Thoughts on Draft 1 of the New ISTE Standards for Teachers

Earlier this week, I wrote about the ISTE Standards, the release of the first draft of the new Teacher Standards, and the Ed Tech Coaches PLN Twitter slow chat to give feedback to ISTE about the draft.

Through discussions on Twitter, I’ve been working through my own thoughts on the draft of the standards. I’ve been jotting down notes to compile a document with more than 140 characters worth of a thought; I planned to just tweet out a picture of the document, but then I remembered I have this thing called a blog, and I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts, too. Thanks, Julie Daniels Davis for your inspiration!

If you haven’t reviewed the first draft of the standards, you can check it out here. I also made a little summary version in the image at the top of the post to get you up to speed lickety-split (I still recommend looking over the full draft).

illiterate-21st-centurySo my initial thoughts? I love the way these standards are going. I love that the first standard is “Learner” and promotes lifelong learning and a constant improvement of practice for teachers.  More frequently than I’d like to see, I run into teachers who are just done learning new things to improve their classrooms and teaching. There’s a lot that goes into this- they’re overworked, underpaid, burnt out, feeling taken advantage of, feel like they can barely keep their head above water as is, so on and so on. I feel for them, I really do. However, the bottom line is, we have all got to keep learning and trying to improve. If it ain’t broke… that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better! Would you be okay if you had a doctor who refused to use the latest technology and procedures that promised the best possible outcome? Not a chance! Same thing applies to all professions, especially education. We have to continue to learn and improve, and I’m thrilled to see it looks like ISTE is going to put this front and center.

I’m happy to see that ISTE removed the separation between Citizenship and Digital Citizenship in standard three. The digital world and our online interactions are inseparable from the way we consume and contribute to society these days. If the 2016 election taught us anything about online behavior, it’s that we have a long, loooong way to go to have positive and effective online discourse. It’s clear these online behaviors have not been taught and discussed at length in education until now. A big reason for this? Many teachers are wary of social media and connecting online. I get it. They didn’t grow up with it or they’ve heard horror stories about this teacher or that student getting in trouble from inappropriate online posts, so they don’t want to risk it. I’m very happy that ISTE is basically saying that as a teacher, you not only need to talk about these online behaviors and skills with students in every subject in every grade, but you need to actually do it yourself to fully understand it and model it for students because it’s not going to go away in their lifetime. The standards get one big “Thumbs Up Like” from me on this one!

I think pulling out the teacher as an experience designer and learning facilitator in standards five and six are also really important. I think this is the toughest part about the shift. Teacher prep programs taught us how to deliver information to students, modify it for students who needed it, test them, intervene when and where needed, and then move on to the next topic. All together now, rinse and repeat. We all grew up in classrooms where this is exactly what we saw- the teacher spoon feeding you the info you needed, telling you what you needed to know for the test, and telling you exactly how they wanted to see the completed project. Student agency stopped at “choose your book project from this list of 5 options… a hand drawn comic, a book cover, an essay, a diorama, or a game.” So no wonder it’s been a tough concept for teachers to step to the side and do it all so differently. These standards will require the most work and support for changing instruction. But, teachers don’t have near as much autonomy in their own classrooms as one may like to think. There’s building administration, district administration, parents, and state laws that dictate much of what teachers can and cannot do. More on this in a bit.

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I was happy to see the importance of collaboration (standard four) with other teachers for learning and implementing technology. It also includes collaborating with students to learn technology, which is so important because many teachers are afraid to try new things for fear of looking silly in front of the students if they don’t know everything. I really want to see more teachers feel okay to model for students giving it a try even if you don’t know exactly how it will turn out. And the last piece of this standard is close to my heart: collaboration on a local and global scale for classroom teaching and learning. I would like to see this emphasized a bit more, though, maybe in the Citizen standard.

I’m happy there was a standard about analyzing and using data (seven), but I felt like this needed a bit more to it considering the rise of Big Data and the importance for students to work with and understand data.

So here’s where I see some problems with the standards.

Standard two- Leader- keeps throwing me off for some reason. I think it’s really important for teachers to model appropriate use, advocate for technology, and do their part in creating equitable access for all students. But, as I read this standard it almost seems like every teacher is expected to be on some technology committee or submit feedback to the tech department on devices or meet with the curriculum department to make purchasing decisions. This just seems a little unrealistic to me. Every teacher can’t be on every committee, leading clubs and sports, and effectively plan and teach and give feedback and so on. Every teacher should have a representative who serves on such committees (grade level or subject area or team member reps), but every teacher themselves cannot be on the committees and making the decisions. Too many cooks in the kitchen are counterproductive. Maybe I’m reading this one wrong?

Overall, I think the standards are really headed in the right direction. But I can’t help but feel a little like Eeyore with a cloud of doom and gloom over my head when I think about actually implementing these standards and getting teachers on board with them. Let me clarify that I am never the “it’s hopeless, there’s no point, we’re just working against an uphill battle” person.  I’m always the “I know it won’t be easy, but I have to do everything I can to try” person. So here are some of the things that I think HAVE to happen if wide-spread implementation of these standards is going to happen. It’s not necessarily recommendations for changes to the standards, but ideas on the types of support and advocacy that will be needed.

These standards call for huge shifts in classroom teaching. Teacher preparation programs absolutely have to get on board with these standards and implement them in their own practice. Now, it’s been a while since I have had my own personal experience in a teacher prep program, but I can’t help but notice that new teachers feel no more confident to do the things these standards are asking (teacher as a designer, learning facilitator, etc.) than veteran teachers (which is why I always correct the stereotype that older teachers are less likely to use technology in their classrooms than younger teachers). That makes me think things haven’t changed much. Teacher prep programs must align with and support these initiatives or schools have to start all over and essentially retrain the teachers.

Along those same lines, even if teacher education programs are completely revamped, most teachers in the next few years won’t have recently completed one of these programs anyway. That leaves the issue of teacher training, support, and development. There has to be time for all teachers to be trained, play and practice with the new ideas, and then time to actually build and implement these new ideas. I’ve become a big fan of the year-round school schedule. If there were more days added to the school year, at least one per month, that served as an in-service day to allow teachers to explore, collaborate and implement these changes, we would be in a much better spot. We can’t just change what happens in the 50-minute lessons if we expect to see real change and real results. We have to change the entire system- the way the school day is designed, teacher contracts, the school year calendar, etc. This brings administrators into the conversation.

As I digested the draft of the Teacher Standards, I wondered if the Administrator Standards refresh shouldn’t have come first? There is so much research (this Project RED report being one piece of that very large pie) that supports the fact that administrators- both at the school and district levels- must support and implement the changes in order for teachers to enact those changes in the classroom regularly. Technology implementation is one example. A teacher can have all the right intentions and be aligned with these standards, but if their building principal or curriculum director isn’t on board, the teacher will be afraid of poor evaluations and ultimately fear for their job if they go against that administrator. Usually, this prevents teachers from even investigating the use of new teaching practices and incorporating technology. And can you blame them? Would you actively go against your boss or your boss’ boss in your role? Administrators at all levels need to be trained and educated on these new teaching practices in order to support teachers. They’re often so busy with other tasks that they don’t get the opportunity to attend the training, see the keynote, watch the webinar, read the blog post, etc. How can we change this? It is so important to get them on board.

But it doesn’t start and stop with the admin; everybody has a boss. Administrators are responsible for making sure state and federal laws are being implemented and adhered to; that high-stakes test scores are at passing levels, and if not, how to improve them; figuring out where in the world the funding for all of these programs and initiatives are going to come from, and so much more. Most of these things point back to state education departments and their regulations. I once heard someone say, “the further you get from the classroom, the dumber your decisions about the classroom get.” While there is something to be said for new perspectives and seeing the bigger picture, I don’t think this statement is completely off. I’m likely preaching to the choir that we need to continue to educate policy-makers about the realities of the classroom and these new initiatives so they can affect real, positive change. If teachers constantly feel like they’re in a race against the clock to cover the material on the test and to make sure their students do well on the tests or they may indirectly lose their job as a result, how do they have time to learn new technology and completely change how they teach? How do you comfort their legitimate fears and encourage them to take these risks? Policies must be put in place that don’t restrict administrators and teachers to feeling like they truly cannot do things differently.

Parents also need to be educated. I see this as more of a school/district issue than an ISTE needs to work to change this issue. Regardless, parents also experienced the same type of education I described previously. They don’t have the added benefit of sitting in the PD sessions, attending the forward-thinking conferences and networking with innovative educators around the world that we, as educators, have had. Many parents don’t understand the need for the change or what “the change” even is. They hear, “1:1 program,” and think ,”my kid is going to be staring at a screen and watching YouTube all day.” We can’t forget to educate them along the way as we make these big shifts in the classroom.

And lastly, the always present issue of funding. These standards as they exist are going to leave behind a number of schools and districts around the country who are still struggling just to get an updated infrastructure in place and more than a few computer labs or 10-year-old laptops in the hands of teachers and students. These new standards will really help close the Digital Use Divide (as described in the National Educational Technology Plan), but there are still WAY too many places that are still trying to close that digital divide. If you don’t have access to a working device, with standards we would expect in 2016 (i.e. waiting 20 minutes for a computer or web page to load is unacceptable), then you certainly can’t even begin to comprehend implementing these new standards into your classroom. Again, I’m not sure this is an ISTE issue, but it certainly is a topic the ISTE Advocacy Network has worked tirelessly to address (if you join, they email you when it’s time to write your Congressmen and women to request support for funding legislation. All you do is fill out your name and they email it from you to the Congresswomen/men with all the important information).

So those are most of my thoughts on the first draft of the new Teacher Standards. I hope I wasn’t too soap-boxy (it’s my blog, I can make up words if I want to). I just really believe there is so much more that goes into implementing these standards than simply choosing the right topics and wording and then sharing them with teachers (which I realize ISTE also knows this).

I would love to hear your thoughts on the standards draft and/or my thoughts above. Agree or disagree, let’s work on modeling that online discourse as described in standard three! 😉

Tech To You Later!

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