Thursday, May 16, 2013

Collaboration begins with "we": A response to @NMHS_Principal (#edchat #TLILHRIC)

John Krouskoff, the Director of Instructional Technology for my district, won the Pioneer Award for 2013. Eric Sheniger (@NMHS_principal) delivered the morning keynote. I attended the conference (#TLILHRIC) to both support John and to hear Mr. Sheniger speak (I have followed him on Twitter for a while).

Mr. Sheniger's presentation was about harnessing the power of social media in a school/district. I was impressed by Mr. Sheniger's attitude and accomplishments - much of what he said rang true with my own recent thoughts about changing the educational paradigm.

His most salient point? Social media is about communication, conversation, and collaboration. He made many references to the fact that he would not be able to do what he does without the help of others, most especially his PLN.

Near the end of his presentation, though, he used an example that rubbed me the wrong way. In fact, I was, and am, offended. He was discussing attitudes against using social media in the classroom, and mentioned the common complaint from teachers: if they are allowed to use their phones they will spend the period texting. This is not a new complaint to forward-thinking tech-educators.

But... he finished the example with: "you know why that kid is texting? Because he's bored. Why is he bored? Your lesson plan stinks!"

I was stunned. Of course, the Twitterverse picked it up, and he got the expected RTs with cries of "Amen!" amended.

I reacted with my own tweet, and this started a back and forth between Mr. Sheniger and myself. Being in the minority (the room was made up of admins and tech directors), I had to share my displeasure. And 140 characters was not enough space to do so.

What if the lens were shifted?

You know why that kid is bored? Because...
  • your principal never leaves her office and has no sense of how her school is being run. That stinks!
  • the PD that teachers needed to implement CCSS was washed away in creating pre-assessments for APPR. That stinks!
  • there is no clear vision coming out of central office and each teacher fends for himself. That stinks!
  • there is no curriculum map available. That stinks!
  • the governor creates any number of unfunded mandates that limit the district's and the community's decision making power. That stinks!
  • parents enable their children and reward them for not doing the right thing. That stinks!
  • politicians who have a twenty-year memory of what school used to be like are lured by the sweet sound of publisher's coins filing their coffers. That stinks!
  • public education is turning into a test-taking machine, and only the correct, bubbled answer is of short-term interest. That stinks!
  • students are "hard-wired" to react and respond to the constant and consistent buzz in their pockets. That stinks!
  • teachers and administrators both are being asked to do a hell of a lot more with a hell of a lot less. That stinks!

Shall I go on?

My response to Mr. Sheniger is this: the system is broken. We all acknowledge that. And some of us are racking our brains for solutions. But it is a system comprised of all of us. We all own a piece of the successes and the failures of this system we are a part of.

Why was that kid texting? Maybe he was bored. Maybe the lesson was not engaging. Maybe his mom was texting about a pick-up time. Maybe he smoked pot two periods ago behind the school. Maybe he just doesn't care.


Maybe he was actively engaged in the lesson, texting a friend about the link being displayed on the projector. Maybe he started a backchannel on Twitter to discuss an inspired tangent from the lesson. Maybe he wasn't texting...maybe he was doing something we educators haven't figured out yet.

Mr. Sheniger: I truly do not believe you intended any disrespect. Perhaps I am over-reacting to your tone. Please hear me: I respect your intentions. I share your passion. I, too, want to influence change for the better. But don't tread on the teachers - we are but one piece of this very complex dance.