Category Archives: relationships

Should I care if students like me?

I usually agree with Seth Godin but I think the tone of his post about Applause is wrong for education (I realize that he is talking about marketing). Particularly this quote:
 Who decides if your work is good? When you are at your best, you do.”

I think teachers often evaluate themselves too easily and blame students for their failures. I think students should have a say in evaluating teachers and how they teach. My concern is with teachers who dismiss all negative student comments and never consider if they are valid. These same teachers often assume that their teacher-centered methods are fine and that students need to adapt to them rather than vice-versa.

Too often I hear from educators comments such as “you can’t please everyone” or it is not my job to “be a student’s friend.” Now while there is some truth to these axioms I am concerned about teachers who seem to ignore how students feel about them as a person. Some teachers even brag about students being disciplined or “put in their place.”

So should teachers care if students “like” them? I think they should. Our first job as educators is to build relationships with students. How can students learn from or with us if they do not like us? Think back to your teachers (maybe way back for some of us). What do you remember? All of the content they taught you or how they made you feel? So I am concerned about teachers whose attitude is that is does not matter how students feel about them. This does not require us to be “best friends” or necessarily hang out socially with our students. But I do believe that teachers should get to know students personally. Students who enjoy you as a person are also more likely to enjoy your class.

So this week we had students fill out a long survey evaluating our school, the teachers, and our classes. I am the first to admit that I do not always accept criticism well (although ironically I really do want it). What came through on many of the anonymous surveys is that students do feel that I care about them and enjoy our class. I feel like I am doing a good job on my #1 goal for this year.

So I will go so far as to argue that making sure we have positive relationships with students is the most important and long-lasting part of our jobs. Will every student like us? Probably not, but we should try to build relationships with every student and impart love and confidence into their lives.

So Mr. Politician, #standardizethat

Why I don’t like teaching technology class

I have a philosophical beef with “Technology Class” because I feel that technology should be used appropriately in all classes rather than as a stand alone. Truth be told I would like to get rid of all “classes” and “integrate” all classes into each other not just technology.

But I defeat this philosophical problem by trying to make my class project-based integrating all other classes into mine as much as possible. Therefore students do not spend every class in front of a screen, but also build and create things. In the process they write, calculate, research, collaborate, and present. In many ways I think this approach could be a model for how to set up a whole school. Now I do not always do all of these things with every class and I do not always go as deep as I would like either. Which leads me to the title of this post …

I do not like teaching technology class because it is a nine week class at my school. At the end of every quarter we wrap it up, ship ’em out, and bring in a new group the following week. I find it difficult to teach using many tools/methods I would like. For example blogging and Google Docs. It takes a lot of time to set up the accounts and show how to use them properly. By the time students are really getting the hang of them my class is over. Also if I want to have a long-term collaboration with another school it is not enough time to really invest in the relationships.

Last year I got to teach one 8th grade section for a whole semester and it was great. Unfortunately there were a lot of scheduling issues and my class went back to quarters this year. Which leads to the other reason I do not like my nine week class. It is hard to get to know students and build relationships with them. I feel like I am just getting to know my students and they are gone. A few drop by to say “hi” from time to time, but my classroom is isolated in one corner of the building away from almost all of their other classes so I may not even see most of them in passing for weeks.

So when I read other people post about long-term projects and building relationships with their students, I get a little jealous. The best I get is to have the same student for one quarter for three years in a row. How do other teachers with constant “shift changes” build long-term relationships with students?

Do PLN’s exist?

A couple of times now I have discussed the idea of Personal (or professional) Learning Networks (PLN) with people on Twitter. Some have questioned what they actually are, if they really exist, and whether or not they are really new or not. I won’t try to quote (or misquote) others here, but hopefully they will weigh in with their comments.

First of all a PLN is defined in wikipedia as:

Personal Learning Networks consist of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a Personal Learning Environment. Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge. [1] The learner does not have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person.

I don’t know if this is a perfect definition but it is a starting point. I like the fact that it is broad rather than specific. I would like to share my opinion about what a PLN is and argue that it does exist.

My PLN is all of the people that I learn from. First of all, it is the many mentor teachers and colleagues in my building and district. They have helped me with classroom management, lesson plans and ideas, and listened when I have had a difficult day. Next it is people that I learn from digitally through internet sites or tools. My two favorite sources of interaction are blogs and Twitter. Others use sites such as Facebook, Nings, Skype, email, Plurk, wikis, and even Google Buzz or Wave. In the past people used databases and listserves. The tools really don’t matter and five years from now we will probably have a whole new list of them. I really find little benefit to rank which of these tools are better, but think that each learner should play and discover which tools best help them connect.

These learning relationships have existed since ancient times, but the reason that we need a new term for them is that the digital version of them is relatively new, and I would argue different than the past. In the past one had to become a disciple of Socrates, Jesus, or Budha and physically follow them around. This limited the number of people who could commit to this lifestyle. With books one could learn from a distance from the greatest minds of the past and present. But books can not answer questions. (There is an internal dialogue between author and reader, but again I think that is different from on-line conversations between multiple participants). Personal relationships have always been a part of learning and always will be, but…

What we have in digital networks are expanded relationships between people who would never have been connected in the past. I can learn from other teachers, administrators, professors (without having to pay for their class or travel to their university), student teachers, and students from around the world at the same time. That is what is different-direct and instantaneous access to thousands of minds from every corner of the earth. The learning I experience is exponentially more than what I can learn from the teachers in my building or district alone.

In the past there was a danger of tunnel vision from only learning from those “near” you. Now I can interact with great minds with multiple perspectives whenever I want. My digital network is always available for me to learn from 24/7. It is never off and takes no holidays (It does celebrate them though). There are a few people who do not reciprocate conversations, but the vast majority of people in these on-line spaces will talk to anyone. Therefore I do not see PLN’s as exclusive at all. I did at one time, but have found that if you engage with others than they will engage back.

Another new thing about PLN’s is that although I would argue they are personal in that each person creates their own relationships through their own choices of tools and contacts, it is not limited to just the connections that you make. Countless times I have asked for help with a resource or problem on Twitter and it has been re-tweeted and answered by people that I have never “met” online or even heard of. I think of this as the Kevin Bacon effect in that I benefit from the relationships of people in my network beyond my own relationships. This multiplication effect is very powerful. Also most of the on-line tools allow for “lurking” so that people can learn from listening too.

Is this new? Not all of it, but I think the instant, public discourse of leading thinkers is. Also the ability of anyone to engage with anyone without having to apply, go to a conference, be accepted into university, or buy their book is. Anyone can be a virtual disciple from some excellent education leaders.

The last point I would like to make is that I think people in the on-line communities forget that the vast majority of teachers are not part of an extended, on-line PLN, but are limited to their physical relationships and the few books that they read in a grad class. Therefore I would argue that we NEED some kind of term for what “this” is to help define it for those not in these communities. Is PLN the best term, maybe not, but it is the accepted one at the moment until someone comes up with something better. So I am not committed to the term PLN specifically, but what it represents is very important to me.

OK let me have it, what do you think?
Wikipedia footnote  a b c Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Vol. 2 No. 1, Jan 2005

Thanks IT!

At my school we have a student drive where we can put assignments that students can access. The problem is that students also can move and delete the files. A student figured that out this week and started deleting almost all of the files off from the student drive. My folder in particular was targeted. I had a backup file on my drive that I just copied over but this file started disappearing daily. A call was put into our IT department and they restored the files (every teacher except for one was deleted). They also changed the setting to make the files all read only. The IT guy said that our school had originally requested the setting that allowed students to edit files (I would like to know who the genius was that requested that 🙂

I took the opportunity to send an email to the guy who fixed it. He also has been very helpful in white listing lots of sites for me this year including Voicethread and student blogs in Vietnam. Not surprisingly he replied immediately saying thanks for the encouragement.

Many times I hear a lot of complaints, in particular, about sites being blocked by a teacher’s district. I have taken time to go over to their offices and sit down and talk to the IT people in my district. In the past year our district has opened up many things especially for teachers. I think it is important to recognize these improvements.

In the end it comes down to relationships. Build some trust with your IT and let them hear why you want to use the “tool” for student learning. And take the time this week to thank them for all the hard work they do to keep the technology running in your district. They are often under-staffed and over-worked. Everybody likes to hear “Thanks, and good job” once in a while.

Who can you encourage this week with a heartfelt “good job and thanks!”

I don’t care if my students do not like me.

“I don’t care if my students don’t like me, I’m their teacher, not their friend.” Really? I thought we taught students, not subjects. I thought they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Yeah, these are a lot of cliches, but I think most (should be all) teachers do beleive in and care about students.