Archive for January, 2010

Exhaling at EduCon

Note: The bulk of this was written at nearly 11:30pm on Saturday, 30 January 2010, upon arriving home from EduCon 2.2.  I just wanted to get these thoughts down before I went to bed and lost the feeling I had at the time; “post-production” tweaking was done with the benefit of a clearer head and a few hours of sleep.

I’ve just walked in the door from Educon 2.2, a conference structured as a series of breakout conversations about current and future issues in education, facilitated by classroom teachers, professors, researchers, and students, among others.

I was fortunate to attend sessions led by Gary Stager, Ben Hazzard & Rodd Lucier, and Jon Becker & Justin Bothan.  In between I spent time walking around the conference site, Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, and taking in the classroom setups, the facilities, and even the little details like the posters & flyers on the walls.  The majority of what little down time I had, however, was spent speaking and rubbing a friendly elbow with many people with whom I had heretofore only corresponded online via Twitter or Facebook.

Doubtless, there will be a flurry of blog posts over the next week about how great EduCon was (and it was!), and what people’s favorite presenters or sessions were, or what have you.  What’s on my mind right now, however, is the value of the time spent in between sessions.  I imagine that most folks at EduCon have a few things in common:

  • we fancy ourselves “progressive” educators (for whatever that might mean to each of us)
  • we are proponents of increasing student access to technology
  • we believe that there is a significant degree of change needed in the American education system, from the federal level down to individual classroom practices.

I don’t know that these phrases always describe the majority of our colleagues outside of our little online pseudo-social circles.

While it’s easy to look at the folks congregating in-between (or in some cases, during) sessions and cast aspersions that they’re prioritizing socializing over their own learning, consider how isolating the teaching profession can be in general.  Then, place yourself in a small subset of educators who can be defined by the above criteria.  For teachers who work in districts where their passion is not only ignored, but sometimes actively discouraged or prohibited by colleagues and superiors alike, social sessions with like-minded people are a necessity for sharing ideas, blowing off steam, and, as someone I spoke with earlier today said (I forget who, sorry!), “remembering that we’re not crazy”.  In some cases, it can feel like a deep exhalation.

There’s always been talk of the dangers of the “echo chamber” effect in ed-tech circles online.  Yes, it’s a valid concern, but considering how far the pendulum swings in the other direction for most of us in our professional lives, it’s not as if there’s not plenty to bring us ‘back to reality’.  Indulging in some off-the-clock camaraderie, perhaps even at the expense of a structured, scheduled activity, is not only acceptable, but vital to our continued advocacy in the face of continued opposition.  The sessions gave us plenty of food for thought about what we can do differently (or do more of) in our classrooms, buildings, and districts, but the shared food, drink, and laughter outside those sessions nourished our souls.

And I’m definitely going back next year for seconds.

Blogging Too Close to Home

In Wes Fryer’s latest post, he debates what to do about his child’s teacher’s decision to show ten full-length feature films over the course of a semester.  Wes raises questions of copyright and fair use, and I highly recommend you head over his way and leave your thoughts on the matter.

The post in question raises another matter in my mind, though, one that I don’t think was part of Wes’s agenda (well, there is the issue of showing ten full-length films in a semester, but I’d need more information to determine if that’s rant-worthy or not).  What guidelines does one follow with regard to blogging about one’s child’s school?  I’ve blogged about the schools at which I’ve worked and I’ve commented on issues of national relevance, but my kids haven’t yet hit the K-12 stretch of their educations.  It hasn’t been an issue in the two and a half years I’ve been blogging, but Dylan starts kindergarten this coming September.

Should that change things?

Much like Wes, I don’t want to be seen as a troublemaking parent, but at the same time, I’d like to think I reserve some right to use this space to comment on what my kids experience, both good and bad.  So what’s fair game (if anything) when it comes to blogging about your kids’ educational experiences, and what’s off-limits?  What have you decided was just too touchy or hit too close to home to blog about with regards to your child’s school experiences?

Why I Failed

Just after Thanksgiving, I announced my intentions to start the P90X workout program.  From a behavior management/support standpoint, this was probably a good idea.  So was starting my own microblog dedicated to tracking my feelings & progress on the program (see some of the links in that blog post for the reasons why).

So why have I stopped the program just over a third of the way through?

It’s not that journaling was ineffective; in fact, I don’t know if I would have lasted as long were it not for the added guilt incentive my blog gave me to keep going – after all, I couldn’t punk out after having stated my intentions so boldly, could I?  I think I put my finger on the issue in my 27 December post:

Update: I took my “recovery week” as a real rest week – took about 4-6 days off completely. I did more days than I’ve blogged about here, but I’m finding I’m burning out – I’m a fit guy, and have run and lifted for years, but I’m having a real hard time finding 60-90 minutes a day where I can follow the program without other stuff interfering. I’m going to pick it up again today in Week 5 of the program and see where it takes me.

The problem was not with the supports; it was with the ultimate goal.  In the back of my mind, I knew that this was going to be time-consuming, but it wasn’t until I got into it that I realized I was effectively having to choose between exercise and my family (long story, not interesting, just trust me).  I have since switched to a different workout routine that is still challenging, but more compatible with my schedule.

So why whine about my workout on an education blog?  Simple: it was a stark reminder to me to keep goals attainable, behavioral, academic, or otherwise.  In hindsight, even though I was able to keep up physically with the workouts, the specifics of my work and family’s schedules made this an unrealistic undertaking for me.  I kind of knew this in the back of my head, and had a Plan B to go to just in case, but that’s not always the case, especially with our students who are attempting to meet goals that we set for them, either via behavioral expectations, grades, or IEPs.

The same may be true of your students.  If Johnny (why are these hypothetical example students always named Johnny?) picks his nose for 80% of the class period, it may be unrealistic to expect to extinguish that behavior right away.  If, after, say, two weeks of behavior interventions, he’s picking his nose during 40% of the class, that’s not bad at all – you’ve cut the frequency of nasal spelunking in your classroom in half.  Of course, you’ll eventually want to kill that off entirely, but in a case like this, it’s important to a) recognize his progress, and b) understand that behavior is complex, and can take time to change.  The same is true of improving study skills, academic performance, reading fluency… some improvements come quickly, but others take time, and don’t always come as easily as we’d like.

As educators, we often like to set the bar high and challenge our students, and that’s admirable.  We just have to remember that setting the bar too high too soon can sometimes do more harm than good – set up some smaller bars first, for them and for yourself.  The confidence boost they (and you) get from meeting those short-term goals (“Hey, I can do this after all!”) could be just what they need to get them to that ultimate goal.