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by Sean Wheeler
Part 2: The Teachers
It's not an easy time to be a teacher, but it is an exciting one. It's not that often that an entire profession has the ability to redefine it's purpose and explore entire new vistas in the field. Unfortunately, most of us work under an oppressive weight of local, state, and federal mandates that seem to continually ignore the voice of teachers in the decision making process of what matters in our classroom, what we should be measuring in regards to student learning, and how we should go about preparing our students for a world that seems to be shifting at an amazingly fast pace. As a teacher in Ohio, and like the teachers in Wisconsin, New Jersey and many other states, I especially feel like teachers are becoming the victims of an education agenda that would rather scapegoat teachers than work towards making significant changes toward the advancement of all students. We feel like we don't have a voice. We wait for the next hammer to drop. We shuffle to meetings about initiatives that feel very far removed from what we know to be the most effective elements of the work of our classrooms. And most importantly, we leave our schools everyday feeling like no help is on the way. This isn't how it should be, and my suggestion is that we begin to use our ability to network to take the power back and shift the conversation about education in a whole new direction.
It starts with professional development. It is truly a sad state of affairs that most of us associate the phrase "professional development" with irrelevance, top-down management, and having to muster up a sense of "buy-in" to things that we really don't see much value in. If I have to go to another Common Core PowerPoint presentation about rigor, I might actually claw my eyes out. However, if teachers began to reconsider what professional development might look like if we could design it ourselves, things might start to turn a corner.
Teachers need to start participating in networked sharing of resources, strategies, and ideas. While there are increasingly more teachers jumping into Nings, Twitter, and various other arenas of idea sharing, too many teachers have yet to test these waters. If we could get more teachers involved, we could start to shift the conversation about education by our sheer numbers alone. If our labor organizations returned to the original concept of organizing large bodies of employees that can't be ignored by creating vast networks of empowered voices all moving in the same direction, they might actually be able to redeem their less-than-positive public image. It seems that the membership of our unions takes a rather dim view of social media, often resorting to a level of fear mongering that runs along the "be careful, you might get fired for saying something stupid" variety. But if they could get past their fear, they just might find that the old folk song is true, "There is Power in a Union".
I am of the belief that when teachers stop learning, they cease to be good teachers. A personal learning network (#pln) is a great entry point into teacher learning. If we could all begin to see the value of a pln, we could start to design a system in our districts and states that recognizes the value of that learning and would count towards our required professional development. We claim to want our students to be independent and intrinsic learners, but many of us are missing out on modeling that behavior in the digital space. Any teacher that says they can't learn online needs to be taught how, and any teachers that refuse needs to consider how relevant they are to their students' future.
It's about adopting a pro-active and empowered stance towards growing as professionals in times that simply demand that we do so. We can wait around for someone in administration to order us to enter the digitally networked environment, or we can start to do so on our own, with a full realization that by combining our voices and helping each other we can begin to change the balance of power in a conversation that we all know has made us more weak and fractured than we should be. We have the opportunity to use our networks to abolish the whole notion that our classrooms are "islands". I love teaching, and so do most of our teachers, but if we continue to be reactive and resistant to change we will be bowled over by people with more power, and less knowledge about what works for kids. And for those of us who are already building this community of educators online, we need to work even harder to patiently help others to see the value.
Start now. register for Twitter, type #pln into the search bar, and join in. Search for anyone that your district talks a lot about (ex. Robert Marzano) and follow them. Hit the "retweet" button on anything you like, reply to any post with a question or comment, and eventually start to lend your insights in a tweet. You don't need to wait around for someone to offer a class or hold a pd session. Change your stance, be a bit more proactive, and become the kind of learner we want all of our kids to be.