The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write,
but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Alvin Toffler

Thursday, October 21, 2010


In my last post, I discussed the need for flexibility as we adjust to rapid change. In this submission, I will utilize a post by Scott McLeod on his blog at entitled “Should We Let Educators Off the Hook?” McLeod poses the question, “Given the realities of our modern age and the demands of our children’s future, is it really okay to allow teachers to choose whether or not they incorporate digital technologies into their instruction?” McLeod’s answer is an emphatic “NO, WE CAN’T LET EDUCATORS OFF THE HOOK.” He goes on to say that educators have a paid responsibility to be relevant, to prepare students for tomorrow, for the world as it is and will be.

No Excuse Is a Good Excuse. I agree with McLeod that no excuse flies in this situation. Whether it is fear or intransigence, no reason is good enough not to engage in “the largest transformation in learning that ever has occurred in human history.” Difficult? Some are unable? McLeod responds that technology and web 2.0 tools have become easier, many times easier, than the old days of MS DOS code and an internet that was largely text.

It’s Not About Us. In the end, Scott makes a most important point. It’s not about us. It’s not about what I want to do, what I prefer not to do, how I want to conduct my classroom regardless. It’s not about me and my world; it’s about the students and their world. The covers are off the text books, the walls of our classrooms have been blown away. There is no choice but to adapt. Educators can no longer go inside and close the classroom door on the greater world. We cannot bury our students within the confining boundaries of a text book or pretend that being provincial is ok in today’s world.

What If I Don’t? So what about that person who can’t/won’t change? McLeod asserts that life-long learners must take responsibility for keeping pace with change rather than blaming others for their inactivity or denying what is taking place around them. Scott asks, “If you’re a teacher/administrator/librarian/education professor that somehow doesn’t even realize (yet) that there’s a decision to be made, should you even be working in a school or university? Don’t our children deserve someone who is in a different place than you are? It’s one thing to be a learner (with this technology stuff) . . . . It’s another to opt out or not even recognize the choice. If we look at what our kids need, shouldn’t we replace you with someone else?”

Looking With “New” Eyes. Let me offer yet another way of looking at the situation. Remember when you were a new teacher, faced with a first year of new course preparations and having little idea about what it took to be an effective teacher? Did you not respond to that challenge with extra resolve, increased energy and a great investment of time in order to be the best that you could be? I recall being faced with the task of teaching Appleworks with no home computer and little computer experience. I was at the school for hours that summer readying myself for this new teaching responsibility, and I’m sure most educators can relate a similar story.

In a sense, we are all new teachers again, uncertain where to begin and how to proceed. But begin we must, and proceed we will. Extra demands may fall upon us relative to time and energy as we bring ourselves up to speed in accordance with the technology requirements of our curriculum. We must respond to this challenge as professionals responsible for our own preparation and professional development, whether by doing those little things each day to enhance our abilities or seeking out opportunities for more intense training.

Mandates Leave No Choice. The MNW Board will soon consider the approval of a 21st Century District Philosophy. It will include the use of appropriate technologies in the classroom; incorporating the 4 C’s of 21st Century Skills, as well as utilizing technology to make global connections for our students. Additionally the Iowa Core’s Information Literacy Curriculum is specific in its benchmarks for student use of technology at every grade level. These District and State requirements make it clear that one cannot distance oneself from the infusion of technology and 21st Century Skills into our classrooms. From this perspective there is no choice in the matter, no question about “getting off the hook.” Progress will surely take place at different rates from one educator to another; however, progress must be evident in every case. Our students deserve nothing less.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Flexibility in Times of Change

Last week’s post referred readers to the blog of Scott Jantzen and his suggestion that we become increasingly creative in our attempts to interest and engage our students in what we are trying to have them learn. This week, I again turn to another educator, this time Sarah Edson from a school in Connecticut who writes about the power of flexibility in this time of rapid change.

Sarah first remarks as to the awesome power of digital communications. “With more of these lightning-fast connections at our doorstep, we find ourselves within reach of some of the most powerful learning resources that have ever existed on Earth. Simulations, animations, readings, publishing platforms, images, audio, video, discussion fora, and networks of experts and passionate learners abound. The quantity of choices intimidates many. However, the beauty of having so many choices, the beauty of digital media itself is its inherent flexibility and potential to serve all learners.”

Notice her mention that, along with the ability to serve, this myriad of options has the ability to intimidate, and I will add, frustrate the prospective user. How do we choose, how do we know, where do we turn? As Ms. Edson asks, “What more can we do to ensure that schools' technology infrastructure and resources are not disproportionately more flexible and therefore powerful than their people?” Indeed, how do we avoid having this powerful learning resource remain untapped because the people, that’s us, are unable and unwilling to utilize it?

The answer lies in the power of flexibility, the willingness to stretch, to bend, to reach beyond where tradition and precedence finds us. As athletes and dancers stretch to improve their performance, so we as educators can increase our flexibility and thus our abilities within the digital landscape. So how do I stretch? In the words of Ms. Edson, “My stretching is my ongoing professional development. I do a little each day on Twitter, Google, and Skype. Whenever I can, I seek out chances for more extensive, intensive PD. At each turn, my ideas multiply, my reach expands, and my willingness to lean into the momentum of these changing times fortifies my capacity to lead students in powerful learning and growth.”

The key word is “willingness,” knowing that the world has changed and is ever changing and that I must change with it, agreeing to try, willing to do that little bit each day, seeking opportunities for growth that will ultimately make all the difference for me and my students.

So, on the margin of a flooded river, trees bending to the torrent remain unbroken, while those that strain against it are snapped off. Haemon in Sophocles’ Antigone

(for posts by Sarah Edson go to

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Making Students Care

My last post centered on the 4 C's of 21st Century Skills--Communication, Critical thinking and problem solving, Creativity, and Collaboration. These elements, infused into our classrooms, will change our classrooms. If students are allowed to work together on meaningful, challenging work that utilizes their creative and cognitive abilities, the traditional model of sit-and-get is gone. Recently I came upon the blog of Scott Jantzen, a school administrator in Winkler, Canada. He writes as follows:

"My desire is for students to have opportunities to learn in an atmosphere centered around positive and caring relationships and engaging in meaningful learning activities that are based on the program of studies. I believe that our biggest challenge as educators of the current generation is to cause students to care about their learning and engage in the learning process. I believe that we as educators need to become increasingly creative in our efforts. I believe that ubiquitous technology can play a critical role in accomplishing this task."

Making our students "care about their learning and engage in the learning process." How do we accomplish this task? He suggests that we do this by becoming increasingly creative in our efforts with the help of ubiquitous technology. In other words, the technology integrates seamlessly into these new, creative tasks. The technology is not the goal; it is merely the tool that empowers and enables student effort. As teachers, we must be willing to be creative, to change the tasks, the environment in which our students work. Without this, our students will not be interested, they will not care and they will not engage. It is up to us as teachers to change according to the needs of our students; not for our students to conform to our static approach to teaching/learning.