Tag Archives: open

Open to Change

Open to Change


by Richard White

It’s a fine line to walk, finding out what works for one’s self, but being open to change.

I found out the hard way a while ago, when, after 15 years of experience “mastering my craft” teaching in a number of different California schools, public and private, I had the good fortune to be able to invite a series of student teachers to share my classroom with me. On their worst days in my classroom, they left school defeated, nursing a sad feeling that they’d chosen to enter the wrong profession (been there, done that). On their best days, though, they blew me out of the water with their enthusiasm, their brilliant ideas, and outstanding teaching that left ME wondering if I it wasn’t time to turn in my lesson plans and go do something else. I learned very quickly that, when working with a student teacher, the best approach for me was to 1) listen to their ideas, 2) offer the wisdom of my own experience, and 3) shut up and get out of the way. Some days there would be post-lesson damage control to be done (for the students AND the student-teacher), but most days I’d walk away with a great new lesson/unit/teaching strategy that I could add to my bag of tricks.

Don’t get me wrong, though: working with a student teacher, when it’s done right, is a difficult and time-consuming process. The hardest part for me was always number 3 above, the shutting up. I mean, doesn’t this person know how much experience I have? Don’t they see how strong I am in the classroom? Don’t they realize how GOOD I am??! Of course, there are lots of different ways to be good, and what works for me isn’t going to work for someone else. There are lots of different strategies that can be employed in effective teaching, and I need to be open to the possibilities. I need to be open to the idea of changing some aspects of what I do, especially if there’s something better out there.

That’s the theory. The reality is that, especially as one spends a few years in the game, one gets invested in one’s system. To think about it from a media perspective, the carbon copies I used for my first lessons had to be typed into WordPerfect files, and then had to be retyped into ClarisWorks files, which fortunately were auto-translated into AppleWorks files, which required some finagling to be reformatted at Word .doc files, which are going to have to be completely redone (perhaps?) as LaTeX files… The time and energy that one spends in developing and presenting content has its own inertial legacy that becomes increasingly difficult to challenge.

At the level of the classroom itself: Do you make your notes available to students? Do you require students to take their own notes? Do you post your classroom content on the Internet? Do you allow students to take pictures of your notes? What about recording lectures?

We need to be open to the idea that students are developing new ways of acquiring and processing the information and procedures that we share with them. The “old way” of doing things isn’t necessarily the “best way,” although—and here’s the tricky part—it MIGHT be a really good way, and something that IS going to work for most of your students!

And there’s the rub. We have our years of experience that we are charged with using to help our students, but we have to be willing to accept that something new MIGHT be better, without yet knowing whether it really is or not.

My only advice here is to be willing to have the conversation. If students ask for your content to be made available online, consider doing that. If students want to take photos of classroom work, consider it. Why wouldn’t you want to allow that? Are you afraid that someone might actually get a copy of that information and… learn something??!

Oh, the horror! :)

“Give it away, give it away, give it away now!”

“Give it away, give it away, give it away now!”


Richard White

We’re talking about wireless access today, with thanks to the Red Hot Chili Peppers for pleading our case so succinctly. Wireless access at high schools needs to be freely, openly available. Here’s why.

1. Schools exist to help students learn, and learn how to learn.

… and increasingly, that learning requires—or at the very least makes use of—the Internet. From videos of science demonstrations to textbook websites, from email to social networking, from “just surfing” to last-minute instructions during a teacher absence, our students are growing up in an increasingly sophisticated world that asks them to be technologically savvy, and requires them to be able to manage multiple short- and long-term tasks. Even if you, Hansel, still keep your appointments in a Day Planner, spilling a little trail of paper-based reminders behind you wherever you go, that’s not how the rest of the world works now. Students do work—homework, reports, research—on laptops, and some students bring those machines to school in order to get additional work done. Then need to be connected to the Internet!

Why, as educators, would we stand in the way of that?

2. A closed network is futile.

Students who are unable to access the Internet via a computer may easily do so through a cellphone, and increasingly via dataphones such as the iPhone, the “Google phone” (HTC Nexus One), and the like. We’re not protecting them from Facebook, or instant messaging, or Twitter, or porn. We’re just making it harder for them to do the things that they do need to do.

The Zona Rosa Café, not far from my house, refuses to offer a wireless signal for its patrons. The owner states that he doesn’t want “that kind of café”—he wants one that’s more interactive, more social. He’s free to run his business as he wishes, of course, but you can guess what his clients, many of them students, do: they sit there typing away on their non-networked computers, or surfing the Internet anyway on their phones.

As educators with a progressive stance on the use of appropriate technology in a learning environment, why would we cripple our students with less-than-complete access? What does it say to our students when they can get a better Internet connection on their own cellphone than they can through an over-filtered school laptop?

We’re not protecting them from anything. We’re just making it inconvenient, and making ourselves look silly in the process.

3. The iPad is coming.

In the humble opinion of many of my fellow, tech-crazed, educators, we’re about to witness a revolution. Apple’s new iPad—available within a couple of months—promises to do to the the plastic, gray-scale Kindle what the iMac did to the PC, what the iPod did to the MP3 player, and what the iPhone did to the cellphone industry. It’s going to leverage people’s familiarity with the power, convenience, and now-familiar multi-touch interface of the iPhone so that the iPad becomes the most successful media player on the planet. Publishers are lining up to deliver iPad customized content, including newspapers (hoping desperately for something, anything that will save their failing industry), and publishers of textbooks (overpriced, and increasingly just downloaded illegally via Bittorrent by cash-poor but tech-savvy college students). Educational materials are a natural for the iPad, and at least one teacher I know of has both a) received a grant to purchase three of them for his classroom, and b) begun the process of developing his own educational materials, to be delivered on the iPad.

Although some models of the iPad are going to have 3G capability, the lower-priced versions (hello, Education Market) are going to have network access only via wireless Internet. Students who want to take advantage of these devices are going to need access to networks, and schools should have a responsibility to provide it, unfettered and unfiltered. (One of my colleagues, using a filtered laptop to search for the lyrics to an old Bob Dylan song, had his search refused by overly-protective software; the text “It Ain’t Me, Babe” contained a dangerous, porn-related keyword.)

So there you have it.

The tech guys at my school work harder than anybody I know to configure the network, deliver computers, assist teachers, and foster the use of technology at my school. They are knowledgeable (not surprising), social (for IT guys!), friendly (really!), and never fail to come through, whether it’s diagnosing a network problem in the middle of class or answering their work phone even when out sick for the day. But I’ve come to believe that they’ve got better things to do than spend their day re-doing proxies and managing MAC address whitelists.

Will there be problems with opening up the network? Absolutely. Students will have to learn how to behave responsibly on the network at school, and sysadmins will need to keep an eye on use (and potential misuse) of the network, as they always do. But opening up the network puts the responsibility for using it wisely squarely on the shoulders of the students—where it should be—rather than on overly twitchy content filters.

Most importantly, though, it gives students the freedom and the power to become more active participants in their own learning.

And that’s what school is all about.