Collisions Can Be Meaningful

My worlds collided this morning when Michael Wesch, who was speaking at the University of Mary Washington Faculty Academy, referenced three different people from random areas and interests of my life.

I had spent almost all night awake, chatting in Elluminate rooms with @snbeach , @willrich45 and our fabulous teams from Australia (4 and 8pm their time, 2am and 6am our time). We had tackled issues that challenged our thinking; we probed ways to be open learners who could truly change systemic problems. As we closed, I felt satisfied and energized at the same time.

I finished up this morning  with minutes to spare and headed over to UMW to hear Wesch’s keynote. Sitting among Twitter friends and UMW professors who are working through many of the same concerns kept me thinking of our conversations hours earlier.

And then Wesch spoke.

I was excited as I’d only heard him on Youtube and ustream. As I watched my rock star, his message of turning knowledgeable students into knowledge-able students who can create, collaborate, and learn filled me with hope about what is possible for all of us.

Though I was a little sleepy (I don’t function too well on only three hours), my brain was processing, thinking, and planning as Wesch talked.

And then the collision. Someone asked about the difficulties in shifting not only our own practice but our students’ way of thinking about learning, and Wesch pointed to Shelley Wright, one of Powerful Learning Practice’s teachers, who reflects so candidly on her blog. I sat up and poked my friend in the ribs:

“She’s a PLPer!” I exclaimed.

And a few minutes later, when Wesch was asked by one of the professors about how to begin this sometimes difficult process, he spoke of love and care for our students.

“This isn’t practical advice,” he said. “Brene Brown writes of vulnerability, and I believe it may be the key to what we need to focus on in our classrooms.” Brene Brown? I love Brene Brown. But she’s in my “life” RSS feed, not my education feed.

And finally he spoke of Parker Palmer, who wrote The Courage to Teach. I’d first been exposed to Palmer in Sunday School classes. He once said, “If we want to teach well, we must learn more about the human dimensions of our craft-about the inward sources of our teaching, about the claims it makes on our lives, about our relations with our students, about a teacher’s wounds and powers.”

The message of the morning seemed simple at that point.
Be open and share with others, put the students’ needs first in all we do, and create classes that allow us all to be more vulnerable.

And it’s what the PLP team uses as its guiding principles. As Wesch finished, I felt proud to be associated with an organization that gets it.



I can’t change the world, but…

I once told Sheryl Nussbaum Beach I didn’t feel moved to change the world.

We were chatting about all things education–and how some folks are comfortable presenting to large crowds (I’m not), and some feel compelled to change the world of schooling (I wasn’t).

At the time, I felt that my personal line in the sand, which I drew in the sandbox of a classroom, was enough. I could individualize instruction, buy netbooks for my kids, create an inviting atmosphere, offer a variety of ways to assess children, and focus on what worked.

I became comfortable in my own small, corner of the world.

And then last spring, I found myself taking over conversations in department meetings, dinner parties, and family gatherings. Whenever the chats turned to school (and specifically social media), I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. My frustration with how we “do” schools bubbled over. During our last week of vacation, my uncle turned to me mid-rant and said, “Ok then, how do we fix it? How do we make schools better?”

I didn’t have all the answers, but I found myself listing everything that matters to me: giving students voice; empowering teachers to work together and reflect upon their practice; offering choice in curriculum and ways to learn; allowing charter schools (with proper direction and guidance) to flourish; changing the way we sort and rank students.

Ok, so I care. Changing the system seems overwhelming at times, but it’s worth it. Our kids deserve more from us.

These are the folks I’m following these days, watching and learning from them:

Coalition of Essential Schools

Big Picture Schools

Ideal Schools


Not perfect, perhaps. But at least they are doing the work and not just talking about it. Who else should be highlighted?

and the research says…

The Zotero group started by Wendy Drexler is often where I look for research regarding issues that interest me. Today, I had a focused discussion with a friend on whether teachers’ personalities made them embrace or more resistant to change, especially related to using technology to enhance student learning.

(As an aside, I should say I support student-centered, inquiry-based teaching and believe the use of social media offers opportunity for collaborative, global learning. If classrooms are teacher-centered and the discussions are focused on gadgets and not pedagogy, then technology is often a waste of time and money.)

After I left her office, I wondered if there was any research supporting our discussion. Sure enough, I found this (unfortunately in a PDF), a study from 2004. Here are some highlights (my emphasis):

Research has found that the personal beliefs and dispositions of teachers may relate to or predict successful technology integration. Honey and Moeller (1990) assert that teacher philosophy (student-centered versus teacher-centered) affected one’s ability to effectively use technology in the classroom, in that student-centered teachers were more successful. MacArthur and Malouf (1991) determined in their case study that teacher beliefs and attitudes greatly influenced how computers were used in the classroom. Other personal variables, such as self-competence and willingness to change, have also been shown to be closely related to computer use among teachers (Marcinkiewicz, 1994). Albion (1999) states that teachers’ beliefs, specifically self-efficacy beliefs, “are an important, and measurable, component of the beliefs that influence technology integration” (p. 2).
Furthermore, this study noted that willingness to spend time outside contracted hours also contributed to technology use in the classroom:
…this study suggests that the teacher attributes of time commitment
to teaching and openness to change combine with the amount of technology
training to best predict classroom technology use. The process of learning
to use technology requires time—time spent in training, but also time spent
playing with and exploring technology. This willingness to commit time to the
technology learning process may be represented by one’s willingness and commitment
to spend time beyond the typical work week to prepare instructional
activities. As such, this result suggests that time is essential in becoming a technology
using teacher, but also that technology use may predict time commitment
to teaching.
This last suggestion gives me pause:
As a result, a teacher who approaches technology professional development with an attitude that is open to change and is committed to spending time outside of training to further explore technology may be more likely to use technology in the classroom than one who attends training with ambivalence and a lack of time.

Now I realize that one study isn’t necessarily the answer. But all of this makes sense as we determine how to best help teachers develop their own professional development online through social media and in “unconferences” where the onus is on the individual to contribute and learn. For those waiting to be spoonfed or who are unwilling to change, the effort may not be worth the trouble.

Teacher Dispositions as Predictors of Classroom Technology Use
Journal of Research on Technology in Education, v36 n3 p253-271 Spr 2004

Reflections on a PLP year…

DSC_0039 1. I love learning in this connected, collaborative world.
2. Our students benefit from having a real-world audience for their work.
3. Building a professional learning network takes time that I must make.
4. Many times and in many ways, my PLN crosses over into my PFN (personal friend network), and I am richer for it.
5. The new digital divide is between those who understand and can move in this connected, sharing environment and those who can't.
6. My favorite moments in the classroom are when students leap out of their comfort zones, take the class in a direction I had not imagined, and use tools in clever and innovative ways that push their thinking and learning.
7.We have some incredibly hard-working and passionate teachers at Fredericksburg Academy.
8. We have some incredibly hard-working and passionate students at Fredericksburg Academy.
9.  It may take our students longer to realize the value in learning this way than some of us.
10. All this TIME has been SO worth it (see #3)


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