Friday, July 23, 2010

Require the RSS?

Dangerously Irrelevant posted an interesting question a couple of weeks back that goes to that overreaching idea that school districts make better teachers.  The question was simple.  Should school districts require that employees have loaded RSS readers that they are required to read as part of their professional development?

What’s interesting here is not the concept of RSS.  I’ve been reading responses that seem to focus on the idea that you can’t force teachers to become technologically more literate, and that being forced to reading online material is like teaching an old dog new tricks, which is the same lame excuse you can use for anything new in the world. The real topic here is professional development and the confidence that teachers have that school districts are requiring something worthwhile.  I’ve been to a variety of professional development workshops/trainings in the last ten years, focusing on everything from technology to curriculum to state standards integration.  Ninety percent of my professional development is done voluntarily, meaning I do it because I want to, not because my school asks me to.  Here’s what I’ve found about my experience with professional development.

-I’ve learned more regarding the art and science of teaching from blogs.  The best professional development, without a doubt, is collaboration.  What better way to collaborate than with hundreds, if not thousands of other educators. 

-I like good professional development, and I’ll gladly pay for it.  My wife and I are paying for two nights in San Francisco to attend an Economics conference that we’ve attended twice previously, in 2002 and 2005.  Yes, it is that good.

-I detest bad professional development.  It is a monumental waste of my human capital.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember a good use of professional development within my own district.  I don’t think that’s the districts fault all the time.  We are talking about different levels and different subjects in teaching.

And here’s the crux of the matter.  I’m a professional educator that already uses RSS feeds to keep up with anything and everything.  If I want Classroom 2.0 help I nail CoolCatTeacher.  Updated Comparative Government help?  Thank you oh great Ken Wedding.  Teacher links to everything known to mankind?  Hello Larry Ferlazzo!  And that is three subscriptions out of the some 150 that I check every day.  Most I skim.  But I’m constantly on the quest to remain up-to-date and relevant.  With the subjects that I teach, I need to remain on top of everything.  I think I know better of what I need to know to maintain good teaching skills.  I don’t expect my employer to constantly spoon feed me professional development because they really don’t know much about what I need to be successful.  Seriously, does the Super, any Board members, or 99% of the  district office personnel know anything about the Iranian Twitter Uprising, Pigou Taxes, Cloture Votes, the primary figures of Transcendentalism, or how to incorporate authenticated RSS feeds from a social network to Twitter and Facebook?  The answer is no, and I shouldn’t expect them to. 

Dumping the RSS expectation, here’s what I would expect from my district, and what I would gander the district expects from me.

-I don’t expect Professional Development from the district.  And I want to reach over and slap those teachers who complain that the district doesn’t offer enough professional development because those are the same teachers who will complain that the professional development sucks.

-I do expect the district to pay me, on occasion, when I find professional development that is justifiably excellent.  That has happened twice, both Advanced Placement Conferences, one in Seattle and one in Denver.  The one in Seattle was fully paid for, and the one in Denver had the registration paid for.  I paid for the plane, the lodging, and the food.  I was lucky to even get that.  Both conferences were excellent and necessary, and I shouldn’t really have to pay a dime for them because they will end up benefitting the district.  I stay at cheap hotels, eat cheap food, and find cheap airfare.  At the same time, those that abuse conference stipends should be fired.  Period.

-I do expect the district to find me responsible enough to know my craft, and to constantly be finding the best way to present that craft.  And no, I don’t think you have to go to Denver every summer to do it.  Every year a teacher should be changing and updating, finding what works and manipulating the less efficient ways of doing things.  That doesn’t mean every teacher needs to read RSS feeds every day.   It can be collaboration, books, magazines, all kinds of methods can be used.  RSS feeds are just simpler method of getting information from a variety of sources to a single entity.

Forcing RSS feeds on teachers is not the best idea.  The amount of information present in the blogosphere is immense and ever-changing.  Even if the district were to recommend ten blogs per subject, we are talking about a significant amount of extra time involved in reading those blogs, and most will then try to hunt for others.  This creates an RSS Reader with hundreds of subscriptions that need to be filtered, organized, and eventually analyzed.  That’s a whole lot of time.  Let the teacher be responsible for maintaining professional and updated standards, but forcing the vehicle is a little over the top.    

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