The Empowered Teacher supports professional learning communities in public and private schools with the following core offerings:
- Web 2.0 development for blended learning (with online and classroom components)
- Online professional development with a team focus
- Collaborative technology planning support
We believe a new vision for public schooling can be inspired by communities of practice (Smith, 2009) that adopt the values and practices of the open source community. This community, organized around "projects" (like Linux, Wikipedia, and Drupal) is a global collaborative network of smart people who enjoy making things of value and sharing what they know with others.
We see teaching as a similar values-driven vocation that can benefit from open source tools and collaboration models. This is an evolving idea. This way of thinking about teaching and learning is detailed in the 2010 Horizon Report on Open Content in Education.
The NYC iZone
In particular, we strive to help secondary schools (grades 5-12) adopt "Learning 2.0" practices and tools to prepare students for today's world. The NYC school district's iZone summarizes two prongs of that effort:
- Transform our schools from a traditional, industrial model to one that reflects and embodies 21st century skills, tools, and experiences, so that our students graduate ready for success in college and in the workforce, regardless of race, language or socioeconomic background.
- Personalize each student's learning experience to meet their diverse and individual needs to the maximum feasible extent.
The iZone is an initiative worth watching. The site lists five dimensions of changes required for this mission that seem very apt foci:
- Time and Space
- Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
- Human Capital
- Community and partnerships
- Technology Platforms
Bridging Classroom & Home, Student and Standards
It is generally understood that most young people have home access to many more forms of online communication and digital tools than traditional schools can provide, and use them for entertainment, social networking and identify formation. Schools realize that they must change with changing times, not only because of the 2.0 world they must prepare students for, but because of how their students live while they are of school age.
This does not mean catering to student preferences without regard to educational goals, but accommodating and co-opting them in ways that support school purposes. For example, turning online social networking into social learning by directing focus and guiding interactions as a home extension of classwork. This requires teachers to learn the new tools, and be able to design blended learning projects and lessons.
Community and Organizational Development with Technology
"Professional Development" generally focusses on individual teachers. We, rather, serve and develop learning communities within schools that have chosen to evolve new ways of working in line with what new technologies make possible. The iZones five dimensions can be condensed into three:
- human capital
- organizational capital
- technological capital
We lend our support to helping educators build consensus and models about how to develop Learning 2.0 in their schools. Without new models (like the faciltiation of online professional development communities) schools find this hard to do - see Bridging the Gap Between Standards and Achievement (Ellmore, 2002) cited in Bridging Differences (Meier / Ravitch Blog).
Human Capital Investments
Schools are investments of human capital. We put administrators, teachers, staff and students together in buildings, organized in particular ways, to improve their ability to learn, collaborate, grow, and create artifacts of cultural value. Because the world is a moving target, schools must grow and change with changing times, requiring new organizational practices, new educational theory, and new learning environments.
Individuals naturally want to increase their own potential, follow their inner muse (if they can find it) and feel progress in their lives, alone and together. When schools oppose these drives with old ways that constrain and oppose innovation, there is strife (between boards, administrators, teachers AND students); when they tap into these desires everyone grows, learning is pleasurable, and school is fun.
Organization capital is expressed in terms of work practices that produce gains. As functional organizations, schools define roles all stakeholders (from students to board members). By working smarter, schools build better curricula, effectively implement projects, use tools well, and develop human capital.
Schools that "work smart" create functional teams as needed (from students in classrooms to stakeholders in boardrooms) and tend to decentralize control (because schools are not factories and individual learning is constrained by too much standardization). Such schools move along the continuum to becoming "learning organizations" - but this is a difficult task (see Nussbaum-Beach, Creating Learning Organizations).
Schools know that technology investments alone rarely help schools work smarter. With a willingness to explore changes in how work is done, and with appropriately timed and delivered professional development, new technologies can have profound impacts. Gains result from learning how to use a technology in the process of accomplishing goals, not in the technology itself.
Managing a project requires human, organizational and technological capital. Implementation staff use tools communicate well and follow plans and processes. New technologies enable live and stored ways to communicate and coordinate efforts, from instant messaging to file sharing, that out-perform old ways of project management when effectively used in smart ways.
Empowerment: Doing More with More
"Restructuring" is a term used to describe how schools change with changing times. By weighting team coordination over central planning and empowerment over central control, schools become less bureaucratic and more effective at developing human capital. New technologies help schools restructure in many ways. For example, the Internet can bring online exemplars, teachers and learners into the school learning environment to help the process along.
Where We Come In
The Empowered Teacher is dedicated towards helping schools use "Web 2.0" technology to support "Learning 2.0" wherever appropriate. We help students, teachers and administrators learn work and learn together with online environments in ways that textbooks, standardized curricula, and sorting by age, subject and ability level could never support.
At the center of all of this is the teacher, whose vision and ability to respond to initiative and possibility determines the technological, organizational and human capital gains in the classroom and beyond.
Principal, The Empowered Teacher