Cory Roush

Dissonance and tension plus reflection and resolution equal intellectual growth

The First Sign That You Are a 21st Century Teacher...

People love buzzwords. I suppose that makes sense, given the defintion of the word, but each year it seems like every professional field gets a whole new batch of them. Politicians love to spew them in 30 second soundbites, and corporations are always eager to add new and exciting words to their marketing campaigns (see: artisan-baked everything, including potato chips and pizza). And for those of us who are interested in the latest technology news, you're probably familiar with Web 2.0, gamification, content discovery, and 4G, 5G, and LTE wireless access. If it gets people interested in what you are trying to sell, where's the harm?

It's fine if you choose to eat more Domino's pizza just because you think it's suddenly more healthy for you. Go right ahead and subscribe to the belief that any discontent with the ever-widening gap between the upper and lower class in America is socialist thinking. And please, spend a few hundred bucks more on a smartphone that you think is going to download YouTube videos faster than yours does now. There's no long-term harm in any of that, besides alienating your more liberal relatives during the holiday season.

The field of education, however, needs to avoid adding any more buzzwords to its repertoire. And if there's one buzzword that really rubs me the wrong way, it's this one: 21st century learning.

How do you know that you are a 21st century teacher? Simple.

You live in the 21st century, and are a teacher.

I'm referring to a post I saw float past on the Twitter feed (some might call it a PLN, unless you're receiving tweets from other teachers right alongside the latest news about Kim Kardashian, and then its relevance becomes a little harder to observe) listing the 21 signs that you are a 21st Century Teacher. And since the first item on the list referred to a PLN, I knew that I wasn't going to like this one.

What are some of the other signs that you are a 21st century teacher?

3.  You conduct virtual meetings with faculty and parents using the Google+ Hangout feature.

7.  You not only allow but fully support and encourage the use of social media inside school.

15.  Interactive Whiteboards have replaced nearly every overhead projector throughout the school.

16.  Upon entering the front doors, students make sure they have their mobile devices with them …and that they are turned on. 

17.  You collect classroom walkthrough and observation data via Google Forms.

Yes, I cherry-picked these examples. Yes, many of them were very valid suggestions for professional development. Yes, collaboration and communication is made much easier by the Internet. My biggest problems with the buzz around 21st century learning and teaching are these:

  1. It's a little embarassing to say that you are just learning how to become a 21st century teacher when we're approaching the 12th year of the century, isn't it?
  2. There is a lot more happening in the 21st century than whatever Google or Facebook is doing.
  3. We're losing our focus.

Hand a student a smartphone and an Einstein you do not make. If you don't use that expensive SmartBoard for anything besides taking the lunch count in the morning or pulling up the worksheets McGraw-Hill sent you at the beginning of the year, your classroom hasn't received a dose of interactivity. Simply using the hottest new feature of your favorite social media service isn't going to create a respectful, reciprocal relationship with your students and their families if you just use it to deliver more bad news about Timmy's math grade.

I understand that we are in a transformational time in education and people are still learning. Being 22 years old, it is very easy for me to forget that technology hasn't been an integral part of my life. But if you continue to believe that technology, and only technology, is going to "flip" your classroom, you're wrong. The principles of learning and teaching still stand, but they can't be ignored or covered up by the latest gadget.

I've spoken with several teachers who have watched as their schools invest money in entire sets of iPads, but fail to invest time in training teachers how to use them. And if you watch any Apple commercials and have never used an iPad before, you're probably going to assume that your entire classroom is going to be playing Angry Birds or watching YouTube while you teach. You're not going to automatically see the benefit or potential if you're worried about how to plug the damn thing in.

An unpopular opinion these days, I know, but I'm simply warning everyone. The curriculum should guide your practice, not the technology.


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