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Tuesday / September 19

What is a Relevant Educator?

The Relevant Educator

The Relevant EducatorContributed by Tom Whitby

Education in America has been around for several hundred years now, going back to colonial times in the 17th century. Back then, teachers were not only content experts, but also models for moral standards for children. I imagine that the concept of applying “moral turpitude” as a condition of employment for a teacher started back then. Teachers had to uphold the highest of moral standards within their communities, or be terminated. To some extent, there is still a feeling today among many, that teachers need to be examples of moral correctness, in some cases even above the standards of the community.

Teachers back then were covered by a common law doctrine of “in loco parentis” which empowered schools, and thereby teachers, to administer corporal punishment (hitting or paddling) to any students whom they felt warranted punishment. The teacher could: decide what was to be taught, how it was to be taught, and what punishment was to be doled out to non-compliant students, as they were schooled in the “3R’s”. This was the teacher model that probably held through the 20th century with very little change. I do remember some of my elementary teachers in the early 1950s impressing me this way. Of course, the tools of the trade included textbooks, encyclopedias, slate boards, pens, paper, notebooks, and sturdy rulers, and not much else.

Change came slowly to education. As an institution, Education tends to be on the conservative side. There was not much interaction between schools back then. The technology did not support it. Collaboration of any kind was limited by time and proximity. If you and another person were not together in the same room at the same time, there was no collaboration. More subject-specific textbooks replaced McGuffey’s Readers, and inkwells were no longer built into student desks. All the signs of progress were in place.

Technology slowly crept into schools. Phonograph records, film strips, even 16mm movies appeared in classrooms. The big Tech change came in the late 50s when the overhead projector began entering classrooms. The overhead projector is 75 year-old technology. In the 70s, electronic calculators began appearing replacing the slide rule for calculations. The 80’s first brought the VCR and then computers arrived. Through all of this very little changed in the methodology employed by most teachers. It was still focused on Direct Instruction and Lecture for the most part. That was the way it always was and that was the way it was to continue. At least that was what most believed. Rows were developed to control and focus attention to the content expert at the front of the room.

Educators were slow in adopting technology beyond the word processor. Of course, Sci-Fi writers created a myth believed by all that the future of education was the replacement of teachers by computers. That did not help in gaining acceptance of technology by teachers. Those same writers predicted flying cars by the 21st Century and we are still waiting.

The picture I have attempted to paint in words is a common experience most educators and parents have experienced in their contact with education. It is the culture of education. It is what most people conjure in their minds when the word education is mentioned. Well, that and taxes. Since so many of us are products of this culture, we become victims as well when we limit the needed change to evolve the culture and move it forward.

We have in our minds a picture of a successful student of the 20th Century. If teachers are producing those models of 20th Century education, both the teachers and the parents are having kids fulfill their vision. Those students will probably be very successful in the 20th Century. The problem arises when we realize that kids today do not now nor will they ever live in the 20th Century.

The 20th Century educator used Direct Instruction and Lecture as the mainstay of methodology. We have found that collaboration is more effective. The20th Century educator did not need to teach curation and critical thinking because they relied on books, encyclopedias, and textbooks confident that they were vetted and accurate as long as they were not too out of date. The 20th Century educator used the technology of the day as an add-on. It provided bells and whistles to keep the students’ attention. The 20th Century educator depended on control and compliance in the classroom because that was where all learning was to take place. Unfortunately, there are still educators who hold this model as the way to best teach kids.

This 20th Century model of education does not, however, reflect the world in which our children will be living. It is not the world in which they will need to thrive and be successful. Their world is technology-driven. Information is abundant, free, and almost instantaneous. Social media has plunged us into a world of collaboration and collaborative learning. A form of learning that surpasses the best results of Direct Instruction and lecture.

The 20th Century model of an educator worked for the entire hundred years of the century, and now possibly to our detriment is carrying through into the 21st. What should a modern teacher model look like? How best can an educator achieve and maintain relevance in a rapidly changing, technology-driven society? How can educators best prepare our kids to live in their world, which will be evolved from and beyond our 20th Century?

The 21st Century educator needs a new mindset for learning. Information is no longer slow moving or stagnant. It is constantly changing, making it more of a challenge for any educator to stay relevant.

From my book, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning co-authored with Steven Anderson and published by Corwin, comes this description of a connected educator:

What Does a Connected Educator Look Like?

A connected educator embodies a mindset rather than represents someone who does specific things in specific ways. Few connected educators exhibit all of the qualities and characteristics of a connected educator, but they do have some common beliefs.

A connected educator

  • believes in sharing and collaboration;
  • uses technology and its connection to other educators to learn and teach;
  • practices and models lifelong learning, which is often a concept professed to students as a goal of education;
  • uses the tools of technology to personalize his or her professional development;
  • is a relevant educator, willing to explore, question, elaborate, and advance ideas through connections with other educators;
  • if not comfortable with new technology, still shows a willingness to explore its use;
  • views failure as part of the process of learning; and
  • may put creation over content, and relevance over doctrine.

A connected educator may exhibit all or some of these qualities, but the real commonality of connected educators is the use of technology to collaborate in the pursuit of lifelong learning. These educators are active participants on Twitter, write regularly on their blogs, take part in webinars to expand their knowledge and/or contribute to online communities to help others grow. They realize that learning can and does happen anywhere and they want to be a part of it wherever it occurs.

In a society where analog has been replaced by digital and the country’s infrastructure is being retooled and rebuilt to accommodate information technology, technology plays and will continue to play an ever-growing role in our lives. We are preparing citizens for a world that continuously evolves technologically. We, as educators, need to understand that dynamic and evolve at a pace that at least keeps us from falling behind. The tools of communication, collaboration, and creation have radically changed and will continue to transform. These are the very tools we are preparing our children to use in order to thrive and compete in their evolving world. The connected educator is a model for all educators as we move forward. A connected educator is as much a learner as a teacher. A connected educator is digitally literate and progressing as needed to adapt to the changes that will inevitably occur. A connected educator is relevant in a world of rapidly paced change.



Tom Whitby

Tom hosts The Edchat Radio Show for the BAM Network, which is available as free podcasts from K-12 education at the Apple iStore. He blogs at My Island View and has contributed articles to several education journals and has been a guest blogger with contributions to The Royal Treatment and Teacher’s Reboot Camp. He created the Ning site, The Educator’s PLN. Follow him on Twitter @tomwhitby. He is the co-author of The Relevant Educator, part of the Corwin Connected Educators Series.



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