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Where does 21st Century teaching begin? [Guest Blog]


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The 21st Century Teaching Project Findings (Part 2)

Seann Dikkers  3/1/12

This post is part of an ongoing series abridged from the 21st Century Teaching Project (21CTP) – a study of expert professional development trajectories and digital age practice. 

Let’s assume that the goal of teacher training and professional development (PD) is to prepare teachers with powerful models, tools, and pedagogies that will inform expert practice over a career. If so, the 21CTP is designed to help us as a community, 1) hear from 39 award winning teachers, and 2) ask relevant questions about how to study and design teacher training and PD in the coming years.

When over half of these teachers say they completely changed their practice mid-career, I’m particularly interested in what, who, and how those trajectories started. In the first part of this series, I shared one data point on what wasn’t working. The following posts will highlight what was working, who did support these teachers, and how they did grow into expert practitioners.

21CTP Theme 2: Narrated Beginnings

A beginning narrative explains ‘what started it all?’ or ‘where did you first start thinking about?’ practice in the classroom. These questions inform essential beliefs, experiences, and exposure that is relevant to expert practitioners.

Immediately, ‘best practice’ studies are designed to give indications for expanded inquiry. Ideally, we can be given new insights toward recreating similar narratives with a similar end. (By the way, thanks for the clear and helpful feedback from the last post! You are all a gift and the comments are largely being integrated into the final write up of the study.) So we begin simply by asking those that are doing what we hope to see more of, ‘How did you do that?’ – then we listen.

My own assumption was that award winning teachers were going to be those that entered their professional life with a sort of ‘gift’. Their spark of life, talent, and refinement would eventually lead them to promotion and recognition – they were just gifted. They would have begun with a clear vision for expert practice and simply grow towards it. These teachers would have a ‘positive predisposition’ towards expert practice.

Upon completing the first phase of interviews, not one of the preliminary teachers fit this model. Instead I found teachers that claimed to have actually started teaching with faulty predispositions requiring change before they tapped into digital resources, paradigm shifts, and other teachers with great ideas to copy. Instead of having an internal compass, these teachers grew in a community of practice, looked for new tools, and laughed about epic failures as they learned and grew. They weren’t ‘gifted’ as much as they were ‘growing’ the way the rest of us do.

In fact, data from the 21CTP revealed four distinct ‘beginning narratives’’. For a full reading of all 39 stories, check here

Positive Predisposition

In the expanded round of interviews there were in fact teachers that had a great model of teaching they were seeking to resemble, and simply worked towards it. 15% of the teachers fit this beginning narrative I’ll call a ‘positive predisposition’ toward expert practice.

These narratives generally agreed:

“I have always taught the way I do now but I try to constantly try to find new ways and innovative ways to teach so, I’m a constant learner myself. I like to try new things.”

These teachers often had examples that they were trying to follow.

“I remember another elementary teacher who was very active and action oriented. She would act something out every day… I think that is the person I am trying to emulate.”

Those with a positive predisposition shared similar accounting of where they started on a path toward expert practice. They claimed to have always taught they way they did and often had a clear role-model they were trying to emulate.

Progressive Predisposition/Change

Not all teachers shared a positive role-model. On the contrary some entered the profession itching to change things or re-create their practice to look different from their past experiences. 28% of the 21CTP teachers fit this profile:

“Even in my early teaching, I was looking for a different approach towards teaching and learning.”

A progressive predisposition is equally powerful as a starting point for PD on the part of these teachers. However, lacking actual models, they often feel pressure from ‘the system’ and often reported looking outside the profession for new models.

“Again, because there is still a lot of pressure for the test and just getting things done.”

In year three, for instance, one teacher was “exhausted” and took a leave of absence. Upon returning, he reported re-connecting to, “The stuff I enjoy doing outside of school…” Refreshed, he was “always learning something new.”

For both predispositions, teachers were always looking for new ideas and tools to help them grow in the classroom. They held a constant idea of what they wanted and grew over time towards these mental models. 43% of 21CTP participants had a predisposed vision for teaching they continually worked toward. 
 

External Influence

Theme 1 noted what wasn’t necessarily working for expert teachers. From here forward this study turns to what was working for these teachers. For 57% of teachers, they changed their practice mid-career. It can’t be understated how relevant ongoing PD is for expert practice for these teachers.

The first narrative that experienced a change in disposition fit a profile where they experienced a person, tool, or PD program that they report was the start of a new way to practice their craft. Like those with a positive predisposition, these teachers identified a model of practice, through external influence, that became a driving goal. For instance, in the preliminary phase, one teacher credited their social network:

“Developing networking early on… Just sharing ideas, the basic web 2.0 type practices, ideas, tips, software with other educators within my state and increasing abroad. Shortly thereafter, within a year or so, I began to look at integration of video games and video technology into the classroom.” 

There was a laundry list of external influences that seemed unique to each person. In Theme 3, I’ll break down traditional and non-traditional PD assets and the degree to which the teachers were influenced by them. 23% of the teachers named these programs, people, and tools as the starting point for their changed practice.

Sudden Realization

The largest percentage of the 21CTP teachers reported a “sudden realization” or specific moment they could recall. Much like remembering where they were when they heard a major news story, these teachers had a moment when they perceived their own practice as deficient and in need of change. For progressive change narratives, they didn’t yet have a positive model, but recognized what they couldn’t do anymore. For example: 

“I remember crashing and burning real bad on what I would consider traditional lectures.”

“We all love our field, it’s so horrible to feel like you are torturing someone with the things you are passionate about.”

“I wasn’t bold and brazen, I was naive.”

“I had the moment where I realized I was teaching the same way my teachers taught me in high school and I was bored then and I was looking at some of my students who I knew were bright and energetic, lively kids and I could tell they were bored.”

These teachers (33%) did not consider themselves experts initially. They reported a simple realization that what they were doing wasn’t going to work anymore. They changed as a reaction and began doing anything else to garner better classroom results – starting a PD journey from a ‘sudden realization’.

Untitledtheme 2 table

So what?

Our best practitioners have told us that there are at least four beginning narratives toward award winning practice; it is a stretch to claim there is a predominant beginning narrative. Teachers can have positive models of practice, or a negative one. Teachers can enter the profession with a predisposed vision of practice, or not. Sources of change can be internal processes, or externally affected. As with our students, there are multiple types/paths for learning among adults. School leadership cannot afford to think that there is only one way to build expert practice. There is no ‘one size fits all’ that actually works for all.

I spend more time in the larger write up on this section noting that these beginnings don’t appear to be exclusive. Teachers noted one as primary, but often shared the importance of others.  

Also, among calls for reform, this data reconfirms past research that teacher beliefs about practice are significant PD components (see lit sources below). Some traditional models of training and PD (especially ones that provide models of practice – good or bad) should be clung to instead of thrown out with the bathwater primarily because, for some of the teachers, they work.

Finally, much of the PD field claims one progression for change: 1) Teacher learns, 2) Teacher changes practice, and 3) Student learning increases. For a significant portion of our sample, this was not what they claimed happened. For these teachers, they claimed they: 1) Got frustrated, 2) Changed practice, 3) Learned over time, 4) Student motivation increased, then 5) Student learning was enriched. Knowing does not necessarily preclude doing for these teachers.

In Theme 3, I’ll share a closer look at traditional and emergent resources reported as essential, or not so much, to these teachers. What worked, what didn’t. Among the leading PD assets: Effective Leadership, a Community of Practice, and New Media digital tools and resources. More to come…

Blog Discussion:

  1. Do all teachers with positive role-models progress toward them over time? Really a larger study of a random sample of teachers could gather this and more about predispositions. In schools, talk to teachers and find out if there are predispositions that drive their PD, vise versa, or both.
  2. There isn’t a clear ‘best’ beginning narrative, which means many types of beginnings can work towards expertise – not just “gifted” people. I find this encouraging to the rest of us! The data actually slants just a bit toward narratives where the teacher was “crashing and burning”, then resolved to be better. Never give up on teachers willing to grow, today’s worst teachers may be winning awards tomorrow if they are ready to try new things.
  3. Buffet style PD is a growing technique for district and building level training. Are these models intuitively accepted more easily because they are addressing actual adult learning styles more effectively? Teacher selected PD opportunities should at least be targeted for further expanded study, at best these should be the default for district level leaders.
  4. For all four beginning narratives, teachers had or sought a better way to teach. What they called the traditional model of ‘sage on the stage‘ or ‘grill and drill‘ was obsolete – which is expected of these participants – but not to be understated.

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Seann Dikkers is a researcher and dissertator in educational technologies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Dikkers spent fourteen years as in the public schools as a teacher, principal, and consultant. Dikkers has presented nationwide as a designer and consultant in new media integration strategies for educational leadership, teaching, and learning. His design and research bridges education leadership and curriculum and instruction scholarship – including CivWorld, ParkQuest, History in our Hands, Mobile Media Learning, Augmented Reality and Interactive Storytelling editor (ARIS), the Comprehensive Assessment for Leadership in Learning (CALL), and the Teacher’s Toolbox. Dikkers edited the recent release of Real-Time Research: Improvisational Game Scholarship and is the founder/president of GamingMatter. Currently, Dikkers is in the process of interviewing award winning teachers across the country to find out strategies for professional development growth in digital media use.

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Addenda:

Beliefs of practice aren’t conclusive, but they can be informative for a field of study. For those that are interested in more detail, this study is built to complement current evidence being gathered on PD (Desimone, 2011), revisiting teachers as case units (Borko, 2004), accomplished examples of practice (Sheingold & Hadley, 1990), and beliefs that affect practice (Calderhead, 1996; Pajares, 1992; Ertmer, 2005), in a time of emergent digital skills and ‘literacies, (Trilling & Fadel, 2009; Lankshear & Knobel, 2008; Collins & Halverson, 2009). That’s the short version. Though done and IRB approved, the full lit review will be approved for posting in the next couple weeks at the project home site – along with detailed descriptions of selection, collection and analysis methods. Look for it at: 21 Century Teaching Project.

Borko, H. (2004). Professional Development and Teacher Learning: Mapping the Terrain. Educational Researcher, 33(8), 3-15.

Calderhead, J. (1996). Teachers: Beliefs and knowledge. In D. Berliner & R. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of Educational Psycology (pp. 709-725). New York: Macmillan Library Reference.

Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology : the digital revolution and schooling in America. New York: Teachers College Press.

Desimone, L. M. (2011). A Primer on Effective Professional Development. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(6), 68-71.

Ertmer, P. A. (2005). Teacher Pedagogical Beliefs: The Final Frontier in Our Quest for Technology Integration? . Education Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 25-39.

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (Eds.). (2008). Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies, and Practices (Vol. 30). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Pajares, M. F. (1992). Teachers’ beliefs and educational research: Cleaning up a messy construct. Review of Educational Research, 62(3), 307-332.

Sheingold, K., & Hadley, M. (1990). Accomplished Teachers: Integrating computers into
classroom practice. New York: Centre for Technology in Educaiton.

Trilling, B., & Fadel, C. (2009). 21 Century Skills: Learning for Life in our Times. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Are Teacher Preparation Programs Dangerously Irrelevant? [guest post]

Seann Dikkers [Guest Blogger]

In my first year of teaching a veteran leaned over during a particularly dry workshop and said blandly, “If you spend a whole day in these things and walk away with even one idea, it was worth the day… Today is not our day.” Cynical? Yes, but true. After 15 years as a teacher and principal this veteran’s words came back to me twice a year during professional development (PD) workshops. For good PD the wisdom was decidedly more uplifting.

Yet, there has to be a better way. Doesn’t there?

Now I’m knee deep in research on new media technologies for learning at the University of Wisconsin – Madison under Kurt Squire and Richard Halverson; both of whom argue that there are better ways. As much evidence as we muster, (in support of new models for leading and educating for learning), those in the system must embrace new practices for any changes to occur. In other words leadership matters and teaching matters as much as (or more) than GamingMatters (shameless self promotion) or any relevant new ideas for education.

Many studies seek to inform practice by examining experts in a field. In this post, I want to share some of the preliminary findings in the 21st Century Teaching Project (21CTP) – a study of teacher professional development trajectories toward the integration of new media technology.

I’ll edit the study details a bit: This is a ‘best practice’ style qualitative study after Dan McAdams’ methodology. Phase one: find out relevant practices. Phase two: quantify them in a larger sample to see if they hold water. 39 of the nation’s award winning teachers (TotY, PAEMST, ING, AMF) and authors make up the data set. If these are the teachers we choose to recognize as excellent, then we should listen to what they have to say about their PD – especially when there are consistent messages emerging.

So what do they say?

The next five blog entries will cover five findings that popped out of the data from the 21st Century Teaching Project (21CTP).

21CTP Theme 1: Teacher Training

In the initial interviews the participants kept telling me, with a conspiratorial tone, that their training wasn’t like most teachers, ”It’s a rather unorthodox journey”, said one. Then, one after another, they shared stories that all converged one one point. Traditional teacher education was at best – irrelevant; and at worst detrimental to being an outstanding teacher today.

“I don’t care what school you go to, it really doesn’t prepare you for what you are going to do in a classroom”.

One author/teacher has yet to get an official license to teach, another accidentally dropped out of high school, another manipulated the system to use certain technology regardless of the class content, and it went on. Each felt their story was unique – yet there was this common thread that was worth pursuing in the larger study with new questions:

Were you trained to teach in a teacher education program? What training most equipped you to teach like you do?

The results were striking. Stop for a moment and consider the following numbers from 39 of our award winning teachers.

  • 10% credit their primary training to a traditional four year certification program.
  • 21% credit their primary training to a hobby, game, or interest.
  • 33% credit their primary training to another job/profession.
  • 36% credit their primary training to another field of study.
  • Only 31% completed a traditional four year certification program.
  • 46% were employed in other fields or left the teaching profession for a time.
  • 67% were trained in other fields of practice before getting a certificate in a 1-2 year program.
  • Only 10%, or 4 of 39, affirmed that their official ‘teacher training’ was relevant to their current practice. The rest were inspired elsewhere.

There were no patterns on what these other field/professions were other than that they covered the gambit: Medicine, Aviation, Acting, Mortuary Work, Rock-n-Roll, Journalism, etc. etc. Commonly, these teachers felt their training in that field was what actually influenced their teaching.

Ironically, those that are being recognized as excellent teachers, were largely not trained as such. Moreover, they largely went out of their way to make sure the world would know it.

So what does this say to educational leadership?

Do we want more 21st century teachers? The most innovative teachers are drawing on experiences and skill sets they developed outside of education.

Later I’ll show results that 21st Century skills are a key part of what they are bringing into the classroom, while traditional education programs still reduce “technology training” to the use of an over-head or interactive whiteboard. The following posts will uplift the sources that positively affect teacher training.

Immediately, a few things… this data would suggest if you want to employ innovative creative teachers, you may want to consider:

1) Interview non-traditional candidates; those with other training, lifelong learners with avid hobby interests, avid readers, and yes, computer gamers. These seem to be better predictors of potential among the sample set.

2) Refine your interview protocol to uncover these interests outside of the profession. What do you do for fun? What other interests do you have? Have you ever worked outside of education? Where?

3) Encourage workshops and training outside of education and validate those experiences with modified accreditation. NASA led summer workshops for teachers that were brought up by three of the candidates – none of them were high school science teachers and two of them went on to get flying licenses.

4) When a teacher leaves to work in another profession, this may not be the end of their teaching career. It may be the beginning of an adventure that will return to teach in coming years and win awards for excellence. Stay in touch with teachers that have left to work elsewhere. Encourage them and keep the door open.

5) We can’t assume that teacher training is actually doing so. When the local prep program is redesigning, participate and vocalize what skills today’s teachers need. Ask for the things that worked for our nation’s ‘best’. Demand that professors are modeling new media pedagogical practices, out-of-field training, student teaching for every course, design work, and community building.

6) Finally, when planning your school’s professional development time, consider experiences over content area. I’ll speak more in future posts on the specifics that were useful to my participants. For now, weight 2-3 day workshops, conferences, curriculum connected technology, and buffet style PD considerably more than guest speakers, mandatory training, and mass technology purchases for the staff (drop-in tech).

More on those in the next post.

Best,

Seann

gamingmatter.com


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