Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Frame of Reference

The rather lengthy educational biography has a point… 

I’ve spent almost all of my life in the formalized world of American education. I entered education, like many people, around age 5. I have very few memories of my early years in school. In fact I don’t remember much before 6th grade. I’m not sure why, but I have very few contextual experiences which jog my mind for those early years. My family moved around quite a bit and the four consecutive years of high school were the longest stretch I ever attended in one school -so I’ve been told.

For kindergarten through 1st semester of my 8th grade year, I went to public schools. Second semester of my 8th grade year I went to a parochial Catholic school. I hated the change in the middle of the school year, but my dad wanted me to go to a “good” school and this particular parochial school fed into one of Columbus, Ohio’s best high schools, Bishop Watterson High School. The school’s profile reads that it is a “comprehensive, co-educational, Catholic school for grades 9-12…A large majority of parents are college educated, business and professional people…The curriculum is largely college preparatory. More than 98% of graduates enter four-year or two year colleges and universities.” The Student Handbook dives deeper into the school’s philosophy, beliefs, and mission. Although I, at first, I reluctantly attended Watterson, I grew to like it. I was challenged -sometimes too much, I thought, and I found places to connect like the theater. I wasn’t a stellar student, but I wasn’t average or below. The further I got from Watterson, the better I remembered it.

I went on to Colorado State University (CSU) and earned my Bachelor’s in English and completed my coursework secondary teaching license there. Again, I wasn’t a stellar student and was only below average for the first year or two. I eventually made it to the Dean’s list my last few semesters, but that was when the courses got really interesting and engaging. Most of the teachers I had now have a * next to their name indicating emeritus status. I wouldn’t consider myself old, but that doesn’t help. I can’t recall any of the names of my education teachers and when I look over the faculty pages, no one rings a bell. I completed my student teaching at a high school in Fort Collins, CO where CSU is located.

After graduating from CSU, I began teaching at a high school in northern El Paso County, Colorado. I began as an English teacher and through a series of improbable events ended up teaching technology classes as well as coaching basketball -neither of which I had done before in any meaningful capacity. During that time I went to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) for my Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction: Educational Computing and Technology. They call it Instructional Technology now. That degree and the work I had done teaching allowed me to become the school’s technology coordinator and later the database administrator for the district.

Later, I completed the coursework for my principal’s license from the University of Denver and moved into the assistant principalship at two different high schools also in El Paso County, but in two different districts. Now I’m working on the development and implementation of digital/online high school for my district and that’s where my frame of reference comes into play.

I consider myself a lifelong learner and have even explained my moving about in education as a restless desire to improve. I used to mean improvement for myself, but now I reference it in the larger frame of education. I know education can be better. I have hope that we, as a global community, can effect the changes that our kids need. But…it’s our (my) frame of reference that keeps getting in the way. The path that I took to get here is not all that unusual in terms of the schooling progression. Each step, however, contributed to my frame of reference and reinforced the historical traditions that informed (and continues to inform) it. My frame is common, not in a pedantic way, but in a shared experience way. It worked for me so it must work for my (our) kid(s) now, right?

If you’ve read any of the other entries here, you know that’s not what I think. Einstein has been attributed to say “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” That means we have to step outside our frame of reference. When I look at my frame of reference I see the fingerprints of traditional educational history all over it. We live in a very different, accelerated, connected, dynamic, (fill in your own flat-world adjective) time in history when our traditional frames can’t stand up to the expectations of the future. It’s that tension that scares the wits out of most people who have connections of any sort to the educational community.

To drop another name, George Washington is reported to have said “One of the difficulties in bringing about change in an organization is that you must do so through the persons who have been most successful in that organization, no matter how faulty the system or organization is. To such persons, you see, it is the best of all possible organizations, because look who was selected by it and look who succeeded most in it. Yet these are the very people through whom we must bring about improvements.” We all have had some measure of success and many of us (educators, parents, community members, policy makers, etc.) succeeded most, but that doesn’t mean our kids will if we do nothing to alter our current trajectory.

February 23, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Educational Technology Moral Imperative

I recently attended the Virtual School Symposium sponsored by the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL). Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers(CCSSO) in Washington, DC spoke about “Why Online Learning is Important to States.” In his talk, he said that “online learning is the fire, the wheel, the internal combustion engine of learning.” He also mentioned that education must make online education a priority in school reform efforts. In an impassioned plea for action, he said that educators are the entrepreneurs of education and we must leverage the power of online education to improve the learning of our students as it will become the great equalizer. He track record indicates that his is not the position of rhetoric; he is a man of action who, although claiming he is not a techie, knows the potential of technology -especially in education.

It’s refreshing to see that kind of leadership regarding online and all forms of Educational Technology and we can either drive the bus or be run over by it.

Educational Technology is a manifestation of our moral imperative (to borrow from Michael Fullan) to engage, encourage, and equip our students as they prepare for an unknown future. We must reinvent our thinking to understand that the very nature of technology is to produce something new or improve something that already exists. If we approach it with that wonder and energy, we will soon find that we are limited only by our imaginations and aspirations. To accomplish our educational goals, schools must teach and refine basic skills in core areas. On a pragmatic level, schools exist to develop skills in reading, writing, speaking, and computation. These skills can be measured, recorded, archived and easily evaluated. These core skills comprise the necessary fundamentals that allow schools and society to accomplish the more abstract tasks of producing and developing a critically-thinking, relationally-effective, moral populace.

We must not solely focus on educational technology to the exclusion of the demands of these other critical educational areas, but see that it has its own importance in the organic scope of education. Educational Technology is not an end in itself no more than the pencil or pen; it is simply the means by which we accomplish our educational goals. Even more says George Siemens on elearnspace -I agree and…

One of our critical responsibilities is to make educational technology as familiar as some of the more traditional tools of education. Educational Technology holds no place higher or lower than those of literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, or problem solving, but it can and should be the means by which all these are accomplished. Educational Technology should be so transparent that the underlying messages and meanings put forth by the lesson are not diminished or divided but enhanced and balanced.

The role for all educational leaders from the classroom to the superintendent’s office is the same: to use the tools both in the ways they were intended and perhaps in ways they weren’t for the success of our students. Technology allows us to discover our true potential and that of our students. Technology can free us to pursue our passions and purposes. The problem with technology is not with its implementation, use, or mastery; it is with our avoidance, misuse, and ignorance. Additionally, the threats of technology are isolation, distraction, and fatalism; the promises are community, engagement, and optimism. The only true power of technology comes in its ability to extend our own shortsightedness. Leaders, at all levels, must concretely orchestrate urgency, direction, and vision. Leaders are obliged to demonstrate the need and opportunity for improvement and guard against the potential threats and problems of technology.

Until we realize that the people and messages behind the technology are of the truest importance, all we will see is the technology itself. We are not to set up for ourselves monuments to technology; instead, we are compelled to reach our greatest potential as a community of learners focused on building a well-fortified foundation for the futures of our kids. The focus should not be just on the acquisition of new technologies, but on the ideas that the new technologies can set loose. We hope that technology is an extension of the best we see in ourselves and, in its application, the best we offer to our children. Every technology is a type of educational technology in that it has the ability to teach us about ourselves and provide educational opportunities. We must ask and be ready to answer the question of what happens when the promise of technology meets the power of the human spirit. Then, we will have taken the first step to making technology an essential part of the entire educational picture.

November 13, 2007 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fits & Fugues Part 2

My “fits” flow from my passions, sometimes through the fugues, sometimes because of them. My passion spectrum seems to have inspiration on one side with desperation on the other. I find the tensions created between the two working on me all the time: each seems to be a source of and a kind of a fugue. That’s desperately inspirational.

I feel compelled to write a few words on inspiration and desperation. Inspiration is built on the Latin word meaning to breathe or blow into, or to inflame. Desperation comes from the latin to lose hope or to have given up. In initially writing this post I had used annoyance as the other end to inspiration, but behind annoyance I realized there was something more. When reflecting on why I get annoyed by some things it becomes immediately clear that it springs from a loss of hope, a form of desperation as it were. Why do red lights annoy me? Because I lose hope that I will get to a place on time or that I will always have to stop while others go. Why does the extremely slow pace of change in education annoy me? Because I lose hope that we will be effective in preparing our kids for a nearly unimaginable future. Often times it’s those annoyances or pockets of desperation that lead to inspiration and sometimes the reverse is true. Strictly, speaking they aren’t quite opposites, but neither are red and violet.

The spectra of these and many other seemingly dichotomous array of entities that show up in my personal and professional lives create a tension that needles creativity and prompts responses. Like the light spectrum where it’s nearly impossible to discern where one color ends and another begins, it’s often nearly impossible to pinpoint the end of desperation and the beginning of inspiration.

The two Latin verbs that form inspiration and desperation are spirare and sperare. No one word in English really encompasses our purpose as educators as those two Latin verbs: to breathe hope. I guess a new word is needed: Inspirsperate. Doesn’t really roll of the tongue. Oh well, multiple words it is. We must simply breathe hope as educators using all the tools available to us in the time allotted to us for benefit of the kids given to us.

October 6, 2007 Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment