Monday, February 15, 2010

Does your work belong to you?

A question for teachers: Does your work or your learning belong to you?

While attending my teacher’s convention this week I was sitting with a question, “Does my work belong to me?”. I had been reading about critical inquiry from a Marxist heritage. However I live in this world as a teacher who was looking for professional development so everything I read I placed around my situation carefully. Since my work is learning, it was not long before the question changed itself to read, “Do you own your own learning?”. While I carted my laptop around looking for wireless connections so that I could connect to my professional learning network I realized, no I do not. While many speakers this year spoke about the power of social networks for student learning no one thought about wireless networking for teacher learning. If what we want from people today is to live well in a connected world full of ambiguity we need our teachers to become learners and connect them to each other and the information that they want when they need it.

I believe something is a miss in the world of teaching and learning, something that needs to change for teachers to feel autonomous in their own workplace. Margaret Weatley says, “People are the solutions to the problems that confront us (2009 p. 23). I have been reflecting on this interpretively as a doctoral student and classroom teacher. Michael Crotty (1998) relates that interpretive research merely seeks to understand, and does not challenge, it reads a situation in terms of interaction and community not in the terms of conflict or oppression, it also accepts a status quo and does not seek to bring about change (p.113). That fills me with concern. I have been thinking interpretively about school reform and technology integration. While I do not believe teachers are oppressed in any way I do see many ways they are alienated in a world full of one way musts. Why is it so hard for teacher’s questions to be asked? It is my wish to awaken and understanding the complex situation teachers find themselves in. I want deeply to do this in terms of the conflict that I see teachers living in. I wish to describe, analyze, and open to scrutiny what otherwise might lie hidden out of sight without my participation. I wish to revisit the assumptions we have about teachers using technology in their classrooms for inquiry because I believe something needs to change and I do not think anything will change unless we treat teachers as learners and invite their voices into research by using a method to collect and connect wisdom from each other in reflection.

While at convention and seeing fellow teachers I had lost track with, I was reminded of the power of community and connections to each other as people. As a researcher I am drawn to a dialectical method as a tool to collect data from teachers. This method with all its variations generally views the whole of reality as an evolving process. As I understand it the premise of a dialectical argument is that participants, even if they do not agree, they at least share some common ground of meanings and experience. Connections then need to be shaped by me. I am not interested in an objective depiction of what some might call a stable “other”. There is nothing stable about teaching in today’s classroom. Instead, I want to encourage reflection in a collaborative fashion that would give teachers multiple opportunities to dialogue, in a kind of improvisational critical ethnography about technology use and the assumptions we have about it in the classroom.

In my current work environment at a recent professional development session the administration introduced us to something called, “Fierce Conversations”. I can't say that I really understand this fierceness but according to author Susan Scott you are either: Successful, flat lining or failing. Is that it? Scott is quoted as saying that interpersonal difficulties - at work and at home - are a direct result of our inability to communicate well. Perhaps, if all we want to do is talk at people without listening to them, but a good life is complex, this linear thinking does not describe the many ways we can be successful. “To recognize the dialectic is to recognize that realities are never isolated entities standing in a linear, causal relationship to one another” (Crotty 1998 p.118). The truth is that teaching comes from a servant-master tradition. The ones in charge have the ideas that are communicated toward the one doing the work. As teachers we have been expected to listen to what is said to us not the other way around. I find this thinking like driving on a road where traffic can only flow in one direction. There is not a lot of choice in where you end up. A good place for top down reform possibly, but where on this road is a place for pausing for reflection and opening a place for fierce listening? Life is nebulous and the world of teaching is complex. Complexities need to be recognized and nurtured. To look at teaching as this, that and the other thing, is not very prosperous. Scott speaks from the corporate world of business. Business is rightly concerned with data driven decision-making because it makes sense if you are only concerned with the bottom line. I wonder what place this philosophy has in schools. Is it our place as teachers to put achievement and accountability before our responsibility to support our students to become democratic citizens and encourage voice in our students? According to the government of Alberta’s guide to education (2010) “Our education system must simultaneously prepare the citizens of tomorrow while equipping our students with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in a rapidly changing economy and society” (p. 5). How do we do this with out doing it our selves? At the end of the day I wish to take back my work from all of those that tell me it belongs to them. I want also to feel comfortable to ask questions in my place of work in order to personalize my teaching and my own learning.

This thinking has been inspired by

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