Discussion Topic for Teachers: Lower Shields and Step Out of the Zone of Silence
I have had yet another setback with attempting to encourage educators to begin blogging as part of continuous Professional Development (PD). The most common reason given is the lack of time teachers can commit to continuous online Professional Development – there is a preference instead for PD days.
But I am talking myself through this reason, and unpacking it. Maybe more lies beneath the surface.
The perception I have is that some teachers need to begin to embrace lifelong, continuous learning, utilizing the online technologies like blogs and other related online tools to build a set of ICT literacy skills that can empower them to become lifelong learners and in turn work more effectively with their students.
I suppose that the first step to lowering teachers’ shields is to encourage them to begin their own blogs, and progress gradually to acquire the confidence to share their passions confidently.
But here is the rub: many educators feel they have little to say – when it comes to taking the time to sit down and write, there is little energy left to devote to learning using a personal blog for PD after all the teaching, grading and paperwork – the everyday activities of teaching in classrooms can drain the reserves out of teachers.
But despite the time crunch, and the drain on energy reserves, I think one significant concern about using blogs is that teachers are rightly concerned about how voicing their views publicly can impact their professional lives as educators.
Teachers reside within a zone of silence, it seems, conditioned to not discuss activities within classrooms with outsiders. The cone of silence extends itself to their classrooms, to their students, to the teacher’s lounge, and the learning activities. This conditioning requires teachers to be very careful about what they say, and thus, when it comes to blogging about their professional practice, are unwilling to discuss the goings-on of the learning trade in their blogs.
There are many excellent reasons for the upholding this need for confidentiality, for the need to refrain from discussing private details of learners with outsiders, for refusing to disclose, for example, the whereabouts of students to their friends and family members without express prior consent. Grades, resources, processes, documentation, tests, are all protected. These are legitimate reasons for requiring the zone of silence among educators. There is a need to protect the sanctity of the teacher-student relationships.
There is, however, a large amount of self-expression that can be shared without compromising the confidentiality of students, the sanctity of teacher-student relationships, and the integrity of the learning products. Though teachers act to protect the privacy of those they teach, there are still many things that educators can share through their blogs.
There are several huge differences between the use of blogs for formal instruction and their use for informal, self-directed lifelong learning.
First, the blogging activity is voluntary. Teachers can passionately blog on so many topics and can choose their topics, choose the frequency and length of their posts, and choose to take time off from blogging.
Second, it is flexible. When I talk about blogging, I refer to the associated tasks, like reading RSS feed readers, commenting on others’ posts, checking tweets and posting to Twitter, creating , uploading and embedding bookmarks, documents, presentations, photos, podcasts, and video clips, and embedding links from various sources into one’s posts, and engaging in searches, filtering, way-making and sense-making.
Third, it is as transparent or as private as needed. Depending on the context and comfort level, one can choose to make posts private, or decide to make them more public. The reasons vary for choosing to make certain posts more private, and others open, but the act of choosing your audiences, and how you present in various contexts, develops your blogger voice.
Another thing that is crucial to mention is the attitude towards blogging and assessment. Within the tightly controlled conditions of classroom teaching, no learning activity is untethered to an assessment of some form. It is the conviction, it seems, that learning must be tied to an assessment tool if it is to be considered valuable. We must measure others’ learning based on a predetermined set of conditions – the extent to which learners meet these conditions is the extent to which we are satisfied that they have learned, that they have met the learning outcomes.
Such a load of crap.
That is denying the validity of so much learning going on outside of classrooms, outside the narrow confines of the outcomes based evaluation paradigm. Teachers are so used to accepting the validity of Outcomes Based Evaluation that any learning outside this paradigm is not considered as legitimate, not real learning. Teachers are so used to being conditioned to living within a zone of silence, they cannot free themselves from it and feel guilt-free when pursuing independent learning. Doing any kind of professional learning without assessment just seems to feel wrong. Learning activities like PD outside learning outcomes makes teachers uncomfortable. Blogging, one of the most unstructured, unplanned, and ambigous ways to engage in independent learning I can think of, makes teachers uncomfortable, as it does fit well into the formal assessment paradigm. It requires us to think for ourselves, to judge the value of our own learning. It requires us to seek out experts in an unstructured way, and discover mentors we can model our own learning from. Blogging requires transparency, multiple attempts, and multiple revisions. It embraces and documents and showcases the learning process, and not the product.
The blogging journey open up new possibilities for teachers to re-discover learning outside of the professional confines of tests, grades, and deadlines.