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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Can Educators Be Innovative When They Lack 21st Century Resources?

By Peter DeWitt — December 15, 2011 4 min read
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As some teachers try to find ways to educate 25 to 27 students in their classrooms, other teachers are trying to figure out how to manage 40 students in their classrooms.

As some schools purchase IPads for their staff, other poorer schools are scrambling to make sure their teachers have paper, pencils and enough chairs. As some teachers try to find ways to educate 25 to 27 students in their classrooms, other teachers are trying to figure out how to manage 40 students in their classrooms.

As much as all schools should be innovative and offer 21st Century Skills to their students, innovation is a matter of perspective. Many schools lack the resources to prepare students for the future because most of their tools are what teachers used in the past and would never dream of using presently. Teachers who spend their days with Smartboards would never dream of going back to the days when they used a chalkboard.

Many educators and writers talk about using 21st Century Skills but there are millions of teachers who lack the 21st Century resources needed to educate their students. Does that mean they cannot find innovative ways to educate their students? Teachers can take the steps to be innovative regardless of whether their students have access or not. Although, we should strive to make sure we provide equity for all students, regardless of whether they are in our schools or not.

21st Century Skills are not just about resources they are about the way our students and staff think and communicate with one another. Those skills focus on collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity. As much as students need current technological resources, many of these needs can still be met if teachers do not have a classroom filled with desktops, IPads or netbooks. They can be met through innovative classroom practices and by logging onto a home computer, educators have access to finding these resources.

Social Media
In late November I wrote a blog about why educators should join Twitter and followed up with how Twitter is changing the face of professional development. As much as I was flattered with the number of teachers who said they joined after reading the blog, I did have some of those same teachers tell me that they had no idea how to use it.

Joining Twitter is the easy part. Choose a username and unique password and you are on your way to connecting with educators from around the world. However, many people stop with creating a username and password because they do not know what to do next. Although what to do next may seem easy for some, it is not always easy for others.

Go to the search box and look for those educators you admire. For example, I believe Todd Whitaker has some of the best one liners that can inspire any skeptical educator. I put his name in the search box and Todd’s Twitter page came up and I chose to follow. I then went to who follows Todd and who Todd follows and found other educators I respected. After a few clicks on “Follow” I was on my way to joining numerous educational conversations.

I began to see Tweets from those people I was following as well as re-Tweets from other educators. As I began to see some great re-Tweets I followed those people as well. In addition, I noticed words like “Edchat” added to some of the Tweets. I ultimately found out Edchat was created by Tom Whitby, an educator on Long Island. I came upon "#elemchat,” which is moderated by Edna Sackson in Australia and Tania Ash in Morocco.

Those words like #edchat and #elemchat are called Hashtags. Click on the hashtag and you will find yourself on a screen that is focused solely on those areas of education. Add the hashtag to your Tweets and the people following will see your message, regardless of whether they follow you or not.

How This Helps All Teachers
Logging on to a computer and jumping on social networks like Twitter can help all educators find the resources they need for students. It still matters whether educators have these important resources in their classrooms because all students need to be exposed to technology. However, not having those resources shouldn’t be a barrier to professional development and learning innovative methods of teaching.

Sometimes the best methods of teaching that are out there in cyberspace seem so far away when you teach in a school that still has chalkboards and classes of 40 students. Be practical and find ways to be innovative within the parameters that you live in. Teachers in the poorest schools can still find resources they need to help create a better climate within their classroom. Sometimes reading Tweets also break us out of our reality and give us hope.

One reciprocal benefit is that by being on social networks like Twitter, teachers and administrators can have open conversations about what is really going on in our public and private schools. They can discuss the hardships and share their achievements, and perhaps work together to change the reality that many of our colleagues in the poorest schools face on a daily basis.

It is highly important that all educators join the conversation and work together to change our present realities. If educators do not join the conversation, they are merely sitting in the grandstand watching, and we miss important voices when that happens, which ultimately means, that our students miss out on important opportunities to grow as learners.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.