Sunday, January 25, 2015

Teachers as Life Long Learners

Many schools promote a goal for its students to be a "life long learner." Many teachers often promote this "life long learner" concept with their students as well. I have even heard many teachers proudly consider themselves to be "life long learners" as part of their attempt to inspire their students to consider this ideal. 

I want to challenge our thinking on what it means to be a "life long learner" as a teacher. If you teach history, does being a "life long learner" mean you are constantly looking to improve your knowledge of history? Are you always looking for new articles, artifacts and documentaries to study? If you are a teacher of the Bible, does being a "life long learner" mean you spend time each day studying the Bible and its commentaries? I would argue that in these scenarios, the described people are "life long learners" of a subject, but they are not "life long learners" of their profession. Being a "life long learner" as a teacher means that you spend your life trying to improve your teaching craft; skills, pedagogy, classroom management, presentation, etc. It means you are constantly looking at the latest educational developments and research to learn best teaching practices. Technology is just one area that a teacher needs to consider as part of their teaching repertoire. But it is a crucial one as it has the ability to engage students in ways not available before and it has ways to allow students to take control of their learning in ways not available before. To borrow the line from Dr. Heidi Jacobs from, would you want to be treated by a physician whose practice and office is using the same technology it used in 1970? I think not. Similarly, even the most successful teachers need to consider how new ways of thinking and new technologies can improve their teaching.

Current research suggests that the best professional learning should be: ongoing, personal, collaborative, teacher directed and teacher taught, observing colleagues and not be the old way of a few long full days of big name speakers that has no follow through into the classroom. I think this video suggests a refreshing way of looking at our professional learning; the new term used is a being a "Connected Educator." Are you connecting with other teachers to improve your skill and to consider new ideas?

I just returned from the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC) and aside from the tools and new teaching methodologies I learned about, the overall thirst for improving the teaching trade was what impressed me the most. There were thousands of teachers there, people who recognize that Educational Technology and STEM education are the ways of the future and need to be incorporated into our schools if we want to prepare our students for their future professions. But the key point that kept on coming up was that the focus always must remain on education and learning. The technology is just the tool to help enhance the learning. The STEM programs are important not because every child will become an engineer, but because it promotes critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving and other 21st century skills that EVERY child will need when he reaches the workforce.

I would challenge everyone who is reading this post to consider new ways to grow in your trade. It can be attending a quality conference, spending time with a colleague, learning with the principal, assistant principal or edtech integrator in your school, reading a book, taking online webinars or watching Youtube videos.  Do whatever works for you, but do it and do it constantly. Make a plan and make it part of your professional life.

There is one professional learning tool that I think every educator should consider: TWITTER. I am not a social media advocate for social reasons, but I am a social media advocate for professional learning. Twitter is a social media micro blogging platform that allows educators to share thoughts, links and resources with people who follow them. Educators have literally taken over the Twitter scene with hundreds of thousands of educators utilizing Twitter every day. There are weekly Twitter chats in every discipline and on various pedagogical topics. Many teachers even use Twitter in their classroom, but that is a subject for another blog posting. Here is a Google Presentation from a session I have given on Twitter and Building Your Personal Learning Network. It explains how Twitter works and how one can get started.

Twitter is an easy way to connect with educators throughout the world and it can be done from your ccomputer, tablet or smart phone. A lot can be accomplished in just a few minutes. Sign up for a free account,  find a few educators to follow and spend a few minutes a week reading. I guarantee that teachers of all disciplines have a lot to gain from this experience and will find resources, project ideas and content that can be incorporated into their class. 

If you want to be a connected educator, give it a try. Join Twitter and learn from the field. You have so much to gain, nothing to lose and will surely come away enriched.