Outside the Education Bubble

It’s the middle of July and this will be my first post for the summer, if I have time to actually finish it. It’s not that I haven’t started a number of posts but none have reached the publish stage. The reason I’ve not finished these is that life outside of the educational world has been very busy. In fact, I’ve spent very little time, except for dropping into Plurk each day, worrying about or working at or discussing what’s going on within the educational bubble. 

It is a bubble

Over the past two years, I’ve spent my summers working construction. In my past life, before education, I was a painter and I now use those skills during the summer as I work for a local builder painting new houses. This means that I spend my time with various trades people through the summer which is a HUGE change from the world of education. I also meet and talk with many of the people in the community during coffee breaks, talking about farming, building and various other important topics of the day. If there’s a storm go through, the implications of hail and too much rain are the topics of discussion. No talk of education pops up – unless the school is broken into. That did happen this week but people were more concerned about who might do such a thing and not about even what happened! 

This is much different from the discussions that are taking place in the educational world. When I drop in to Plurk and see what’s going on, most of the discussions are focused on this presentation being streamed or this new website or that new wiki or tool. There’s discussions about this conference or that conference and all the great discussions that are coming from these. Now, there are the discussions about children and holidays that take place which are not education focused but are the kind of discussions that build relationships which are essential to the growth of any human network.  That’s not what this post is about.

The people outside of education are discussing the price of oil, the impact of the price on their work, how they will be able to maintain what they have with the  price of production and the rise of prices on all goods plus the impact of various decisions on the environment. They wonder how the weather will affect their future ability to sustain their livelihood. They want to know why it takes so long to get things delivered from the city and why I get so much paint on myself! In my two years of working outside of education, I have yet to have any type of sustained discussion about technology. First, because people accept that technological progress is happening and there are those they need to use. Secondly, it’s not a big deal. Things progress, you adapt and life and work go on. 

In educational circles these past two years, all that has been discussed, demonstrated and examined is technology and its implications. We debate whether schools should have open access to the web, whether students should be allowed open access or work behind walled zones. We discuss how teachers should be looking at technology and how to get PD. The discussions continue on and there is no end in sight while, as I sit down with coffee, I listen to a farmer well into his 80’s describe the new seeder that he has just bought and the technology that it has and what it will mean to his production. He went to a day long session to learn about the equipment and then a rep came out to assist him with getting started. Now, he’s good to go, as he said. 

Educators Talk/ Others Do

Technology and change are now a part of the social fabric of our society. To ignore this or to somehow say it isn’t happening and affecting how people interact and live is a crucial mistake. People may want/wish that  things weren’t progressing but, for the most part, they are accepting and adopting those things that believe will make their lives easier/better. As I watch houses being built, the use of technology is everywhere, from the computer generated floor plans and 3D graphics to the colour generation technology that is used to select colours. Granted, some of the technology has nothing to do with computers. The stilts I use to paint high areas are not computerized but they are indeed technological improvements over the ones I used years ago. The sprayer I use is a fraction of the size and weight of what I began using and the technology in the paint has made it possible to do things I couldn’t do a few years ago. This is true across the many trades that I encounter during my summer work. From the battery operated nailers to the digital tape measures, technology is being used. People accept that things progress and there needs to be changes in order to keep up. Fact. They do.

In education, the talk is still happening. Whether we should do this or that or adopt this tool or that tool or…… what I’ve learned from working over the summers is to quit talking and just do. You see, there will always be talk, just as someone will buy this farming technology and someone will choose to pass but buy another. This discussion about the use of technology in education has gone on far too long. 

Do or do not. There is no try.
Yoda, Star Wars

These words, which I heard many years ago, have become words that I live by and which, I believe, have helped me as an educators, to make decisions that were essential to improving myself. For me, they are words that guide me as an administrator as I work with students, parents or staff. I either decide to do things or not do them. With each decision, I then must be willing to make the necessary adjustments so I can accomplish it or I don’t do it. It may sound kind of black and white to some “Well, why not just try it to see if you …” often is thrown my way. Do you know how many things there are to try? Can you seriously expect educators to try all the things out there? We’ve been doing that for quite awhile and look where we are right now – still talking. 

Time to Do or Do Not

During the first few weeks of summer, I dropped into a few streamed sessions from NECC and BLC08 to give a listen and chat a bit. Same stuff. Maybe a few different presentations but mainly it was the Edu-conference-presenter-group who were the keynotes. I wonder “Where’s the beef?” I know what’s being said because it’s been said again and again and again….. in different ways, with a slightly different twists but “We need to change how we do school” & “We need to get teachers using new technology” & “We need to move away from the testing culture” is still being delivered. And yes, there are shining examples of this being done – SLA in Philly being an example – but it’s not the norm in so many different ways. 

Do or Do Not

The way this will change isn’t by having more teachers trying the technologies. It isn’t by gathering the choir together to talk about it. It isn’t about getting a few more people to look at social networks or listening to people keynote about what needs to happen. It’s by identifying those people who can make things happen and doing – sometimes despite what others say. It’s by creating requirements for professionals which make it a part of being a professional to adopt change and adjust the teaching strategies to accommodate for the changes. Change is happening at an increased rate and to continue to allow people to not adopt that change and not use the new technologies is no longer acceptable.

Where to Start?

Those at the top, administrators et al., need to become responsive to changes in new ways. Instead of constantly trying to maintain the status quo so to remain popular or move up or whatever they are doing, they MUST be the initiators and see how these new technologies fit into the “We have to have our students do better” mantra. It doesn’t mean they know all there is about all the new technologies, but they learn go develop a Personal Learning Network that will help them. They seek out information and quit hiding behind “Will it help test scores?”. Of course it will, eventually. But today or next week – no guarantees. In the future, you bet. 

Teachers have to be held accountable for how they teach, the tools they use and the way they deliver their course material. It doesn’t matter if you are up on brain research or not, if you’ve ever watched a small child figure something out or learn something, they don’t do it by sitting passively and listening ALL THE TIME! They may have to once in a while, as a parent explains something, but usually it is by doing, trying, seeking, adjusting what they know with what they are learning. And forget about saying teachers cannot do it. I’ve learned to make all sorts of Transformers transform WITHOUT any manual or lecture because my children want them to be something else and don’t have the patience to wait for the lecture. Necessity requires us to learn to use new technologies and my role of a parent of small boys has required me to be able to learn this new technology and NOW! 

As for the others who are involved in educational decision making, there needs to be a change in how the whole process works. It can be done! It takes will but it occur. Being part of a school division that is still going through the pangs of force amalgamation, I know it isn’t easy but it can be done. My hope is that as things continue to grow and change, people who are working in these positions will continue to foster growth and not settle into a plateau stage. It’s not the growth and change that is the problem, it’s believing we have achieved a level to stop that is. 

Life Long Learning

This phrase is so hollow for so many in education. They say they want students to become life long learners but they have no idea what exactly that is because they quit doing it themselves so long ago they forget how hard learning is and what it takes to be a learner. Oh, they think they are learning when they adopt a new reading series or math series or some new center but it’s not. They continue to do the same old with a new piece. It’s like using your computer on highspeed to just answer emails. If that’s all you do, stick with dial-up! I mean, one doesn’t paint their entire house with a brush anymore. Why, because someone invented a roller or sprayer. One don’t use lead-based paints anymore because someone has figured out it really messes you up and someone invented incredibly good acrylic paints. I could go on and on about this because in education this type of “learning” happens all the time and we accept it as actual learning. Instead, all educators must be required to show and demonstrate their learning is actual learning – adding something new to their knowledge base. For crying out loud, that’s what we expect from students! 

Get out of the Bubble

One of the reasons I continue to paint and do these other things is that it gets me out of my education bubble. I am in situations where I do or I do not. Besides, I like the fact that at no time will anyone be able to use the “I can make it so you don’t work again!” against me. Always learning means there are so many opportunities out there for me and my family and, with staying involved outside education, I know that there are opportunities to be had if I were to make that decision. 

My suggestion for all educators – get out of the bubble. Instead of going to a conference on more education – learn a trade or how to do something that is outside the bubble. It’s amazing what people who aren’t in education talk about. It’s these insights that get me out of my narrow “educational” view and looking at things differently. It’s probably why I think educators need to “Do or do not”. Change is happening and it’s time to quit talking to the choir. They already agree and sing the same tune. 

Whether you agree or disagree, take a stand. Like John Mellencamp says” you either stand for something or you fall for anything!” Time to stand up!

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10 responses

  1. Wow! I have just a couple of thoughts. I first want to comment about attending conferences like NECC. For me, it is a huge blessing and privilege that my school supports me so much and allows me the opportunity to travel and attend a conference where I am able to network with other phenominal educators, and have the opportunity for growth. I wouldn’t miss it for the world! Secondly, I work at a career and technology school (ie. vocational school), where we teach students trades such as construction, cosmetology, dental hygiene, etc. Many of our teachers are unaware of Web 2.0 tools, but they have cell phones. They know about the new technologies in their trades, so if it is relevant to them personally or professionally, they take notice. However, in general, as a way to enhance the learning process, many of them are not very comfortable doing so. One thing we do have is industry advisory boards for each program. This helps the teachers keep in touch with people that are out in the field.

    So, while I agree with many of your thoughts, I have some mixed feelings. I have only worked as an educator for 10 years, while having worked in industry and government the years preceding. I agree with your whole concept of getting outside of the bubble, but I won’t give up the idea that we need to be talking the same “technology language” the students are speaking.” I will continue to go to conferences, like NECC, to be energizes and to learn! Thank you for some great thoughts!

  2. Great post, Kelly, and well worth waiting for!

    Love the way you interwove your painting and talks with local farmers into this topic. And you are “spot on” about the “talk” having gone on too long. We do need to start at the top with administrators (and network managers) and continue to raise the bar for ourselves as teachers.

    Looking forward to reading more from you!

  3. I could not agree more! I am new into the web 2.0 apps and the use of these in the classroom. In the last year, not only have I came out of the “bubble” but I too have learned what life-long learning is. As you put it, a hollow word, I now know what it takes…and I believe what is takes is DOING.

    So I join you Kelly and the doers of the world. Lets lead by example … others will have no choice but to follow or flop.

  4. As I was reading your post, I was taken back (in my emotional memories) to my experiences as a west-side, working class kid from Saskatoon going to university – a completely different cultural environment. I was the oldest in my extended family to go. Attending university was culture shock and it split me from my family. They were proud of me, but didn’t have a clue what I was doing with my life. In order to communicate with the people with whom I grew up, I needed to talk about their world not mine. When I did talk about what I was doing, I had to edit in terms of what they could understand.

    I think I am a better teacher because of this.

  5. Thank you for posting this, and thank Rob for sharing it in his reader! I completely wiped out my reader a few weeks ago and am relying on recommendations from friends in g-reader. I also deleted my Twitter account. It seems many of us are starting to feel similar urges. Keep writing about it. We’re not pushing hard enough.

  6. Tina, I wasn’t necessarily saying that conferences are wrong or that we shouldn’t partake but I was hinting that if we don’t get out of the bubble, we begin to lose perspective. I haven’t always thought like this but I enjoy not talking about education all the time. It refreshing to take part in a discussion that isn’t about school! I spend a great deal of time, even during the summer, on education PD even not going to conferences but the time doing other things is as valuable as the time I spend with teachers. It really allows me to see things from an entirely different point of view – and some of them actually treat me like someone that is just working – no longer the principal of the school!

    kmulford – thanks. I just amazed how much has changed just in the last year in the way things are done with some trades. Just one year and the people are adopting and adapting without the noise I hear from educators. It’s time. We don’t need to throw out the baby but we need to change the water!

    Eldon – wonderful. I’ve been keeping up with your work and you have been doing so much! I love your view of Macklin that is on your blog! I am going to show it as an example of what teachers are doing. It’s time to do or do not – we’ve tried enough!

    Patricia – I understand your life experience to a T. My father’s words to me – when I received my Advanced Arts degree in English and History was “So what do you do with this thing? Can you work now?” It was hard to explain to him but, eventually, he began to understand that it was the learning that was just as important as getting the degree. Two degrees later, I’m still at it and he’s still not quite sure why I keep going to school but sees that it’s about the learning – being there – and not the end because there is no end. And university wasn’t just a culture shock – it was like going to another world. Small town boy goes to city – AARRRRGGHH! But I not only survived but branched out to start a business and successfully complete two degrees, meet my wife and not get one ticket while cruising 8th!

    Jen – “With great power comes great responsibility” – we have the power to shape the future but we need to accept the responsibility that we can’t do it the same way we did in the past. It’s time to accept that and get on with it.

  7. Great refocus- your heading- Educators Talk, Others Do is almost poignant for the times we find ourselves in. I am currently trying to add some written insight to a paper coauthored by several professors on New Literacies. I am caught between hard research of social software (not tons out there) or using blogs, plurks, and twitters.
    Your post reminds me that eventually the *doing* will matter most! Can I quote you?
    🙂

  8. Nori- you can quote me if you find something that is quotable!

  9. We as teachers have forgotten the importance of play — that attitude of ‘lets play with this and see what happens’. A playful approach is the way I see most kids learning to use the tools (usually not in a classroom situation). “Just click on stuff, you can always hit the back button” -was the best advice I ever got from a student.

  10. I really enjoyed this post. It takes stepping out of our security blankets sometimes to find new things. Keep up the great work and nice posts.

    -Desaraev

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