On Being Critical....A Response

I didn't intend for this to be a full post - but as I was busy typing away in response to Angela's post I realized it would just be better to link my responses from here!!  Start by reading Angela's original post - go ahead, I can wait!!

Angela makes a pretty powerful case for the alignment of tech tools with what we are teaching/learning.  This has long been a cause of mine - that the technology should serve some sort of pedagogical purpose, not merely be put into a lesson for "fun" or because the district has decided to go with blogs and wikis as a form of PD.  I pushed back in a district recently that asked me to use a particular tool that an administrator had seen, but not used, while working with teachers on differentiated instruction.  I pontificated on my stance (and I don't say that lightly - I know I did it) and made sure they understood that I would not sacrifice the deeper learning about differentiating for the sake of the technology tool.

And at the same time - I was a hypocrite.  The district had also asked me to go virtually paperless in order to model technology integration for teachers.  This was not my first time working with the teachers, they had gone through "the fundamentals" with me and I thought going paperless was a grand idea.  We were going to spend some time on design and the teachers would all have laptops so the electronic content would make things easier for all.

So - I embedded a poll and a WallWisher wall into the website as a pre-assessment tool.  Nothing fancy - just replacing the paper/post-it note activity with one that was virtual.  And while we did not get completely derailed - we certainly slowed a bit as the teachers wanted to learn how to use the tool and ask questions about access.  Did the use of technology align? Yes - to the going paperless objective.  Maybe not to the differentiated instruction.

When the technology gets in the way of the learning - whether because it doesn't work the way we want it to or because it is "dazzling" - learning doesn't happen. Or rather, not the learning we had intended or planned for.

Angela talks about her best work involving a lot of discomfort - I know that I learned a great deal as I developed the website for the teachers and thought about which tools to embed and which to save for another day.  But did my learning and the discomfort of using a tool promote the learning of the teachers?

I had hoped for a relatively presenter-free day - one in which I had created a tool for the teachers to use and explore differentiation as they designed for their classrooms with me there to guide them as needed.  Instead, the website became the powerpoint and we walked through it together.  Was it because I hadn't crafted the experience well enough or was it because after the initial resistance to working on their own, I resorted to "expert" mode?

I have been and continue to struggle with the role that technology should play as I work with teachers.  On one hand, I think the use should be purposeful and meaningful.  Kim Cofino's recent post on Looking for Learning and her observation rubric has me thinking about making the use of technology more transparent and embedded.  Kim Moritz's post on Facebook in schools has me thinking about open conversations with educators about technology that presents both the good and the bad and seeks solutions.  And now, Angela has me thinking about alignment and discomfort and change.

I don't know everything there is to know about technology or technology tools - I only know where they fit in my world.  I try to promote questioning and exploration - but more often than not am not truly successful.  I get a lot of sharing -but not a lot of pushback or discourse. 

How do we change professional learning to embrace this?


Angela said...

I only know what stops me from pushing back or engaging in discourse--when I feel out of my depth or when I fear the wrath of those I'm challenging : )

You say what you don't know all there is to know about technology or tech tools--but that you know where they fit in your world. I think this is a sort of wisdom that may be lacking, and maybe that statement provides something of an answer to your question? Jenn reminded me in our conversation last week that understanding and respecting the culture we are in is everything. Not the culture we hope to create--the one we are in. I think we need to respect everyone in PROCESS too, rather than condemning ourselves and others over the fact that "we aren't there yet." Where is there, anyway?

I had a conversation with a group of administrators last week who were beginning to approach collegial learning with teachers and who stated that when it came to talking about tools or resources, conversation came easily. But when teachers were asked to share their opinions, to provide feedback, or to engage in discourse, the silence was deafening. Still thinking there is a great deal of fear out there. Nobody wants to make any mistakes and nobody wants to offend.

I wonder what would happen if leaders expected those they were leading to challenge them, create the conditions for that to happen and positively reinforced those who actually did it? Talk about uncomfortable...but perhaps this would begin tipping the scales a bit.

Mrs. Tenkely said...

"Or rather, not the learning we had intended or planned for." This is so often the case, there may be learning but it isn't what was intended or planned for. It isn't that the learning is bad or not valuable, but if it doesn't meet the original learning objectives, than it didn't serve its purpose properly.
Professional learning, like any learning is tricky. The audience is constantly changing and can't always be planned for. Sometimes you will get a group that takes a little learning and runs a mile with it. And sometimes the group needs you to break everything down into baby steps. I don't think either is wrong if that is what the learner needs. Professional learning can be more difficult to plan for than classroom learning. In the classroom, we have worked with students and know our audience pretty well. In Professional learning, we often don't know where our learners our, how they learn, or what they need from us.

Mrs. Smith said...

In order for professional development to be that, development (you know, rather than jumping on the latest bandwagon because everyone else is) .... some amount of discomfort must exist to force us to challenge our own thinking, planning and teaching. In other words, the discomfort arises from a need that we recognize as essential to address in one form or another.

Of course, when the need causes discomfort, responses run the gamut ... some are ostriches and prefer to put their head in the sand, convincing themselves that the discomfort doesn't exist. Some will quickly jump to the nearest shiny bandwagon, without checking into the background of the driver .... and then those who choose to peer through a critical lens, to evaluate proposals and ideas. These are the folks who become our children's inspiration.

Silence? I think I'd rather listen to the "deafening silence" as Angela said, than the first two models.

Thanks for the critical lens reminders!