Sunday, June 25, 2017

Leadership and Technology

I’m writing this as I read Chapter 5 of BDWM, Professional Development for Digital Writing.

Teaching is the next step past learning something.  The book starts with these first four ‘diversity, skills, interests and access’ as to why teaching is more challenging. I agree with this broad subject list. I would like to address ‘interest’ and I think the rest of the chapter also teaches this. Interest is motivated students. A hard work disposition, means anyone could be a great student.
            The way to teach new technology is to teach leadership. “when technology changes or disappears, specific skills change. Investment in leadership lasts” (pg. 117). Their reason for this claim is to remember writing is social, and digital writing is direct access to communication and community. On pg. 116 she has three bullet pointed and research backed conclusions. In summary ‘change is long, and shared knowledge and working together creates the best result.’
            One way they suggest to create staff development is in school training, personal pursuit (college courses), and possibly my favorite weekend retreats.  I can understand the in-school training, like stay after on an early day or something. And of course, if the school will pay my tuition, or even bump up my salary for taking courses, I am all in on taking classes forever. But I don’t see where the money is coming from. I know that the U.S. Education System is in a bit of a flux at the moment.  And personally, after I work all week, I’m ready to disconnect with my friends and family.
(Any experience with professional development at your schools? Mandatory/ Voluntary, Paid/ Unpaid, Conferences in Hawaii?)  
            The last part of this section in the chapter covers “the richest conceptions of professional development for improved teaching and learning” (pg. 118) They break it down again into three bullet points and in summary; people are primary, pedagogy is the scaffolding, and leadership is taught by being interested. Disposition is something I am acutely aware of. For me to have a motivated disposition is one of the most important part in learning. Especially learning new technology which can be frustrating, or obsolete in a few months. A classroom full of students intimidates me, finding a way to engage all of my students. Learning how they learn. Being able to create an interesting class, that includes all my students. This fear I have closes out the introductory section I hope to find some confirmation in the upcoming sections.
            Pg. 119 “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn” quoted from Charlie Parker by Kevin Hodgson as he looked for a tag line for his blog. He interpreted this to “capture the concept that you have to live the world in order to understand it.” In essence, he means that as teachers we must continue to explore and experiment ourselves if we want to stay relevant and retain access to our students.  I have felt this way many times, and feared that I would lose touch as my existence remains in the classroom and not outside of it. I hope that I can learn from my students as much as I can continue to ‘live the world’ outside of it. At the moment, this seems to be a ‘no duh’ idea but when in the midst of the school year I am guessing it feels improbable.
            On Pg. 129 Selfe (2009) “describes four paths to integrate students into the culture of technology at school”.  The first is independent-study programs, where students who have skills and knowledge to do with current technology can help support or engage with technology projects for class credit. I hope that I will not have to create a separate independent-study program in order for my students to work with technology. But assign projects like the ones in this course as a part of the normal curriculum. The next two both work with volunteering of time in order to partake in training or support other students who need help with technology. The last is the same but paid for. I like these ideas but as I stated earlier I don’t know if schools can support these programs financially or if they could get enough committed volunteers to maintain them.  
            I believe this chapter concludes that we as teachers must include our students. Especially in the technology we use in our classrooms. By getting the students involved in planning, supporting, even teaching themselves we can empower our students to take more of an interest in the class. As they begin to become more involved they will also begin to grow in a professional development manner.  Leadership skills cross the boundaries of technology and infiltrate the culture and community of the school.  These changes will support their writing which in turn helps their thinking, learning, and communicating. 


  1. Joe, I completely agree that interest is a huge part to engaging students and seeing that they are successful, not only in English, but in all of their academic studies. If the interest in the material or content is not there, students are much less likely to be engaged in the lesson, to produce good work, and to understand what the materials and objectives are truly getting at. Interest is an imperative element that many teachers and curriculum designers seem to be forgetting. Having students that are engaged in the lesson, actually interacting and having a passion for what they are learning, is the way to reach them, as Piaget and Rousseau would say. As teachers, we need to act on our students’ innate interests and curiosities in order to better educate them and instruct them in developing future skills and methods.

    I have to say that, at least at my school, we have no experience going away for professional development days. We all just kind of huddle into one large room and wait until the thing’s over. I will say that many teachers study abroad over the summer or during vacations for graduate course credits, and they come back having learned a lot from the experience. If our professional development days were something like this, I would totally be more receptive to going to them.

    As far as the independent studies for students interested in working as a tech support service for the school, I think that this is a great idea. However, I do see two issues with this. The first, as you pointed out, has to do with the finances of it. It would be fantastic if we could pay students for their work as a support team, but if my department is getting emails telling us to cut down printing because of budget issues, I am not seeing the money to pay students anywhere in the school’s budget. The second issue I have is that this is a great program for students who are ALREADY knowledgeable and interested in technology. I’m wondering how exactly this helps students to grow in their technology community. It sound as if they need to already have a background in computer sciences, or at least an interest in the field.

  2. I think the most compelling though "no duh" (as you say) aspect of this chapter is ensuring that professional development for teachers prioritizes experimentation, play and making personally meaningful the variety of digital writing technologies. It has been a tremendous help to me in this class to play around with digital storytelling and the hypertext assignment and to then think critically about how or if I would want to integrate these modes into the classroom to facilitate learning. I particularly liked the example of the "digital writing marathons" as an in depth sustained way for teachers themselves to engage in writing in a variety of modes, reflect on that experience with colleagues, discuss strategies for integrating the practice into the classroom and share findings from the work done in the classroom.

    My experience with technology focused professional development is limited. I can on my own go to the Instructional Technology office and seek out one-on-one support for things like using SMART boards and the learning management system. But that is not paid, and is not the type of in-depth sustained prof dev Devoss writes of that goes beyond learning technical skills. Other types of organized professional development opportunities are paid for. If there was paid support for technology focused prof dev, I would have been more inclined to do it. At this point though, developing these skills would help me be more competitive when applying for full time work. Most imporatant, The more I learn about and engage in digital writing, the more it has become something I want to develop the capacity to do in the classroom (to Devoss's point!). To my knowledge, faculty are not engaged as leaders around classroom technology integration the way Devoss describes. Rather professional tech staff work individually with faculty.

    Finally, I like the idea of paying students to support faculty and other students to integrate technology into the classroom. In higher ed, paying students for this work could easily be done with Federal Work Study dollars. FWS jobs are often filing or admin jobs that don't engage students. Hiring students as tech leaders would be a great alternative that would develop and strengthen students' leadership and technology skills.

  3. One thing that works in my school is having teachers run their own professional development sessions on half days. Our head of technology reaches out to staff and asks them if they are particularly skilled at any aspects of technology. For example, there is one teacher at my school who is a Google Classroom master so he ran a PD centered around that. Each session ranges from 30 minutes to and hour and all teachers and staff are required to attend at least 2 hours of sessions. It is great because you get exposed to multiple aspects of technology and you're learning from colleagues. There is no added work involved for the teachers. We just show up, learn, and practice utilizing the technology.

    I am glad you mentioned the section in the chapter that discusses student involvement in technology education. I can't tell you how many times my students have showed me how to do something and really helped me learn different technologies. I think the examples provided in the chapter were amazing. They seem like great ways to get students involved in their own learning as well as improve their confidence. Furthermore, if a main goal is to promote student engagement (as it should be) then learning about different technologies our students use and how they use them seems like a great way to do this.

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  5. To address your question on professional development: my school has offered very little in the way of paid (either supplementary or as part of the standard professional development days during the year) development. While I don't want to simplify things down to saying that paid development is what determines an initiative's success, it does signal priority on the part of the school.

    To give an example: our school tried bringing in an instructional technology coordinator, who began offering voluntary seminars Tuesday afternoons immediately after school. I'll be fair: most of the staff was not interested in attending. For those of us who were, however, those meetings didn't always works. I run club activities after school on Tuesday, so I could rarely attend. Frequently, when these sorts of things fall outside normal professional responsibilities, they become one of many competing obligations, and in my case other obligations won out). On the other hand, our district has had rampant success with paid seminars put on by Research for Better Teaching during the summer. Staff can voluntarily elect to attend a 3-day course and then work to integrate those lessons over the school year. I'm confident that if my district offered a similar program focused on technological professional development (like the CyberCamp program described on page 124), many of my colleagues would jump at the chance.

    Unfortunately, I sometimes think my school has fallen into the "culture of blame" that Selfe outlines (127). There are frequent accusations of laziness or ignorance, and though my district has made some steps towards a more supportive culture—establishing a team of stakeholders, developing a technology integration plan—I do sometimes think that teacher voices are drowned out. Attempts at collaborative, staff-run programs are thrown together in a haphazard manner, and much of the direction ends up focusing on “attempting to use technology for its own sake” (123). A near pathological obsession with apps, for example, colored a recent discussion I had with leaders in our building regarding how to structure possible PD. The question that kept being posed was, “What app does it use?” rather than “What learning experience is it enabling or enhancing?” Until teachers become aware of what technology can do and leaders begin focusing on programs that fulfill teacher and student needs, I’m afraid we’ll continue seeing less-than-adequate progress towards the vision DeVoss has outlined.


    1. Tim, I definitely agree that there tends to be a "culture of blame" within our field. It seems that although most teachers put in a great deal of effort, they often individually assume that they are the only ones who put in such efforts compared to the rest of their teaching community. I've found that there is often a competitive environment within schools, and teachers may keep their resources/lessons secretive so as to appear more competent than others in their department. I experienced this type of atmosphere in Hampden, Maine where teachers were paid different salaries based on the competence of their teaching. I found this type of atmosphere to be EXTREMELY counter-productive to the goals we have been taught to prioritize in this class. For example, at Hampden Academy, my mentor had once handed me a worksheet and asked me not to show it to a particular teacher in the department because he didn’t want to remind her that he has been using her material. That is so strange to me. When teachers don’t have opportunities to share their tools and perspectives, they are creating a school community that is ultimately counterproductive in terms of learning and growth.

  6. I have a lot of thoughts about this topic, both as a teacher who endured some terrible PD and as a teacher that has run PD sessions. In my mind, the interest and motivation of the teacher should be THE most important factor in determining the nature and scope of PD. The National Writing Project philosophy (which is embraced by the writers of BDWM) of "teachers teaching teachers" is the best approach I've encountered because it places teacher concerns front and center. Unfortunately, this is the exception rather than the rule. While I certainly understand that districts must obligate their teachers to go through PD, I think many of them have lost sight of how PD should work. If PD turns into district development or test score enhancement, then it no longer is PD. And even beyond local districts, I think states like MA have lost sight about PD. It strikes me as unreasonable to REQUIRE that teachers acquire graduate credits for professional licensure, especially if the tuition is not reimbursed. Graduate study, in my mind, is for those SEEKING additional knowledge or training. I realize that incentives often need to be offered, such as salary increases, given the tight schedules teachers must maintain, but I can't justify requiring teachers obtain graduate credits to keep their jobs.

  7. Joe, I like that you emphasize the necessity of social interaction when it comes to our use of digital tools. This chapter did a great job of clarifying the expectations for any tech-focused professional development environment, and, as you mentioned, it seems to prioritize a continuous, exploratory/ inquiry-based community of learners. Will Richardson's quote at the end of this chapter particularly resonated with me, "tools are easy; connections are hard." (Devoss, 140) I find this to be very true, particularly in the world of education. As we have discussed throughout this semester, writing is a communicative act, and therefore, digital writing should be utilized so as to reinforce this idea...and so far, this hasn't been accomplished in our school system. Yes, teachers integrate Google Classroom sites for their individual classes, however, I have yet to come across a helpful digital medium for school-wide (or district-wide) communication. This type of communication system would be invaluable for either faculty or students since it would serve to emphasize both a digital community and an ideal of shared learning. When it comes to technology in the education field, I have yet to see teachers prioritize ANY technology for any local/global communication purposes, unless it is utilized for each individual classroom. Jillian mentions her own professional development experience, in which teachers take turns sharing their expertise in relation to specific digital mediums, and this sounds like a beneficial learning opportunity based on the priorities of this chapter! We, as a class, have complained many times about the danger of tech-focused articles, particularly, the way in which these articles portray technology integration with improbable ease. The face-to-face interactions that Jillian describes would help to combat this issue- teachers can discuss and think critically about the benefits, distinctions, difficulties, and barriers associated with each digital writing channel. While all teachers should aim to learn more about the digital world individually, this kind of hands-off focus will not successfully ensure that all faculty and students are being prepared efficiently for the digital world outside of the classroom. We need to emphasize continuous growth in terms of the ever-changing digital resources available to us, and just as writing needs to be taught in relation to each individual core subject, digital writing should be integrated and prioritized across contexts as well. Therefore, the education department needs to step it up!

    I, like everyone else, love the idea of student integration for the sake of digital growth. I don't THINK that this was explicitly stated in the chapter, but I think that student integration would fit well in relation to the typical structure of a "writing center." High school writing centers are often run by students (who do not get financial compensation), and through a thorough training program, students learn how to help their peers in diverse writing scenarios. In the same way, students would be trained on technological tools, and they would then aim to help their peers utilize these tools according to the individual needs of each scenario. In this context, the school budget wouldn't affect anything and it would emphasize the same leadership/community values that were discussed in the chapter scenarios provided. At the same time, this would address Brandon's concern as well (regarding the unfair utilization of students who already hold expertise in the technological world). In a "technology center," the "experts" help the novices and I believe that this could help achieve the school-wide digital community we are all hoping to create. What do you guys think?

  8. Thank you for your post, Joe. As someone going into teaching, professional development is one of those things I dread. My mother is an elementary school teacher, and every time she has PD days, she talks about how it feels like a waste of time. Rarely do these PD sessions provide meaningful training in technology and classroom tools she is expected to use. She works with a lot of younger teachers who have far more tech experience than she does, and they often get frustrated with her when she asks them for help with a tech problem. At the same time, she has to take graduate courses online, and often needs my help to navigate the online courses. It makes me upset, because she is an amazing, experienced teacher, but she is not getting the support she needs to integrate technology into her elementary classroom.

    My only experience with PD was in Korea, and it was so-so. We had to complete two online PD courses (one before we started teaching, and one during our first year) in addition to our week-long training. These were somewhat helpful in letting us know what to expect in terms of cultural differences, types of lessons we'd need to teach, and how to participate in the Korean school culture. We also had "critical friends groups" our first year, where groups of five teachers would observe each other's classes and meet to discuss what was working and what wasn't. This could have been very helpful, but the majority of us were new teachers and I would have liked to work more with "veteran" teachers (who had been teaching in Korea for 3+ years). For the most part, I felt like PD there was well-intentioned but not fully thought out.

    I agree with you on teachers needing to experience new technologies for themselves in order to use them for the classroom -- and that Charlie Parker quote really stuck out to me too! I really wish PD could let teachers be more active and give them time to experiment and reflect on the tools they try out. I really loved the idea of Cyber Camp as a fun (and funded!) way to train teachers in emerging technologies. But you bring up a great point about budget: which school districts have the means to pay for PD like this? Like Brandon, I know several teachers who have gone abroad during the summers to gain new skills, but these are often programs that they apply to and pay for on their own. I do blame this lack of effective and engaging PD on budget for many school systems, but it is also likely the result of our society's reluctance to see teachers as "professionals."

    With regards to student involvement in tech help in schools, I do like the idea, and I was persuaded by Amanda's idea of setting it up like writing centers. There are several possibilities for this kind of setup. You could connect it to a course (comp sci?) and have volunteering at the tech center count for course credit, but this could make it hard to maintain and staff. Alternatively, you could tie it to community service. Like Jamilla said, many high school students need to complete community service to graduate -- this could be an option for tech savvy students.

  9. You already know where I stand on interest and motivated students. I find that a common topic that we speak about during our grad career is that of disposition and what to do about it. When people ask me how I do it, how do I stay motivated even though I am very vocal about my disposition in school, I tell them this:
    The military taught me how to not only grin and bear it, but how to smile and do it. I know what needs to get done and I am motivated to complete tasks. However, I am not enjoying myself most of the time and I wish that were different.

    The solution can't be military (though that's another argument I could have) to having students show up and get shit done. So for the rest of them, and myself pre-military, becoming interested in subjects that don't naturally pique your interests remains a challenge. I question whether or not it is the responsibility of the teacher or if it is just cool if the teacher does what they can do to reach the students that are hard to reach.

    As far as continuing education and remaining relevant as a teacher, I share your fear. Technology can be a wonderful tool in the classroom, especially because it is so common outside of the classroom that it just makes sense. However, with the fast pace that technology evolved, it does seem like schools should provide assistance to the staff in order to keep them constantly training on the next thing. I haven't figured out yet if having teachers simultaneously be teachers and students for life is silly or genius; either way, it's expensive and someone has to foot the bill.

    I do agree with the role of leadership. Leadership training is timeless and universal. Regardless of your expertise, knowing how to keep a crew pushing onward is really the most important skill. "The digital environment can't replace conversations, tap creativity, and encourage writers." (121). I'm thankful that technology can't replace that, or at least I don't think it ever will be able to. There is some inexplicable quality that certain people have that just draws people in and motivates them to do things that other people can't. Those skills can be taught to a certain degree, but we have all met those 1 of a kind gems that just have it, whatever it is.

  10. As I was reading this last chapter, all I was reminded of was how horribly my school has tried to implement professional development around digital writing, technology, and bringing both into the classroom.

    In comparison with the advice in this chapter of the text, I think that my school first took a step in the wrong direction of implementation of the new technology in the classroom, with a specific focus on the English classroom, when they viewed technology as a thing instead of a tool. The way that the new technology was pitched to teachers at the Henderson at the beginning of this school year was that our technology (chromecarts (with 26 chrome books), and mimio boards in every classroom) was this thing that we were all going to have access to. It was put into our classroom to try to keep us on par with other schools, such as Boston Latin Academy, and Milton Academy. The principal seemed to believe that having this technology was going to put us up in the next level, and allow us to change the academic trajectory for all of our students.

    We were "screwed" from the beginning in regards to the implementation, because we were using technology without purity. We weren't using it to provide a better education for our students, we weren't using it to give students another avenue of self expression in an academic setting, we weren't even using it to better achieve our standards. Instead, we were using technology to try to compete with other schools.

    The school also did not train teachers to use one piece of technology. Instead, they expected their Computer teacher to show the other teachers how to use both the chrome books, Google tech, and the mimio boards in an one hour segment during professional development. As the youngest teacher on the high school staff, I can say with an honest heart that teachers needed more time, and less technology to focus on. Instead of using three different forms of technology, we should have placed all of our attention on one form of technology. For example, during the 2016-2017 school year the Henderson High teachers should have focused on using the mimio boards. We should have had discussions about what the boards could provide in our classrooms, how it could progress our student's learnings, and how we, as teachers, could improve their reading strategies (in ELA), or their math skills (in Algebra 2), or their collaboration mindset. Then, after most of the teachers were able to meaningfully bring the mimio boards into their classroom routines, get students familiar with it until they are able to teach others' important lessons with the tool.

    If only the first three months of the school year were focused on one (tech/digital) tool, then teachers would have been given the training that we need to be successful. We would have also, and most importantly, been able to implement the technology into our classrooms in a way that benefited students instead of haphazardly maintaining fifteen plates as they spun in the air.

  11. Joes, thank you for the post! Your final paragraph touched on one of the more exciting ideas in this chapter: the students as teachers. More radical than students teaching other students is the emphasis on “collaborative inquiry” (133) between educator and student – it is very Paolo Freire. The “play frame” from earlier in the chapter is not explicitly linked to this, but they dovetail into eachother in interesting ways. DeVoss et al’s assertion that “playful experiementation and engagement are as critical for teachers as they are for students,” sounds like a productive way to think “PD,” because play entails interacting with a system or a set of rules, and either reflecting on the effects of our play choices, or sometimes changing the rules – always with the recognition that although the game has been designed with rules, that these are arbitrary. Perhaps the “P” here should indicate “playful,” rather than personal. I think that McComas is right in advocating the blurring of the lines between personal and professional (this is one of the many effects of the internet), and also the digital and non-digital (the same). In some ways, this echoes my feelings regarding how we think of digital ecologies, or rather, how we might not think the physical and digital as separate. As Hunt points out, involving web 2.0 can have the effect of “crystalizing” the audience (124). Moreover, if we begin to think of the classroom as a space where we consider the “real world,” then such writing will help in crystalizing exigence. If we are approaching learning with a sense of playfulness, then we are approaching the world as something which we can imagine otherwise, something with a different set of rules. The breakdown of the traditional power differential between educator and educated works with this in powerful ways. Similarly, it might be unproductive to think of digital technologies independent of other technologies. Are we ever only using tablets and computers? Where do the pre-writes come from? Do we discuss our work face to face? I’m sort of rambling here, but my primary takeaway is that the various distinctions between different spaces, human subjects, technological objects, etc is somewhat limiting.

  12. Joe,

    Like Brandon’s school, teachers don’t go away for professional development days. We have PD sessions for 1-3 hours each month. Often, these PD sessions are presentations with small activities so we can discuss the topic with colleagues and meet people from other departments. These PD sessions are always on a Friday, and I fear that most of the effect is lost by Monday morning. One idea from that chapter I liked was incorporating students into PD sessions so teachers could immediately try out some of the ideas (131). I don’t know how feasible this would be during a Friday afternoon PD session, but I think the application portion of most PD is missing. We listen to a lecture and discuss issues, but don’t implement the ideas. Sometimes, certain sessions will offer more points if a teacher sends in a lesson plan that contains aspects of the PD, but this is optional.

    I agree with Shana and Darisse about utilizing play for effective professional development. I also think that teachers need “the opportunity to work as a writer in a community of writers” (119). Effective writing PD would include opportunities for teachers to write and perhaps publish that writing so they get a sense of authentic writing opportunities for their students. I work in a vocational school where all shop teachers are required to have experience in their field before becoming a teacher. This allows them to draw on that experience in their instruction. Academic teaching could learn something from this model.

    The only professional development that has had a real impact on my teaching are graduate courses. Besides being much more intensive, graduate courses are more effective than PD because they involve theory. Teachers not only learn the “how,” but also the “why,” and this has a more lasting effect on teaching. A one-hour PD session is akin to reading a nutrition article, enlightening but quickly forgotten. Actually taking a good pedagogical course can be compared to meeting with a nutritionist where one can learn the why behind nutritional choices and ensure lifelong habits. Alas, both nutritional counseling and graduate courses are expensive. If MASS DESE offered a better tuition reimbursement for graduate courses (I currently only receive $70 per credit), then I would take classes throughout my career. I imagine other teachers would take advantage of this as well, and our students would receive better instruction. It would also provide an additional perk for teachers, attracting teachers who would model lifelong learning for their students.


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