OMG! 21st Century Teachers Nurtured the Wong Way...

OMG indeed! Harry Wong, one of the most dynamic and continuously refreshing educational speakers of our era or any other penned an article that turns the whole Web 2.0/collaborative education focus around a bit by focusing, not on today's students, but on today's teachers - specifically, the teachers hired this year to replace teachers school districts recruited last year! In the article, Training Gen Y Teachers for Maximum Effectiveness, Wong explains that Gen Y, or as he puts it, the Millennials, number around 40 million, and that we are just now at the point where the first of these folks are starting their careers as classroom teachers. He then goes on to explain that unless these new teachers are inducted using the same collaborative tools they depended on for social networking during their formative years - or at least their last few years of schooling (MySpace, FaceBook, blogs, Wikis, etc), they risk being filed into the category of "stand alone" educators teaching in isolated classrooms.

The Power of Y/Why?

Thus far I have been very fortunate to link up with a few collaborative learning-savvy educators who have to serve mutually as sounding boards and sources for further inquiry as I reflect on how to best serve my middle schoolers' desire for school to be a two-way connection full of exciting moments of resource hunting, spirited challenges, meaningful interactions, and most of all...Fun! Born in 1973, I'm four years shy of being part of Generation Y. However, my mind works in the exact same collaborative manner outlined in Wong's article. Basically, I love to play! Not so much with one of the super snazzy gaming systems so popular today (X Box, Wii, etc.) - no, more like in the way Friedrich Froebel described it: an investigative mode of learning though experimentation and discovery involving specially designed toys.

Now, I don't know about you, but...say the word 'toy' and I'm a Labrador.
I love and am so exceptionally enamored with the toys of the 21st century! Using the Web (blogs, Skype, RSS, etc.) I read, inquire, try, fail, succeed, fail, regroup, collaborate, network, and succeed again with the fervent energy of a little kid. It is precisely this mindset that gets me labeled by my students as wierd, crazy, funny, and generally out there! Often, I tell them "Yep! That's my job!," and I really do meant that. It is my job as a teacher to shake them up and make them want to know why Mr. Sandridge is geeking out! The more I make my kids ask this question, the more I succeed in teaching some fairly abstract/advanced topics. I also manage to circumvent a question that has become the very bane of existence for most educators. Stay with me... When it comes to my technology curriculum, the one question I always plan for as I introduce my students to new concepts and challenges is the ever present Question: "Why are we learning this?" Hopefully, by introducing them to tools like Scratch, SplashCast, and Moodle, they'll be having so much fun being creative that the answer to this question will become self-evident. Answer: To have fun!

is such an important part of 'getting' it when it comes to just about any subject. Please understand that I don't mean to trivialize the need for today's youth to understand the frequency and general ubiquity with which say, genetically modified food has become a part of our global food source (oftentimes without us even knowing it). Rather, I want to make this concept matter to them by making it socially and culturally relevant and then giving them creative and exciting ways to share their newly acquired knowledge with others! Generation Y teachers are uniquely well positioned to engage students in this manner. But to do so, they must be properly inducted into the profession via the same social networking protocols that have made them so.

21st Century Training for 21st Century Educators

As Wong so aptly points out in the aforementioned article, Generation Y teachers crave collaboration. Train them via the one-on-one mentor method and they will respond pretty much like students do when presented with glossary/definition book work coupled with the threat of a pop quiz. Yuck! I remember my new teacher training. I had a good mentor, but it was always me asking questions only to receive answers based on her personal experiences. Valuable? Sure. But it would have been nice to have a collaborative setup where I could share my thoughts, fears, hopes, and aspirations with other new (and experienced) teachers both from within my school and abroad. And another thing. Tell a smart, inquisitive, and confident Gen Y teacher that in your school, there's little teacher-to-teacher interaction and that she'll basically be working in isolation from her peers and she's going to run, not walk, from your school. No, we (yes, we) need more. More collaboration, more networking, more fun!
If newly hired teachers know from the get go that they will have accessible to them a wide network of professionals, from the newly hired to the incredibly well-seasoned, simply by signing on to their school's LMS, the fear of 'what if' and the frustrations of "How do I..." will be lessened considerably.

I understand that schools are strapped for personnel and staff, and that it's not always easy to spend the time necessary to market and promote the benefits of sharing among peers. And let's face it, it is sometimes easier to find helpful, eager, and generous collaborators online from another state/country than it is to do so in your own back yard. But we must try. Note: If you're unfortunate enough to be situated at a school populated by resource hoarding misers, er...I mean, co-workers who are less than keen on sharing information, then you are going to need RSS feeds, blogs, wikis, Skype, etc. to keep abreast of proven and new ways to thrill and engage your students.

Poor Nutrition = High Attrition

First, it goes without saying that teachers aren't in it for the money. So, why do we do it? Well, because we're sick. Or tired. Or, sick and tired. We want change - for us and for our students. We thrive on forward progress, efficiencies that lead to greater collaboration, and on breaking down barriers - be they social, economic, geographic, or pedagogic. There are those of us who have been lucky enough to find like-minded peers with whom to collaborate and commiserate. Often, these blessed souls are the ones that keep us from throwing in the towel and taking a job outside of the teaching field. Now, with the promise of Web 2.0, we can further our connections in ways we (or at least I) would have never imagined possible. But what happens to today's new teachers if they find it hard to connect with their peers and don't really know how to engage collaboratively via the tools many of us are now coming to rely on? If left without the nourishment of peer interaction and feedback, chances are they'll exit the profession - never knowing what could have been had a viable support structure been more technologically accessible.

Ooh... that's a nasty little word. Though, it sounds a bit better than "turnover," a word we actually understand. Whatever you call it, it's an occurrence too many of us see in our schools with too great a frequency. I've been at the same school now for four years (started there in fact) and now feel like an 'old timer' due to the attrition rate we've suffered. Teachers leave schools for many reasons - some to work at a school closer to home, others to begin working in a new subject area, etc. But when I see new teachers leaving the field after one or two years in, I can't help but wonder why. I was reading a June 20th post on Belinda L. McNeal's Garden of Hope blog that relayed some interesting facts about the number brand new teachers who leave after the first five years of teaching. She referenced the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), so I decided to look them up and see what the most current reports had to say. Some 3,214,900 public school teachers were interviewed as part of the NCES' Teacher Attrition and Mobility: Results from the 2004-05 Teacher Fo.... The good news is that based on their selected findings, only 9 percent of teachers younger than age 30 left the profession. Not so great was the fact that:

"Fifty-five percent of public school teachers who left teaching but continued to work in the field of education reported that they had more control over their own work in their new position than in teaching, while 65 percent of public school leavers who worked outside the field of education felt that their workload in their new position was more manageable and that they were better able to balance their personal and work life."

These last details tell a story that needs to stop if students and teachers are to succeed in our schools today. Creativity, and the power to express it freely via new technologies, is what we're preaching when we want to use things like LMS systems replete with Wikis, interactive modules, links to student authored blogs and other content, and seamless collaboration between peers both at school and abroad. We hear about the world being "flat" in terms of the convergence between global entities as far as industry and commerce are concerned (the same goes for education). Amidst all the pressures of high stakes testing and meeting other NCLB requirements, teachers and students need to feel that they have the power to innovate and play while also meeting the many benchmarks lumped onto them by well-meaning but sometimes redundant state standards.

I know that there are school districts in the US that are making progress in making 21st Century skills and technologies a priority. In fact, I just filled out a Professional Development survey on Ken Pruitt's website today that asked some poignant questions about how I felt my school/district was doing with PD. Per his suggestion, I really got things off my chest in the comment area. Perhaps that's what many of us need to do more of, and I encourage you to take the survey for yourself! I would also like to invite anyone who reads this and finds in it something they feel is meaningful to connect with me so we can brainstorm about how to push this issue forward on a more localized level. Until then.... I'm praying for rain!

Views: 47

Comment by Steve Hargadon on July 26, 2007 at 5:35pm
Kevin--wow! Fascinating. I've had this vision that social networks, like Ning, hold the potential to be used in a lot of ways that might address some of the things you are feeling. Like a social network for each school for the teachers and staff. Or social networks for specific kinds of teachers. I'm watching closely to see how those kind of things develop.

Will watch with interest your posts.


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