Friday, August 15, 2008

Looking back, going forward

This post is dedicated to Teddy, Nakia, Charles, John, Rafael, Illiano, Juanita, Dorian--- and the many other students I came to know and love from CMSD. The ideas and content in this post are not unique, but these youngsters, now young adults, were and are. For the resilient students who are enrolled in large urban districts whose possibilities are limited only by their circumstance, who need you---

I spent a fair amount of time looking back today in order to move forward. I came across a paper I had written back in 2000 that was presented as part of the roundtable Professional Development and In-Service Training with Technology at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, New Orleans, LA in April of that year. At that time, I’d had the privilege of significant involvement in a large USDOE Technology Challenge Grant which provided professional development for teachers in the unique and compelling uses of the Internet in education. Unique and compelling were the buzz words within this large grant community: real time data, collaboration, communication, and publishing. This paper chronicled my experiences resulting from my participation and I concluded in the paper:
“Administrative recognition of the potential of technology integration coupled with a significant commitment to professional development is essential in transforming teaching and assessment practices for the benefit of all students.

A nurturing environment, one that recognizes and addresses the fears of those resistant to change, one that shapes new behaviors, one that provides significant, meaningful and effective professional development, one that supports with suggestions and "Teflon lessons," one that sends the message to educators 'you are valued, you are an educator', will empower educators becoming the wind beneath their wings as they then seek to change the way children learn, what children learn, and how children share what they know using technology. A nurturing environment leads to community, a vast community of educators dedicated to technology integration who support each other in the transformation of learning and teaching in classrooms across America.”

Almost a decade ago, how much has changed! The edublog and edtech communities take those four identified uses for granted. Real time data is everywhere, publishing has moved from webpages to blogs, wikis, podcasts, twitter, and plurk and become so easy. My dream of a community of educators exists, albeit loosely joined and not yet inclusive.

And yet how much hasn’t changed for many in public education, especially urban districts. The incredible work Chris Lehman heads at the Science Leadership Academy is the exception unfortunately. I often return to the website of the urban district in which I taught and learned for so many years, the last of which were spent in the Instructional Technology Office, staffed with 6 resource teachers. In those years, hundreds of teachers published web lessons for their students on the district website. Now there is no Instructional Technology Office; there are no teacher webpages. A search for a technology plan on the website comes up “not found”. There are, though, pacing charts for academic areas to which teachers are required to adhere. And when I inquired of my former colleague (she alone does Technology Integration in district of over 50,000 students), the only monies she has come from EETT grants, for which the state of Ohio specifies vendors from whom grant recipients can choose (Compass Learning, Plato Learning):
“A recipient of Enhancing Education Through Technology competitive funds must use at least 25% of its competitive grant award to provide sustained, intensive, high-quality professional development. The recipient must provide professional development in the integration of advanced technologies, including emerging technologies, into curricula and instruction and in using those technologies to create new learning environments. This professional development must be provided for and aligned to the web-based curriculum management and instructional design tools selected for the project. Recipients will be required to participate in professional development offered by vendors selected by the state, eTech Ohio and ODE on use of their tools."
Professional development in emerging technologies aligned to Compass Learning and Plato Learning. Somehow that doesn’t make sense to me.

No money, no administrator recognition of the potential of technology, no nurturing, no job embedded professional development around emerging technologies and communities of practice. I know many dedicated, passionate teachers in my former district who yearn for the opportunity to participate in a community in which they can immerse themselves in pedagogy and technologies that can transform their practice and not only learning for their students but their students’ lives as well. Yet without administration recognition of the potential and funds for professional development, in many ways their hands are tied. They work incredibly long hours, often in conditions unbearable to many; they spend hundreds of their own dollars to educate the children of the city; they seek meaningful professional development. They can’t do it without assistance.

Over a year ago, Sheryl Nussbaum Beach challenged teachers:
“Ask yourself- are the current methods and curriculum being used at your school going to equip a high poverty student to climb out of the circumstance that has been forced upon them? Will sequential, text based delivery of state mandated curriculum truly help your most needy students become literate in the 21st century?

I think you will see very quickly that if for no other reason than the changing demographics of students we are seeing in our classrooms, it is past time to make principled changes in the way we model learning to our students. Using technology as a medium for communication and collaboration isn't a choice or option any longer. 21st Century teaching and learning needs to be happening NOW. These kids can't wait on policy changes. Having access to a positive force (you) and gaining the knowledge of how to learn and connect in their world is going to be the difference between being locked in generational poverty or breaking out.“

She spoke of personal responsibility for teachers and that is crucial. I wonder if that responsibility doesn’t also extend to administration and extend that challenge to them.

There have been discussions of moving outside of the “echo chamber” for years-- Perhaps a move to foundations that grant funds for systemic change and presentations to school board members and administrators are possibilities. In the Great Lakes region, the Joyce Foundation “works to close the achievement gap by improving the quality of teachers in schools that serve low-income and minority children”. Could funding from regional foundations assist in reaching the critical numbers needed to effect change? At the upcoming NSBA (National School Boards Association) T+L Conference, they propose a focus on 21st Century Learning and list social networking and web 2.0 tools as one strand. David Warlick is one keynoter-- Wouldn’t this be a venue out of the “echo chamber” whose buy in could bring the change that’s sought?

My looking back included sorting and archiving letters, cards and snapshots of students. Teddy, Nakia, Charles, John, Rafael, Illiano, Juanita, Dorian– Where are you now? What are you doing? Are your children now students in the schools you attended? As you move forward in your lives, are your children engaged in 21st Century learning? My heart fills with great fondness and heaviness as I close the album, for I fear that they and their children may not have escaped the ills of urban education—

My greatest hope--- looking back again some 10 years from now after I’ve been afforded the opportunity to move forward, is that their children will be immersed in learning and sharing via emerging technologies with world. It can happen, it must—

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