November 21, 2014

Twenty Years of Educational Change

From Teaching to LEARNING 

It's hard to believe that 20 years ago I was a student teacher in Ithaca, Michigan. I taught English and journalism/newspaper at the small, rural school south of Central Michigan University. My educational journey has taken me to Vestaburg, Michigan, Sheridan and Stanton, Michigan, and back up north to Buckley, Michigan. I've witnessed an amazing amount of change in those 20 years. After graduation from CMU in 1994, I spent a semester up north substitute teaching but got lucky the next fall and was hired at Vestaburg as an English and journalism teacher (as well as a Title I assistant teacher). It's been a great journey but what started me thinking was, "what changes have I seen in 20 years ... "

Don't turn the blog off yet. 
I'm not going to write about all the changes. I'm simply going to write about three changes that I think have impacted us all greatly. They have all made us better educators but at the same time have created additional complications. An organized curriculum, technology integration, and the systemic loss of local control have all had major effects on the educational world where I reside.

The Curriculum Itself
When I started this journey, the Michigan Curriculum Framework (MCF) had not been introduced. Teachers created curriculum from the textbooks they taught and from borrowing and begging completed curricula from other school districts. Curriculum was a hodgepodge of "stuff" that may have been all over the place. Getting teachers  — especially English teachers in a small, rural district — to agree on something like "voice" at the K–12 level … well suffice it to say, that was my first professional development session at Vestaburg as a new teacher. As the MCF had yet to arrive, we were all creating. I think this was the first time I heard a teacher utter, "Just tell me what you want me to teach." It wasn't the last. But it was probably the same teacher who when the MCF arrived and administration said, "This is what you're going to teach," said, "Why don't we get a say in this?" Come on, you know the person(s).

The MCF led to revisions, the introduction of Mi–CLIMB, the eventual arrival of the Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations and High School Expectations, further revisions, and eventually to the Common Core State Standards (though the aforementioned Michigan–specific GLCE and HSCE were not directly related to the CCSS). Curriculum is the backbone of what we teach but using best practice instructional strategies is how we teach this to our students.

I used to con my fellow teachers into letting me have their computers in my classroom if they weren't using them. I had several big old Gateway computers in my classroom ready for students to use. This was before we had Internet and the printers weren't great, but I had computer access so once students had begun the writing process (where exactly was that in the MCF?) they had technology they could use to compose and type their papers. As the Internet would catch on in my later years as a teacher, I made sure to teach students how to research on the computer (it's probably changed dramatically) and how to watch out for inaccurate information … Technology integration is getting technology into the hands of teachers and students so they can use the tools that are driving the working world today. Technology integration is not showing a Youtube video to your class. Technology integration is not simply allowing your students to look something up on Google on their smartphone.

Technology integration is getting tools into everyone's hands. It's no longer about learning to keyboard. Kids naturally learn this skill anymore. They may not learn the correct keyboarding skills but if you watch a fifth grader send a text message, you know that kid is quicker on the keyboard than most of us. Tech integration is allowing our students the opportunity to take us someplace. It's not teaching kids to create a movie using PowerPoint. Technology is the hub that connects us. Students have to learn the correct way to use technology to empower them to become better learners and at the same time better students, communicators, and citizens. Technology will forever band us all together, so we all need to integrate it into our lives.

Local Control
I think local control started to go away at the same time Proposal A passed and dramatically changed the funding structure of public education in Michigan. Literally, Prop A probably saved a number of school districts from going broke. It put the state in charge of funding for schools. It made some poor districts suddenly seem rich. But, 75 tweaks and changes later, it no longer works. But governmental and legislative control of schools if prevalent. We rely not only on the state for basic funding but also at risk funding; we rely on the feds for a number of funding sources, as well. Education used to be about the community coming together for the education of its kids. The lack of local control and subsequent misunderstanding of what that means in local communities has also affected how education happens. When we wait to see what the state is going to do before being able to make what many people consider simple decisions (e.g. budget) then we have a situation that is bigger than all of us.

I could go on about curriculum, technology, and local control for hours. But, I have an important educational meeting to get to today and it requires some drive time. Have a great day. I think I'll expound on all of these over the next few days.

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