Over the past few months, as our district continues its quest for 21st century learners and professional learning communities, and as I’ve attended AASL Fall Forum and our state media conference, I am reminded of how busy educators are. A huge percentage of an educator’s day is spent not planning for instruction, but actively engaging in instruction.
A while back, I read The Google Story, in which I learned that Google employees may spend 20% of their time working on projects that are personally meaningful to them. 20% of their time — roughly one day per week — can be spent pursuing personal interests, not Google tasks.
I remember reading and thinking that if only teachers got that time to explore new tools, collaborate with one another, redesign instruction and assessments, and bone up on best practices, our profession would be quite different.
Instead, most educators receive only a sliver of their paid time as duty-free, and that time is usually spent with grading, bureaucratic paperwork, reviewing the day’s inbox (digital and paper), answering parent communications, and standing in line at the copy machine.
My thoughts were echoed in David Warlick’s blog entry today:
The teacher-day is virtually unchanged from the classrooms I attended in the ’50s and ’60s. Think of lawyers, surgeons, or even farmers. Do they spend all of their time in front of juries, in operating rooms, or in the fields. No! An important part of their job is research, collaboration, reflection, resource development, and professional development.
Now think of factory workers, who spend all of their time on the assembly line, installing parts. And think of teachers, spending all their time with students on a conveyor belt, moving through kindergarten, 1st grade, 2nd grade, while we install math on them, reading, science… Education is still an industrial age institution, trying to address information age problems.
Those of us who teach in Michigan are acutely aware of this tension. Many of us view ourselves as information age educators, yet we recognize that we have factory roots. We recognize that when auto assembly line workers unionized,they paved the way for teachers to organize for better benefits and working conditions.
Yet we are painfully, acutely, frighteningly aware of how quickly the industrial age is disintegrating and how ineffective “conveyor belt” education is to meet the needs of our students’ uncertain future. Huge numbers of the parents in our school work for General Motors or auto suppliers, and most of us have relatives in the auto industry.Our state faces the possibility of retooling two generations at a time: our current students in the public schools and universities and those current auto employees facing unemployment, those with both white and blue collars.
And our state’s tax revenue is the primary funder of education, a change from local education funding that occurred about 14 years ago that was designed to better equalize the per-pupil funding statewide, especially for students in low-income areas. As those automakers and suppliers face diminishing income, that translates into less state tax revenue, which results in districts having already hacked millions of dollars out of their budget each year for the last several years … and that was before Congress declined to make a loan.
Now I don’t deny that the auto industry has its share of bloat and unsustainability. But what I do want us to realize is that our students’ future and its present are on the line.
So here is our challenge: how do we continue to promote the kinds of innovation and changes in practice that the Standards for the 21st Century Learner, NETS*S, ASCD’s Whole Child, and the Partnership for 21st Century Learning propose?
We’ve got to keep pushing for professional development in these areas. And if the districts cannot or will not prioritize professional development for learning (a key component outlined by the Partnership), we’ve got to do it ourselves with study groups or after-school meetings or professional reading or paying our way to conferences.
I know we school librarians are busy, but we can be key players in offering this professional development and helping to move staff forward, especially if we have flexible scheduling time.
Many of you are out there doing this already via email newsletters, wiki tutorials, informational notices posted in school bathrooms, staff meeting presentations, ad hoc meetings with individual or small group staff members, or formally-scheduled professional development sessions.
The new challenge is to reinvent ourselves beyond “click here and then click here” procedural PD and help to raise the bar of conversation to include the student learning (the cognitive skills, dispositions, self-assessment, and responsibilies), or the thinking behind the doing in school.
And no document I’ve found is more specific about breaking down the vision for successful student learners than the Standards for the 21st Century Learner. As the holidays and our much-needed vacation approaches, take some time to curl up under a cozy blanket and read them. Come back in the new year ready to talk about them with colleagues inside and outside the school.Image: One Gear in a Clock by Flickr User G & M (Neil Stewart), used with a Creative Commons license.�