from EduCon.  We must connect more.
However, we must carry this message far beyond the “EduCon fraternity”. We get it. Those of us that have attended this past weekend, and in the past get that we must connect, share, etc., but what about those that did not attend? What about the colleagues that don’t get it? How do we delicately approach them and tell them about the weekend without sounding like an overzealous tween that just met Justin Bieber?
We start by opening up subversive connections within our disciplines and work places. Simply approaching a colleague and mentioning one small thing you learned this week is great start to connecting and encouraging a culture of sharing. Don’t bombard them with EduCon highlights, photos, blog posts, etc. but show them one thing you learned and walk away. Follow up in a few days, or maybe a week, or not at all. Just connect.  
As educators we must model these positive connections while empathizing with a hesitant colleague. We not only owe this to our hesitant colleagues, but our students. All of us must encourage building new relationships within our learning environments and promote transparent learning.  
Further, we need to bring new faces into the fold. Edcamps and ntcamps are happening monthly across the nation. There are plenty of free opportunities to introduce colleagues to these learning forums and create new connections.  Much like the train, we need to build more depots along the way so that we can continually bring new colleagues along for the ride.
EduCon is built on connections. It continues to grow because of the culture of sharing and connecting that it provokes. As I left the station yesterday, I promised myself that I would take the message of EduCon and make every attempt to cultivate new connections and reinforce old ones. We all must strive to connect more, to share more, and to constructively criticize each other.
It is our responsibility as educators.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Reform Education From Within

CC image via flickr by bensonkua
Browse any education twitter feed and you are sure to see the word “reform” somewhere in the mix. While I believe serious reform is needed in the education sector, I also understand that I will…
A) …never work in a perfect educational system that is equitable for all and

B) …not see any serious education reform happen in the next few years.

Call me a cynic, but don’t call me a quitter. I am also aware that most State and Federal Governments are not taking time to listen to what educators have to say about education reform. Rather, they are paying attention to prominent voices in the entertainment, business, and music industry. The rhetoric continues to the talk show circuit and eventually finds its way to the educators. Our voice: small, full of static. Solution?

Teach the hell out of your classrooms and give your current students the best opportunity to question, think critically, and seek out new learning opportunities under our current education system.

A lot of energy is burning on ways to develop new reform structures and ideas for reform, but it’s not happening this year. It’s not happening any time soon. We need to give our current students the best opportunity under a system that most of us would like to see overhauled immediately. We must, for the sake of our students’ future, change the tone of reform and move towards innovating our best practices, sharing our best practices, with what we have while developing dynamic leaders. We all owe it to this generation of students.

There is no denying education is in a state of flux but let’s prove “them” wrong in the classroom every day rather than with redundant rhetoric. When we change the rhetoric from what we have to do, to what can we do, then we make progress. Let’s build great learners with what we have today, rather than what we hope for tomorrow. This is not to crush our hopes for a better educational system, but if we want the system to thrive we need to change the tone. This happens each day by creating dynamic learning environments where students can constantly question, analyze critically, search efficiently and safely, synthesize and create, and feel as though everything they are doing in your class is purposeful and necessary for the rest of their lives.

Every school has the right to emulate great school systems throughout the world, but many lack the leaders to push and provoke their teachers. A great school system starts with a great leader. Not simply a leader who follows the straight and narrow or who spends all hours of the night working at his or her desk, but a leader who has a clear vision for creating classrooms that are purposeful. A leader who gives his faculty autonomy and trusts they will yield engaging lessons.  I can only speak from a teacher’s point of view, but a dynamic, purposeful classroom starts with a leader that is willing to take a risk and listen to their faculty.

When you tie all of these elements together - dynamic classrooms, innovative leaders, engaged students - you create the classroom today’s students deserve. We need to work within what we can control. Educators need to stop getting frustrated and worrying about when and how the system will change. Rather, make an immediate impact on your classroom today, tomorrow, and throughout the rest of your career.

The educational system will always have flaws. So what are you doing today to instill the best learning practices in your students? What are you doing today to promote innovation within your classroom? What are you doing today to combat the notion that no matter how hard it feels to deal with the educational system, testing, etc to make sure your students are leaving your classroom with the ability to learn, question, analyze, and create? If you expect to see a Utopian vision of education in your lifetime you are dreaming. We need to focus on what we have today and thrive. We owe it to these students!