Friday, June 10, 2011

What Happens When Non-Teachers Make Decisions? Stupid Ideas That Ultimately Hurt Your Kids

I received word my soon-to-be former high school is adopting a new printing policy.  Instead of having individual printers in teacher's rooms, the school is making several "printer rooms" where lots of teachers will share printers.  The goal is to save money.  Apparently the idea was proposed by a non-teacher.  As does typically happen, ideas that affect the classroom that are proposed by non-teachers are... well... dumb.

While the goal of saving money is completely valid, this is a horrible idea because of logistics.  Having printers in the individual classroom serves one functional purpose- it allows teachers to print without leaving the classroom.

If printing is done in another area, this forces teachers to either:

a) leave the students unattended while they retrieve something being printed, or 
b) send a student to retrieve the printed material.  
  • What happens when two students get into a fight while the teacher is in the printer room printing out yesterday's assignment for the student that was absent?  
  • What happens when the student you send to retrieve the printed paper vandalizes the room? 
  • Are you going to keep a log of all the people that enter the printing room? 
  • Are you going to monitor it with video?  
  • Won't that just cost more money?  
  • Is the school going to hire someone to be a printer gopher?  
  • Also, it takes up valuable space that is now being used as a student study area.  If a kid needs to take a test or needs a quiet place to study, where will they go?  

I seriously doubt any of these issues were even considered, which is exactly what happens when you leave decisions to people with no teaching experience.

Either situation will interrupt the flow of the classroom environment.  Anybody with even rudimentary knowledge of the inner-workings of a classroom would know this is a terrible idea.  Every teacher I've talked to hates the idea and immediately point out the flaws.  Since they were not consulted, they are pissed (as they should be.)  Some are writing letters to the superintendent and school board.  Some are plotting revenge.  Some are planning to fight this tooth and nail.  Some are contacting parents and letting them know their students will be left unattended due to this new policy.  Some are simply going out and buying their own printers. 

I would hate to be the person that has to try to smooth this decision over with the teaching staff and community. 

Sadly, it doesn't matter what is done by teachers that see the stupidity of this idea.  When we allow non-teachers to make important decisions, we can expect decisions that do not account for the issues teachers face.  As long as we place trust in non-teachers that do not understand the classroom, bad decisions will be made.  This works at the building level, district level, even the state and federal level.  The worst part- our students suffer the most.

The only people that should be making decisions that affect the classroom are teachers and administrators that were once teachers.  This specific issue really reinforces my decision to leave teaching.  I feel bad that the rest of my colleagues will have to endure this stupidity. Good luck, guys.


Update- I have been informed this decision has been modified.  Apparently individual printers will be slowly phased out over time and gradually moved to centralized printing. 

<sarcasm> Sounds like a great solution! </sarcasm>

The  "frog in hot water" technique is often used as a way to gradually implement bad ideas.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Decision to Leave Teaching

Well, it's official.  Shelly and I are leaving the teaching profession.  The decision has been in the works for a number of years.  We've been informally planning for this day since we decided to follow Dave Ramsey's plan and pay off our debt.  Paying off that debt is what ultimately gave us the freedom to leave.

We also fostered other sources of income, most based on our running adventures.  The popularity of Barefoot Running University has allowed us to leverage several contracted jobs, the most prominent being Merrell (the outdoor adventure company.)  I helped them develop some educational materials and they are sponsoring our family to travel around the US to educate others on good running form.  It will make for a memorable adventure, and we'll document it here

We were faced with the decision many teachers face on a regular basis.  The future does not look bright at the national, state, or local level.  Funds are being cut.  Pay is decreasing.  Benefits are decreasing.  Long-held staples like tenure and pensions are slowly disappearing.  Online education is gaining a foothold, which will likely cause a dramatic decrease in available teaching jobs.  Class sizes are going up.  Standardized testing in the name of "accountability" is destroying teacher autonomy.  Every teacher faces the decision to stay or go. 

Two factors weighed heavily on our decision.  First, we could no longer justify putting all our eggs in one basket.  The newly-volatile future of public education is NOT something we wanted to rely on.  Second, we realized teachers have some VERY marketable talents that are valuable to a wide range of industries.  Stepping out of the profession would give us several tangibles including:
  • More autonomy- we can fully utilize our strengths as teachers to teach using proven methods.  In short, we can produce maximum effect with minimal work.  We aren't bogged down my top-down curriculum and politics.
  • Better pay- We're no longer at the mercy of a fickle state legislature.  The market will determine our pay, and our ability as teachers gives us a sizable advantage over possible competitors.
  • Long-term security- This used to be a benefit of public education.  It was a reason to become a teacher.  Today, the future of our entire pension plan is in question.  Handling our retirement plan ourselves provides or long-term certainty.
There are other benefits, too, but these are the primary reasons we made this decision.  
Will we eventually go back?  Maybe. Honestly, it depends on where we settle down and the state of the local economy.  There's a lot of uncertainty in public education on a national level.  Teaching as we know it may be disappearing.  We may get involved in education on a different level as I believe there will be a lot of opportunities in the near future.  We'll see.

Until that time, Shelly and I are going to enjoy our new lives as nomadic running bums.  ;-)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Make Teaching Better By Eliminating Intellectual Incest

Teachers love to copy ideas.  We're plagiarizing whores.  We copy lessons from each other all the time.  We haven't created an original lesson plan since 1983.  True story.

Generally, this is a good thing.  We take what has worked for others, tweak it a bit to meet our specific needs, then roll it out in our own classrooms.  It gets the job done.

There's one problem- it lacks true creativity.  We keep rehashing the same ideas.  It's like when I make Mexican food (or at least my version of Mexican food.)  I use some sort of tortilla, chicken or beef, cumin, lettuce, cheese, some hot sauce, maybe some beans, and an occasional avocado.  The ingredients can be mixed in a variety of ways to create different dishes, but they all taste pretty much the same.

In teaching, this is manifested by  the use of the same basic lesson ideas.  If we want to infuse more creativity into our lessons, we need to add more ingredients.   Learn a new way of cooking.  

How do we do this?  

Look outside the teaching profession.  

Over the last year or so, I've read a lot about unorthodox business practices that have resulted in success stories.  On the surface, this doesn't appear to have much application to the classroom.  Until you dig a little deeper.

For example, I like reading about methods to increase blog readership.  There are some brilliant minds out there with fantastic ideas.  Many of the suggestions are methods to create interest in blog content.

How can this be applied to the classroom?

Think of your lessons as your blog content.  Your students are your potential audience.  How can you get them to "read your blog?"  Simply apply the blogging experts' advice in the classroom setting.

Viola!  More effective teaching.

As it turns out, this idea of synthesizing the classroom and ideas completely unrelated to education is a gold mine.  ANY topic can be used to enrich your lessons.  Here's a good way to find inspiration:

2. Sign up, get the toolbar button
3. Choose a few topics that sound interesting
4. Stumble to random sites
5. As you read through different sites, think of how you can apply this to the classroom

Other teachers should be the last place you go for original ideas.  Date outside the family and look for ideas in unconventional places.  It'll make you a better teacher.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Using Cell Phones in School... Hey, What a Novel Idea!

This post was inspired by this article in the Grand Rapids Press:

Several years ago, I proposed allowing students to use cell phones in school.  The technology has the potential to revolutionize how we teach AND save schools a good chunk of change.  Cell phones can be used as student response systems, video cameras, still cameras, podcasting tools, and a host of other tools.  Unfortunately the idea was shot down.  Instead, we've spent the last few years in a futile war to punish kids for using phones in school.

This issue perfectly exemplifies why we need to fully embrace innovation, especially that which utilizes technology.  To that end, we need to identify and eliminate the "always say no" gatekeepers that inhibit technological innovation.

Today's teens use technology to communicate in ways that seem foreign to many adults.  It's not a matter of teaching kids to use technology, it's a matter of teaching them using their preferred medium.  Failing to understand HOW kids communicate is a recipe for failure.  If we can't speak their language, we can't teach.  The Luddites didn't survive.  Neither will we.

Hopefully someone out there could use these ideas, especially since some schools seem to be embracing this technology.  The following is the text of the form I would have given to students:

Cell Phone Integration Project
Student-Response Experiment

Project description- This is an experiment to test the feasibility of using student-owned cell phones in conjunction with the Internet to create a student-response system.  A student response system works like this: The teacher presents a question to the class and gives several options.  Students respond to the correct answer by sending a text message to a predetermined number that corresponds to the answer they choose.  The web service we will be using is located at  This project will test the likelihood that this system could be used on a larger scale for assignments and projects such as test reviews, etc.
What is needed- A cell phone with the capability to send text messages.  A phone is NOT required for all students!  The class will complete this project in small groups.  Students will be divided in a way to equally disburse available technology.  For the duration of this project, students will send approximately 5-25 text messages per week.  Because of this, please do not approve your student if they have a limited number of text messages on their cell phone plan.  Mr. Robillard and/ or the school cannot be held responsible for expenses incurred from the additional text messages that will be sent with your approval!  If you are not comfortable with approving this project, please do not sign the paper!  The availability of a cell phone will have no bearing on your child's grade!

Rules and regulations- Because our school officially bans the use of cell phones during the school day, we will have special rules set up to govern cell phone use IN MY CLASSROOM during your child's class.  These policies are in effect from the time your student enters my room until my class ends and they leave my room.  When they are outside of my room, the school policies regarding cell phone use will be in effect.  Essentially, if they are caught using their phones, they will be confiscated and turned in to the administration.  The following are the rules that will govern cell phone use in my classroom for the duration of this project:

Cell Phone Expectations:
  1. Phone ringers must be set to "vibrate" or "silent" at all times.  This is to prevent disruptions to the class. 
  2. Phones are placed on top of desks in plain view f the teacher at al times when they are not in use as a class.
  3. All media produced/messages sent must be course related.
  4. You may not use another person's phone at any time.
  5. All media published about/of others must be approved by them.  For example- you may not take pictures, video, or audio recordings without the subject's permission.  Also, no media may be published online without written approval.
  6. All messages can be accessed at any time by the teacher.  Remember, there is no such thing as privacy in electronic communication- you cell phone company has access to all messages/ media sent over your phone!

Failure to comply with the expectations may result in disciplinary action by Mr. Robillard, including confiscating the phone until the end of the day and that class losing all "stars" for the remainder of the chapter they are covering. 

If you have any questions, please email me at *******************

Thank you!

-Jason Robillard

Parent Signature________________________________________Date__________________

Student Name____________________________________ Hour__________________

This is the details of the plan I wanted to implement.  It would have been rolled out in three phases, each one teaching kids additional methods to use these tools:

Cell Phone Technology Integration Plan
Purpose: Take advantage of tools many students already possess to help reduce strain on school technology budget; help meet technology integration standards; teach responsible use of cell phones in society.
Phase 1- Student Response System Phase 2- Citizen Journalism Phase 3- Capturing and Editing Video

Use cell phones as “clickers” to operate student response system. Teacher presents a question, students will respond using cell phones. Will be used in conjunction with Can replace systems that cost between $2000 and $5000. Use cell phones as “citizen journalism” tool. Since most students carry phones at all times, they can immediately report when they see something happening that pertains to class (citizen journalism). Students can either text “stories” or post audio clips (mobile podcasting). Will be used in conjuction with secure, private blogging sites such as or wiki sites such as Use cell phones to capture video for video projects. Video editing will be accomplished with secure private video editing website such as or Will replace digital cameras and editing software, can save several thousand dollars.

All three phases together meet or exceed at least 23 METS (Michigan Educational Technology Standards) created my the Michigan Department of Education.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Much Should Teachers Get Paid?

This post was inspired by this article from the New York Times: 

Nicholas Kristof makes a case for paying teachers more, not less.  I've used his same argument many times.  By diminishing the profession by eroding pay and benefits, governments are unwittingly making the profession significantly less attractive.  The vilification of teachers and our unions by the media and general public make the profession even less appealing. Why would talented individuals choose teaching as a career?

It's not hard to become a teacher.  Any reasonably intelligent individual can successfully pass through teacher preparation programs and pass the state-required certification tests.  This means one thing- the bottom of the barrel is pretty bad.  

There are a lot of unemployed teachers floating around right now.  They are unemployed for a reason... the better teachers have already been hired.  As the profession becomes less appealing, the talented teachers are going to leave.  Their talents will assure gainful employment outside the profession.  In many cases, they will find a position to help people more effectively than they did from within the school system with superior pay, benefits, and status.

This mass exodus of the talented teachers opens the door for the less talented teachers.  The result- the quality of schools drops even more.  Add scarce resources and growing class sizes and we now have a recipe for disaster.  This entire scenario is laughable given the sudden focus on rooting out and eliminating "bad teachers."  If the fanatical right-wingers think there are bad teachers in the profession now, wait until their policies are fully enacted.

Of course, some suggest performance-based pay is the obvious solution.  These people obviously do not understand how schools work.  If merit pay is based on standardized test scores, the best teachers will simply flock to the upper-class schools where test scores are highest.  even within schools there would be competition for those students that would score best.  Also, there would be even more incentive to teach to the test.  There would also be more incentive for schools or individual teachers to somehow cheat the system so their students will score higher.

The solution is simple but seems to be unpalatable in today's economic climate- pay teachers more.  Attract the best of the best.  Give them the autonomy and resources to inspire our children.  If  we want to pay teachers based on performance, let's give a bonus for every student that goes on to change the world.  

Of course, that would require more taxes, and we don't want that.  After all, then we wouldn't be able to afford that new flat screen plasma TV for our bathroom.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Whining, Complaining, and Criticizing: Symptoms of a Serious Problem

I've been reading John Wooden's "Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and off the Court."  As many of you know, John Wooden is considered the most successful NCAA men's basketball coach in history.  He won 10 national championships at UCLA in the 60's and 70's.  More importantly, the man had a a ton of great advice on how one should run their life.  Even though I dislike basketball, I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone interested in teaching, coaching, leadership, or just getting the most out of life. 

John's philosophy is really quite simple.  He advocates being a hard working, enthusiastic leader.  His beliefs can more or less be summed up based on his definition of success:

"Success is peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

I really like this idea along with many other ideas Wooden outlines in the book.  One area in particular hit close to home.  Wooden repeatedly talks about always doing your personal best given the resources you've been given.  However, late in the book he talks about enthusiasm.  Specifically, he talks about the point when enthusiasm wanes.  

When enthusiasm diminishes, there is a tendency to start a vicious cycle of negative thoughts.  These negative thoughts manifest themselves as negative behaviors.  These behaviors often take the form of whining, complaining, and criticizing.  This struck a chord with me. 

Over the last few months, I've become an acute observer of the behavior of those around me.  Almost without exception, I see frequent whining, complaining, and criticizing from everyone... students, colleagues, leaders, parents... pretty much everyone in my professional life.  It creates a toxic pool of poison where people go through the motions in a detached, indifferent trance while chanting hollow words of conviction and passion.

The worst part- I'm just as guilty.  I have allowed other peoples' outsides to affect my insides.  That has resulted in my own bout of whining, complaining, and criticizing. I have fallen into that trap.  Worse, I rarely recognize it as such.  I'm sure those around me don't recognize their own behaviors, either. 

Wooden also states "... valid self-analysis is crucial for improvement."  I do not have the power to change others, but I do have the power to change me.  Since this entire blog is about the need for change in education, "me" is the best place to start.  

Wooden notes it is impossible to work up to your fullest ability without enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm is the antithesis of negativity.  Enthusiasm is the natural cure for the cycle of negativity.  Enthusiasm can disinfect this pool of pessimism.

In my running life, I am routinely surrounded by positive people that truly love what they are doing.  Their passion is so intense, it is impossible for them to hide it.  This passion creates an energy that is absolutely infectious.  This is the enthusiasm I want to bring to my professional life.  

I realize I contribute to the creation and nourishment of this environment.  The only hope I have of changing the environment is first changing myself.  This involves a conscious monitoring of my own behaviors, which is difficult for us to do.  To help my self-awareness, I'm going to employ a trick used my my friend John DeVries.  I'm going to wear a rubber band around my wrist.  Every time I complain, whine, or criticize, I will move the rubber band to the other wrist. 

Widespread negativity is a symptom of a toxic environment. My influence over the environment starts with my own behaviors.  If I have any hope of correcting these problems, recognizing and correcting my own behaviors is the first step.

Thanks John Wooden.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Grading Parents: How a Florida Law Highlights Exactly What is Wrong With Education

I can hear the comments from teachers now:

"This is the greatest law ever!"
"YEAH!  It's about time we make parents responsible!"

A Florida representative recently proposed a bill that would require kindergarten through third grade teachers to grade their students' parents.  This is a teachers' dream.  

Why?  Our experiences tell us our students' success is directly  correlated to their home life, which is correlated with parental involvement.  As involvement goes up, achievement goes up.  Increasing parental involvement makes a better student, generally speaking.

So why is this a bad idea?  

It's another example of the system's failures being blamed on something besides the system itself.  Teachers administrators, school boards, curriculum, textbooks, lack of technology, and a myriad of other cogs in the machine of education have been blamed for the failures of public education.  

We've taken dramatic steps to change these elements, usually by "making them more accountable".  Has it worked?  Not according to this article.  

It doesn't take a sociology PhD to understand what is happening.  Our government is "raising the bar" by increasing graduation requirements and adding punitive consequences to high-stakes standardized tests.  This sounds like a great idea... on paper.

In reality, no amount of money, programs, teacher expertise, or curriculum is going to significantly change student ability.  We measure student success by a shockingly narrow range of ability and very specific skills.  A good percentage of our society simply does not excel at those specific measures of "ability."  

Since schools are being judged on things like graduation rates, they begin to cut corners to artificially increase graduation rates.  What's the alternative?  The laws don't give schools an alternative.

What's worse than the kids graduating with a watered-down degree?  The kids that fall through the cracks.  The laws require schools to continually increase test scores and graduation rates.  Most of this can be done by lowering standards, thus inflating grades.  Still, some kids can't hack even that level.  What do we do with these kids?  We get rid of them by tagging them as "behavior problems" and shipping them to alternative schools or expelling them altogether.

This Florida bill simply shifts some of the blame to parents.  Is it their fault their kid is better at drawing than long division?  And will this bill somehow change that?

The problem is obvious.  School policies are being determined by politicians that have little or no understanding of actual human behavior in general, and the inner-workings of the process of educating children in particular.  
The solution is equally obvious.  We need to stop treating kids like numbered cattle.  We need to stop assuming we can treat children like machines where inputting "X" will result in "Y" results.  We need to treat each and every child like the individual they are.  We need to create an environment where their individual talents can blossom.  We need to foster creativity, critical thinking, and the intrinsic love of learning through exploration and discovery.  We need to abandon this dumb-ass idea of "accountability", stop blaming parents, students, teachers, administrators, and other groups indiscriminately, and refocus our priorities.  

What we are doing does not work.  Doing more of it is just plain stupid.  


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Anti-Union BS: Let's Call a Spade a Spade

The current situation in Wisconsin (and elsewhere) is interesting.  An anti-union governor and legislature proposed legislation that would, among other things, severely weaken the collective bargaining rights of teachers.  

This battle between unions and the anti-union crowd is not new.  It has existed since workers first began uniting.  Any time you have two groups with competing interests, you have conflict.  In Wisconsin, it's not the battle that troubles me.  It's the rhetoric.

Both of the political parties involved have made the claim that they are taking their respective sides for the betterment of the kids.  This is bullshit.  

Both sides are simply pandering to the groups that are most likely going to help them get reelected.  Republicans want to weaken unions because organized labor typically supports their opposition.  Weaken the union, lessen your opponent's coffers.

Democrats pander to the union for the exact opposite reason.  Organized labor supports Democratic candidates.  Strengthen (or in this case protect) the power of unions and you increase your ability to get reelected.

Political parties are organizations.  As I mentioned a few months ago, the primary goal of any organization is to keep the organization alive.  The battle being played out in the Wisconsin Legislature's rotunda has nothing to do with the welfare of kids.  It's a political pissing match.  

Of course, this brings up the question of devaluing teacher pay and benefits, which is the stated goal of the Republicans.  This battle, like the organized labor battle, has been fought for years.  

The arguments are familiar- one side wants to see teacher pay and benefits cut because it is a major expense.  Schools cost taxpayer money.  An easy way to reduce this cost is to cut personnel costs.

On the other side, if teaching is devalued too much, the motivation to become or remain a teacher erodes.  Why bother with an already-difficult career that requires a high degree of entry level education and never-ending continuing education if the pay and benefits suck?  Who would be attracted to the profession? 

Walmart developed a pretty good anti-union system where employee benefits and pay are at or near the bottom of their profession.  Look how successful that organization has become.  Is this the model we want our public schools to replicate?

If we are really concerned about the students, we need to seriously consider a complete overhaul of our education system.  Any ideas?


Monday, February 21, 2011

Are Schools Institutions of Marginalization?

In reading "The Art of Nonconformity" by Chris Guillebeau, I came across a quote:

"Unreasonable," unrealistic," and "impractical" are all words used to marginalize a person or idea that fails to conform with conventionally expected standards."

Is it just me, or are our schools essentially tools perfectly designed to marginalize those that lie outside our seemingly arbitrary standards?  Are we doing our kids a disservice by rejecting those students that do not perfectly fit our "ideal student" stereotype?  

We like to claim to teach critical thinking skills, but how often do we support kids that think critically about our schools?  

Here's a hypothetical situation:

Timmy is a kid in your third hour class.  You are presenting a well-planned lesson that has resonated with students in the past.  Timmy does not see the value of the project and demands to know why he has to do it.  You give him your rationale, which is educationally valid based on our training as professional educators.  Timmy rejects our explanation and gives his own interpretation of the lesson.

Do we credit Timmy for thinking critically?  Probably not.  In all likelihood, we punish Timmy because he's being insubordinate.  We marginalize Timmy because he disagrees. 

When we ask kids to think critically, wouldn't it be more accurate to ask them to think critically as long as they do not question our roles?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Five Monkeys Can Teach Us About Education

The following is a story adapted from Chris Guillebeau's "The Art of Non-Conformity".

A monkey-hating sadist put five monkeys in a cage.  The monkeys could not escape, but were given food and water at the bottom of the cage.  The food was bland an uninspiring but it was enough to sustain life.  The monkeys were destined to spend their lives looking out of the cage; watching an exciting life pass them by.  

One day, the sadist placed a ladder in the middle of the cage.  At the top of the ladder sat a bright yellow bunch of bananas.  One monkey, eager to break free from the bland food they were forced to eat, scaled the ladder.  Just as the monkey reached for the bananas, a hose appeared out of nowhere and doused the monkey with icy cold water.  The other monkeys were also doused.  

Over the next few days, different monkeys would attempt to reach the bananas.  Each time they were met with the same icy fate.  Eventually the monkeys began violently attacking any other monkey that attempted to scale the ladder.  The monkeys stopped trying.

About a week later, the sadist removed one monkey and replaced it with another new monkey.  Almost immediately, the new monkey started scaling the ladder to reach the bananas.  The other monkeys, familiar with their impending dousing, pulled the monkey off the ladder and beat it without mercy.  The monkey did not try again. 

The next day, another monkey was replaced.  The same scenario ensued.  After five days, all the original monkeys were replaced with new monkeys.  These new monkeys had never experienced the dousing, yet they violently attacked the new monkey when they tried to scale the ladder.  

Apply this lesson to schools.  How often do we accept uninspired mediocrity because we're taught to fear reaching for the bananas?  


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

School Budget Hacks: A Few Ideas to Save Money

School budgets are shrinking.  It's an inevitable fact.  It's a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future.

I have always been interested in the idea of self-sufficiency.  How can any organization or individual survive without any outside assistance?  In a time of crisis, it is comforting to know survival doesn't necessarily have to depend on others.

For schools, this idea manifests itself in savings.  Self-sufficiency for public schools is impossible.  Trying to become as self-sufficient as possible could be a worthwhile aim, however.

Over the years, I have proposed many ideas that would result in cost savings.  To the best of my knowledge, all were dismissed for a variety of reasons.  Most of the ideas involve technology.  Why?  My Master's degree is educational technology.  A majority of our class time was spent exploring methods to implement technology while saving money.

Perhaps some school (or organization) could benefit from these ideas.

Problem: How does a school acquire computer hardware?

Traditional answer: Get bids from corporations, spend a huge chunk of money on new equipment.  Fund with some sort of technology millage (i.e.- hit up the taxpayers).

My answer:  Solicit donations.  Businesses are always replacing computer hardware.  Small businesses do this on a fairly regular basis.  Large businesses do it on a frequent basis.  These businesses usually have to pay to dispose of hardware.  Alternatively, they can donate the hardware to a non-profit (like public schools) for a tax write-off. 

Even better, universities also replace hardware and have to dispose of the old stuff.  The advantage of large businesses and universities- the equipment is usually standardized, which makes maintenance slightly easier.

I started a program in my classroom using this exact model.  Businesses donated equipment.  I enrolled in Microsoft's Fresh Start program and received copies of Windows to install on the computers.  I used Open Office as my office suite.  I taught a group of kids how to maintain the entire lab.

The entire system worked perfectly.  Every kid had access to a computer.  If something broke, we had an army of eager kids to fix it.  They were learning an excellent real-world skill.  If it wasn't fixable, we had plenty of replacements.  We used open source software for everything.  On some computers, we used Linux instead of Windows so kids could learn that, too.

All of our computers were approximately three years old, and we had the capability to upgrade every year.  Based on my limited research, I would have been able to secure hundreds of computers every year... FREE!  There was zero software cost.  Zero maintenance cost.  Zero hardware cost.  Students learned real-world skills.  I even had computer business owners volunteer to help teach the kids or do work themselves.   Common problems like vandalism disappeared because kids took personal ownership in the lab... it was theirs.

Ultimately the program came to an end because class size exploded.  i no longer had the physical space in my classroom.

This program could be set up pretty much anywhere by anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of computer hardware and software.  Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on new equipment that has to be maintained and eventually replaced, consider this no-cost idea.

Problem: Computers need an operating system.

Traditional Answer: Microsoft Windows.

My Answer: Linux.  Back in the day, the Linux operating system was pretty complex.  There was a sharp learning curve to be able to effectively use it.  Those days have long since passed.  There are many versions of Linux available today that are easy to use.  Some are even geared toward education.

I have quite a few techie friends, several of which manage networks.  They rave about Linux!  It's easy to use, easy to administer, and perfectly stable.  Best of all, Linux is free.  Instead of spending a boatload of money on Windows upgrades every few years, move to Linux.

Problem: Students need an office suite to do work.  Specifically, they need a word processor, presentation software, and the like.

Traditional answer:  Microsoft Office.

My Answer:  OpenOffice.  I already mentioned this above, but it is worth mentioning again.  The software is free, stable, and easy to use.  It has the ability to handle many document types, many of which MS Office cannot handle.  Like the other stuff from above... it's free.

An alternative solution is Google Docs.  This is interesting... when Google first released the online-based suite, I suggested our school use it as an altrenative to MS Office.  The idea, like the others, was shot down.  This year, they decided to start using it.  Too bad it took a few years for that one...

Problem: Students and cell phones.  Cell phones have become staples in our lives.  Almost everybody carries them, including our students.  Schools are spending increasingly greater resources to fight cell phone possession.

Traditional Answer: Set increasingly restrictive policies and consequences to punish possession of cell phones.

My Answer:  Understand basic human psychology.  First, cell phones aren't simply technological toys to today's students.  They are their primary means of communication.  As humans, we have a drive to communicate... we're social animals.  When we ban cell phones, we're not banning a toy, we're banning communication.

Second, the fact that they are banned increases the desire to use them.  Most teens, in an effort to exert their independence, engage in rebellious behavior.  Setting strict rules only heightens the desire to rebel. 

If we respond with indifference, we remove a major thrill of using the phone.  Cell phone use would drop.

To further erode the allure of cellphones, we could adopt them for classroom use.  I proposed a program a few years ago that would use student cell phones as student-response systems.  Using a free website, a teacher could pose a question to the class.  Students would text their answers to a specified number, which would tabulate their answers.  The results would then show up on an overhead screen.  It's cool.  The real benefit- by making cell-phone use a part of the classroom experience, we further decrease the rebelliousness of its use.

Additionally,almost all cell phones today can be used as still and video cameras.  With free online editing software, teachers could do video projects without any cost to the district. 

Problem:  Paying for extracurricular programs can be very expensive. This is especially true for non-athletic programs as they often do not have the support of booster groups.

Traditional Solution:  Pay for the programs with school funds or have the groups fund-raise.

My Answer:  This isn't so much a unique idea, but rather a plan for a multi-faceted approach to fund-raising.  Don't rely on school funding (spend that money in the classroom) or have students do fund raising (takes their time, gets annoying).  After all, how many candy bars and do-it-yourself pizza kits can your community buy?  instead, plan one huge event and leverage various groups to increase its fundraising capacity.  This is what I did:

This was developed more or less by accident, but turned out to be a huge event with incredible potential for growth.  I had a few people that came to me with the idea of creating a gathering of barefoot runners (it's a hobby of mine) for a large race here in Michigan.  The idea eventually evolved into an attempt to break a word record fr the most barefoot runners ever to run in a single race.

After doing research, we found the Guinness stipulations wouldn't allow us to use that race.  We needed to find another location.  We were set to use a friend's business, but a fellow teacher approached me about a 5k she was planning as a fundraiser.  Realizing the barefoot race would be an excellent opportunity to boost the attendance for her 5k, we decided to move the event to my school.

The event itself ivnoved student volunteers, several of our non-athletic extracurricular groups, community volunteers, alumni, several local businesses, and a large international corporation.  We were able to leverage all of these groups to publicize the event.  We managed to attract about 300 people to the event.  Some came from as far away as Georgia and San Diego!  For fundraising, we had our school store make t-shirts that were sold, and I gave them copies of my barefoot running book to sell.

The best part- the local news picked up the story, which resulted in several newspaper and TV news stories immediately before our district was voting on a bond proposal.  We had a positive, fun story about our district... it was great PR!

The event was held and it was a ton of fun.  Unfortunately we didn't set the record as there were several logistical mistakes I made.  Guinness had very specific accounting procedures, which I messed up.

After the event, I was flooded with interest from runners and sponsors... they wanted to know what they could do to be part of the 2011 version.  Unfortunately the district put an end to the event, but this is what could have been:
  • Several major corporations were prepared to sponsor the event, which would have included valuable publicity AND plenty of freebies to distribute to participants,
  • Several local running groups were eager to get involved,
  • Participation was expected to explode... perhaps several thousand participants.
 If we would have attracted a conservative 2,000 participants, charged no participation fee, and sold one tshirt to each for a profit of $10, we could have raised $20,000 in one evening.  It would have been an event that would unite students, community members, local businesses, and large corporations.  It did and would provide great positive PR for schools.  It's a model that could be used in a variety of settings.

These are just a few ideal someone could use in an educational setting.  As costs rise, it makes sense to cut spending in areas that can be replaced by free alternatives.  
Do you have any similar ideas?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below!


Apathy in the Face of Crisis

There's an interesting trend among teachers.  I see it locally.  I see it at the state level.  I see it at the national level.  Teacher pay and benefits are under attack from all angles.  The response:  Apathy.

At the local level, my district is at the bottom of our county in regards to pay, yet we are above average in per-pupil spending.  Essentially, other districts pay their teachers more with less resources.  Yet we're expected to "make sacrifices", which is code for taking a pay cut. 

At the state level, legislative bills have been introduced that will force all public employees to pay 20% of their heathcare costs.  Another bill would lop off 5% of our pay by side-stepping collective bargaining.  Finally, our tenure laws are going to be seriously weakened.  These three measures would likely cost every teacher thousands of dollars per year.  The bills seemingly have support in both houses of the legislature and from the governor.  Public support is on their side.  It's not a matter of "if", rather "when".  The collective response:  Apathy.
At the national level... well, I think most of us are familiar with the plight of public education at the national level.

The apathy I see is a little shocking.  Teachers (and support staff and administration) are on the bring of losing thousands of dollars from their yearly salaries and an erosion of our powers to collectively bargain, yet nobody seems to care.  It is as if they think this won't happen if they just ignore it.  

Psychologically, we have a tendency to ignore disaster preparedness.  If we know something bad is inevitable, we still won't prepare.  Why?  Preparing creates a sense of pessimism and uncertainty about the future.  Go to an earthquake-prone area.  How many people are prepared for "the big one"?  Not many.  

This may be the same phenomenon.  We have a belief that if we just put our heads down and go about our business, everything will work out.  Unfortunately, this attitude is the exact reason these things are happening in the first place.  This attitude is the exact reason these changes are inevitable.  This attitude is the exact reason these things will continue to happen.

Maybe legislation is too abstract.  Maybe people would have a more visceral response if someone actually took several thousand dollars from their checking account.  Maybe it would be helpful to point out how much those thousands of dollars could add to their children's college fund.  Maybe a pamphlet for a tropical vacation would elicit some type of response. 

Apathy.  [sigh]

Monday, February 14, 2011

Roadmap to Innovation Part Three: Toxic People

In every walk of life, you may encounter toxic people.  These are people that will stand in the way of innovation.  These are the people that assure mediocrity.  When building an innovation-fueled organization, avoid these personality types.

The Gossip

The gossip is the person that derives intrinsic motivation from the sharing of negative knowledge.  They will repeat and rumor they acquire and go to great lengths to always be "in the loop".  Their information may be useful, sensationalized, or completely fabricated. 

It should be noted- humans frequently talk about each other, this is a method we use to build mutual trust and social bonding.  However, only about 5% of these conversations are negative.  This percentage is significantly higher among gossips, which also harms social bonding.

The gossip will ultimately hurt morale because they create an under-current of distrust.  The members of the organization become guarded, which limits the free flow of ideas.  This bottle-necking of creativity hurts innovation.

A gossip is difficult to correct.  If confronted, the gossip will simply find another less-detectable medium to spread their "news".

The Complainer

The complainer verbalizes their dissatisfaction on a frequent basis.  Their frequent highlighting of the negative corrodes overall morale much like the gossip.  While some attention to the negative aspect of any idea can be valuable feedback, the complainer's griping is not intended to be productive.

The complainer may manifest themselves in several ways.  Some may appear cheerful to the casual observer.  Some are grumpy and withdrawn.  Others are marked with a whiny disposition.  In any case, they frequently have a self-righteous attitude and a tendency to blame others.  

Complainers complain because the behavior provides self-validation.  First, it shifts blame to others.  Second, they can then compare themselves to others; their "goodness' overshadows others "badness".

Some complainers can be corrected by routinely highlighting their complaints as they may not be consciously aware of their habits.  In others the habit may be so ingrained no intervention will be effective.

The Suspicious Person
I have always found this personality type interesting.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, this personality type is toxic.  Many times, the suspicion of others is a manifestation of guilt.

It works like this.  When we assess the behaviors of others, we often frame their behavior with our own perception of the world.  If we believe all people are fundamentally good, we assume others think the same way.

It is relatively easy to see this phenomenon in action.  Simply observe how a person interacts with others.  You will quickly begin to see how they perceive the world.  More importantly, you will see how they perceive others. 

Back to the suspicious personality.  This personality type has a few hallmark behaviors, including:
  • Preoccupation with trust and loyalty,
  • Often believe others' behaviors have malicious motives,
  • Have few close relationships and may appear socially-awkward,
  • Are generally quiet, but can easily become argumentative,
  • Are especially sensitive to criticism,
  • Prefer passive-aggressiveness to direct confrontation,
  • Often exhibits a superiority complex (believe they are better than others),
  • Exhibits a black-and-white sense of right and wrong,
  • Are ineffective in team or group situations,
  • Often believes there are hidden meanings in seemingly innocuous events.
Where does this behavior type come from?  In most cases, certain parenting styles seem to cause it.  Parents generally spend a great deal of time teaching the child to be hyper-vigilant about making mistakes and make the child feel as if they are different from other children.

The interesting thing about this personality type is their behaviors are often incongruous with their beliefs.  They assume others have something to hide because they have something to hide.

If these people are part of your organization, be very cautious when considering their input.  Distrust is the antithesis of innovation.  In the educational or organizational setting this toxic suspicion will impede any real creativity and innovation.


Each of these three personality types are toxic to the innovative organization.  All three will limit the organization's ability to grow and prosper.  Be aware of these personality types when building a team. 

More importantly, consider yourself.  Do you have any of these characteristics?  Personally, I have fallen into the "complainer" trap before.  For me, it is an easy pattern of behavior to adopt.  Recognizing its futility has helped me identify the times I've fallen into that particular behavior pattern.
In future posts, I will continue to explore various personality types and their affect on organizations.

How about you?  What are your experiences with these personality types?

Roadmap to Innovation Part Two: Identify the Dreamers and Doers

There are two personality types that are especially useful to an organization:  the dreamer and the doer.

The dreamer is the big-picture person that generates new, innovative ideas.  This person is valuable because they are at the cutting-edge of innovation.  They will take old ideas and synthesize them with new ideas.  They create synergy.

Unfortunately, dreamers have a serious flaw... they are not adept at implementation.  They will develop an idea, but do not have the attention span to follow through and effectively implement the idea.

This is where the doer steps in.  Doers are people that love detail.  These are the people that get things done.  They are the planners and list-makers.

The doers have a serious flaw, also.  Their attention to detail prevents them from seeing the big picture, which makes them ill-suited for developing new ideas.

Fill your organization with equal numbers of both types and your organization will flourish.  The dreamers will develop the framework for innovative ideas; the doers will take care of implementation.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Roadmap to Innovation Part One: Reward Success and Failure, Punish Inaction

This is the first of a series about innovative organizations and how these lessons can be applied to schools.  As teachers, we can learn a great deal from other successful organizations.  

Part One: reward successes and failures, punish inaction and apathy.

Organizations that embrace innovation are successful.  The synergy that is created permeates all aspects of the organization.  This post will explain a slightly counter-intuitive idea- rewarding both successes and failures.

In American society, we routinely reward successes.  It seems like a natural idea.  You do something, do it right, and reap the rewards.  Break out the apple pie.

We also have a tendency to punish failures.  Again, this would seem to prompt people to work harder to succeed.  It seems logical.  However, punishing failure has one really bad consequence- it makes us gun-shy.  If we know we will be punished for attempting a difficult task, we may prefer the security of inaction.  Doing nothing results in no consequence, which is safer than risking punishment.

This creates an obvious problem... innovation grinds to a halt.  The smart organization understands that innovation is the key to success and protects it at all costs.  Innovation always creates some degree of risk.  In order for the people in your organization to take the necessary risks, they cannot fear failure.

The solution is deceptively simple- reward people for attempting new ideas.  If they fail, reward them for trying.  If they succeed, reward them more than if they failed.  People will begin trying new stuff.  Innovation will flow from every orifice of the organization.  The resulting energy will thrust the organization to the top.  In the case of schools, this is exactly where we'd want to be.

So we punish inaction?  You bet.  People that aren't willing to try new stuff will assure organizational mediocrity.  There is no reason this attitude should be tolerated at any level of any organization, especially schools.  Start punishing inaction and you quickly identify these people.  Give them a chance to embrace the idea of experimentation-based improvement.  If they can't hack it, they need to be eliminated.  

For teachers, this same idea should be extended to the classroom.  Encourage your students to try new stuff, and don't be afraid to reward them even if they fail.

Agree?  Disagree?  Leave a comment!


Help a dude out.  If you like my blog, please share it via Facebook, Twitter, or email!  You can use the buttons in the right column or below.  Thanks!


Friday, January 28, 2011

What Great Businesses Can Teach Us About Teaching

Generally, I hate comparing schools to businesses.  Why?  The comparison usually involves students playing the role of products and teachers, administrators, support staff, etc. playing the role of manufacturers.  The business analogy usually involves finances and is used to show the inherent inefficiency of schools.

This analogy is stupid for an obvious reason- as schools, we have no control over the raw materials needed to manufacture our "goods".  It would be akin to going to a junkyard to collect part to make 150 exact replicas of the same car.  It's simply not possible.  I view this analogy as a ploy by uninformed politicians with skewed anti-public school agendas.

Here's a better business analogy- students are our customers. The product we're trying to sell is the knowledge we're teaching

This model accurately reflects what we do as teachers.  If we are successful in "selling" the knowledge, our students benefit.  This model will allow us to utilize some lessons from the business world that will actually result in a positive outcome.  Furthermore, this success can easily be measured with the proper assessment.

Now that we have a workable analogy, let's look at how businesses sell.  Good businesses sell a lot of products, so we should examine good businesses.  How do they do this? 

One method is great advertising.  Some companies spend a tremendous amount of money to capture buyers.  Think of Coca Cola.  They spend billions of dollars per year on advertising.  In the teaching world, this could be analogous to window dressings like fancy bulletin boards, snazzy computer software, colorful textbooks, and other such gimmicks.  These items, while expensive, do result in some degree of success.  Humans like new, shiny stuff. 

The problem, aside from expense, is the novelty effect.  We get bored of shiny new toys.  We need a steady stream of new, expensive toys to hold our interest.  In an era of strained budgets, this approach is stupid because it is not sustainable.  School cannot and should not have to fork out huge sums of money to capture kids' interest.

Some businesses find success by offering awesome products.  A good example would be Apple.  Their products develop a huge following.  In the classroom, this would be analogous to great lesson plans that engage each and every student simply on the merit of the lesson itself.  This is great and should be the ultimate goal of each and every lesson we teach.  However, this also requires a ton of long, hard work.  It may take 20-30 hours of development to create a single awesome lesson. 

This kind of workload is not possible, so we have to develop a process to slowly craft great lessons year after year.  The idea is to slowly turn each and every lesson into an iPhone.  Unfortunately, this model has several problems. 

First, it doesn't help kids today.  Not all of our lessons will be perfectly crafted masterpieces.  Some will; some will not. 

Second, ever-changing curriculum and an ever-changing student population will slow the ability to craft perfect lessons.  The solution is to always assess what works and repeat it; assess what does not work and eliminate it.  It is also useful to perpetually experiment with new methods, including methods abandoned in the past.  Learn what works for you and what works for a very wide range of students.

This solution is a noble goal, and many will expect teachers to always have perfect lessons.  However, expecting constant perfection is simply foolish and ignores the logistical difficulty of this endeavor.  We should work towards this goal, but realize we will never fully accomplish it.

Okay, so these two methods, heavy advertising and creating great products, are two of the most popular models used by businesses.  Is there another solution?  You bet.  Best of all, it is perfectly suited for the classroom

Smart companies realize advertising and product development are expensive in both funding and time.  Despite these limitations, they thrive.  How?  They take advantage of an obvious but under-utilized element of human psychology... they don't try to build a customer base, they build an audience

A customer base has to be wooed with fancy advertising or exceptionally good products.  They have to be persuaded to buy products.  An audience, if properly nurtured, will buy anything.  Best of all, it takes neither advertising dollars nor expensive research and development.  The audience is hungry for anything and everything the company produces.

If we think of our students as our audience, our perspective changes immediately.  If we begin fostering this relationship with each and every one of our students, they will willingly devour anything we feed them.  There are other educational theories that attempt to teach this very concept, but they come off as cheesy, unnecessarily complicated, or fail to explain the direct benefits.  "Capturing Kids' Hearts" comes to mind.  The company sells seminars that basically teach teachers how to be human.  It's like the bottled water of education... making money off of something that should be freely available.  

How is this accomplished?  As it turns out, it's pretty simple... just follow these steps:

1. Generate excitement.  Excitement leads to intrinsic motivation.  If you're not doing something exciting, you shouldn't be doing it.  At the very least, pretend you're doing something exciting.
2. Inspire.  We love people that inspire us.  Nothing builds a loyal audience faster than inspiration.  The key- it doesn't really matter what you are inspiring kids to do, just inspire them to do something.
3.Occasionally engage each and every students in conversation, and really listen to what they say.  I accomplish this by asking kids if there's anything new going on in the world.  The conversation can go pretty much anywhere, and it is important to allow this freedom.
4. Make eye contact.  Use Bill Clinton's technique... make eye contact when talking with someone.  When you move on, reestablish eye contact for a brief second.  It dramatically increases that person's sense of importance.
5. Talk about interesting stuff completely unrelated to the class.  Everyone loves to learn about interesting stuff.  Engaging kids here will dramatically increase the likelihood that they will listen to you when presenting a lesson.
6. Be honest.  This is more difficult that it seems, but gives you immediate credibility.  Many teachers consciously or unconsciously give off a vibe of superiority which usually manifests itself as "I am an all-knowing expert; you are inferior".  Check your ego at the door and let kids see your flaws.

There are many more subtle techniques that can be used to create a loyal audence; I will attempt to list more in a future post.  Which reminds me...

7. Always leave your audience hungry for more. :-)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Easy "Differentiated Instruction" Hack

Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a professional development session with a professor that specializes in instructional differentiation.  The concept is great- tailor education to individual learners.  The implementation, unfortunately, often falls short.

This is not my first exposure to differentiation.  While working on my undergrad degree, I was a teaching assistant for a psychology professor.  She taught me more about teaching than my education classes combined.  Her approach was simple: Start with your students.  

Everything flows through them.  Before tackling issues like curriculum, classroom management, or any of the myriad of other things we do as teachers, we must consider the characteristics of the individuals.  Specifically, what excites each student.  Understand this and you will unlock the key to an unlimited reservoir of enthusiasm.  

The professor that gave the presentation mentioned a pet-peeve statistic I hear in education on a frequent basis- humans have an attention span of x minutes, where x equals a very short time.  In this case, I think it was five or six minutes.  Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of human behavior will understand that this is an average; attention capacity is directly correlated to interest.  As interest increases, so does attention span.  

Teachers spend a tremendous amount of time and effort designing lessons that include a great deal of variety.  This is a good thing; it is the very idea of differentiation.  However, they are often ineffective for a simple reason- the teacher is adding variety without first considering the audience.  

Teachers have a tendency to begin planning with the curriculum in mind.  This is logical as teaching the curriculum is our primary responsibility.  Once teachers determine what should be taught, they try to figure out effective methods to deliver the curriculum to their students.  Great teachers use variety that reaches wide range of students.  Not so great teachers pick a method that aims at the middle of the bell curve, thus capturing as many kids as possible while largely ignoring the exceptions at both ends.  Both have serious flaws.

Adding variety takes a lot of planning time.  While this is a great short-term solution, it is not sustainable.  It is simply not possible for a teacher to plan for several hours every day for the length of their career.  Burn-out is inevitable.

Aiming toward the middle is much easier, but should not be an option.  The idea that any student will be left behind because of lesson plan design is inexcusable. 

What is a teacher to do?  Get to know your students.  Know what they like.  Know what they dislike.  Pay attention to their body language when discussing random topics.  Pay attention to the things they talk about with each other/  Pay attention to the subtext of the questions they ask you.  Above all, learn to recognize when they are are engaged and when they are checked out.  Trust your instincts.  This personal knowledge of your students should be your starting point to lesson design.

Once you gain this knowledge, you will be able to accurately predict the type of lessons that will work with certain students.  More importantly, you will know which types of lessons will not work with particular students.  This knowledge makes lesson planning MUCH easier.

Once you gain this knowledge, THEN look at the curriculum.  Use your knowledge of students to determine how you can teach each student this material.  You'll be surprised to find two or three different methods are often sufficient to reach everyone.  

Once you figure out how to teach your students, only then should you consider what you will teach them.  The material is irrelevant unless the vehicle of delivery is effective.

This idea can be applied to every aspect of the classroom.  Now you know how each kid learns, how you are going to teach them, and what you are going to teach.  The last step is determining how you will assess thier progress.

I was excited by our presenter's thoughts on assessment.  Despite the use of the terms "formative" and "summative" assessment (in my opinion, education-speak is a form of verbal masturbation... we use it to feel good and elevate ourselves in self-perceived importance), she reinforced the idea that assessment should be a tool to help teachers fine-tune instruction.  This is incredibly important, and I will address the issue in a future post.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

If Only We Spent More Time Playing...

This post was inspired by this Huffington Post blog:

Joe Robinson makes a good case for adult "play".  I think the idea makes perfect sense.  Unfortunately, we do very little of this in schools.  This is especially true of secondary education.  Personally, it's all I would do if it were not for the scorn of my colleagues, administration, and even parents.

There is a widespread belief that "play" and productivity are two mutually exclusive concepts.  One cannot exist without the other.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  We learn best when we play.  Teachers should strive to include more elements of play in their classroom.

Teachers are fond of complaining about disengaged students.  When is the last time you felt disengaged when playing?  Yeah, same here... never.  Let's face it, seriousness blows. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Are Teachers Becoming Obsolete?

I've commented about this phenomenon before, but new information has rekindled my interest.  Technology could kill the teaching profession.  Specifically, online learning could kill teaching. 

An interesting transition is taking place.  Online learning has been around since I began teaching 12 years ago.  In the beginning, it was horrible.  Students did not especially like it AND their performance was poor. 

Over time, students seem to have warmed to the idea.  They no longer bitterly complain about the limitations of learning from a computer screen.  More importantly, their performance is improving. 

The improvement may be the result of changes in the actual online instruction, or it may represent a changing in the abilities of students.  Regardless of the reason, the improvement is significant because it legitimizes the practice.

The only piece of the puzzle remaining is standardized testing.  The moment data arises that shows students score better on standardized tests when taught using online instruction, the proponents of online instruction will have all the ammunition they need to spread it far and wide.

Of course, any teacher that values their job will object.  After all, there is little dispute that online education comes with a huge trade-off... the personal connection between teacher and student is lost.  Personally I think this is important.  I think most people would agree... except for those that determine school funding.

In the age of accountability and dwindling budgets, it will be impossible to argue against the widespread implementation of online instruction.  It is much cheaper and, once the data is produced, more effective when measured with standardized testing.

How will this affect teachers?  It makes us mostly obsolete.  In an online environment, one teacher can manage hundreds or thousands of students from a remote location.  The students can be supervised by virtually anyone for minimum wage.

Teachers will face massive layoffs.  New teachers will go unemployed.  Those that have extensive technology knowledge will be hired as the remote teachers.  The remainder will clamor for the "supervisory" positions and accept dramatic wage and benefit cuts. 

Unions will implode as membership drops and apathy continues.  Anti-labor laws will continue to be passed with fervor.  This destruction of teacher associations will further erode teacher pay and benefits.

So what is a teacher to do?  There are ultimately two options: Put your head down and ignore everything going on in the periphery, or develop a good backup plan.  Start networking.  Consider jobs that compliment online education like tutoring or materials development.  We're skilled professionals with valuable abilities... always consider how you could leverage those skills outside your current gig.

Change is inevitable.  The life teachers have lived for decades- decent pay, good benefits, good retirement plan, are more or less over.  Over the last decade, we've experienced a slowly dying profession.  The proliferation of online education will only hasten the death.  My advice- prepare for the inevitable.