Friday, July 9, 2010

Good vs Great Teachers: My Ravitch Response

Earlier today I read an article published in the Washington Post by Diane Ravitch entitled "Ravitch on Teachers and Her Critics".  For the most part I agree with her views on No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and in many other areas.  However, I was very taken aback by this statement that she made referencing 21st Century Skills, "And, to the extent that it is about pushing more technology into the schools, it is pointless, as technology will never take the place of good teachers." 

As an educational leader I feel compelled to address this statement as I am tasked with hiring, observing, mentoring, evaluating, and supporting teachers on a daily basis.  I want all of my teachers to be good and I unequivocally agree that there is nothing more important and influential to the success of a student than a good teacher.  This leads me to list some defining characteristics of a good teacher:

1.  Sound classroom management skills.
2.  Ability to actively engage all learners.
3.  Firm understanding of best practices and effective
     pedagogical techniques.
4.  Addresses the needs of all learners by differentiating
     instruction.
5.  Designs lessons that foster critical thinking skills and
     cognitive growth through authentic-based practices.
6.  Are supportive, caring, and passionate about what they do.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.  As Ravitch downplays the significance of educational technology and its evolving role in today's landscape I see it as an essential resource utilized by good teachers on a daily basis.  These good teachers combine the engaging and collaborative forces inherent in technology with sound pedagogical techniques in order to effectively integrate. The result is phenomenal lessons.  Through risk-taking and a determination to provide an enriched learning experience that is meaningful, these good teachers are reaching students in ways never imagined.  Students of these good teachers have now developed a love for learning and an excitement about coming to school.  They see technology as an essential tool, not a means to an end. 

No, technology will never replace good teachers.  Good teachers will be replaced by great teachers that embrace this opportunity and understand that change is the only way to prepare our students for success in the 21st Century.  Great teachers find ways to use technology when needed to challenge, support, and enhance the learning needs of all students.  It might not be on a daily basis, but the great teacher acknowledges its potential impact on and power for learning.  Technology and the need for change are not going away, and the great teacher understands this.  Thank you to all the great teachers, administrators, parents, and educational stakeholders that are actively accepting this challenge.  Do not settle for being good.  Continue to strive towards greatness as the student will greatly benefit.

24 comments:

  1. Great thoughts Eric. I have had similar debates about how it would appear that we're saying that we want the technology to replace the teachers. That is completely not the case. There is no replacement for the sound pedagogical practices that you mentioned above. We must continue to challenge ourselves professionally on a continual basis. Who wants to teach the same year 30 times? Could we still teach without the technology? Sure we could. Does that reach and engage all learners? Not any more.

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  2. It is a common mistake to frame the education reform as an either/or dilemma which boils down to considering which is a better use of money--technology or teachers?

    A much more productive framework would include technology as a given. For example, the question would be, "How can we best use our resources to support teaching that engages students in authentic learning?"

    When you think about what a person does in a typical day, digital tolls are involved. If even one classroom is a technology-free island in a digital sea, those students are being short-changed.

    In my 15 years using technology with students, I have learned that I am not a very good teacher if I ignore technology. Reading books and writing on paper are not replaced by technology. Instead, readng is more engaging and writing is more authentic when digital tools are incorporated somewhere in the reading and writing process.

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  3. Well said, Eric. Technology is not the point. "Using Technology" should not be a requirement on a list of necessary teaching skills. Great teaching utilizes technology, when appropriate, to support learning objectives, meet the needs of a diverse student population, and open up global opportunities that transcend school "walls."

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  4. Good post. I can't argue that Ravitch isn't too broad in her dismissal of the transformational potential of tech. She is.

    I would like to point out that all the tech incentives in RTTT are for data-gathering and assessment, not transformed learning experiences, as this is related to arguments that she makes about RTTT.

    The other thing is that ISTE's own lobbying arm, ETAN, is calling for action against the administration's gutting of EETT-- I'm not sure how I feel about this particular matter but my instincts tell me that people should read ETAN's material and get involved. If we let tech funding get subsumed into other programs, it's likely even more of the money will go to assessment. -@tbfurman

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  5. Thank you for showing a good teacher can be a tekkie :-0) I do not know how many times I have been accused of using techology toys by those who are not informed as to how tech can enrich a student's school experience to just keep kids busy.

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  6. A friend of mine posted his list of abilities/qualities he looks for in teachers and educational leaders when he hires:

    o Assessment Literacy
    o Instructional Expertise
    o Child Developemnt Expertise
    o 21 Century Learner

    I would add classroom management to that list, but if you are good at those 4 things, I think the management would take of itself :)

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  7. I have been out of the classroom for approximately five years, working very closely with teachers, principals, superintendents in my work at NC Virtual School. I have received the best PD I have ever had in the last 9 months, in entire 18 years I have been in education. I attribute this capacity building to my PLN--through technology that has transformed my learning approach and ability to teach and coach adult learners. My thinking has morphed into something altogether different than when I was in the classroom: more need of problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, connecting, etc. I always have considered myself a good teacher, but if I returned, I feel certain that I would better teacher, even a great teacher, only because I now know how to harness the power of resources like technology. To that end. technology would not just be a tool and not in siloes but seamlessly integrated into the climate and culture of my room; I would be much more focused on my free-agent learners, understanding that they know what is best for them and how they learn, and therefore able to make choices to customize their own learning. So now, I get to play in the sand box with leaders, helping them close their own gap between knowing and doing--very exciting.

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  8. That has been a consistent and constant comment. Does technology make a teacher good? or great? Or does a good teacher use technology? I know that technology can do so much more in the hands of a "good" teacher, or even a "great" teacher. It's not teacher alone, or the technology alone, it is the way the teacher uses the technology AND the way the technology is a natural extension to the teacher.

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  9. Thanks for a thoughtful discussion. A great teacher uses any means available, including technology tools, to enrich and engage students in relevant meaningful learning experiences. Being great means being flexible,willing to constantly grow and change, and most of all, being able to connect with kids in an ever-changing culture. Technology allows us to connect and excite kids about learning..if we use the tools wisely and keep remembering the importance of the trusted relationship between student and teacher.

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  10. I would add to your list that great teachers demonstrate and uphold ethical behaviours at all times - often overlooked. Eg - http://www.trb.sa.edu.au/pdf/Code-of-Ethics.pdf

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  11. Great post. It's not about the technology. It's about the learning and great teaching. Great teachers will use technology to engage students in their learning and prepare them for their future.

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  12. Great post, Eric.


    Interesting that these are the 1st two points:
    1. Sound classroom management skills and
    2. Ability to actively engage all learners.

    A few weeks ago, I had a great conversation with a long-time friend who is a highly regarded psychology professor who has provided consulting services to schools/districts for well over 20 years.

    In that conversation one of the points he made was that even the most extreme, and widespread behavior problems in classrooms can be corrected with simple changes in classroom-management methods.

    His second point was that you almost never see behavior problems if students are engaged in their learning. A question he asks that his clients ponder: "Have you ever wondered why you see these behaviors in the kindergarten circle (or 6th grade, math class...), but you never see them in the computer lab?"

    As Great post, Eric.


    Interesting that these are the 1st two points:
    1. Sound classroom management skills and
    2. Ability to actively engage all learners.

    A few weeks ago, I had a great conversation with a long-time friend who is a highly regarded psychology professor who has provided consulting services to schools/districts for well over 20 years.

    In that conversation one of the points he made was that even the most extreme, and widespread behavior problems in classrooms can be corrected with simple changes in classroom-management methods.

    His second point was that you almost never see behavior problems if students are engaged in their learning. A question he asks that his clients ponder: "Have you ever wondered why you see these behaviors in the kindergarten circle (or 6th grade, math class...), but you never see them in the computer lab?"

    The district in which my son is in recently had the teachers-or-computers? budgetary squabble. Why not more teachers AND more technology to enhance self-paced learning?

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  13. I agree completely with the post & comment. Now the question, "How do we transform the rocks [fossils] to fertile soil in which students' minds flourish [as well as the teacher's]?"

    Shawn

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  14. Agree with everything you are saying regarding the utilization of tech tools by great teachers. I wonder how you as an administrator see certain teacher strengths as uniquely fitting with certain class assignments (i.e. honors vs. remedial, etc.) or do you see those as interchangeably assigned?

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  15. "Good" or "Great" teachers ... interesting. I believe we just need life long learning educators and the rest will take care of itself.

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  16. Eric - Thanks for you thoughtful response to this quote. I guess the problem I have with technology and a number of other topics is that people oversimplify them by making them a black and white or either or issue.

    Technology has described in this quote talks about it as if it were one thing when in fact it is many things. It is just part of our world at this point like electricity. We need to stop talking about it as an add-on that is optional. I agree with your description of great teaching.

    Great teachers will use whatever tools that are available to them to engage students and help students become work collaboratively and think critically. I fear that comments such as the one you cited from Diane Ravitch will deter people from the fact that all students need access to some level of technology.

    We can all learn anywhere at anytime if we have an internet connection and a computer. This issue of equal access is a huge issue so that students can learn 24-7 whether they are in schools populated by great teachers, good teachers, mediocre teacher, etc.

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  17. As a children's nonfiction author with a new way to deliver the writings and thoughts of award-winning nonfiction authors (see www.inkthinktank.com) I was struck with the power of technology at the ISTE conference. Yet many of the lessons delivered by technology are quite pedestrian. Great teachers use literature to reach kids, not mediocre lesson plans. Always, the subtext of any great lesson is revealed humanity, something the best teachers know how to communicate. Technology is simply another arrow in their quiver.

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  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

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