- Does technology management come down to a choice between reliability/security and creativity/experimentation? If it is not possible to have both, which best serves student interests?
- Why should a teacher be given any more latitude to be "creative" with a computer than an accountant? Why should a teacher not be required to use district adopted software, much as they are required to use district adopted reading series or textbooks?
- Should a teacher experiment rather using established best practices? (A medical doctor who "experiments" on his patients would be considered unethical - that job is for specially trained research scientists.)
Here's my response:
OK, Doug, I'll bite hard on these questions. I know you are in part only playing devil's advocate here, but the bait looks so tasty!
- the choice between reliability/security and creativity/experimentation...
Creativity and experimentation. The other gets us safety (maybe). We become stale, dry up and wither away. Management will of course never choose this. But how about putting some classroom teachers in with the group of admins who determine security parameters? I'm not talking about teacher consultants, tech integration specialists, computer lab teachers - I'm talking classroom teachers.
- why should teachers be allowed to be creative, why should they not have to be required to use district adopted texts, software, etc?
This goes way beyond the question of technology use. Administrators at many levels are contsantly in search of the perfect answer to improving education. "Apply this one to our schools, and now we'll really have something!" But the answer to excellence in teaching and learning does not lie in mandating the perfect textbook, demanding the teaching of the "ultimate social skills curriculum," or insisting on the exclusive use of a piece of software. The answer to excellence in education lies in having excellent, excited, talented, and passionate teachers in the classroom. Top down mandates stifle creativity - and drive out talented teachers in droves. If creativity in teachers is cultivated, not squashed, you will see an incredible surge in talented teachers returning to the profession - and the resulting upswing in student achievement and engagement.
- why should teachers be allowed to experiment rather using established best practices?
This one I love. Because established best practices are not getting us anywhere right now. Because established best practices are dated, are dead in the water right now, are slow to develop and spread, are built on tools and methods of instruction dating back at least a century. If I teach my current third graders using established best practices, then I am not preparing them for the future, I am teaching them information and skills they may never use, and I am wasting their time. If I experiment, communicate with others around the world, collaborate on developing new approaches, and pass this on to my kids - well then, I might be making a difference for them.
Now this last point requires two things: trust and freedom. I must have the trust of the parents in my classroom - and I must have the freedom to pursue alternatives to established best practices. I consider myself a very lucky guy to have both of those right now. I know many of my colleagues do not. It is in part for them that I take the time to write this.
So Doug, thanks for the conversation. The questions you asked are good ones, because they are so natural to ask. I hope the folks making decisions will look beyond their own circles for answers beyond the obvious. In peace - Mark