The Most Important Skill in the 21st Century

I think Alan November's message is the most important of any that were delivered at this year's ISTE conference. Primarily, if we're going to teach teachers and students to use the Internet, then we should be teaching them to understand the perspectives of others. The idea that empathy is the most vital skill of the 21st Century is very powerful. Nevertheless, I don't think it's limited to only here and now.

Hasn't our society starved for citizens that understand and care for one another? Haven't we strove for the most civil of populations? Isn't empathy the first step in achieving such a goal?

What's changed, however, is the geographical distribution of our society. In times past, social capital was established among those in our immediate proximity: local meant house, village, and state. Today's local, nevertheless, is yesterday's global. I think that this is exactly what Jean Claude Richard was trying to teach in his opening keynote. In spite of his difficulties in presenting to a 5,000 person audience, Richard's thesis was that the only way we're going to solve all of the problems we face on this planet, will be to work together as a race: the human race.

To that critical thought, I join with Alan November in emphasizing to teachers and curriculum leaders world-wide that we should all be more focused on globalizing the curriculum. I fear thar failure to do so will translate into drastically negative consequences for this and future generations.

The Increasingly Difficult Task of Gaining Audience Trust

While Chris Lehmann was delivering his lunch-time keynote to participants in the ISTE/TIE Leadership Bootcamp, his computer froze and I'm pretty sure I'm the one to blame.

Just before his address, I recommended to him that he break from the standard a little and come down off the stand to be closer to his audience. Chris kindly followed my advice. His computer - probably a Mac running Windows or something like that - didn't like the new arrangement and so it froze on a slide entitled "Humility." No kidding. Being the caliber of presenter that Chris is, he handled the presenter's-worst-nightmare very well, complete with rag-tag tap dance and all. But I'm not really writing this post to apologize nor to extend Chris a well-deserved pat on the back. Instead, I'm writing about trust.

Trust is an amazing thing; built often by reputation, sometimes out of love, earned instantly on sporadic occasions and on others just over a lifetime. Trust is created by proving oneself: An earned confidence on the part of others, marked by belief in ability, certainty of potential, and reliance on capacity. Trust can be very hard to come by.

The reason I recommended to Chris that he break from the traditional organization of the room is that, having just experienced Jeff Pointek's keynote in the same room, I'd solidified further in my mind how difficult it can be to lecture the modern conference attendee. ("Attendee," of course, because "participant" doesn't really describe those consuming a lecture, now does it.) In watching the audience react to Jeff's hits and misses as he'd led us through his tale, I'd learned even better how difficult it can be to earn an audience's trust. And it's not just the laptops. It's that those laptops are now connected to a network and how - more than ever before - the modern presenter battles not only to earn the trust of an audience, but for the attention of that audience, as well.

Have you ever tried to earn a person's trust without knowing that they're even listening? Have you ever tried to do it knowing that they're not?

Therefore, just as we're taught as pre-service teachers, I think immediate audience proximity is increasingly becoming a necessity for presenters asked to lecture the networked generation. What do you do when even your most difficult students begin to stray off task? You move in closer, showing that you care, doing your best to earn the respect and trust you've come to deserve.

To be sure, I certainly don't know everything there is to know about this complex game we call education. As a result, I appreciate very much the opportunity I had to participate in this experience - and for Chris' perfectly-timed words on the essential requirement we all have to be humble in the service we give to others. I'm grateful to have (had? :-) the trust of such a capable teacher in Chris, and the humble manner in which he so passionately leads those in and out of his school.


Images source: Flickr user Katie Morrow.

Different Strokes for Different Folks: LBC vs. EBC

Filtering, access, collaboration, care, trust, responsibility, noise, connect, social capital, communities of practice, iPads all around, hyperconnectivity, the six degrees of Bacon, #edchat, reputation, highly intelligent kids, policy, purpose, and politics: I think ISTE 2010 began very well.

Having attended the first-ever ISTE/TIE Leadership Bootcamp, I was impressed with their lineup while torn by the unfortunate scheduling conflict with EduBloggerCon. In truth, the jumps I made during the day from LBC to EBC to LBC to EBC were fascinating because both events were structured very differently, both had quality people contributing to the atmosphere, and each was unique in its strengths.

To delineate, the Leadership Bootcamp taught me a number of things. First, I'm still comfortable with the relatively liberal filtering policies we put in place in our District. We put forth an adequate effort in maintaining CIPA requirements while also giving teachers and students the freedom to access social sites potentially helpful to their curriculum. Second, we've become an incredibly difficult society to teach - at least when teaching means lecture, and as students, well, we're networked. More on that to come. Third, the Leadership Bootcamp was successful in teaching me that an increase in cost doesn't always translate into an increase in learning. While the learning that took place at LBC was certainly top-rate (and traditional in its approach, to be sure), such an environment had no corner on the market of effectiveness.

Fashioned after the "un-conference" model, EduBloggerCon on the other hand, was free to all participants and informal in its approach. Session Conversation topics and facilitators were selected at the beginning of the event, and no participants were paid for their services. Learning was the focus, and provided by the community for the community - all in the form of conversation, untainted by the sight of sages on stages. In jumping back and forth between LBC and EBC, it was clear that conversation is an incredibly powerful method of learning, capable of rapid customization but also often prone to easy derailment. More than once, conversations began with a clear objective in mind, but were quickly shifted toward topics originally unintended.

Through the conversations I was privileged to experience during EduBloggerCon, I also learned many things. Primarily, it was solidified in my mind that there exists an important role in many classrooms for the iPad. In spite of hearing cautionary voices to the contrary, I think that if a teacher's central goals include increasing a student's love for reading, then the iPad is a more sound investment than laptops or netbooks. The more I use the iPad, the more I'm attracted to its interface, and oddly, the more I find myself addicted to consuming its content. In contrast, I've never felt similarly compelled to read PDFs on my laptop and doubt our students ever have, either. Strange, I know (and probably even unhealthy).

David Jakes and his dPad at EduBloggerCon

All in all, I'm grateful to have been able to participate in the ISTE/TIE Leadership Bootcamp and EduBloggerCon, and would recommend both events in the future to any teacher hoping to learn how to improve their practice.


Image source: David Warlick.

Education is complex. Teachers should be learning.

Right on the heels of my last post, Larry Cuban explains why teachers must be aggressive in their learning habits. Because education is a complex process (rather than a complicated process), those hoping to succeed under such circumstances must be willing to adapt.

At the minimum, know that working in a complex system means adapting to changes, dealing with conflicts, and constant learning. These are natural, not aberrations. Know further that reform designs borrowed from complicated systems and imposed from the top in complex systems will hardly make a dent in the daily work of those whose job is convert policy into action.
I know of few things more complex than teaching a child to learn.


Image source: Flickr user fdecomite.

Teachers Need...

I came across this jewel the other day, reminiscent of Carl Glickman and (surprisingly) straight out of 1997.

Teachers need an attitude that is fearless in the use of technology, encourages them to take risks, and inspires them to become lifelong learners.
How have you seen teacher attitudes change since 1997? Do you know teachers that are fearless in their use of technology or is school out for the summer?


Image source: Flickr user Magnus.

Quotation source:

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