Flavour-of-the-month: Get your red-hot PD here…but not for long!

I’ve been looking through my archives as a result of redesigning my blog over the weekend and saw a few posts about different flavours-of-the-month from years past. What I wrote in one post about PLCs (remember them?) from 2007 still resonates in me today but as I was link-checking to make sure the links still worked I was confronted with the fact that most of them did not.*

And I realized just how very real this phenomenon of flavour-of-the-month PD actually is.

They are all the rage – one year it is PLC, the next differentiation (or did that one come first?), then it’s integrating technology, then it’s 1:1 laptop, then project-based learning, then layered curriculum, then tablets, then learning styles (I hope we’re past that one for good), then..then…then…

People talk about it to death, rail on those who aren’t talking about it to death, then slowly move on to the next red-hot PD delicacy….and pretty soon the links get broken and teachers are expected to pick up the pieces, shake themselves off, and move on to the next flavour-of-the-month.

Is this what PD is all about? Am I misguided in hoping for and working towards professional development that is as meaningful to teachers as we want our classrooms and learning situations to be for our students?

Let me remain misguided.

*(I’ve updated the links where I could. Here is the article that inspired this little tirade of mine –> Professional Learning Communities, from February 2007).

What matters is caring every moment we have.

The title of this post is shamelessly stolen from Michael Doyle. Go find it in the post I stole it from. Michael always puts things in perspective. Especially at this time of year but not only, it is in our gentle acts of caring that the brilliance of our teaching shines through.

1, 2, 5, 50 years from now that is what will remain permanent for the students we are so privileged to work with.

And now I am going to spoon out some of that meat that has been slow cooking all day, cover it in a spicy pineapple salad, and serve it with some sweet potato – Jack loves sweet potato.

Addressing the ICT elephant in the room

In a recent conversation on LinkedIn, a commenter wrote:

Teachers do not fear being ‘replaced’ by computers. That is a 1980 ‘s idea that has never gone away.

I’d like to look at that fear. Is that really just an old wives tale?

To a certain extent I believe that there are teachers who do fear being replaced by computers. But it is so much more than just one thing. They don’t necessarily think that a computer will be sitting at their desk in the front of their classrooms but there is a certain trepidation about what technology does do that will replace what they have been doing for so long.

We say let the computers compute and leave exploring/creating/collaborating/etc.. in the hands of the learners and teachers.

What if what you have been teaching for so long has been, basically, computing. In a very real sense in mathematics but also in other subjects. When you teach a student how to do something by giving them every single step of it along the way, this is a form of computation. Introduction + body + conclusion = essay.

When we tell teachers to let technology take care of certain elements of what they do…well…what happens if much of what they do are those elements?

So yes, there is a fear that what they do and in turn they, can and will be replaced by technology. We can not dismiss that.

Dismissing emotion is dangerous. It makes it go underground and comes out in a variety of other ways, usually in passive aggressive ways –> scoffing at all things technology, refusing to reply to email messages, that kind of thing.

So let’s look at this fear and deal with it. We can deal with it by acknowledging it and addressing the fear in a way that doesn’t dismiss it but gently leads teachers to the courage that is necessary to try something different.

(Very important point coming up)

Because teachers will not be replaced, their roles are becoming different. Very different. Struggling through that change on our own is hard. It’s still hard with guidance but less so, I’d say.

Please, don’t dismiss fear.

Imagine if we asked our students…

What do you think they would say if we asked them what their best teachers did (or do) to help them learn?

(Inspired by Steven W. Anderson.)

Unwrapping the cellophane

In yesterday’s post about oral assessment, I commented that “…the very act of talking with our students helps us to see them. To really see them as people, as learners, as individuals in our classrooms.

On Friday, Marc Prensky talked about the notion of ‘cellophane kids‘, a term used to describe how teachers look through students to their subject matter, end of year exams, etc.. instead of seeing students for who they are – people with passion and hope for the future.

It reminded me of a post I wrote in August of 2008 called What’s my lesson? (look right through me.) It was inspired by this lyric:

hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson? look right through me, look right through me. Roland Orzabal/Tears for Fears, 1982

In it, I wrote:

In my last post (By Any Means Human) we reflected on the human qualities teachers – we – bring to our classrooms. One of the strongest just might be the ability to both do and not do what this line is asking.

G-d forbid, as teachers, we look through our students. Imagine being invisible? I’ve known how that feels. Like I don’t exist. That’s the part not to do.

At the same time, when a student arrives in my classroom she is implicitly asking for her lesson.

She is asking me for her lesson.

And if I look right through her, past her language, her colour, her attitude wrought from years of learned helplessness and strong wall making and straight to her, I just may be able to find the lesson she’s asking for.


That’s the part to do. That maybe I wrote about? That is where my heart leads me.

I still believe that.

By talking with our students – and oral assessment is a way of talking with students for a specific purpose but certainly not the only way! – we are unwrapping the cellophane. We are fulfilling what I believe to be our human responsibility – taking care of each other. As teachers we can take care of each other by helping each other discover our passion, our hope for the future that exists in us all.