Roadblocks

12 Oct

 

CC:Flicker

 

I had an experience on Friday that has crushed my spirit a little bit.  I have waited until today to blog about it because I wanted to digest it for a while before I begin to rant about it.  I also spent time reading other classmate’s blogs before I began to write and I noticed that I now approach them with a little cynicism and disappointment.  I hope that like other bad news that I receive, I am able to work past it soon, otherwise I might as well just give up now and stop working so hard to make things different. In fact, if things remain this way, I might as well give up teaching because I don’t want to work in schools if I can not help change the face of education because, well, it’s kind of my thing.  I love to push the envelope.  That is why I am in this class. Aren’t we all?

Friday was our PD day.  Our board office is strongly encouraging teachers to use the Blog and websites that we have been provided. As most of our teachers do not know where to begin with this our principal arranged for one of our consultants, a tech expert, to come and help them get started.  Later in the session he began talking to us about the importance of using only board supported tools and web 2.0 tools that allow for only account administer tracking.  He suggested using only Classblogmeister, iGo (that is set up by the board office) and our classroom websites.  Everything else, and he meant everything, should be used with caution and with written parent consent.  This means no Wikispaces, Prezi, Amimoto and the list goes on and on. He also said, under no circumstances should we ever use any kind of social networking with our students especially Facebook and Twitter.  As he was talking, I felt my heart sink and my face turn red.  My colleagues all turned to look at me as I had told a lot of them about my project for this class. The whole thing centers around the most effective, useful and authentic communication tool between parents and students and teachers and my hypothesis is that Facebook will prove to be the victor.  And here I was listening to a consultant from my board tell me that I could get in big trouble for what I had already sent the permission slips home for.  My spirit was crushed.

What was most troubling about this was that the man who was telling me to be very cautious with exploring most forms of  technology with my students is one of the people who first encouraged and inspired me to do so.  If he, who supports educational technology and believes that “connectivism will save education” (direct quote from him on Friday. P.S. I was super excited that I knew what he was talking about while the rest of the teachers were blank) is telling me that our schools are not ready yet and I have no board office support, what hope do I have?  What is the point of being excited and inspired from this class when I may have to wait 10 years for the decision makers downtown to catch up to the technological possibilities of education?

As he was packing up to leave, I approached him and told him what I was doing for this class and that I was afraid to do it now, I mean, the assistant director’s daughter is in my class!  Am I going to get fired for posting homework and permission slip reminders on a school only Facebook account?  He told me that he was on my side and personally supports the use of Social Networking and Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, in fact all of his Graduate work centered around Connectivism and PLNs, but that it was his job to warn me that our school board is just not there yet and that I should proceed with caution because if something were to happen during these communications, I would have no support from the school board.  He could certainly tell that I was discouraged and frustrated.  Later, that night I received an email from him encouraging me to keep going and telling me that my students were privileged to have me.  That helped a lot but I still have been left with a bad taste in my mouth.

After reading Angela’s blog today I see that my school board is not the only one uncomfortable with the openness of the technology available to our students as she wrote:

“I am not ready to give free reign to the students I teach, especially when the media is used within the school or as part of a school assignment.  When my students blog at school, I want to have control over the blogs themselves as well as the comments that can be posted on the blogs.  Legally, I am not sure of the ramifications if something bad was to happen (and I know that likely, nothing would, but there is a chance).  I am just not ready to give up that total control.”

I agree that her concerns are valid but what about those of us that are ready to relinquish control?  We are in graduate studies because we want to learn new things are we not? I want to be able to take my new knowledge to my students and share and experience it right away.  I am told that I have a reputation for being an innovative and non conventional teacher and I am damn proud of that.  How do I continue to innovate when my support system is scared to move forward?  And the reason for their fear is only that they do not understand. Can there be some kind of connection between the innovation that is taught at the university and what our school board personnel can expect to see from their teachers that are continuing their education? What about the new teachers finishing their undergraduate degrees expecting to be able to use what they learned about in school?  Is it fair to crush their enthusiasm before they even have a chance to begin?

I think that my most important question from all of this is, how long do we have to wait for theory and practice to catch up? This is an especially important question given the nature of ever-changing technology.  Chances are that if five, ten years from now directors start encouraging PLN and networking with teachers outside of school, there will be something new and terrifying for them to discourage and I will be right back in the same position;  frustrated and disheartened. I don’t know what the answers to my questions are but I would sure appreciate some insight.

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24 Responses to “Roadblocks”

  1. byrnesa October 12, 2010 at 3:06 am #

    Hi,

    I think many of my hesitations are directly related to my school board and division. The big push in our division is privacy and the legalities behind it. It has many teachers, and probably myself included, worried and a bit scared.

    I think that it is tremendous that you are ready to take on a project like this and I think you have a good plan in place. I encourage you to talk to your consultant and administration. Put together a proposal for your board and see where that gets you. I imagine that the research required for that, and the reflections you would have along the way would qualify as a final project even if in the end, the board still says no.

    In Clay Shirkey’s TED talk called How Social Media Can Make History (link found on my blog) he says, “tools we are using do not get socially interesting until they get technically boring” Unfortunatly it seems the same rings true for our school divisions… tools that are useful in the classroom are not ready for use until they have become boring for teachers and students. Let’s change that!!! I think by taking this class we are ready to prove that wrong. Gather up your enthusiasm and make a proposal that they have no choice but to say yes to!

    Good luck!

  2. daniellestinson October 12, 2010 at 3:14 am #

    Thanks! I already have admin permission and will have parent permission tomorrow. What I am doing does not seem to be that big of a deal to me, I just want to know what form of communication works best for my student’s lives. This information will be used to inform my choices later and what I encourage other teachers to use. I guess I will just have to see what happens and keep my findings in my back pocket for use when the world of education is ready for it. Until then, I guess I will risk getting into trouble to find out.

  3. Debbie S. October 12, 2010 at 3:18 am #

    He’s a consultant – he’s paid to scare you. The kids can’t wait for the board – or the old school teachers – to catch up. Some of what we as a society are doing in education is 200 year old pedagogy, and you see how THAT’S working out for us!

    So do what you feel, what you KNOW, in your heart is best FOR THE KIDS. Cover your backside as best you can, but don’t be scared into backing down. We as a society NEED the enthusiasm and motivation you bring to the table. As a parent who is quite frustrated with the (lack of) options, I guarantee that your foresight and energy is needed more than you can imagine.

  4. Lulu Kaliher October 12, 2010 at 3:44 am #

    You have a tough situation. It’s really hard to be innovative in an environment that is so restricted (one of the many reasons why I don’t work in K-12). Try to find the balance between your professional responsibilities and your personal passions. Good luck!

  5. Ed Webb October 12, 2010 at 4:23 am #

    I’m doing some research on similar questions – about digital literacies, social networking tools etc – at the college level, and went through several rounds of proposals to our Institutional Research Board to satisfy them, among other things, that adequate protections are in place for student privacy. If you have clearance from your administration and parents, then surely that is equivalent to IRB in my case – all those directly concerned seem to be backing you. But I recognize that the K-12 environment is quite different, and applaud your willingness to explore these issues there where it could really make a very significant difference.

  6. Arielion October 12, 2010 at 4:28 am #

    If your post had ended with your conversation in the meeting I could see your frustration, but frankly, that email was the best anyone could give you as a “green light” to go forward. Your post seems a little whiney after that. You are among pioneers. Change hurts. It is scary. Job-loss scary & threatening. It is unkown scary. But it is necessary. You know you are doing the right thing. Document everything. Address the issues raised. Protect the kids. Educate the wary. And move on. You were given tacit permission for the project in that email. Use it. Don’t let fear & one setback stop you. There will be many more. Injovation hurts. But that is part of the life of the growth of education.

    • daniellestinson October 12, 2010 at 3:36 pm #

      I didn’t mean to sound whiny, more frustrated. This is not the only time that great big walls have been put up in front of me just as I am about to take a step forward. I needed to vent and this seems like a good place to do so.

  7. Alan Stange October 12, 2010 at 4:43 am #

    What you are doing should not be considered that big of a deal. I could be at risk myself but I seem to have a supportive administration. My six-seven students blog and post media on a Grou.ps site. They have division provided email accounts. We are building wikispaces as I have done for three years now. I wish you the best. You are on the right path and your students deserve to be on that path. Keep working directly with parents. They will be your strength.

  8. steptul October 12, 2010 at 4:59 am #

    I think here is very good example of development in progress, some people (you) try to introduce new ideas, other people (division) try to put it on hold until they will have no choice but spend time and brainpower to understand it. Supervisors are usually experienced people used to old good ways.
    Thanks to you we have got one little step closer to better education.
    Thanks

  9. Yr Athro October 12, 2010 at 5:44 am #

    Hi Danielle
    I understand your frustration, and disappointment in having taken that first bold step. Education managers are (in the main) deeply conservative and very risk averse. They also seek to protect you and them from perceived risk, although in reality that risk is slim.
    Read Peter Senge’s work on learning organisations http://www.infed.org/thinkers/senge.htm and Kurt Lewin’s work on force field analysis http://www.accel-team.com/techniques/force_field_analysis.html and formulate a strategy for change and bringing in your new ideas.
    I once heard a brilliant speech “not merely dream, but dream extravagantly. Seek a vision of excellence to which we can all aspire”. Pioneering is not easy, but vital if we want things to change. Keep at it!

  10. Jennifer Schlick October 12, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    I am an eternal optimist. I always assume people are basically good at heart and will do the right thing. So when there are stories in the news, about abuses of technology, I am generally pretty shocked. (I cannot imagine posting a photo or video of someone that would hurt them so badly that the end result would be suicide… yet it has happened more than once.) That said, I will continue to plow on using the various technologies in ways that support my family and friends and hope that my example is replicated… (Did you watch the video about the Internet being “Random Acts of Kindness”? I liked that one.)

    With regard to Facebook… two things popped into my mind: We had a college intern a couple of years ago. Our local labor board was doing a semester long program where they were placed in local businesses, but they also came together once a week for workshops, etc. To stay in touch with these kids, the director opted for FaceBook. Our intern had a little crisis of identity. He didn’t want to join the Group because he didn’t want his employer to see his personal side….

    Similarly, I talked this weekend with my daughter – now a college senior – about this class and things I’m learning and teachers using FaceBook. She went on quite the rant about how teachers should not use FaceBook. For her, Facebook is what she does for recreation. It’s where she shares (sometimes not totally appropriate) pictures with friends and connects to make plans. She doesn’t want to be “friends” with her teachers so that they can see her personal side… same as my intern.

    Innovators always have the tough row to hoe. We have to work out all the kinks and help people overcome all the fears…

    Hang in there, Danielle!

    http://jsseci831.wordpress.com

  11. Aiden Yeh October 12, 2010 at 10:32 am #

    Hi Danielle,

    You asked, “how long do we have to wait for theory and practice to catch up?”, you know in some countries they already have 😉 The problem is basically top-down, from administration to teachers. If you follow Desimone, et al’s framework for effective teacher professional development and institutional change, the argue that it begins with the institution/adminsitration to make the change; they need to design/implement school regulations for change to happen. I want you to look at Shelley’s blog, and see the projects that he’s done. perhaps you could contact him and ask him how he did it i.e. permission and all that stuff.

    Aiden

    http://teachpaperless.blogspot.com/

  12. Bill Ferriter October 12, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    Geez, Danielle—as a guy who has spent the better part of the last decade working to integrate technology into my classroom to support learning, I wish I had some kind of happy ending to share with you here.

    But I don’t.

    The cold, hard facts are that the majority of school boards are in the exact same place as yours: Ready to talk all about the importance of integrating technology into student learning practices and then ready to ban any tool that has the potential to ‘break bad.’

    The only solution I’ve found is to continue to educate those who have more organizational authority than I do. When I work to share examples of how specific tools and practices are being used to drive positive change in other places, I find that awareness builds and guards drop.

    But those efforts are exhausting. I’m constantly writing. Constantly bookmarking links. Constantly answering questions. Constantly emailing people who ‘need to know.’

    On top of teaching.

    And being a dad.

    Sometimes I wonder whether it’s even worth it—and sometimes I give up, going into what a friend of mine calls ‘voluntary cybernation’ and doing nothing with technology.

    If we want to speed up the process of adoption, though—the 10 year gap between theory and practice that you speak of—-we can’t sit on the sidelines for long.

    It ain’t right for kids.

    Enjoyed your post this morning…

    Bill Ferriter
    @plugusin

  13. Lani October 12, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    I well remember those kinds of challenges and frustrations, and that was some years ago. And always, always when I thought I had a dent in my head from ramming it against a brick wall, there was something calling me– something that said, I know this is good for learning.

    I’m wondering, is there value in these questions —
    Is the road closed or are there some big potholes that are challenging?
    If we are to make a difference in children’s lives and their learning, if that is our passion, do we remain true to ourselves?

    The work you do is so important– despite the potholes you may have encountered, I would encourage you to move forward– for your children.

    My very best wishes,
    Lani

  14. Rod Murray October 13, 2010 at 3:08 am #

    Just reading your post after Zoe B-P’s session tonight and my question to her about obstacles, which quickly led to the limits placed on us by the power tat be. Pretty damn frustrating and sucks the energy out of you, doesn’t it. I’ve got a year until retirement and I pan to do a lot of things that will challenge policies and rules with the hope that that 10 year gap will close ever so slightly.
    Thank to Zoe- I’ll apply for an Ontario grant to showcase what we are doing, and maybe, just maybe, they will see that it’s OK to warn people of the possible ramifications, and even more OK to support people’s vision of what can be done to engage learners and improve student learning.
    Hang in there!

  15. olabakri October 14, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    Yes, I totally agree with you on your frustration. I sometimes want to break all rules which hamper our attempts to try things out and see them. I know that there should be some rules to protect those attempts and ensure the validity of our trials, but at the same time they are sometimes so vain. School principals keep encouraging teachers to use technology in their class and to “innovate”, but when it comes to “making use of their words” they retract all that they said because they are scared of parents and this might turn out to be wrong. So, we are inside the same circle of “vain words”. I am just begging all those people to stay away from our dreams and aspirations to do something for our students because we end up disappointed and frustrated.

    • Rod Murray October 15, 2010 at 2:25 am #

      I was amazed that my whole class of Gr 6s had their Google Apps parental permission forms back in 2 days and there are only a few left to come in for the whole school! Parents support the changes we are making way ahead of what is policy at the District level.
      So who, really, are the Principals afraid of?

  16. Bethany October 14, 2010 at 5:23 pm #

    I just wanted to say “hang in there!” Thirteen years ago, I began working with K12 teachers to help them integrate technology into their teaching practices. For years it seemed as if everything was a struggle and a roadblock: blocked technologies, technical mis-information, lack of understanding of how to effectively use technology for teaching/learning, etc. As a teacher, I’m sure you know the story.

    I’m not going to say that, after 13 years, all is perfect. We still encounter the same struggles and same roadblocks. The names of the tech have changed and the overall technology skill level of educators, students, and families has increased but we still have the same challenges – challenges I fondly lump into several categories, two of which include: those due to well-intentioned attempts to ‘protect’ our children and those due to well-intentioned but under-supported tech admin types who struggle daily to do much with little…

    I don’t know if it helps you, but when I begin to frame my thoughts in the context of ‘we’re all doing the best we can with what we know and can do” then the challenges become just one more opportunity to teach. Not that it is less painful – but, when I think about it as one more teaching opportunity, then I don’t feel so helpless and the challenges don’t seem so hugely, frustratingly insurmountable.

    To turn the above into practice, we began creating and sharing teaching materials that were specifically aimed at educating tech admins and principals. We did workshops (often via volunteers in different schools) to present other options for ensuring safety of the kids while utilizing the tech we wanted to use and we did workshops to help tech admins better, more efficiently manage all the technology so they wouldn’t be so overwhelmed and resort to going for the easy fix (locking things down is, in my mind, an easy fix but not the best fix in the long run). Little by little, we used the materials to address what we say as learning issues. In the process, we built stronger communities in our schools – grass roots style – that would be invaluable as we continued to try to change with the times.

    I suspect that you and the others in Alec’s course are technology mavericks: leaders in your schools and at the forefront of trying new things with technology and teaching. I think that is absolutely fabulous because it means you are in the best position to teach and to guide the policies and practices in your schools. Of course, it’ll take time. But, all great teaching/learning does, right?

  17. Theresa (@tamurray) October 14, 2010 at 10:27 pm #

    I so share your pain. Twitter has opened my eyes to so many awesome tools and ideas. I can plan things out and have great intentions but when I get to school, the sites are blocked. Our district shares ONE filter for grades K – 12. Yup, if a kindergarten students can’t see it neither should a high school senior. Until late last spring, teachers had the exact same filter limits as the students. Now, teachers can access You Tube and some email sites. Google images is still a problem.

    The district created a Facebook page but most staff and no students can see it during the school day. Our superintendent created a Twitter account and shared with staff that we should try it as he was going to use it as a communication tool for the community. I promptly shared with him that it was BLOCKED for us. He indicated that he was getting it opened up.

    Most Web 2.0 tools were blocked at school. I have lobbied to get glogster and animoto opened and we are sharing with others some of the benefits.

    I tread lightly and continue to request that we open more up. If teachers could show students the positive ways to uses sites, we might be able to have a positive influence on their digital footprints. Change is hard and trailblazers often face many roadblocks. Good luck as you move forward…

    • Rod Murray October 15, 2010 at 2:31 am #

      Your mentions of blocked sites is a mirror of what we deal with in our school district. Pretty frustrating really. Just the other day the IT dept decided to close access to the MS Exchange server making email/calendar via iPhone impossible. In other words, leadership blocked the means to deliver leadership. They recognized, for the first time in 18 months, that there was a security risk. Instead of fixing it- block it. Apparently the IT people have never been in a classroom and don’t get it.
      But we CAN work towards open, fair and transparent policies that support out students. We just need to build bridges, as you mentioned, with principals and leaders who hold sway. For the sake of our students!

  18. shelleywright October 14, 2010 at 11:20 pm #

    I think, in teaching, sometimes, it’s easy to become intimidated and fearful, even when we know that what we’re doing is the right thing for our students. Keep pressing on. Your students need you to teach them these skills because, it’s possible, that nobody else will.

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