TeacherCon & digital revolution in education

Whoa, what is going on? Are we actually in the midst of a digital revolution in education? I mean, I always liked teacher conferences when I was teaching at the university level, but they were never readily available for the rank and file classroom teacher.

Sure “principals and lead teachers” got to go out of town for a day or two, but not the rest of us. The best we could hope for during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, was an occasional Professional Development Day (or Professional Activity Day as they were called by some boards). Those activities, however, were usually organized through our local teacher’s union rather than the school board.

But, make no mistake about it, TeacherCon is very different. It is about significant, relevant teacher learning, in this case, dealing with the reality of the digital revolution.

So, what is TeacherCon all about? It is about making sure all teachers and children in Grades K to 12 are literate in the latest technology. For example, check out http://www.canadalearningcode.ca. They state, for example, that their conferences offer a multi-day event designed for teachers by teachers teaching educators how to teach web design, coding and programming in their classrooms.

Specifically, they give five quick points as to what they are all about.

Point One: It’s free. In fact, the TeacherCon organization even offers travel stipends to teachers who really want to go but can’t afford it, such as a single parent or because the teacher just started teaching. Sure, new teachers would learn some of the latest digital issues, but certainly not everything. As I recall, up to the year 2000, public school boards didn’t even have the budgets for such a stipend.

Point Two: At least least fifteen TeacherCon events will be held in 12 different locations in Canada during 2019.

Point Three: Each teacher who attends a TeacherCon will leave with a kit of practical tips and resources.

Point Four: As a mentioned above, workshops not only cover practical tech help on web design, HTML and processing, they also dive into the various tools introduced.

Point Five: Teachers, based on conference reviews, are really loving the process.

Now, if someone is reading this and they are not an educator, believe me # 5 is huge. I taught both teacher preparation and graduate teacher education, and teachers are notoriously hard to please. So, the workshops must be very relevant to get participants to take a car, train or plane to get where they are going and actually feel positive about the outcome.

I have been very critical of public education the last decade but this process seems very much worth everyone’s time. What I noticed, as well, in researching this story, is that Teacher Conventions are popping up everywhere.

Take a look at this Google page on teacher conferences in 2019. True, many are in the U.S. but for Canadian educators wanting to travel, there are:

  • College Math Prepation, being held in California — which is currently so popular it is sold out.
  • Get Your Teach On in Dallas Texas.
  • Innovative School Summit in Las Vegas.
  • Best practices for teaching literacy in Baltimore, Maryland.

The crux of the matter is that, while I don’t always agree with all the new innovations, some are very relevant to today’s world, particularly tech. Of course, literacy and math preparation are always relevant we well. In the Math case, which I have written about before, I hope old fashioned methods and drills are once again back in fashion.

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What to do about false allegations of abuse against teachers?

Click for Education Canada.

Traditionally, there were more female teachers than male. However, over the past thirty to forty years, that changed as more males entered the profession — a good thing because it meant students were exposed to role models of both sexes.

Yet, all those gender gains could disappear because of the recent increase in false allegations of sexual or physical abuse against male classroom teachers (although there have been recent female situations as well).

Imagine this type of scenario:

A high school teacher is at his desk in his homeroom classroom. It is the end of the school day and he is preparing for the next day. All of a sudden, the Principal and Vice-Principal (and possibly even the police) walk into his room. He is told he is under arrest and being relieved of his duties because a couple of girls have accused him of sexual impropriety. He is speechless. Surely, after teaching two or three decades, the authorities know that can’t be true. But, of course no one can know that for sure, can they?

Plus, the bottom line is the school administrators must take the word of the students involved, a reality we all accept. But, of course, that is in the abstract. What if it happens to you, your husband, your brother, a friend? When you and everyone around you “wants to” believe you are innocent, what the heck do you and they do? Where do you turn? You have been placed on unpaid leave. Where do you get the money to keep on living when no income is coming in? Where do you get the money to pay for a lawyer? Then, months later, the entire case is thrown out because the girls have recanted, admitted they lied. Then, even when you are acquitted, how many parents will always have doubts about you?

Yes, that story is made up. But, it is unfortunately happening all too often today. Ask any male teacher and they will tell how that potential scenario haunts them. The worst thing is the consequences of such false allegations.

  1. Gone are the days when a primary teacher on yard duty can allow a young child to run up to them and hug them.
  2. Gone are the days when a male teacher can pat a female student on the arm in congratulations.
  3. In fact, gone is any measure of warmth at all.

Of course, there is another even more serious potential consequence — that children and young people who really “have” been abused by a teacher, will not be believed.
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John Mika supplies teachers what “public” system should

Click for People Magazine.

How can we call our “public education system” public, as in funded by taxpayers dollars, when, in fact it appears that school districts and school boards no longer provide even pencils and erasers?

I knew this was happening in all Western nations but not the extent of the problem until I picked up a recent People magazine in a medical office and read about retired autoworker John Mika.

As he explained it in the magazine, on his first day as a substitute teacher in a third grade Buffalo classroom, he found that only 3 of his 27 students had pencils. Now, I am assuming the regular teacher had already provided all those students with pencils.

Which means, that 24 lost theirs and needed new ones. Multiply that amount weekly or even monthly and it becomes very obvious what type of expense we are talking about — hundreds of dollars a year.

I know, there will be some who think teachers should provide those basic supplies from their paychecks. But, why? They are not a work-related expense like clothing, bulletin board decorations, happy face stamps and reward stickers. Teachers (myself included) have been paying for those kinds of extras for decades. But pencils? Surely the most basic tool needed?
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Policies like “no-zero” & “no-fail” fail to prepare kids for real life

Lynden Dorval, Courtesy QMI Agency

As Moira MacDonald wrote in an excellent column yesterday in the Toronto Sun: “Some of the best lessons I ever learned were from failure.” I mean, who among us has not failed at something?

Yes, when we fail or things don’t turn out as we had hoped (no matter what our age), we are upset with ourselves and others. But, we sure learn not to make the same mistake twice. What is the expression — fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!

The reality is that success is the opposite of failure just as sadness is the opposite of happiness. We can’t know one if we have never experienced the other. Which brings to mind those parents who don’t want school sports teams to have winners and losers.

In effect, when everyone wins, those in charge are taking away the possibility of the joy and exhilaration the students could feel when their team beats another team. Which, by the way, is what real life is all about! Some businesses succeed, some don’t.  What makes the difference is that those who own businesses that fail have the resilience to take the loss as an opportunity to turn things around and start again.

In my opinion, then, what Edmonton physics teacher Lynden Dorval did by giving a zero for not completing or handing in a project was, not only an attempt to teach high school students the consequences of not doing what they were supposed to do, but how they could make things right.

Of course, getting a zero is hard on our self-esteem. You bet it is!  But, how much worse to graduate from high school, never having to face that kind of reality? I mean, few employers, if any,  will put up with an employee not doing what they were asked to do. The result? You would not hear a “tsk, tsk,” that is for sure. Rather, more likely: Your fired!

So, I can only hope that the Edmonton Public School Board does the right thing in September and invites Dorval back into the classroom. No doubt the man could retire given his years of service. But, the fact he wants to continue to teach sends the signal that he does so because he loves working with kids.

Whether it is a no-zero policy or a no-fail policy (as we call it in Ontario), be it in Edmonton or anywhere else, those policies definitely fail to prepare kids for real life!

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Endnote: The only exception to allowing a zero or no-fail policy would be children or youth who have severe learning disabilities (e.g, an autism spectrum disorder). In cases like that, school boards should be providing intervention programs based on the diagnosed needs of that student, rather than the well-intended philosophy of total integration — a subject I wrote about yesterday.

Teacher “required” to report drawing of gun in Sansone case

The teacher and principal in the Neaveh Sansone case should not be fired, or even reprimanded, because in Ontario, such reportage is not only expected but legally required.

Frankly, it also doesn’t really matter at this point that the gun in Neaveh’s drawing was a toy gun (H/T BLY).  What matters now is the fact that the complaints have become as hysterical as the incident itself.

Well, sorry but the last thing we need to come out of this situation is teacher and police second-guessing when and if they should protect someone. This is not about Ontario becoming a nanny state. We have had the same child protection laws since I taught elementary and secondary school in the 70s and 80s.

Plus, remember, hindsight is always 20/20. So lets look at two what-ifs — scenarios Neaveh’s teacher would have faced.

Scenario One: Imagine a teacher seeing the drawing of a child’s daddy with a gun. The teacher asks the child why he or she drew that picture and the child says to show that her daddy uses the gun to keep away the monsters. The teacher doesn’t perceive a threat to the child, so he or she doesn’t report the incident.  However, the art work, like all art work, goes into the child’s folder.  Fast forward a month later and the entire family is shot and the father commits suicide. No, this is not applicable in this case, but the what if is there. When the public finds out that the teacher saw such a drawing, they would be outraged, and rightly so. It could have been a warning, a way for a very young child to show what she couldn’t put into words.  Yes, this situation turned out differently, but no one knows that before hand.

Scenario Two: Now, imagine the same drawing and the same teacher decision to simply put the art work in the child’s file.  However, in this scenario, a few days after the child does the drawing, a friend or relative of the child picks up an unsecured weapon in their home and accidentally shoots and kills him or her. The public would have been just as outraged that the teacher had concerns based on the drawing but did nothing.

Plus, the issue that Neaveh was just being imaginative doesn’t ring true to me.  I taught visual art for years. I also offered primary art classes after school as an extra curricular activity. One of the elementary schools I taught in was a rural school encompassing many farms where there would have been legal guns. Yet, in all that time (plus when I used to supervise teachers in training), I never ever saw a child draw a picture of a gun warding off monsters, a knife or any other possible weapon.

So yes, while we live in a free and democratic society, it is a society with a social contract and the police are, in effect, there to uphold that contract. And, as society gets more complex and on the Internet, that social contract is spreading into some of our areas of privacy.  Which mean that those who primarily uphold that contract, such as the police, need to include some common sense to their procedures. However, it is very important that the teachers who do the initial reporting do not second guess their decisions in order to avoid being tarred and feathered in the media and the Internet.

In other words, there is no reason for libertarian paranoia and tying the hands of those meant to protect us and our children by making something out of this incident that is just not there. That is not to say that this incident was not appalling for Jessie Sansone and his family. It was and hopefully police forces across this country and beyond will learn from it.

But, what it wasn’t, was an expression of progressive ideology or at attack on legal gun owners.  It was simply about making sure a child was safe because, as teachers and principals unfortunately know only too well, there are many children at risk every day of their lives.

Therefore, I decided to stick my neck out on this one. I may be a conservative but I do not think educators, social services and law enforcement are our enemies. While I have no doubt, some will minimize what I have written here simply on the basis of: “Well, what can you expect, she is a former teacher,” it was preciely because of that previous experience, and knowing something about the Ontario Child and Services Act, that I agree with Gregg Bereznick of the Waterloo Region District School Board, when he said: “We did what we were supposed to do.”

EQAO & issue of cheating re standardized tests

There were allegations that a principal with the Thames Valley District School Board (London, Ontario) unfairly opened an Ontario’s Education & Quality Accountability Office (EQAO) standardized testing package ahead of time so that teachers could prepare students.  To read about the whole issue and the outcome of the investigation, check out Hugo’s blog at The Education Reporter

Now, Hugo does a very good job of explaining the ifs, ands and buts of the allegations, along with providing highlights from the report of an investigation into the incident. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to call what happened “cheating.” Breaking EQAO rules perhaps, but not cheating. I say that carefully because not letting teachers know what a testing package is about is going against everything I have ever learned about how to teach kids — and that is to always review curriculum content and demonstrate skills before a test.   

In my opinion then, this is a power struggle between EQAO and the professionals in the system. You will do as EQAO says or else you will be punished by your school board — maybe even be fired. Isn’t it, in fact, cheating the students when teachers have to completely ignore their pleas and questions during the time they are completing the EQAO tests. Some students, let’s not forget, are only 8 years old and in Grade 3 and don’t yet have abstract reasoning skills.

So, while I agree with the concept of standardized testing, I would recommend that EQAO ease the rules to allow teachers to better prepare their students — which will help reduce the stress for everyone involved. Otherwise, the testing process, in Ontario at least, is not really about finding out how well our children are performing, or how well individual schools are performing in relation to others, but how well they are at test taking.

Which begs the question: Would advance preparation be considered simply “teaching to the test?” And, if so, what would be wrong with that? In my view, nothing, as long as the preparation time was short because, after all is said and done, the validity of the tests would still be there given it is individual children who complete them.  

Something to think about.

Special education Internet links for parents & teachers

Listed here are some special needs and special education web resources that would be very helpful for parents or teachers. Normally, this information is posted on my header bar. However, I thought I should publish it to get the post onto the various search engines. (See also the non-endorsement disclaimer below.)

Applied Behavioural Analysis or ABA Treatment — (Link) (Link)

Alberta Committee of Citizens with Disabilities — (Link)

Autism Society Canada — (Link)

Autism Treatment Centre of America — Autism development treatment program called “Son-Rise.” (Link)

Canadian Association for Community Living — Advocacy for individuals with intellectual/developmental disability (Link)

Canadian Association for Independent Living — Information, programs and services for individuals needing assistance with daily living (Link)

Gifted Canada — (Link)

L’arche — International movement of people with developmental disabilities (Link)

Learning Disabilities Association of Canada — (Link)

Learning & Reading Disabilities — a site about the importance of phonics and other techniques to improve and enhance reading (Link)

Our Kids.net — Lists schools children that are focused on accommodating attention deficit disorder and/or learning disabilities (Link) (Link)

Son-Rise — Autism treatment program (Link)

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Disclaimer: The Internet organizations and web links listed on this page are for information only. They are not affiliated with this weblog or its owner, nor are they endorsed in any way. As such, it is up to each and every visitor to determine whether to use them or to conduct further research or inquiries.