Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Educators' Negative Posts Not Only Inappropriate, But Damaging To Students, Profession

Recently, a group of high school educators in Southern California were placed on administrative leave for their response, via social media, to their students participating in a ‘Day Without Immigrants’ on February 16, 2017. Their school’s students were just part of thousands of students - across the state and nation - that stayed home that day in order to demonstrate solidarity with adults in their communities who stayed home from work to demonstrate the fiscal impact immigrants and immigrant families have on our local, regional and national economies.
Although since deleted, at least five high school teachers and one counselor, posted messages on Facebook celebrating that so many Latino students missed classes that day. These posts included comments about the students being ‘lazy’ and ‘drunk’, or that the cafeteria ‘was cleaner without them.’ (see entire story here: Teachers put on leave for 'Day Without Immigrants' social media posts and sample of posts below)

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 11.20.20 AM.png

Naturally, it seems most educators, as well as many parents, students, and community members, could find several things wrong with what these educators did. Yes, they are being reprimanded. And yes we don’t know what their final discipline may include. But regardless of the formal results of their actions, what are the long-term repercussions and collateral damage as it relates to education?
Personally and professionally, I am outraged to share the same profession as these educators. To me, their actions represent everything that is the polar opposite of what it means to be an educator or leader of our youth. In addition to hurting those students, their school and their community, they also hurt the profession and the on-going work that caring, innovative educators are doing every day.
Here are some of the real effects of their actions as I see it:

  1. The Real 3 R’s (Relationships, Respect & Role Models): As we know by now, education is a relationship business built on mutual respect and understanding. Nothing empowers learning more than strong, healthy educator-student relationships. Inversely, nothing impedes learning more than strained or damaged relationships. Many of us work tirelessly to show respect to our students, to demonstrate sincere care for our students and to earn their professional trust. These are all set back each time an educator behaves like these six did. All educators need to cherish and protect our unique position as role models. Once students do not believe in us, they are in jeopardy of not believing in themselves. We are employed and deployed to inspire, not degrade. Adults, especially often educators, request that young people respect them. Well, respect is certainly a mutual thing. So, these six educators demonstrated a total lack of respect, or egregious disrespect, These educators have crossed one of the most sacred professional thresholds - ignoring the real 3 R’s. These six educators may have individually and collectively lost the connection to these students forever, as well as influenced how they interact with all of their future educators.
  1. Walking In Our Students’ Shoes: Regardless of our students’ backgrounds, our mission should be to try to understand them, to walk in their shoes if you will. Compared to us, they may have different ethnic backgrounds, religious practices, socioeconomic circumstances, medical situations, family dynamics and more. In order to educate them, we must understand them. In order to optimize their learning, we should be working tirelessly to see things from their perspective.  When we dismiss their views or their experiences, we minimize them. It’s hard to maximize learning, if you are minimizing the heart or soul. ‘The Day Without Immigrants’ would have been a perfect opportunities for us educators to find out more - more about our students, their families, their friends, their neighborhoods and their collective experiences.

Walk in my shoes fix.png

  1. Promoting Student Voice / Activism: It’s simple. We should be encouraging our students to become active politically, socially, culturally and intellectually in their communities. We don’t need to direct them to a certain cause, but rather challenge and encourage them to get involved in the causes of their choice. We may not agree with their position or their choice of how to express it. Many of us may think that missing school one day does not help any cause or affect any real change. It may or may not. Only history can tell. But that’s not the point. We should remind our students that they have a powerful voice and let them use it. We need to agree that they can and should have a position. As a former media teacher, I find student voices to be paramount in terms of lifelong learning. As a proponent of project-based learning, I see the higher level learning opportunities available when students pursue challenges and issues that they are personally affected by or indeed interested. Our democracy and economy depend on students becoming the voices and leaders of the future. These educators' social media posts should have been things like; “I’m so proud of my students today” or “I learn from my students everyday through the struggles they face.” It’s funny how adults sometimes criticize young people for not caring enough, but then often trivialize or degrade them when they care about something.


  1. Educators Need 21st Century Skills Too: This breach in judgement from these educators demonstrated a lack of skills in several areas. One, we need to call out Social Media as a New Literacy. We not only need to teach our students, but the adults too, that what we say on social media can have tremendous impact - both positive and negative. We need to be aware of our responsibility online and how our digital footprint is formed daily with our digital behavior. Those six educators negatively branded not only themselves, but their school, their district and their community - as well as the profession in general. Additionally, if we want students to become critical thinkers, we can’t put them down when they begin to question, challenge or take a stand. We say collaboration is key and employers do as well. So when students join a cause, we need to applaud their attempt at greater and broader collaboration. Ironically, “A Day Without Immigrants,” in terms of student participation, was truly a viral thing demonstrating their ability to communicate and connect with the larger world around them. These are all skills of our new economy and 21st century classrooms. We need to teach these to our adults, as well as our students.


  1. Perpetuating Fear: In the end, this particular event is really part of a larger social, political and cultural struggle taking place in our country. Whether it’s immigration, immigrants, racism, cultural awareness, individual rights, mutual respect or more, we need to acknowledge that that our students, like us, are part of something larger. Many of our students are afraid right now. We have families being divided and torn apart. We have students and parents across the country each and every day asking their schools for emotional and physical support. So, when these educators lashed out on social media against their students, they not only demonstrated ignorance and disrespect, but also fear. They revealed their own personal fears while also not acknowledging their students’ fears. They ultimately sent a message to their students to be silent and live in the shadows. They encouraged all of us to fear each other more instead of embracing one another more. They moved us all backwards through fear instead of forwards through acceptance.

Screen Shot 2017-02-21 at 7.43.09 PM.png

Like I said in the beginning, I don’t know what will ultimately happen to these six educators. And maybe they will learn some real lifelong lessons from their students. If I were their principal or superintendent, I would consider many things including dismissal if it were possible. One thing that I would do for sure is have all of them spend some considerable time with their students and listen to their stories. Maybe these six educators can start a brand new movement where they embrace student voice through a social media campaign. Today, I am angry at them. I hope tomorrow that I can envision their ultimate redemption. I’m sure all of you have some ideas too.

(photos courtesy of Foter, Pixabay and Public Domain Photos)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Flipped Learning.....What About Flipping Off Learning?

At the end of 2016, we were presented with a different type of story about the end of a semester. Instead of stories about finals, celebrations, grades or even holiday events, we heard a story about “quitting.” That’s right - QUITTING. It wasn’t about an educator quitting either. It was about a student quitting.
Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 2.22.29 PM.png
Kansas State University Freshman Billy Willson finished his first, and his last, semester right before the end of 2016. In a Facebook post, he announced that he was dropping out, despite having earned a 4.0 grade point average. According to Willson, he was going to start his own business and learn more from that experience than anything he could hope to do at Kansas State, or any other higher institution for that matter.
He simultaneously set off a couple of controversies. One, he ran a photo of himself giving the finger to Kansas State which angered many in the education community who labeled him a spoiled and profane millennial. But more importantly, he also set off an even larger debate about the on-going question of the value of college and education in general.
Willson screamed out on Facebook call to action to his peers and let them know, “You are being scammed.” He went on a litany of issues related to the high cost, debt, textbook costs, poor instruction, outdated general education and more. But what he was really going after was RELEVANCY.
Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 2.37.29 PM.png
The day has finally come. Educators and leaders have been talking about relevancy forever. Students have too, but less formally. But they are now drawing the line and creating a new front line in education. They are not afraid to use any means to let all of us know that our systems are not working and indeed failing them. When your customer thinks your product stinks and is not helpful, then the funeral march begins.
Indeed, Willson said he did the dramatic photo and used social media to draw more attention to the issue. He was not just doing this for himself, but rather he was challenging others to abandon the system as well.
Screen Shot 2017-02-01 at 7.11.00 AM.png
I have long been a proponent for student voice and choice. But I think we all need to begin to pay a lot more attention. Despite what some may believe, today’s students are more savvy, connected, enlightened and purposeful than ever before. They are aware that our systems are obsolete and they are not afraid to call us on it. That is not to say that we don’t have innovative, relevant educational programs out there. We do and there are some satisfied students finding their education relevant. However, if take higher education, for example, more and more students are questioning it, or even rejecting it. And they are not doing so because they haven’t played the game to qualify to get there. They have played the game and realize it is just that. It’s not going to get them where they want to go and they are not going to stand for it.
I have long argued that our system (s) won’t truly change or evolve until students essentially rise up and demand it. I know many in the field are trying, but the system (s) move slow and each student generation grows more impatient.
So, what should our system(s) response be to these concerns? In many cases, there are lots of people trying. We have lots of educators at all levels of education working hard to create new educational experiences for students that are engaging and ultimately relevant. But here are some things we can continue to do more and re-visit until we see wholesale changes:
Screen Shot 2017-02-01 at 7.26.05 AM.png
  1. Connect Education / Educators To Career: Address the disconnect between education and careers. Too many of our students are completing degrees and programs only to find that they are not effective, or even irrelevant once again, when it comes to finding meaningful and professional employment. Only half of the students who are attending our universities are completing with a bachelor’s degree. Of those, only half are finding employment that required that education. And the average time to complete that four-year degree is six years. And the cost, oh my god the cost. We need to educate all of our educators how flawed the current dominant paradigm is. We need to make all education, K-16 and beyond, about connecting learning to career. Career Preparation can not be a side project or afterthought. It has to be foundational in order for increased educational and economic success, as well as the means to be relevant to all.
              Screen Shot 2017-02-01 at 7.24.37 AM.png
  1. Revamp General Education - It is becoming very frustrating to our college students, who are paying a lot of money and finding new global employment challenges, to embrace the general education course requirements. After all, they study most of these subjects several times in their K-12 education. We can argue all day long about the benefits of a liberal arts education. But given all we’ve already established, it’s lost on the students. What if we made their courses relevant to their majors? What if their English or Communication classes connected to their major or career interest? What if the social science classes were history of their career area? What if the math was stats class about their chosen career? You get the idea. We either need to drop it or change it. If we don’t, more and more will walking away like young Billy Willson.
Screen Shot 2017-02-01 at 7.23.06 AM.png
  1. Ditch The Textbook Forever - According to the College Board, the average college student spends an average of $1,200 a year on books and supplies. A single book can cost $200 or more. And it’s not just about the cost. Whether digital or not, we now have the online resources for students to access any and all information that we need for any subject or area of study. The textbook paradigm is problematic in two ways: (1) they are directly related to dying and irrelevant instructional model and (2) they are connected to an entire publishing industry with less than noble goals. If we ditch textbooks - print or digital - we will not only save our students money, but fundamentally change teaching and learning for the better.
  1. PBL For All (Customize, Personalize & Innovate)  - Project-Based Learning needs to become the dominant pedagogy for all educational endeavors. We need students to be able to take ownership of their learning path through choice, voice and relevant applications of learning. We already have many major universities and online/hybrid programs that allow students to mix and match courses based on their individual career goals, skill development and interest. Technology can help this, but as usual, the real challenge is mindset. Whether it’s K-12 or higher education, why can’t students choose topics, projects and areas of interest within a discipline? Why can’t they choose how they will present and share their findings? Why can’t they essentially, with mentors and advisers, map out an individual program of learning that allows them to customize and personalize their experience? I don’t just mean choosing some electives. I mean choosing what their courses look like, feel like and are like. I mean they would individually negotiate with their instructors their pathway within a course. Again, we have the means to do this, but do we have the will? Essentially, we need to be project-based learning K-16 and beyond. PBL allows for all of this and more.
  1. Not Just Degrees or Certificates - There is a movement now within education and training that is about the micro certificate. These are documentation of skill level in very specific areas of study. They are designed to give each student, as a professional, the ability to gain highly technical skills and have a way to demonstrate their skill on a standard platform. Whether it’s a digital badge representing a pro application certificate or an industry-specific one, it’s all the right direction. Our traditional bachelor’s degrees and associate's degrees are just as relevant to our students - both professionally in their careers and personally in their educational pursuits.

Naturally, I could go on and probably so could you. It’s not about completing the list per se, but rather about addressing the problem before it’s too late. The lives of our students, and our educational institutions, are both on the line. Both are relevant and need to be working together for the benefit of one another.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

10 Things That Must Change About Educators, Education

There are hundreds of things written daily regarding changes, reforms and new research in the profession of education. But much of this comes from outside entities (researchers, politicians, parents, leaders and others) aimed at educators. It’s time for educators to own the changes, thus owning the profession. We need to truly flip the whole concept of what it means to teach and be a true teacher.This can apply to all educators who understand that we have to redefine the profession.
     Here are my 10 things that must change about the profession and the practitioners:

  1. Professionalism - Teachers need to claim and lead the professional standards of their own profession. Just like in the profession of law enforcement, the system cannot tolerate or endure bad professionals. Cops need to police their own and so do teachers. For too long, we have collectively accepted that there are going to be a certain percentage of just plain “bad” teachers. The fact is that they not only harm the profession, they ultimately cheat students. And we should not tolerate that. Unions, tenure, contracts or whatever be damned. And with the teacher shortage at crisis levels, we cannot afford to continue this trend. The millennials will not flock to a profession that tolerates such an ethical divide where some teachers are not there with a moral purpose to help students and treat them well.
Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 9.10.37 AM.png
  1. Community - Globalism has affected education in many ways. But to be honest, teaching has always been a community-oriented profession. The only way to have impact on students and learning is to be integrated into the community. This is why many teachers choose to coach teams, advise clubs, and lead extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. As teachers, we often complain about not having enough respect professionally from our society. And that is sadly true. But the only way to combat is to be leaders in our communities. This does not mean we cannot have private lives or that we have to live our profession 24/7. But it does mean that we cannot hide. Like we addressed above, we cannot have teachers that show up before school starts and leave when school is out and never engage with their communities. There are dozens of ways to do this and we have to do it in some way.
Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 9.12.23 AM.png
  1. Innovative / Creative Mindset - Dave Burgess of the Teach Like A Pirate kingdom (http://daveburgess.com/) has often said it best. He says teachers will say it’s easy for him because he’s creative. The truth is, according to Dave, is that one has to work at being creative. It is like everything else - it has to be a focus and on-going effort. We all have different innate talents and abilities, but we can apply them creatively to our profession if it’s a priority. This does not mean we all have to be artists, but it does mean we have to continually re-imagining our instruction, curriculum and profession.
Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 9.15.55 AM.png
  1. Relationship Masters - Personal friend and Edu Guru Jon Corippo (https://sites.google.com/site/mistercorippo/) said that he always viewed his role as a teacher was to be a “Maker of Kings.” In other words, it was his duty to treat every student with personal attention and take them to their personal optimization. This is only possible if we view ourselves as professionals focused on relationships. Too many teachers either see this as a pesky side note or sadly even irrelevant. Teaching is not primarily about content and curriculum, but it’s about connections. Students want to work for people, not systems. They want to perform for people that care about them and make daily effort to connect with them personally. We should know this because as educators we operate the same way. How to maximize relationships with students needs to be foundational in our teacher education programs and lifelong professional learning.
Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 9.17.19 AM.png
  1. Advocacy - We can’t leave this to others. We all have to be advocates for all things education - funding, technology, autonomy, professional development, policy and more. But maybe most importantly, we all need to be the ultimate advocates for young people. Too many adults, including many educators, spend way too much time unnecessarily criticizing  and belittling young people. More than anything, students need someone who is consistently going to bat for them. Who better than teachers to serve in that role?
  1. PD Patrons / Promoters / Purveyors - As part of our role as consummate professionals, we need to embrace Professional Development as a universal foundation of education. We cannot preach lifelong learning to students and not live it ourselves. PD cannot be viewed as something that administrators make us attend. It has to be something we take ownership in by leading PD, presenting at conferences, reading professional literature on our own, selecting PD options, partnering with colleagues, requesting more time to develop professionally on our own and so on. Too many educators view Professional Development like too many of our students view school - it’s something that happens to us and not with us. This has to change.
  1. Curriculum Curators - The days of being textbook dependent are gone. We cannot be professionals if our curriculum is created by publishers, test makers or corporate entities. We have to own our curriculum which means we all have to individually and collectively be “curriculum folks.” With the world becoming more project-based, along with unlimited resources online, there really is not an excuse not to design curriculum for one’s current students based on their needs, interests, relevance and input. The digital world is our new textbook and it’s unlimited.
  1. Consistent Collaborators - This is not an isolated thing. Indeed, it’s the top skill that employers are looking for in our current students. We have become a truly collaborative universe and we have to work this way - especially in education. The work is too demanding, evolving, specialized, customized and dynamic to work as solo artists. To be brilliant, we need one another. Collaboration can be with our with colleagues at our sites and all over the world thanks to social media. But we also need to view collaboration as beyond our colleagues. We need to collaborate with students, parents, community members, business leaders, politicians, volunteers, experts, professionals and all stakeholders.
  1. Change Agents - All educators need to begin to view themselves as not captives of change, but masters of it. Change is inherent in learning and we need to model it. We should continually push for experimentation, risk taking, new approaches, new ideas, new skills, new levels of mastery, new models and new design. If we cannot embrace change, we need to get out. If we can, then we need to lead it. With the number of problems, issues and challenges that our students and world face, we have to know that change will be the only constant.

  1. Futurists - Teachers have traditionally had many responsibilities including, but not limited to lesson design, classroom management, assessment, parent communication and many others. However, most teachers have not seen themselves as students of the future. We cannot afford to leave this to the academics and the business leaders. Educators need to understand the quickly changing dynamics of our new globalized economy and digital planet. It’s not enough to know that things are changing, we need to understand why. We need to regularly study the trends, the data and the innovators. Much of the resistance in the teaching ranks towards technology, new standards and things like project-based learning are directly related to a disconnect to what is really transpiring in this new age.

Hope you enjoyed these 10 things that must change about educators and education. As usual, I’m confident the list is not comprehensive or complete. Like everything else, it will have to change.

(photos courtesy of Foter, Pixabay, Pics4Learning)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Time For These Seven Edu Funerals

Only in education, do we continue to try to breathe life into things that may never have been successful - and most certainly are not now. These things are so embedded in the culture, frameworks, policies, practice and mindsets of our schools and educational organizations, that many educators just blindly accept them, implement them and perpetuate them…..all regardless of their lack of success. Indeed, there is often overwhelming data or evidence that these things are not only unsuccessful, but often counterproductive.


So, let’s have the funeral. Let’s start the fire. Let’s bury these SEVEN forever.
They are:

  • Homework As We Know It. The idea of independent practice as a means of increasing skill mastery sounds appealing and necessary. But homework, as it’s become known, does not do this. Indeed, homework has become mundane and repetitive work not grounded in increasing skill development, but rather compliance. It’s time to re-think the whole thing. Let’s come up with not only a new name, but a whole new approach. Most of us can remember when our work outside of class - homework - became meaningful, successful and relevant. And that’s when we got engaged in a project or deeper learning. We then chose, on our own, to perfect or improve our work.
  • Lecturing, Note Taking. It’s long been researched, evaluated and established that this represents the lowest form of learning. Whether we’re using Bloom’s Taxonomy or other models, it is very obvious that we are operating at the ground level of learning if this is what we’re having our students do with any content or information. Students need to apply, inquire, create and be critically engaged with any knowledge in order to not only retain it, but to truly understand it. We know this. We know this. We know this. But still, we ignore it and allow many of our classrooms at both the secondary and post-secondary levels to operate with lecture and note-taking as their primary pedagogical approach to learning.
  • Non-Digital Approaches. I’m not saying that there is still not a place, in some instances, for paper, pen and printed books. However, that being said, our dominant tools and resources should be digital. I’m ashamed that on the eve of 2017, we are still debating or considering anything but digital. All professional work and the entire global economy are digital. Having our students not work primarily in digital formats shortchanges them. Additionally, the resources and applications expand daily and we need to use them to maximize student experiences and opportunities.
  • Textbooks - Digital or Not.. Since the advent of the internet, we should have abandoned the dependency on a single text. Regardless of subject, there are endless types of reliable, relevant and ever-developing resources. To be critical thinkers and true problems solvers, our students should be seeking the best and brightest information from these sources in all of their academic endeavors. The idea of a textbook, digital or not, is a holdover to outdated curriculum. Single source curriculum is dead. What professional, scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, or researcher would use only one text in their professional environments? The answer is none, especially with the quality and quantity of online resources today.
  • Factory-Style Classrooms. Many educators, as well as students, parents, industry professionals and others have long acknowledged that too many of our classrooms still resemble those of the last century, as well as the factory floors that inspired them. It’s not just aesthetics or style, it’s directly related to the instructional models of the past. When we are in seated individually in rows facing the front of the classrooms, the mode of instruction is dominated by lecture pedagogy. Our classroom environments, layout and design need to resemble those that our students need to be successful in a new, more globalized and digital economy. These include, but are not limited to classroom configurations that are collaborative, comfortable, high tech, friendly, warm, inviting, friendly, flexible and ultimately conducive to project-based work.
  • Final Exams. I do not mean that we should not have culminating activities or projects that are reflective, summative or comprehensive. But I am talking about the final exam. This is the 100-question multiple choice, short answer traditional final still given in thousands of high school and college courses across the country. They create an environment where students cram in order to regurgitate material versus applying that material in some meaningful way. They were designed with grades, teachers and structure in mind and not learning or students. Our finals need to be presentation type that includes like one’s digital portfolio, defense of learning, showcases & exhibitions, and more.

  • Fear & Compliance. Finally, we need an entirely new cultural approach to learning and school. The system that depended on fear and compliance has long worn out its stay. We used to often tell new teachers to “not smile until Christmas” or “don’t be friendly as the students will see that as a sign of weakness.” These are not only archaic, but truly counterproductive to teaching and learning. Teaching and learning are relationship endeavors. Students need and require teachers that are excited, passionate, communicative, flexible, available, caring, creative, innovative and forever working on connecting to their students. Anything less will not produce anything more than sub-par results. Our students need and deserve authenticity versus authority. Current or future teachers not up for being in a relationship business need to find another career. There is no people-oriented pursuit that that of teaching and learning.

(Photos courtesy of Foter, Pixabay and Other Public Domain Image Collections)