Not “New,” “Good”

Will writes this week about some thinking inspired by a tweet from John Pederson:

So when John Tweeted “Community building is the new professional development” it really resonated, because it suggests that unlike most so-called pd that schools offer, getting our heads and our practice around this is a process, not an event. It’s learning, not training. (I cringed a couple of weeks ago when a principal said “Wow, our teachers are going to need a lot more ‘training.’” Ugh.) It’s not something we can “deliver” in a four-hour PowerPoint-like session. As Linda Darling-Hammond suggests, “…teachers need to learn the way other professionals do—continually, collaboratively, and on the job.” If that’s not a description of what I see most of us doing in these spaces I don’t know what is.

The thing about trying to argue that network/community building should be the goal of 21st Century professional development  is that there’s an assumption in that argument that community building as a piece of professional development is a new way of doing things, that that building community is a 21st Century idea.  And, perhaps with the technology, there are some “new” things there – but there might also be some “good” things there that are done in new ways. (I don’t think that John and Will make that assumption, for what it’s worth.)

“New” and “good” are not synonymous.  Neither are “new” and “bad” or “old” and “bad.”  Or “old” and “good.” Plenty of new things are bad, plenty of old things are good and so on.  I would like it very much if people working on teaching and learning projects, people studying and thinking about and implementing tools and practices, would separate the age of something from its value and attempt to make decisions based on that thing or idea or tool or practice’s value, rather than its age.

I understand why the “21st Century” whatever label gets put onto things.  It’s sexy.  It sizzles.  It’s “new” and shiny.  And yet – good professional development has always been about community building.  Professional organizations in the 19th and 20th Centuries were about community and conversation and collaboration. And they and we should be in the 21st Century, too.

Yes, we are in community when we blog and tweet and share and read and write and learn together.  This is how I learn and sometimes how I teach.  Of course the technology changes (some of) the nature and the speed of those interactions.  The power of collaborative technologies is certainly “new” and, often, “good.” (Not always, though.  Plenty of “bad.”) But the networking itself, social or professional or otherwise, isn’t the new bit.  It’s the good bit.  Rich.  Rewarding.  Powerful.  Sustaining.  Rooted in professional conversation. Really, really good.

But not new.

11 thoughts on “Not “New,” “Good”

  1. This is an important perspective, Bud. Thanks for sharing.

    The proliferation and speed of all the “new” technologies can often distract us from the work of researching and understanding the old (the historical context of our present). At the same time, it also distracts us from carefully assessing the value of the present and emerging technologies and ideas.

    It’s definitely a hard balance to walk, not to mention all the other things in life one has to manage. The ideal would be to keep track of the new and emerging, and think about it critically, while not forgetting the old foundations … and also thinking about how the best of the old can work with the best of the new.

    One thing I like about Dan Meyer’s blog, for instance, is watching him take a few steps back and really ask about the “why” and “how” of audio/visual tools. And I appreciate Gary Stager’s (often crabby) arguments against “new” but shallow or poorly-researched thinking … while at the same time pointing us back to valuable research and writing that seems to be ignored or left behind by too many in the field.

    Which brings us back to the community. It’s nearly impossible for any one person to do all that alone (though Downes gives it a good shot), but through a network of learners with similar concerns, it just might be manageable.

    I appreciate your contributions to that network.

    Eric Hoeflers last blog post..The Strain and the Ever-Changing Vampire

  2. This post reminded me of something that drive’s me crazy about the framing of current education debate: the phrase “schools are failing.” These three words shut down conversation. Good people quit talking to each other. I would like it if the frame could be: “Times are different. What does schooling need to look like now?”

    The post also relates to an idea I’ve written about that “local” is different now, too. Local used to be only a geographic concept. Now local can transcend place. Times are different. What does community building look like now?

    I wrote about “what will local mean?” here.

  3. Kia ora Bud!

    I think you’ve hit the target with this post; bull’s-eye style!

    Communities are ancient – we know this. Attempts to build them are almost as ancient.

    What comes with the (wrong) idea that this is all new and 21st centuryish is that it’s also easy. I was astonished recently when a revered educator told me that communities were logical developments of networks – that building a community from a group of participants was only a matter of time.


    communities aren’t built. They’re grown.

    growth of any complex organism is capricious when it’s not possible to control every existing factor, let alone the ones that are known.

    complexity systems (of which community is but one) tend to have minds of their own, and though once established they can be fostered, it is almost impossible to make long term predictions of their position, shape and size, never mind their attitude.

    The weather is a good analogy. Try predicting what the weather is going to be like on any particular day NEXT year. But communities are even less predictable than the weather, for at least we know that there’s going to be some weather.

    Enjoy the retreat with Kevin H.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

    Ken Allans last blog post..All About (digital) Learning Resources

  4. John C commented, “Times are different. What does schooling need to look like now?”. Even though they are still the same. Children see value in hands on learning. It seems to me that schooling is top down and fails to put children in charge of their education.

    Mentor the children through their learning and guide them through their educational process. It the child finds the experience relevant they will learn. They will not if simply forced to sit in a classroom and learn from a book.

    As Kevin H stated that systems are so complex, we are training people to think inside the box. Heck, that complexity is left out of the current Presidential desire to manage the whole world. Heck look at agriculture, they want to keep farmers in business (corporate IMO), so they give subsidies to corn, wheat and soy, plus a few more. That is distorting what would happen in a free market. The subsidies have caused the dead zones in the gulf of Mexico from over fertilization. They have destroyed small towns as they encouraged row cropping systems which can only survive with subsidies. They have ruined health care by making diets highly dependent upon corn, corn syrup, etc.. They have led to increased dependence of energy and many more areas.

    Our schooling is very reductionist. Methane comes from cow farts in one class my son had. Yet Rice paddies give off more than cattle. It has really fostered an environment which only allows for one variable and yet life is very dynamic.

    Communities will be here next year. It is just a matter of what that community will look like. Unfortunately the US community appears headed towards central planning, which will fail as it will fail to take in all variables.

  5. I love the perspective. The tools, the twitter, the blog, the wiki isn’t what’s good. It’s the result. The community, the PLN.

    Is there a place for training though? Sometimes we need to be taught how to use the tool and training sometimes works for that. It works better when there is a why but there is a place for training just like there is a place for direct teaching/lecture in the classroom

    Jorgies last blog post..Creating threads of understanding

  6. Hi Bud. Yes, I really think this is key and very critical to remember at this moment too. I’d like to suggest that we use the excitement generated by new tools to remember what is is about the social practices they support that we think are so good and healthy for us as neighbors, friends, colleagues … and try to make those happen in various ways in our lives, both on and off-line. Ie. what can we learn from the back-channel to fix the front?

    Btw I thought you might appreciate this kind of cute nytimes article exploring social practices that we can see across time and medium:

  7. Great post, Bud. I wonder if administrators feel the same way. In my district, I’m not sure this type of PD is thought of that highly. They can’t give us a day to do this and have us produce an end product, which often seems to justify the time spent (and perhaps the cost). In a lot of cases for me, the conversations and learning don’t take place within a short period of time and there’s not definite end product (unless you count my increased knowledge). I like that the conversations continue and often morph into something else.

    Chad Lehmans last blog post..State Project Interviews

  8. Bud,
    Last year while facilitating a group of teachers who were exploring teaching in a 1:1 environment, I attempted to utilize pedagogy that was “student centered”, and shared tools that would allow them to connect, collaborate and share. After one session where I gave a mini-lesson on using Diigo for social networking, they responded, “That’s what we need, more direct instruction!”
    I felt they were requesting an “old” “teacher centered” model to learn “new” “student centered” instruction!
    I also felt like I was working against the culture of the district, where sharing was fine with their colleague across the hall but not so much across town, and heaven forbid with another district!

    I remember while working in Dr. Thornberg’s Constructing Modern Knowledge session prior to Educon, how you effortlessly brought your PLN to bear on solving the problem posed in the session.
    My hope is that as I continue to build community with them, they will open up and start commenting on other’s blogs, sharing their experiences, and building a community of support that may become a PLN. I hope they find it good!
    .-= M. Walker´s last blog ..1:1 Learning Reflection =-.


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