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Teacher Professional Development and Products that Ship

Posted: 2015-04-03

Google offers its think team two years to produce something shippable. Current teacher professional development seems to be operating on the same premise.

Google's mobile-focused research group, Advanced Technology and Projects is getting more funding, a new building, and a timeline. Two years or bust.

Here'a s quote from a Wall Street Journal article Google Lab Puts a Time Limit on Innovations:

We like this model because it puts pressure on people to perform and do relevant things or stop. I've spent an awful lot of time on projects that never end and products that would never ship.'
--Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman

Invention with a timeline: Do relevant things or stop.

Arne Duncan and his merry band of deformers embrace this concept. Everyone in a straightjacket. . . with the clock ticking.

Teaching with a timeline: Raise test scores or die.

I don't know anything about the economics of turning an idea into an invention-for-shipment, but I guess this is what Capitalism is all about: The dollar imperative driving production--and invention. What you do needs to make money.

I guess it was naive of me to be shocked that an outfit as wealthy and clever as Google can't put a little money into thinking time, without the strict deadline for a shipment-ready product. Yes, the clock was the keystone of the Industrial Revolution, regulating industry and men, but now we have the clock run amok. Digital Age workers can never get away from The Clock.

Google Lab jettisons project leaders after two years and hires mostly outside experts. The Wall Street Journal terms this "the leaner faster way to find the next big thing." In To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism, Evgeny Morozov asks us to "radically question our infatuation with a set of technologies that amount to the silicon Eden. Morozov entreats:

If we don't find the strength and the courage to escape the silicon mentality that fuels much of the current quest for technological perfection, we risk finding ourselves with a politics devoid of everything that makes politics desirable, with humans who have lost their basic capacity for moral reasoning, with lackluster (if not moribund) cultural institutions that don't take risks and only care about their financial bottom lines, and, most terrifyingly, with a perfectly controlled social environment that would make dissent not just impossible but possibly unthinkable.

Public schools are submerged in the same mentality. Pressure for schools to meet shipment deadlines comes right from White House appointees:

We should be able to look every second grader in the eye and say, 'You're on track, you're going to be able to go to a good college, or you're not,--Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Feb. 19, 2009

Wrong. What we should be able to do is look every second grader in the eye and say, 'Enjoy a safe, happy, bountiful childhood.'

"Happy children" sounds so old-fashioned, a relic of Howdy Doody or Mr. Rogers. Now a kindergartner without a career path is cold mashed potatoes.

The Twitter Answer

People may see me as just a old fogy for rejecting Twitter as a nifty curriculum delivery device, but here's the ultimate: Someone who describes himself as Master Teacher and curriculum coach noted that there were two conferences held simultaneously that he wanted to attend. Alas, he couldn't attend either one because his son had a sports event.

Twitter to the rescue!!

Thankfully, the power of Twitter allowed me to participate in both conferences simultaneously while at my son's practice. As I sat in my car, I was immersed in learning: gathering lesson ideas for my ELA classes, favoriting new EdTech apps for my students and teachers to try and interacting with the participants in both conferences. It was pure bliss for an education technology geek like myself.

And since one of the conference presenters shared slides from her entire presentation on Google, "Now the world can view this awesome presentation."

I agree that Twitter is sufficient for gathering lots of links to EdTech apps but if a presentation can be captured in Tweets, then it wasn't worth attending in person.

For those who are enamored by powerpoint, don't miss The Gettysburg Address as a Powerpoint. Me? I loathe powerpoint "live" and wouldn't consider slogging through it on the Internet.

The fact that lots of people are now pushing Twitter as a vehicle for professional development shows two things:

1) Contempt for teachers
2) Shallow world view

I don't remember Tweets that I--or anybody else--made this morning, but I remember the first professional development course I took as a beginning English teacher in New York City--more than 40 years ago. One week W. H. Auden talked to us about teaching poetry; the next week Stanley Kunitz came. And then Denise Levertov. And on and on.

Most of today's teachers can't even imagine an administration that cared enough about teachers--and kids-- to bring in eminent poets. Those of us who took the PD course could also sign up for a poet from the community to come to our classes. My poet was a young fellow who was exceptionally good with the students. So we had PD to benefit the teacher intellectually and spiritually--and provide very direct benefit to students.

Nobody offered slides, powerpoint, or products that would ever ship. Not being traveling salesmen of test alignment and student achievement, these poets took the long view, offering themselves and their nuanced worldviews on teaching poetry. Maybe it was a product that never shipped but was a big plenty that influenced my work with many students. . . and has stayed with me all these years.

The New York City Education Department did not collect any data on that PD course. I figure they had faith in teachers and in poets, figuring if they were brought together, good things would happen.

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