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What Innovation Means

definition of innovation, per google.

the definition of innovation, per google

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we mean when we talk about “innovation” in education. Being the language geek I am, I of course looked up the detonation and etymology of innovation. When considering a concept, I like to think about what the words surrounding the concept actually mean, before they get loaded down with all of the meaning we bring as we do the “work of innovating” in today’s classrooms and schools.

Gotta love Google, Data Mogul of the 21st Century. A quick search tells me that the use of the word “innovation” has exploded in the past 50 years, right alongside the tech industry. Interesting — we’ll come back to that.

Back to the #wordnerd fun: if you break the word innovation into its component parts, as I used to teach my high school students to do, you find “in,” which means “in” (sometimes language is straightforward), “nov,” which means “new,” “va,” which means “go,” and “tion,” which means “to do” or “action of.”

So, quite literally, innovation is the act of doing something new.

This is not surprising, but it is interesting, considering that when we “innovate,” we must do so with the experiences and work of our predecessors whispering to us, providing the wisdom and expertise of years, decades, centuries, eons of experience and research upon which we must build the “new.” By definition, we cannot “do something new” without drawing on “something old.” And yet, in the etymology and denotation of “innovation,” there is no trace of the “old,” of what came before. There is only the promise of newness.

And newness is intoxicating.

As an administrator in educational and information technology, I am struck by the intoxication of newness on a daily basis. Promises of new and better ways of doing the work of living are often delivered by new technologies, and this has been true since the dawn of humanity; from the pen to the compass to the printing press to the microwave to the computer, that which is new has always captivated us, drawing us to spend more money and time than we would/should/could on “innovative” devices/practices/approaches that entice us to imagine a life free of whatever limitations, struggles, and inefficiencies may plague us.

Innovation is really about that: imaginationa defining characteristic of humanity. Others would posit that language “makes us human,” or memory, or our ability to use and develop tools. But imagination has always struck me as a uniquely human trait, one that drives our obsession with innovation and fuels the inevitable “march of progress.”

Given the above, the etymology and denotation of the word innovation gets us nowhere close to its actual meaningwhich includes a word’s connotation, the experiences and cultural weight we bring to a word when we hear it. Connotation is everything. Words are loaded with meanings that are rarely coded into their component parts. Such is the case with innovationHere are three important things I’ve come to believe about innovation in education:

Innovative educational practices are rarely “new.”

One of history’s most innovative educational thinkers, in my estimation, was John Dewey, but his philosophy was hardly novel; he believed we learn through inquiry and experience, through doing and building and making and seeing and exploring. Today, the innovative-but-already-becoming-passe “maker movement” promises the same sort of experiential learning, but in the context of new technologies that allow students to imagine something and then 3D print it instead of molding it out of clay. The only thing “new” about this is the available technology, and even then, the librarians in my city would argue that you don’t need a 3D printer to have a makerspace — you just need a few leftover cardboard boxes, some glue, and maybe a little string.

In a classroom that has embraced a “maker mindset,”

…one will find engaged students, often working on multiple projects simultaneously, and teachers unafraid of relinquishing their authoritarian role. The best way to activate your classroom is for your classroom to make something.

The whole point of this “innovative” approach to teaching and learning as experiential and exploratory meshes well with and even echoes Dewey’s philosophies surrounding ethics, morals, social interaction, and experiential knowledge-building:

…the appropriate method for solving moral and social questions is the same as that required for solving questions concerning matters of fact: an empirical method that is tied to an examination of problematic situations, the gathering of relevant facts, and the imaginative consideration of possible solutions that, when utilized, bring about a reconstruction and resolution of the original situations. Dewey, throughout his ethical and social writings, stressed the need for an open-ended, flexible, and experimental approach to problems of practice…

In essence, many of the “innovative” approaches to working with students that we champion today are engaging them in the kinds of experiential, inquiry-based, challenge- and problem-based approaches to knowledge-building and learning touted by philosophers in the early 20th century, if not (likely) before then.

Our lack of relative “newness” in our thinking, however, does not mean we are not being innovative when we imagine and implement a new-to-us approach to teaching and learning in an effort to improve students’ experiences in our schools. Innovation in education may be less about “doing new things,” and more about doing “new-to-us” things with the resources we have available: repurposing, remixing, and reinventing ourselves as we reflect upon what is working for the kids in front of us, and what is not. Which brings me to my second point.

Innovative practices require reflective practitioners.

If innovation is less about “doing something new” in education and more about reinventing in our local contexts, then innovation requires a reflective approach to planning and collaboration. It requires us to be flexible. Self-critical. Quick to adjust. Pensive.

Embarrassing truth: sometimes I talk to myself in the car at the end of my work day.

I have colleagues who do this into a recording device, as a way of capturing their reflections, which makes them perhaps a little less crazy than me, because I do not speak my reflections into a recording device (because I know I would never go back and listen to them, so why take up the storage space on my phone?). I don’t always talk out loud to myself, but most of the time when I’m driving, I’m in the middle of a conversation with my thoughts. I imagine most educators are like this, mulling over the success of a day’s lesson, a professional development session, an observation, a meeting with colleagues.

This embarrassing truth is a step towards reflective practice. But it isn’t enough.

I’ve worked in six public school districts and three higher education institutions in four states, which I think almost gives me enough experience to say this with confidence: truly reflective practitioners do more than talk to themselves in the car on the way home. They also seek out feedback from colleagues and students, and they welcome critique. They learn as much, often more, from moments when they are challenged than they do from praise. They never do the same thing the same way twice. Reflective practitioners truly, and sometimes annoyingly, enjoy a healthy debatebecause it forces them to reconsider their approach and philosophy, and because they aren’t actually disagreeing with you, they are trying to understand your perspective and are coming to a new understanding of their own perspective. They write about it, read about it, and talk about it“it” being whatever they’ve been turning over in their minds, or out loud, in those car conversations.

And finally, innovative practice has nothing to do with technology.

Okay, that’s not entirely true, because the literal definition of technology (as we’ve established, I’m into definitions) is “a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge.” To break it down further, logy means “to study,” or “study of,” which means technology is all about inquiry and questioning, which as I’ve established, rests at the heart of innovative approaches to education. So to say innovative practice has nothing to do with technology is not denotationally true. But it is connotationally true.

Because when you hear the word technology, you think of your smartphone. And innovation has nothing to do with your smartphone.

Or an iPad.

Or a Chromebook.

Or a Smartboard.

Or the latest app.

Being innovative might involve these things; you might use them in a new way in order to make your work more efficient, to make your lessons more engaging and relevant, to reimagine a unit or a project. You may use them to search for new ideas, to blog about your practice for a public audience (like I’m doing now), or to record successes and struggles, all of which would be reflective practice, and in service of innovative practice. But you do not need shiny new technologies to be an innovative educator. See previous comment about makerspaces that require no more than cardboard.

Innovation is about mindset and approach. It is about flexibility, about building curriculum, lessons, collaborations, and learning experiences around the needs of the students in front of you, and about learning from one implementation to the next, improving and adjusting along the way. Innovation does not require doing something new, but constantly doing your work, for your students, in your context, in ways that challenge and inspire youth to interrogate and solve the problems of our ever-changing world.

The Role of Educators in Keeping Digital-Age Kids Safely Connected

Last week, I participated in a Screenagers panel at one of our district’s middle schools. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is an hour-long documentary about the impact of screentime on child and adolescent development: social, behavioral, and cognitive. If I had to sum up the film’s argument in a single sentence, I believe it was telling parents to “beware screentime,” because excessive device use can lead to addictive, antisocial, and academically deleterious outcomes.

The film’s screening for a group of 300 of our parents was well-timed for me, both as an educator and as a new parent. As an educator, I have been thinking a lot about how to embed curriculum that will engage students in critical conversations about their online actions and identities, how they curate and develop those identities, and how they keep their data safe from predators, hackers, and others who might do them harm online — or, frighteningly, in “real life,” as a result of their online actions. As a new parent whose toddler is already intrigued by screens, I wondered how exposure to screens, and especially how my own use (overuse?) of screens might impact my daughter’s development, and I considered ways to set limits on my own device use in order to set a positive example for her.

I could wax poetic on the reflections this has sparked for me as a parent, but for this post, I want to focus mostly on the role of educators when it comes to keeping digital-age kids safe online.

First, I think it’s important to understand that kids like screens because screens provide social connection. As contradictory as this may seem to adults who have watched groups of teens sit in a circle staring at their phones, it rests at the core of why teens and pre-teens love tech. The film, and the panel of teenagers that I had the honor of sitting alongside after the film, made the point that digital devices help them feel connected. To their friends. To the lives and experiences of others. Even to their far-flung families. When today’s 3rd and 4th graders begin asking their parents for phones, it is so they can feel connected.

In this effort to feel connected, kids sign up for Instagram or Snapchat accounts. They follow celebrities on Twitter. They snap selfies and post pictures of themselves all over the Internet. They harass and bully one another. They naturally, and concerningly, use things like “likes” and “follows” as tangible evidence that their social circle of peers approves of them. Natural, because other types of social interaction provide no such concrete data. Concerning, because one’s self-worth should not be measured by a tally of “likes” on Instagram.

Enter every parent’s and educator’s fear about today’s kids and students: they will turn to these ephemeral spaces for validation (or devastation), and because the spaces are in so many ways hidden from our view, we will not be able to step in to protect, intervene, or educate before something terrible happens.

I have firmly believed, since my first day of teaching, that one of the major roles of education in our society is to develop decent citizens. Quality humans. As simply as I can put it: Education Exists to Make Good People. People who can invent, build, create, salvage, save, scrutinize, analyze, and interrogate. People who can collaborate, inspire, and innovate.

And today’s good people have to do all of that in work, academic, and social worlds that are both-and: 

  • Both on a screen and face-to-face.
  • Both global and local.
  • Both digital and analog.
  • Both connected and disconnected.

A parent asked me an excellent question at the end of the film. She apologized for “putting me on the spot” later, but she shouldn’t have, because it’s one of those questions I wish people asked me more often. She asked:

In light of all this research about the negative impact of screens and screentime on kids, why the push in the schools for more access to things like laptops and 1:1 devices?

My inadequate response, since I had very little time to respond:

It’s incredibly difficult to teach students how to make smart decisions with digital devices if they don’t have access to digital devices in school.

The better response I would have provided, given more time: It’s also difficult to teach them how to be safe online, how to protect their data and privacy, if they do not have dedicated time in the curriculum and dedicated teachers who can help them understand things like:

How the Internet works (and what, exactly, the Internet is).

What a digital footprint is, and how to manage yours. This seems like an easy enough thing to teach, but it’s not. Could you explain to a child:

  1. How companies work with the Internet to provide services to consumers, and the data they collect in order to provide those services (have you ever signed up for a Snapchat account? They stop just short of asking for your third cousin’s middle name)?
  2. How “third-party companies” gain access to data you’ve shared with other companies, and how they are able and allowed to use that information about you?
  3. How Amazon knows you’d like to buy a bike?
  4. How Google knows you’re in Massachusetts?
  5. How Twitter knows who you might know and want to follow?
  6. The role of big data in developing and maintaining your digital footprint?

What cloud computing is. Do you know?

What computers and machines can do. What they can’t do. And how humans can use them to do things we can’t do.

When to use a device to talk to someone. When not to. How to use a device to talk to someone. How you talk to someone differently on a device than you do in “real life.” How to be kind to someone when you talk to them with a device. How to use a device to talk to someone in order to get something done (digital collaboration). How to combine devices with analog strategies to get things done. This list only gets longer.

What it is safe and ethical to (not) do on a computer. Again, one of those “easy things to teach,” right? You just make sure kids know the “never” list:

  1. Never give anyone your address
  2. Never give anyone your phone number
  3. Never give anyone your full name
  4. Never agree to meet up with someone
  5. Never talk to strangers
  6. Never open an email from someone you don’t know

…but have you noticed that this list of “nevers” is similar to the nevers we heard as kids in the 80s? #5 basically covers it, right? Wrong. Because in this day and age, “knowing” someone is not cut-and-dry. Running into strangers online is easier than running into them in a crowded shopping mall. And  address, phone number, and name aren’t the only data points someone can use to hack into your accounts or local devices and run amok. Furthermore, this list of nevers doesn’t even touch ethical computing: fair use, copyright, and intellectual property is a different game in the digital age.

Some may argue that parents can have these conversations with their kids, but I think that relying on this serves to widen the digital divide and to perpetuate issues that have risen to the surface in recent years as kids are handed cell phones as early as 3rd grade.

Some parents — the ones who majored in computer science — are tech-savvy enough to have regular conversations about all of these things with their kids. But most are not. This is not a commentary on today’s parents, it’s just the reality of a world in which technology changes faster than we can blink. We grew up playing with Legos and VTech “computers.” Handheld Nintendo Gameboys. Atari. CD players. Dial-up. Our kids’ world is different. Teaching them how to be safe, aware, and strategic in it is difficult.

Most (but again, not all) parents ARE able to set boundaries that the film discussed: have a device curfew. Require access to your child’s accounts. Keep technology in a common space, and require that it be used in common spaces, not in isolated areas like bedrooms. Talk to kids about the concerns you have about their technology use, and about how they think it impacts them socially or academically. Here are a few other ideas. However, implementation of these strategies requires parental presence, which is not always a given depending upon work schedules.

All parents can ask their child’s school what they are doing to educate students about computing, the Internet, keeping information safe online, engaging in ethical online practices, and connecting with others positively, in ways that don’t disconnect them from the “real world.”

#WhyIMarch

Maybe you’ve heard — there’s a Women’s March on Washington scheduled for the day after tomorrow. And if you know me at all, you know I voted for Clinton, and you know I was extremely disappointed by the outcome of the election, and you know I’m a democrat, and you know I believe in funded public schools, racial justice, socioeconomic reform and awareness, cultural acceptance, sexual identity awareness, gender identity awareness, and just about any type of “liberal” or “progressive” reform you can imagine.

So it might not be a surprise that I’m planning to spend two nights on a bus so that I can march in Washington, DC on the 21st. In fact, people who know me might assume that the list above are the reasons why I’m marching, and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. My sociopolitical beliefs are certainly a major motivator.

But to assume my political leanings are the only thing driving me to spend precious weekend family time away from my one-year-old girl and supportive husband would ignore the many, many other reasons why I am participating. Among them, these five:

Because my daughter is watching me. Posting memes and articles on social media to a crowd of individuals who mostly agree with me doesn’t count as “standing up for what I believe in.” The week of the election, my husband challenged me as I struggled to drag myself out of a deep depressive state. It wasn’t about my candidate not winning — it was a moral, emotional, ethical, deeply personal and also deeply professional loss when the citizens of our country voted for a leader I feel is the embodiment of anti-intellectualism, misogyny, intolerance, and hatred. “What are you going to do about it?” he asked me. Well, I have a long-term plan that I’m sure I’ll share here later, but for now: this. I am going to do this.

Because I am able. I have the means to pay for the bus ticket. I have a husband who supports my decision to participate and will watch our daughter during the 36-hour trip. I have the means to pay for food along the way. I am in good physical shape. I have friends and colleagues who share my cause and passion, and we can stick together in DC on Saturday. I am well-off and able, and many who might want to participate may not be.

Because rhetoric can be harmful. While some journalists are claiming that the march lacks purpose, march leaders have made the case that the march is in resistance to hateful rhetoric (among other things):

“The rhetoric of the past election cycle has insulted, demonized, and threatened many of us–women, immigrants of all statuses, those with diverse religious faiths particularly Muslim, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native and Indigenous people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, the economically impoverished and survivors of sexual assault.”

This may not seem like a clear purpose to some, but is very clear to me. If studying language, linguistics, texts of all types, and rhetorical theory as my life’s work has taught me anything, it is that rhetoric has power. Protesting the vile rhetoric our new president and his supporters have launched against women, disabled individuals, and minorities is therefore, for me, a perfectly substantial purpose.

Because I know people who are genuinely afraid about their family’s future safety in this country. My daughter’s teachers at her daycare. Some of the students in the schools for which I work, and their families. Teens who have been bullied or ridiculed in the days since the election because of their racial or gender identities. Because our nation was built on the shoulders of immigrants, and yet has hypocritically thrown hatred and intolerance at minority groups throughout our history. Because that needs to stop.

Because sometimes, #thestruggleisreal. And I mean that in a less sarcastic way than usual. I have always worked in a field dominated by women — education. literacy. reading. Until recently, when my career path somehow landed me in the male-dominated tech field and in a leadership position right as our family welcomed a tiny new member. While I am still in education, surrounded by strong and inspiring female leaders, a few of whom will be on my bus tomorrow night, there are days when I can feel that glass ceiling pressing down. Days when I can’t attend an evening work function because of the baby’s bedtime.  Weekends when family trumps (heh) imperative paperwork, rendering me farther behind and scrambling to find the available hours to catch up. Mornings when getting out of bed after a rough night of wakeups is the closest thing to torture I’ve ever experienced. And while I am fortunate to work among men who value the input of female leaders and understand the demands of family, some interactions highlight the very real struggle of women who strive to “have it all;” respect and integrity in their work, love and comfort in their homes.

These are just a few of the not-so-obvious reasons #whyimarch this weekend. To my sisters marching all over the world, stay alert, stay safe, stay strong, stay peaceful, and stay positive.

A Reflection on Access to Academic Research

I’m writing this quickly, my fingers flying across the keyboard in a quiet room on a Sunday afternoon. I hope my daughter doesn’t wake up from her nap before I finish, and I know that my time is limited. I’m excited to have a few stolen moments to write here, in this recreational writing space I so rarely visit these days. Today’s topic: a reflection on a most privileged kind of access: access to academic research.

I’m doing research this afternoon on reading and writing in digital environments. I’m doing this research so that I can discuss plans for introducing more digital reading and writing tasks into middle school curriculum with our district’s ELA director. This is research I’ve conducted before, both within and outside of my doctoral program, and I am thanking my former self for saving few PDFs in the archive.

I’m glad I saved PDFs because as I conduct my search, I am reminded that I lack the privileges once granted by my affiliation with a major research institution. The University of Michigan, Purdue University, and The University of Illinois boasted library collections and databases that gave me access to… well, anything I wanted. If I didn’t have access through my university, I had access through the robust Big Ten Interlibrary Loan network, and when that failed me, I could ask my trusty School/College of Ed librarian to consider adding a journal or database to the collection (which they often would).

When I was associated with a major research institution as a graduate student, the research process was pretty simple. I searched library databases. I found excellent articles in prestigious or lesser-known research journals. I downloaded a PDF and saved the citation. The end.

Today, my process looks a little more like this:

  1. Search of old stuff from my own archive, because let’s face it, start with what you’ve already done. But most of this stuff is from 2013 or earlier, so…
  2. Google Scholar Search, editing parameters for only those articles that include an openly available full-text version.
  3. Google Scholar Search v.2, eliminating the extremely limiting PDF parameters, and archiving citations using Zotero for future search in our High School databases.
  4. Extremely frustrated break for lunch.
  5. Remember the Directory of Open Access Journals and comb it for education journals that are open access. Bookmark these journals for later searching.
  6. Academic OneFile Search (we subscribe to this database for our high school students) for articles for which I already pulled citations, in hopes the journals are included in that database. Very few of them are. Note to self to check public library databases later.
  7. Regular Old Google Search, which turns up an article from Scientific American (okay yes, it’s a media outlet, but it often does a pretty good job offering up “digested research,” IMO). Archive a few citations from this article, repeat steps 5 and 6.

I can navigate this process in part because I know how to navigate our district and public library resources. I know how to do this in no small part because of my background in research and my former affiliation with large research institutions, and because I am pretty good at navigating the Interwebs and conducting strategic keyword searches. So it’s fine that I need to do all of this, if a little frustrating, because I have the information literacy skills needed to find the 345 workarounds I need to gain access to rigorous academic research.

But I will not walk away with all of the articles that I want, and I will spend a long time finding the ones that I do finally gain access to.

Access. We ask teachers to engage in research-based best practices, but they (and sometimes we — leaders of these teachers) do not always have the access we need to the research that helps us understand, study, and develop these practices.

Access. Even when we do have access, we sometimes need to understand how to use that access — we need the information and digital literacy skills to navigate online databases and search engines.

Access. I never realized how much access I had to the brightest minds in the world until I suddenly had extremely limited access.

My time runs low, so I’ll end my reflection here. I know many newer journals are open access, embracing the call of many in the academic community to embrace the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement, and I hope I more scholars will support this movement by submitting to these journals too… not always the journals that make a lot of money because of their high impact ratings (which also get professors tenure, and grants, etc.). I understand why some journals are proprietary, but I can’t help but find myself, a k12 educator and teacher leader in search of excellent literacy research, a little disheartened and disappointed by today’s search.

 

(Don’t) Give it Away for Free: A Teacher’s Conundrum

I’ve been struggling with something lately, and have been meaning to find the time to write about it here. It all began with a friend’s blog post, followed by a bar conversation, followed by a 23-message email chain with a teacher in my district, but before I get to all that, I want to rewind a little further.

Crafting lessons, assignments, and units has always been fun for me. I get to be creative, to design an experience for my students around the goals I’ve set for their learning, to imagine my plans in action — it’s downright fun. So naturally, it is also fun for me to share these plans with my colleagues, whether in the teacher’s lounge or in the form of a fully-developed unit plan carefully organized in a binder full of a unit’s scope-and-sequence, assignment sheets, lesson plan calendar, assessments, and examples of student work (I have a lot of these). I was always proud of the “stuff” of teaching that I had created, from that clever lesson on poetic rhythm using Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat to my favorite portfolio unit on gender and social justice for my 9th grade classroom. If someone wanted to use my materials, I handed them over, thrilled that someone wanted to adapt or share something I had crafted.

I always hoped and expected, of course, that anyone who used my materials would credit me, as I had been taught to do whenever I borrowed someone else’s lesson plans or unit concepts. But I have never hesitated to share curriculum that I developed and designed. Case in point: this very website showcases all of the college syllabi I developed during my time at Michigan, including assignments and examples of student work.

Then, about two weeks ago, a few things made me pause and wonder…

Should I Stop Giving it Away for Free?

First, an article, published my a close friend of mine on her blog, entitled “Teachers: Stop Giving it Away for Free.”  As you might expect from the title, she makes the argument that teachers have developed significant stores of knowledge based in experience, have crafted well-designed lessons, units, and other resources with inherent value, and they should not simply hand over these resources for no compensation. She writes:

We need to stop underselling ourselves. It’s not a matter of modesty: we’ve all seen too many bad instructional materials, known that we can do it better. Thus, we should. And we should attach some sort of value to what we do because if we don’t, people will keep taking it until we have nothing left. Know your worth.

And dammit, I agree with her. We’ve all read article after article about how the teaching profession is being perpetually devalued, arguably de-professionalized. Do teachers contribute to this deprofessionalization by handing over their materials and expertise for free? In the corporate world, this doesn’t happen — if you want someone’s professional expertise, their intellectual property, you have to pay them for it, right? My friend makes exactly this argument, saying:

The biggest oversight is that administrators and even other teachers don’t seem to realize that these experts are either next door to them or within their buildings. We sit through PDs that these folks could teach effectively and responsively, yet, they are never asked. On the off chance that they are finally asked to do something, there is often no compensation for the time invested for preparing an excellent PD.

This one struck a chord with me, because as a district-level non-administrator (I am a member of the teacher’s union, and I professionally identify as a teacher, even though I often need to remind people of this), I make a habit of asking teachers to share their expertise in the PD I create. I invite teachers as panelists in online PD to share examples of their practice, and I am actively working to increase my connections across the district so that I have more teacher expertise to draw from. I lean and rely on practicing teachers to develop PD, because they are the best resources.

The Sticky Wicket: Compensation

Here’s where I run into trouble: I can’t financially compensate every teacher expert we have on one of our panels or every teacher who submits a curricular resource to our archive.

Which brings me to the bar conversation. I have been back and forth with my counterpart in my department about how we can attain a budget to compensate teachers for contributing to our professional development, whether that be an example of student work, an hour of their time to talk about their practice, or a sample unit or lesson plan resource. The conversation circled around questions like: “are lesson plans intellectual property?” “if so, whose? the teacher’s or the district’s?” “should teachers be compensated for their intellectual property?” Long story short: we’re still talking about it.

The morning after the bar conversation, one of the digital rock stars in our district, who also happens to be friends with the above-quoted blogger and a blogger herself, called me on this compensation issue in response to an email asking a number of our teachers to contribute resources or ideas to our digital archive so that we could share them in an online library showcasing examples from our teachers’ classrooms.

My inability to compensate teachers for things like this is in part because I work in a broken system that doesn’t recognize teachers as the curricular experts of their profession, so money isn’t automatically allocated for this purpose. It is also partially because of my position within my department (I don’t have control over a budget) and partially because I’m still learning how to do things like write grants to get money so that I have the cash to compensate teachers every time they contribute their expertise. So I do what I can do: I thank teachers profusely, I CITE THEM to give them credit for their work, and I offer up my time to their schools for professional development.

But I don’t necessarily think teachers need to be compensated for their expertise every time they contribute a resource, lesson plan, or unit, or every time they serve on a panel.

There. I said it.

We live in a corporatized culture, and schooling becomes increasingly corporatized by the day. Ask just about any educator about it, and you’ll get a long diatribe about how textbook companies like Pearson are making fortunes on the backs of today’s overtested, undervalued students and teachers. It’s really quite disgusting.

A counterculture to this corporatization of American schooling exists in the Web 2.0 world: a culture characterized by free and open (and attributed) sharing of author-licensed content. A culture that values open-source software maintained by communities of developers who care about the programs that make our lives easier, and don’t code for profit. A culture that values makerspaces, hacking for the sake of knowledge and experimentation, and above all — free and open sharing of socially-developed expertise. This culture actively challenges copyright law, arguing for a change in the way we understand ideas as property while still upholding the rights of the individual creator.

This is a culture today’s adolescents have helped to shape and create, from teen FanFic sites to the videos students make, edit, and post on their blogs to game hackers, today’s teens live in a world where remixing, creating, and sharing (for free) are everyday activities.

How Does this Apply to Teachers?

Maybe it doesn’t. After all, teachers are professionals — unlike adolescents, they have worked hard and earned multiple degrees to gain the expertise that they are asked to share, often without extra compensation. Fundamentally, I agree that teachers should not be asked to give up significant time — an extremely valuable resource for any teacher — without being compensated in some way. Too many teachers sacrifice time with family for a stack of ungraded papers on a Sunday. Let’s not contribute to that nonsense.

However, I think if we are to challenge the corporate culture of American schooling in the 21st century, we also need to think about how and where we share our resources “for free,” when we do. And we do need to share our expertise “for free.” We need to publish in practitioner journals, attend conferences, and write about our practice on blogs and in newspapers. We need to make visible the work of teaching.

On those occasions when we are asked to showcase our work for little or no compensation, we should license it using Creative Commons attributions. We should post and publish it in webspaces created by people we trust and who we know will honor the knowledge and expertise of teachers as professionals. We should not always demand that the time we take to share our craft be compensated — instead, we should demand that the time we take to share our craft be respected and valued by society. I don’t think we should combat the deprofessionalization of teaching by keeping our professional resources under lock and key: we should combat it by making our craft easier to see and understand. It’s why teacher bloggers are some of my favorite writers — they open up the craft of teaching for the world to see, taking time out of their busy lives to share what they know.

So for now, I will leave my syllabi, class calendars, lesson plans, and assignments on my website for others to take, adapt, and attribute.

What say you, teachers? What should(n’t) we give away for free?