What If Teachers Decided (for Themselves!) What Counts?

 

We at HASTAC are extremely proud to announce the opening of a new Competition, designed specifically for educators, “Teacher Mastery and Feedback Badge Competition.”  The purpose is to support educators in their own professional goals, in their desire to develop their skills and knowledge, and in their own professionalism in judging quality---not being judged, top down.  This Competition begins from the premise that great teachers should be acknowledged and, equally, that great teachers work hard to get that way and should be appreciated as such.   Who better to know how to do this than educators themselves?  This Competition invites educators to think about the most creative, interactive, interesting ways of deciding what counts most for great teaching---and how to count it.    

 

My personal investment in this Competition is in that it is based on supporting an ideal of professionalism to one of the great professions that, in recent years, has been something of a whipping boy to many.   Face it, it’s not easy being an educator these days.  It’s not just the de-funding of schools, not just the requirements for end-of-grade testing that may or may not have much relationship to actual knowledge, it’s not just that much of our thinking about what education is for is antiquated and hasn’t been re-thought, top to bottom, for the information and communication revolution that began in April of 1993 when the Mosaic 1.0 browser went public and the Information Age officially began.   No,  it is hard to be an educator these days because teachers have been subjected to some pretty “regulatory” measures lately. 

 

Sometimes these come from higher up, being initiated by politicians rather than educators themselves.   The language is of “certification” and “accreditation” but too often it is not clear if it is real quality that is being measured or something far more bureaucratic, that has little to do with a teacher’s ability to inspire students or to keep up with the changing knowledge in a field.  Too often, these “merit” systems  don’t really measure merit but, instead, undermine teachers’ own sense of professionalism, as if teachers aren’t the ones most concerned with our own high standards (the best ones of us are!).    

 

I’m convinced a lot of the mentality of policing and regulating teachers is contributing to the national crisis of many of the best teachers leaving the profession.   According to the National Education Association, about half of new teachers do not stay in teaching.  In a U.S. Department of Education survey of 7,000 teachers  who had recently quit or said they were likely to quit soon, the #1 reason given was intrusive administration; another was cumbersome and ineffective  accountability procedures.  And some of the other top five reasons were also about this externalizing of  the “metrics” for excellence over the inspiring, creative, intelligent, and powerful ways that motivate kids to learn---and motivate teachers to stay in the classroom, despite the low pay and hard work.

 

The point of this competition, as with the Badges for Lifelong Learning, is for those individuals who are part of organizations and institutions to think together about alternative forms of awarding credit and giving feedback within that institution, with the institution endorsing the application propositing this peer-driven new form of evaluation.   Think about those implications for a moment?   When was the last time your institution asked YOU what you thought counted and how it should be counted?   That may seem simple, but peer-to-peer evaluation reverses the assumptions, honed over the last one-hundred or so years, about the necessity and wisdom of top-down, externally-driven, standardized measurement of productivity, goals, baselines, metrics.  Instead, it says that peers and professionals--in this case teachers--have much to teach organizations about how to achieve the highest standards of excellence in more relevant, meaningful, comprehensive ways (i.e. thinking through what that means, why, how, and who determines what "excellence" is).   Exciting. 

 

The reason I wrote the “How We Measure” chapter of Now You See It is because all my research, including interviews with dozens of great teachers, underscores that we now have ways of measuring "quality" that are neither about quality, nor even about good ways of measuring.  

·      If a multiple choice, end-of-grade test only covers about 25% of the actual content/material in a course, what about all the rest?  

·      If we know that you have to “teach to the test” to ensure your students get the best test scores,  what  happens to the ideal of teaching to improve students’ real skills and knowledge (not just test-taking ability that has little real-world relevance)?

·      If we know the biggest motivator to testing well is believing high scores will help get one to college, then what about all the kids who know they will never be able to afford higher education?  

All that wasted effort!   All those ways of measuring qualities peripheral to the ones great teachers know are needed to inspire kids.  It’s a tragedy, and it is sending our best teachers out of the profession fast.

 

Will this one Badges for Teacher Mastery and Feedback Competition solve all problems?  Of course not.  But we are extremely proud, at HASTAC, to announce the opening of a new Competition designed specifically for educators, that puts educators in a leadership role, helping to think about cutting-edge new ways of assessing what they know to be high quality,  important new skills and areas of knowledge.   

 

This isn’t for everybody and shouldn’t be.  We are trying not  to go for one-size-fits-all which we think of as the kind of standardization that de-motivates true learning.   Rather, we invite any educator who is passionate about these issues to compete, to show their ideas on our all-public website, and to inspire others to think deeply, too, about what counts in the classroom, what should be counted, why, and how.   

 

We assume most applicants will be K-12 educators, but we want any teacher, from preschool to professional school, informal and formal learning, who is deeply interested in thinking about new peer feedback and mastery badging systems to apply.  We know that we all have much to learn from one another. 

 

To those educators interested in these issues, we invite you to apply and we thank you for your dedication and your commitment to what, at HASTAC, is our motto:  learning the future together. 

 

Here’s the link to the Competition application page:  http://dmlcompetition.net/Competition/4/teachers.php

 

Applications due December 5, 2011. 

 

--------------------------------------------------------------

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

NOW YOU SEE IT

Cathy N. Davidson is co-founder of HASTAC, and author of The Future of Thinking:  Learning Institutions for a Digital Age (with HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg), and  Now You See It:  How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking Press). She is co-PI on the HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions.   NOTE:  The views expressed in NOW YOU SEE IT are solely those of the author and not of any institution or organization.  For more information, visit www.nowyouseeit.net .

  [NYSI cover]

 

 

Cathy Davidson

The Difference Between Lightning and a Lightning Bug (Twain)

On Twitter, my colleague Michael Josefowicz (@toughloveforx) sent me the url for this interesting discussion of professional development for teachers, and how, when issued from top down, often misses the mark.   The author, Mary Ann Reilly,  uses Twain's comment about how small differences in language matter a lot:  the difference between lightning and a lightning bug is not three letters.

 

Here's this letter that uses Bakhtin's ideas to play out curricular and pedagogical insights.   For HASTAC Scholars, especially, this is an important way to think humanistically about the "how we measure" questions that so much pervade our life these days and against which our Teacher Mastery and Feedback Competition is intended as a small but important way to model other ways of measuring the distance between the bug and the lightning, so to speak.

 

Here's the url for Mary Ann Reilly's "Dressing the Corpse:  Professional Development and the Play of Singularities": http://www.scribd.com/doc/73021538/Dressing-the-Corpse-Professional-Development-and-the-Play-of-Singularities