31 October 2013

My Eleventh Hour Connected Educator Blog Post

For the entire month of October, I have had the privilege of publishing a daily blog post at my place of employment.  Each day I posted a profile of a Kentucky educator who's connected; these profiles were sent to me throughout the month and covered educators from a range of roles and regions.  It was a sheer pleasure to read what my colleagues in the state had to say about how they are connected.  In addition to reading and posting all the Kentucky educator profiles, I spent time following educators across the country and world who also wrote connected educator posts.  I even found humor in those who proclaimed connected educator month silly, nonsensical or annoying.

I also spent each day thinking about how I should write my own post about being a connected educator, and each day I put it off to focus on other things in life, including my current personal project and my commitment to practice a more balanced sense of living.

Now as we approach midnight and the end of the month, I decided it would be worth recording a few of my own personal thoughts about ways I'm connected and how it impacts my practice.

I am connected via multiple social media platforms as well as through other networks, some of which meet face-to-face.  I connect because I like to learn and with all the different people in my professional learning network (PLN) I have people from across the world from which to learn via Twitter, Facebook, Blogger, Google +, Linkedin, the NCTE Connected Community, R-Group Space and various Listservs.   I am learning from educators and non-educators alike; I'm learning from other learners who are equally curious about the world in which we live.

Since I moved an untold number of times as a child, teenager, and young adult, I have always enjoyed connecting with others and maintaining some level of contact with those left behind after a move.  For me, technology has made maintaining these connections more feasible.  I have a friend who teaches in France and another who teaches in China, and these connections help me maintain a global perspective--clearly essential in our increasingly connected world.  In addition to these friends, I have met new colleagues who teach in my very state but whom I never met prior to with connecting via Twitter.  I've met new colleagues from other states and even a few new colleagues who teach in other countries.  Though technology might not be the only way to connect, for me technology has impacted my practice by allowing me to connect with a wider and more diverse group of people who all bring different perspectives to an online conversation.  

One of the grumpy connected educator posts I read this month made a distinction between being a teacher and being an educator. This person said those of us who call ourselves educators are really just tyring to sound more important.  Well, for me, that's not the case (meaning, I'm not trying to sound important).  I call myself an educator because I no longer teach on a day-to-day basis in a high school classroom.  In many ways I'm still a teacher though and will never stop being a teacher. 

This semester I taught a pre-service class at the local university and was so happy to be back in a classroom on a regular basis.  Together, my students and I worked on literacy and being connected and prepared to teach adolescents in a digital world.  A favorite connection for us all this term was when the students commented on the blog of Troy Hicks and he commented back to them. They were thrilled because of his willingness to engage in conversation and to continue the learning across state lines.  

In addition to learning with my students, I continued learning by participating in weekly edchats on Twitter, by reading and commenting on various blog posts and by attending face-to-face trainings and summits.  A highlight of connected educator month, actually, was when I had the opportunity to meet face-to-face several of my fellow Kentucky colleagues who participate in the weekly #KyEdChat sessions.  Connectedness via technology is great, but it's even sweeter when a face-to-face connection occurs as well.

26 October 2013

My Teacher Preparation Program Didn't Teach Me Everything

"Are you sure you want to teach there--you should know they haven't had a teacher in months, only subs, and they've been turning over desks and not doing anything all semester."  Such was the comment uttered to me when I accepted my first high school teaching position.  "Absolutely" was my response.  I felt confident and prepared but also aware that I still had a lot to learn.

Teacher preparation has been on my mind for a few months.  Perhaps because a report this summer indicated many programs "have become an industry of mediocrity, churning out first-year teachers with classroom management skills and content knowledge inadequate to thrive in classrooms with ever-increasing ethnic and socioeconomic student diversity."  Perhaps because I taught a pre-service eight week course at the local university and will teach another course in the spring.  Perhaps because my state was one of seven selected for a new pilot program to transform teacher education.

 The teacher preparation program I completed 15 years ago did prepare me to enter the classroom, but it didn't teach me everything, nor could it have.  The most important thing I learned was the value of reflective and thoughtful practice.  Sure I learned theory (mostly constructivism) and pedagogy, but I also learned that I wouldn't know everything.  By situating myself as a life-long learner and accepting my responsibility to have a student centered classroom, I was well on my way to preparing my students to be thinkers and responsible community members who would be ready for life in the present as well as life beyond high school (the term college and career readiness had not yet been coined, even though the ideas behind CCR have been around for decades).

Pre-service teachers have an obligation, too.  It's not just the university or college that's responsible for their preparation.  You get as much out of a program as you're willing to put in, and if you are willing to be persistent, flexible, reflective, and student centered, you are more likely to possess the dispositions necessary in the teaching profession. 

Now don't get me wrong, possessing the dispositions to be an effective teacher is not all that's needed. In addition to teacher dispositions, I also needed to know how to listen to my students, how to have a classroom wherein my students helped create the classroom rules and helped to determine what we would learn, and how to adjust learning based on the individual needs of my students.

No, it (teaching) was never easy but I didn't expect it to be easy.  I expected, however, to be treated as a professional who was willing to learn and grow.   Sadly, that wasn't so much the case when I was in the high school classroom, and often still isn't the case for many teachers in America. 

What about you--did your teacher preparation prepare you to enter the profession? If you are a classroom teacher or were a classroom teacher--are you treated as a professional?

16 October 2013

Part II: An American Educator's Thoughts on Girl Rising

Today is Blog Action Day, so I thought it would be the perfect day for part 2 of my thoughts on the film, Girl Rising and its campaign to impact girls' education.  If you read part 1, you will remember that I focused on the resources available for an educator to use chapters from the film in a classroom, to better educate youth about global issues.  Part 2 is more personal as I explore the issue of human rights and the goals of the Girl Rising Campaign.

Everyone has the right to education...
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms...
(excerpts from Article 26 from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

"I write songs to remind myself that my memories are real and often because there's so much sadness behind me, what comes out is sad..."  ~Suma

to read my article...check out Cake & Whiskey magazine's fall issue

changing minds + changing lives + changing policies 
= 3 goals of Girl Rising Campaign

Changing Minds

In a telephone interview with Holly Gordon, Executive director/producer, of the Girl Rising campaign, I asked her to differentiate between changing minds and changing lives.  She explained that the first step is to change minds of people across the globe who need to understand the impact educating girls can have on a country’s economic system and development.  Since the Girl Rising film is at the center of the Girl Rising campaign, it’s perfectly situated to change minds through the narrative and stories of the girls seen in the film.

However when running a campaign, stories alone won’t continue to bring in the necessary funds to impact change.  The 10 x10/Girl Rising campaign gauges its impact quarterly with a quantitative look at the donations being provided by the massive audiences the film reaches.  Gordon referenced several partners who help change minds by reaching audiences.  Specifically mentioned was CNN because Gordon believes the film would not have reached as many communities without the national and international viewings from Taiwan to Geneva. “This is important because of the content and message of the film but also CNN is helping amplify the global network (the campaign).”

Not only is the campaign seeing the support of major corporate partners such as Intel (who serves as a strategic partner), it is also seeing support by young people who see the film.   Gordon shared stories of 8th graders in San Francisco creating and playing original theme songs at a recent concert and then donating all of the money earned to the Girl Rising fund for girls’ education.

Gordon and her team like to hear these stories but also understand “events like these happen everywhere—I don’t know about them all and don’t need to know about them all— I’m just glad the events are happening to change minds of young people from an early age so they will know it’s important to be involved in a global world.”  By changing the minds of people about the need to educate girls, lives are also being changed.

Changing Lives

When I asked how they were determining whether the campaign or the film at its center were really changing lives, Gordon began by mentioning that they measure success in part by the return of funds to nonprofit partners.  She talked about “making people aware—getting them to do more.”  But then she naturally moved into more stories of compassion and ingenuity—the very kind of stories that move us in the film.

Gordon told me about a couple, Kevin and Clare Cohen, who founded Pink Bike, a nonprofit that provides girls with bicycles to get to school.  The couple founded the nonprofit organization prior to the completion of the film because they were following the film’s creation virtually—another example of the power of social media and networking to connect people globally. 

She also shared the story of Anastasia, an artist and toymaker who now helps children design wearable wings “to rise.”  Inspired by a New York screening of Girl Rising, this artist empowers youth, especially girls, to use their imaginations and to enjoy creative play.  Gordon said the artist donates proceeds of the toy wings to the Girl Rising campaign.

Changing Policies

The Girl Rising campaign recognizes the importance of getting the film in front of leaders who have power to make change, and one such opportunity arrived in April 2013 at a World Bank event.  Partners from around the world gathered to speak to Ministers of Finance and Education.  When Dr. Jim Kim, President of the World Bank, spoke, he talked about economic development and the need to ensure that every child, regardless of gender, has an opportunity to go to school and to learn.  He referenced recent progress toward the goal of equality but made it clear that Girl Rising “serves as a powerful reminder that far too many children, especially girls, are still unable to go to school.  Too many girls are prevented from making their own choices.  Too many girls are denied the chance to determine their own futures. This must change” (from the World Bank event transcript).

Holly Gordon referenced two other marks toward changing policy—
1) Intel Corporation is hosting policy workshops to impact technology in education and they are also creating gender sensitivity workshops.  2) In India, senior ministers and government officials are working on a gender sensitive framework that will impact hundreds.

According to Gordon,  “We can only make global change if we connect people,” and that’s exactly what the Girl Rising campaign is doing—connecting the dots.   Girl Rising is calling us together to break down the barriers girls across the world face to getting an education.  Are you ready to connect?


11 October 2013

Part I: An American Educator's Thoughts on Girl Rising

This post is the first of three in which I share my thoughts and reflections related to the film, Girl Rising, and the ongoing campaign to educate girls and change the world.

My quest to explore girls' education in developing countries began several months ago when the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Cake & Whiskey sent me the trailer for the film Girl Rising and asked if I would consider writing an article for the do-gooding column of her magazine's fall issue.  Well, one look at the trailer, and who could resist?

In honor of International Day of the Girl, I used a chapter from the film, Girl Rising, with my students who are pre-service teachers.  In this university class we are always discussing standards and how to teach them.  Not only do we discuss how to teach the standards, we practice teaching the standards.  I model lessons, and the students also create their own lessons which they teach to their classmates.  While I think it's important  these pre-service teachers leave the class with a thorough understanding of standards based instruction and curriculum design, I also think it's important for them to leave inspired and motivated to engage learners in the world.

Suma inspires us.  Wearing a bright orange and yellow sari and a serious look on her face, Suma rides her bicycle along tree lined roads as she takes us on a journey to the various homes where she lived and worked as a bonded servant or Kamlari for much of her young life.  At six years of age, her parents sold her into bonded servitude to ensure she would always have shelter and food.  She lived with different masters and was treated unfairly and even beaten, until a school teacher entered her life at age 11.

Before watching the film chapter, Suma from Nepal, we analyze the vendor-created lesson plans and film viewing guide available on the Girl Rising website. Of course, the vendor says the materials are Common Core aligned, but what we learn is that the materials are loosely correlated to the standards, but they are not aligned to the standards.  In fact all the questions focus on how students feel about what they watch.

For example, consider this question:  How do you feel about Suma’s situation when she was a young girl? Would you define serving as a kamlari to be slavery? do you feel her parents had a choice about whether to sell her as a kamlari? Why or why not?

Now, I certainly believe film and literature can and, perhaps, even should have an impact on how we feel, respond, and take action in our lives, I also believe as educators we are charged with ensuring students have mastered the requisite skills needed to be successful in life (i.e., how to read and cite evidence from text and how to craft logical arguments).  In fact, in the film Girl Rising the girls' stories articulate the importance of learning to read and write to better their lives.

We set the purpose for viewing the film chapter, just as one would in a classroom full of adolescents.  Our purpose is to watch for the impact education had on Suma's life.  Following our viewing of the film chapter, we write for two minutes about our feelings after seeing the intense twelve minute clip.  After expressing our feelings through writing, we respond to our purpose setting question--What impact did education have on Suma's life?  Cite evidence from the text to support your point.

As a class we discuss how to modify the vendor-created viewing guide to make sure it really would be aligned to the standards, but we proceed with caution.  We want to maintain the humanity of the situation and the important issues and at the same time ensure comprehension of the text.

A sample of our class revisions:

Instead of--How do you feel about the social worker's determination?  

Let's use this--How did the social worker's determination impact Suma's life and the life of the girls around Suma?

I was really proud of the students for the modifications they made to the viewing guide. They left the class with smiles on their faces and determination in their steps because they know they will have an impact on adolescents in their classrooms both in America and abroad.  Many of them also recorded the date for our Lexington, KY Girl Rising Screening in their phones because they intend to attend and look for ways they will take action as well.

If you live in the area, please consider joining us on November 6th for the viewing at The Kentucky Theatre.

Part 2 of my thoughts & reflections on Girl Rising will post on October 16th, Blog Action Day.  Part 3 will post after our viewing on November 6th.