Culture of Trust

Yesterday, I read a post by Sylvia Martinez, “Students are not the enemy.” It’s a great post, and the comments are very thought provoking. Essentially, Sylvia notes that students (and very often, teachers) are viewed as threats to the safety of a school and its network. There are hundreds of vendors out there who would love to sell you some software/hardware to protect you from the “enemy within.”

Umm… hello? Now kids are “the enemy???” Sylvia calls foul, and so do I.

The longer I’m in education, the more I start to worry about what we’re doing to our kids…. and what we’re doing to our teachers. We’re living in an era of assuming the worst from everyone. In my experience, people give you what you expect them to give you. Kids are no different.

If you haven’t read Engage Me or Enrage Me by Marc Prensky, you should. The article discusses an atmosphere of mutual disrespect between adults and kids. We don’t value what they value and vice versa. That’s how it’s been forever, right? Generation gaps and all that… but I think we’re missing something bigger here.

What if we trusted our students to do the right thing? What if we gave them the rules without any threats, and then empowered them to make choices?

What if we trusted our teachers to be professionals? To make good decisions about what would help a student learn better? To come to work on time and leave when they need to leave. To grow professionally in a manner that is best suited to their own individual learning styles, content areas, and needs.

Will some people disappoint us? Yes. Of course. We’re realistic. I contend, however, that most won’t.

As a learner, I feel empowered in a culture where I am trusted. There is no one standing over my shoulder to ensure I do the work I’m expected to do, because they know I’ll do the work. In fact, it’s insulting to me that anyone would assume I would do less than my best. I’m motivated most when I have choices, guidance, clear expectations, and am trusted to do what I’m asked.

On the other side of that type of culture- put me in a cage, give me a set of restrictive rules,  tell me not to do the wrong thing and then stand there to ensure I don’t– I’m probably going to screw up. It’s insulting, degrading, and not a great learning environment.

Which of those two cultures most resembles school?

I choose to trust my students. Today, we started a blogging exercise. The kids are 5th graders who have not blogged before, so we began with small steps. On my class blog, I wrote a post. They were asked to read the post, and then answer some questions in their comments. The comments should include their opinions. I’m finding 5th graders are not often asked for their opinions, so this is sometimes tough for them!

My  directions before they began were:

  1. Read the blog post.
  2. Think about the questions.
  3. Answer the questions in your comments.
  4. When you are finished, read the other comments. If you want to respond to someone else’s comment, please do so.
  5. Be responsible and respectful in your comments.

That was it. At first, they looked at me and asked, “Then what?” I said that was all, and that they could start working. If they needed my help, they could flip up the Help card on their computers- otherwise, they were on their own.

One student asked me if he was going to get into trouble if he checked his email during this exercise. I said no, because I knew he was going to work hard on his answers and leave a great response in the comment.

You know what? I received some really great responses from that exercise. The kids were honest, and every single one of them finished the activity without me standing over them to ensure it was done.

That’s a TINY example of trusting kids to do the right thing. I intend to walk into the classroom every day and assume the best will happen.

I’m going to build a culture of trust with my students. What about you?

A Policy Quandary

Do we need to protect ourselves from… ourselves?

I’ve been doing a lot of research with colleagues in the last few months in the realm of public school district policies, especially pertaining to internet, web 2.0, social media, filtering, etc.

What we’ve found is many schools who have vague language in their policies, and who rely on either a person or a committee to make decisions on a case by case basis. I can’t imagine that this protocol would be immediately responsive, as I’m sure the individuals or committees have other job responsibilities.

We’ve also found quite a few districts that insist upon the strictest control possible. In many cases, the justification is “we need to protect the students and/or staff from themselves.”

Internet safety education is federally mandated in all schools, but even those guidelines and requirements are somewhat vague.

I think it’s fairly obvious where I stand (if you’ve read any of my previous posts on the subject). I’m very much in favor of educating the masses about productive use of web tools, as well as discussing the inherent risks and learning about productive and responsible online behaviors. Personally, I think “control” is an illusion- and locking students and staff away from everything at school teaches them nothing when they leave those school boundaries.


  • where can schools draw the lines without making those lines too fuzzy?
  • how does one decide if a “tool” is truly too risky for students to use within the school setting?
  • if something “bad” happens as a result of using a specific web tool, what are the legal ramifications?

What are your thoughts?

  1. How do your schools manage these issues?
  2. Who makes those decisions?
  3. When was the last time your policies were re-written to reflect the changing nature of what kids do and learn online?
  4. Do you have an AUP that works well for staff and students? Why or why not?

I’m hoping for a lot of responses here, as I think it would be helpful to us all!

Also, if you haven’t seen this wiki started by educators in Missouri, take a look!

Knowledge vs Know HOW

As schools struggle with standardized tests, ensuring students know whatever it is they need to know to be successful in their world, I feel “Education” is missing the target.[image credit]1

No longer can we focus merely on what our kids KNOW. We need to focus on what they know HOW TO DO. Those are two very different things in my book, yet most of our assessment and measurement tools only gauge the knowledge piece. Knowledge (minus skills) isn’t very useful to anyone, except the occasional game show winner.

I know a small business owner who is struggling with finding quality employees. When they interview with him, they seem like they understand the business very well. They are ‘equipped’ to answer all the right questions, and they can demonstrate what they already know very easily.

Yet, when left on their own, these same “highly qualified/knowledgeable” employees can’t take the initiative to do any work that wasn’t on the task list they were given. Troubleshooting is easy for them, but ONLY when it matches experiences they have already had. Anything new or different is completely beyond their capabilities. Plus, for those situations that have more than one right answer… I’ve seen some employees literally wring their hands in despair when there is more than one correct answer to a problem.

This is how they were taught in school:

  1. Do only the tasks I’ve set before you.
  2. Solve this problem, but use the exact method I’ve taught you.
  3. Circle the RIGHT answer (A, B, C, or D).

I don’t think everyone out in the workforce is like this, but employers are all seeing a trend… and for once, I’m truly seeing it firsthand and not simply hearing about it. This is the same trend we all discuss in our education circles about where is education going, are we preparing students for their world or ours, etc. What are we doing about it, though??

When we focus on giving kids answers, all they will be able to do is regurgitate those same answers back to us.

IF we could focus our efforts on allowing kids to FIND their own answers…

Imagine how much more they would learn!

Imagine how much more engaged they could be!

Imagine how many answers might be out there that we didn’t even know were there!

I know more than a few employers who would be very happy to have some independent and critical thinkers who could problem-solve with little to no guidance. And really, isn’t that we want for all our students?

1 malavoda. “Missed the target.” malavoda’s photostream. 28 March 2008. 25 March 2009.

Laptops vs Handhelds

Cross-posted as a comment on Scott McLeod’s blog, Dangerously Irrelevent, as a response to a request from Russ Goerend, who blogs at TAGMirror. I posted the comment, and thought, “That sounded more like a blog post than a comment. Hmm… I haven’t posted in a while. Maybe I should cross-post.” So, there you are.

When people ask questions about what kind of technology to include in today’s classrooms, there will be the issues of cost, space, practicality, feasibility, and (hopefully) most importantly- LEARNING capabilities to consider. But if I could choose anything to have in my classroom, I would jump at the chance to have a classroom set of the iTouch (perhaps 30 of them).

The inevitable response usually goes something like this: “Why would you spend that much money on an iTouch when you could have a laptop for just a little more money?”

And here’s the response I left as a comment on Scott’s blog today (with a few minor revisions for clarity):

Adults see cost and then think that they could have a laptop for that same amount of money. Kids see the iTouch (and other similar handhelds) as a more convenient “laptop” without all the bulk.

If I need to sit down and hammer out a 25 page paper, I want a laptop. If I want to look up an answer on a webpage, download a small application that will enhance my learning, view a map, listen to a podcast or music, play the piano/guitar/drums electronically AND record my composition, play a learning game… you name it: I want a handheld device.

WHY? A few quick answers in no particular order:
1. Battery life is better, lasts longer (long-term), and charges more quickly.
2. More options for applications than on laptops… OS is not as big an obstacle as a laptop OS (think about the time and energy spent on field-testing applications on school computers for compatibility with the OS).
3. iTouch vs. iPhone- removes the “should students have access to cell phones in school” debate. No calls coming in or out, but many of the same apps available.
4. Storage for classroom sets of handhelds is a cinch, compared to laptops.
5. Collaboration with these tools is more easily facilitated than trying to organize a bunch of kids with laptops, especially where space is an issue. Plus, laptops are heavy for smaller kids.
6. Handhelds are more kid-friendly where accidents are concerned. If I drop my iTouch, chances are it’s not going to break. I can buy a cheap protective ‘case’ for it that still allows me to see and touch the screen. If I drop my laptop, there goes $500-800. I can’t use my laptop when it’s in its protective case.

I’m sure there are concerns with smaller devices, such as the fact they’re easier to steal; but I think the benefits/positives far outweigh the negatives.

Tony Vincent has been singing the praises of handhelds in the classroom for years. I was able to see first-hand what he did in the classroom with handhelds: how engaged the students were, the LEARNING opportunities students had in the palms of their hands, etc.

So, what’s your opinion?


Definition of catchphrase1:


1. a phrase that attracts or is meant to attract attention.

2. a phrase, as a slogan, that comes to be widely and repeatedly used, often with little of the original meaning remaining.

“21st Century” has become the latest catchphrase in education. Sadly.

I’ve attended numerous sessions, classes, discussions– you name it– about “21st Century” learners, skills, education, workplace, etc. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has a set of definitions, as well as guidelines and resources. If you haven’t already read through that set of resources, you should. I think many others, however, are simply bandying about a term and then bending to fit their agenda. These ‘others’ range from educational leaders to politicians to business owners…

Where does that lead the rest of us?

Wordle: Random 21st Century Learning Wordle
Random 21st Century Learning Wordle from

Alfie Kohn posted a great proposal about this very subject.

If you agreed 100% with his proposal- we have a problem- but I’m sure you recognized the satire in his ‘voice.’ Whether or not you agree with Kohn’s sometimes controversial beliefs, I think he makes a point here that people get caught up in catchphrases. I see bandwagon jumping all the time with different educational trends. So, again, where does this lead the rest of us??

It’s important to truly understand what kids need in order to be successful in a very different world than the one we knew at their age. Mostly, they need to be able to adapt, to learn how to learn.

Alvin Toffler said:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

I use that quote OFTEN, because that is what 21st century learning means to me.

Instead of assigning a label to teaching and learning- and then simultaneously changing that label to meet our own agendas- why don’t we look at what is truly necessary for kids to be successful in their world. And when will we learn that it doesn’t look like what we’re doing now?

So… what does 21st century learning mean to you? Is it simply a catchphrase to add one more thing to what we’re already doing? or are you thinking educational reform because of the conversations around “21st century skills” that all kids need?

BTW, I really would be disappointed if the US (or anyone else for that matter) found a way to assess creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation- through standardized methods. It would make it easier to compare our kids, though, right? Because all kids are apples.

End of soap box time. Thanks for listening.

1catchphrase. (n.d.) Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved February 03, 2009, from website:

In the Game or On The Sidelines

I so appreciate Dean Shareski‘s vision… he often finds great photos to accompany great quotes. [image credits]1

How are you helping your kids/students make those global connections?

1 shareski. “Sidelines.” shareski’s photostream. 27 Jan 2009. 28 Jan 2009. .

original image:


As I’m sitting in different sessions today at METC 2009, the issue of re-thinking ownership/copyright emerges often.

Why is this such an issue? Are the copyright cops everywhere, or are kids just being raised without regard for other people’s property?

I think it’s neither.

I think digital kids live in a collaborative environment. They are used to sharing their ideas. That’s status quo for them.

  • Look at their online creations. If they think of something they consider interesting and unique, they share it with the world. If they want to rant about something, they share that rant with the world. When they write their own music, stories, pictures… you name it. They SHARE.
  • Watch them play a game online. When they get stuck on a particular level, they hit the web to find a network who will share hints or solutions with them.

Most non-digital people want to keep their ideas to themselves, and will only distribute them to others when PAID for their ideas.

Don’t get me wrong… there are some instances in life when you should be paid for your ideas… AND kids need to learn about boundaries. But think about the learning, the creativity, the innovation that could be available to EVERYONE if we were all more willing to share.

Not convinced? Go do a search for “open source.

What will the open source concept mean for other industries?

And what will digital kids want in their lifetime?

What are your thoughts?

Balanced Connections

The term “social media” (or “social networking”) has always bothered me for some reason… but until recently, I didn’t truly understand why.

I’ve done several presentations about web 2.0, the changed nature of the internet, and what all that interaction really means to us. Often, I’ll hear from several adults, especially those who do not use web 2.0 tools, about their concerns regarding face-to-face time. Their concerns are that kids spend too much time plugged in and not enough time learning how to interact with people in person. They don’t think that ‘social networking’ actually promotes anything truly social.

Because I came to be a web 2.0 user as an adult with what I would consider fully developed social skills, I can’t really speak from my own experience. Or can I?

I don’t really have problems interacting with people in person. Although painfully shy as a child, I learned strategies to overcome my shyness so that I could interact with others. I use those strategies every day.

When I started blogging, chatting, texting, IM’ing, Tweeting (verb for using Twitter), Second Life-ing, [insert additional web 2.0 tools here], I wondered if all of that ‘plugged in’ activity would change my social interactions. I have to say… IT DID. But here’s the surprise: I honestly think it changed everything for the better. And here’s how:

  1. When I met other ed tech people online through their blogs or via Twitter, for example, those online connections made it easier meeting them eventually face-to-face at a school or conference. We already knew we had something in common. Our previous online experiences became our ice breakers. We could get past the early (sometimes awkward) small talk that inevitably occurs when you first meet someone, and move to what we really wanted to discuss. [Image credit:pengo-au]1
  2. With people I already know, it’s difficult to maintain connections in our extremely fast-paced lives. In addition to our jobs and families, there are so many other obligations. I feel like I don’t always have time to make a phone call or pay someone a visit… especially if they don’t live in the same area. Online opportunities like Facebook have provided a quick place to catch up, share photos and videos, chat, and more. Does it replace the face-to-face I wish I had with my friends and family? Not all the time. Sometimes, however, it does provide a more timely connection than I would have with those people if I waited for the face-to-face time. Plus, I know more about some of my college friends and their families now than I ever did before. In more cases, I’d lost track of some friends who eventually found me on Facebook. I can honestly say that social networking has really enriched some of those relationships.
  3. My kids use social media. There are MANY times when Facebook, texting, or IM have taken the place of the reminder note on the refrigerator. I KNOW they check those online tools daily. Our communication has definitely improved because of these tools, AND sometimes it encourages new face-to-face discussions. All of my children have endured several conversations with me that start out, “So tell me what you meant by your Facebook status/comment/post today.” They don’t always like it, but it definitely beats the worn-out “how was your day, dear?” usual fare. Our conversational topics encompass school, friends, dating, driving… you name it. If it’s on their Facebook (or glaringly omitted), it’s open season for discussion.

In my opinion, It all comes down to balance. I do not spend all my waking hours online. I set boundaries for my kids about their online time. If a conversation can happen face-to-face, that’s encouraged. If it’s an emotional issue or serious situation, we discuss that face-to-face. [Image credit: dirkjanranzijn]2

And for those people who are concerned that our kids will turn into texting, posting, chatting machines who are completely bereft of social skills… I think you need to dig a little more deeply into what kids are actually doing online. Learn more. Try it yourself. You may be surprised how much better YOUR OWN communication can be, as long as balance is a consideration.

Oh, and don’t just take my word for it. Here’s an article in Time’s online magazine that I found today before posting.

1pengo-au. “PV Connectors.” pengo-au’s photostream.6 Nov 2008. 19 Jan 2009.
2dirkjanranzijn. “Balance.” dirkjanranzijn’s photostream. 17 Jul 2008. 19 Jan 2009.

Where Do You Stand

January Think-About

Scott McLeod posted this photo back in October. I’m using it as a discussion point in some sessions this month.

Answer these questions:

1. What are your initial feelings/thoughts after viewing this photo and quote?

2. What are you doing to change that perception in education?

If you have a response on another site- photo, quote, blog post, or otherwise- please include a link in your comment.

Time Is What You Make Of It

December Think-About:

I’m often asked about the issue of “time”- usually during presentations/workshops about anything associated with blogging, wikis, microblogs, shared bookmarks, RSS feeds, etc.

“Who has the time to do this?”
“Why would I ever want to do any of those things? Where would I find the time?”

“All those things are great, but I have a life. There just isn’t time
to do it all!”

As a rule, I usually note during those sessions that I don’t sit behind a computer 24/7/365. BUT… I wonder if the participants really believe me? My guess is that many don’t believe me (I’m a ‘techie,’ right?), or they assume that the nature of my job affords me more time to read blogs, share on Twitter, add shared bookmarks, and post to my own blogs every single day.

The fact is… my job doesn’t really afford me more time to do any of these things. Instead, I’ve made the decision that using those tools help me to grow as a professional. I’m connected to people all around the world who are willing to share their ideas with me, collaborate with me on projects and ideas, and learn with me about preparing 21st century learners for future success. Why would I NOT make time for that?

We know that young people are also using these tools and gaining extraordinary benefits- when the tools are used appropriately. Perhaps that fact alone would be the motivating factor for making time.

I’ve always been told that you make time for those things in your life that are your priorities. So… why should this be a priority?

  1. If you’re preparing students to be successful for the future, you need to understand the learning tools they have at their disposal. We all understand best by DOING.
  2. These tools should be used in schools. Period.
  3. You will see a substantial increase in your own personal growth. I learn every single day from someone who shares with me. If you follow others in your field who are positive, strategic, and visionary, it’s nearly impossible to find these experiences unworthy of your time.

Here is a sampling of some “web 2.0” tools I use- those that I use most often:

I don’t use every tool every day, nor did I try to take on all of them at one time when I first started. In each case, I found a tool, tried it for a while, then decided if it provided me any advantage or benefit. What I found was that each one serves a different purpose, and I go to them for very different reasons. Of course, there were some that I found weren’t useful to me, so I don’t use them. In some cases, especially communication, I’ve found these tools actually save me time!

Because I’m seeking balance in my life, I’m also very deliberate about how much time I spend using these tools when home. That tends to be more difficult, but it’s important to make my family time a priority, too.

Just like we all need to find  time for recreation, for exercise, for learning, for SLEEP… I think it’s also possible to find time to blog, or contribute to a wiki, or share with others in your field through some other  web 2.0 tool. Maybe it’s once a week or once a month, but the time is there if you make it.

Is it a priority for you?