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Learning at its Best

Making Private Practice Private No More

In September, I wrote the following paragraph:

TEDxLondon is going on today–I caught the info about it on Twitter–and I know I am the only person on my staff listening to any pieces or parts of it. I wonder why, though, as I know many of my teachers are on Facebook and use social media in many different ways for personal reasons. How can I help them see the value of setting up a worldwide professional learning network and help them find the time to use it?

As I reread this in November, I can’t help but think how isolated many teachers are, for the most part. I can’t help but think how powerful conversations are for helping teachers see outside of their own little world of the classroom. I can’t help but wish we could prioritize time for teachers in very different ways.

In this day and age, I don’t believe there is room–or a place–for what Hank Becker and Margaret Reil refer to as “private practice teachers” (teachers “who report little or no engagement in professional dialog or activities beyond those mandated.”) Many “teachers” are still there–closing their doors, making lesson plans on their own, sharing activities as a surface level of sharing instructional practices in PLC meetings, and seeing their job as transmission of information.  Some teachers who were great teachers in 1995 no longer are, because they are still teaching exactly like they did then–they haven’t embraced the use of technology for connective learning and collaboration, they don’t teach global skills or competencies, and they may not see collaboration with other teachers in their building (or across the world) as a need, much less a priority.

George Siemens wrote, in one of his blogs, what he firmly believes about education and learning–and I agree.

“1. Learners should be in control of their own learning. Autonomy is key. Educators can initiate, curate, and guide. But meaningful learning requires learner-driven activity
2. Learners need to experience confusion and chaos in the learning process. Clarifying this chaos is the heart of learning.
3. Openness of content and interaction increases the prospect of the random connections that drive innovation
4. Learning requires time, depth of focus, critical thinking, and reflection. Ingesting new information requires time for digestion. Too many people digitally gorge without digestion time.
5. Learning is network formation. Knowledge is distributed.
6. Creation is vital. Learners have to create artifacts to share with others and to aid in re-centering exploration beyond the artifacts the educator has provided.
7. Making sense of complexity requires social and technological systems. We do the former better than the latter.”

The same is true for how teachers learn. We require time, depth of focus, critical thinking, and reflection. We need time for creating and time for fiddling around with disorder and confusion as we talk, share, question and clarify the “chaos that is at the heart of learning.” Collaborating, talking, coming to common understandings, questioning, thinking and innovating together is at the heart of teaching and learning. Do teachers who choose not to engage in this kind of learning belong in our schools today?

It is, quite simply, impossible to individually meet the needs of all learners in a globally connected economy. How do private practice teachers teach digital citizenship? How do they teach global competencies? How do they help students become aware of the many possibilities for global communication and collaboration if they themselves know little or nothing about it?

I guess I’ve always been what my county calls a “vanguard” teacher, trying new things thoughtfully and reflecting on how to work my classroom so that students own their learning and leave with lifeskills that will keep them learning. It’s incredibly important to me that my classroom be a safe place, where kids are treated with respect and dignity–and that the classroom be a kind place where laughter and talk abounds. I also think that’s what a school should be like, and the principal is critical in it being that way.

In my classroom, I take on helping my kids communicate with each other in ways that support their learning, teaching those lifeskills as we work. At the same time, I set them up, through wikis and blogs, to communicate outside of our school as well. Twitter is an important part of my online learning, and this blog says why nicely: Why Educators Should Join Twitter.  My kids know when they do good work on their wiki I “tweet them out” and they receive more visitors to view their work. They know they are writing and creating for real audiences. Creating on their wikis and blogs helps them to begin developing skills of digital citizenry, building a digital footprint, and understanding how simply one can communicate and do collaborative work with others around the world. Why wouldn’t teachers help their students gain these skills?

Yesterday I saw a tweet about Tim Holt’s Book Review: What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media edited by Scott McLeod and Chris Lehmann. Both Scott and Chris are school leaders that support innovation and provide opportunities for teachers and students to explore and learn together. Tim says the book has examples in it of successful implementation, but few strategies for novice leaders to actually use.

What does a principal have to do, what does a principal have to understand, what does a principal have to scaffold to see that his or her teachers don’t shut their doors–that the school doesn’t shut its doors and windows to the global possibilities that are out there? How does a principal, in this day and age, provide opportunities and support teachers to learn about global competencies and use our connective technologies in innovative and effective ways? How do principals and teacher leaders work together to move a staff towards more open and globally connected teaching and learning?

What are the principals you know doing?


About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


3 thoughts on “Making Private Practice Private No More

  1. I think my principal has made a concerted effort to learn about what I do and what I believe. I think she’s genuinely interested both in how what I do supports the “achievement” mission of the school tied to tests and scores, but also in how it challenges and tries to supplant that mission with one of student-directed learning and pacing. We worked through some challenging conversations at the beginning of our relationship as we realized neither one of us was speaking rhetorically – that we had substantive issues to consider and reach consensus on in our shared work.

    Now I see my principal making frequent walkthroughs and making curriculum discussions a regular part of school meetings.

    What would I want next? Tweeting and blogging about what we do, a la @mlandahl.

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | December 2, 2011, 1:06 pm
  2. Paula, Yes, yes of course. Yet so many teachers aren’t on board with this at all, have no real experience in networks of learning or working powerfully in teams. Leave me alone in my eggcrate classroom! This isn’t what I signed on for. What would you do with them, if you were queen of this universe? (Which to all of us here, you indeed are.)


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | December 2, 2011, 3:28 pm
  3. Hi Paula,

    Thanks for the comments regarding our new book. A quick note about strategies…

    I do agree that we can improve some of the chapters by including some more concrete strategies, not just examples of successful projects. Some chapters do a better job of this than others. I’ll also note, however, that strategies usually are very locally contextual. What we might recommend in one place wouldn’t work at all in another. So we have to be careful that we don’t propose ‘silver bullet’ leadership techniques ’cause there are no such. It’s a fine balance…

    Posted by Scott McLeod (@mcleod) | December 3, 2011, 5:44 pm

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