George Lucas Educational Foundation
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A young woman is standing in front of a white brick wall, her back turned to us at an angle, her eyes closed.

You'll see the refreshing relational side of education rising to prominence as we take a journey through education in 2015. After all, we don't teach subjects; we teach children. Coercion doesn't spark curiosity.

Reality Rules

Relationships matter.

Our heroes are decidedly human this year:

Technology without pedagogy is pointless.

As seen in Los Angeles and around the world, poor teacher training, slow networks, and misdirected implementation cause tech troubles. Virginia teacher Launa Hall complained about her school's 1:1 tablet program: "Bandwidth issues slowed our lessons to a crawl, username issues followed by password issues followed by hundreds of selfies. All these things sucked instructional time."

The OECD released a study showing lower test scores from kids who used the internet at school daily. Notable Silicon Valley parents send their kids to technology-free schools. Forces combined to tarnish the "all things digital" halo. As a result, pedagogy has begun to dominate the technology conversation. The most powerful device in the classroom is the empowered, innovative teacher.

Teacherpreneur Rising

Some say a teacherpreneur is an entrepreneur, others say a craftsperson, while others use it to mean a teacher leader. All three are true.

Teacherpreneurs are profiteers.

The growth of sites like Teachers Pay Teachers and Udemy show the massive profits of teacher-created materials. On the darker side, some teachers give their work away only to find it stolen, repackaged, and sold for profit. Many teachers are prohibited from sharing their lesson plans because districts claim intellectual property rights (although some admit to using pseudonyms).

Teacherpreneurs are craftspersons.

Some, like me, see teacherpreneurs as artisans. Here are a few examples:

1. Music and the arts
YouTube has been around for a while. Kids can give a mini concert for parents (and fans) whenever someone has a camera and time for editing. The PS22 Chorus has become a popular stop for famous musicians in New York. Some ELL classrooms use Karaoke. And hip hop is becoming a popular way to learn English.

2. Social media
Social media is entrenched in many schools. (Just look up "Twitter bulletin boards" on Pinterest.) Tweeting Aztecs and kindergarteners share their learning 140 characters at a time. The modern educator uses hashtags, but hashtags are also a cornerstone of student social movements.

3. Making
The maker movement is hot, advancing through 3D printing, design thinking, and STEAM labs. Some schools host Innovation Week, genius hour, or 20 percent time, while others bring student creations to the world via Shark Tanks.

4. Computer science
More schools are adding coding to their curriculum or even as an alternative to foreign language.

5. Game-based learning
Game-based learning is here. College professor Lee Sheldon starts students with zero points at the beginning of the semester. They level up to an A. In K-12, we've seen:

Those involved in the movement for "good games" look down their noses at "worksheets with points" or "chocolate on broccoli." Minecraft continues a massive upswell. Esports are a varsity sport in some schools, and some colleges are offering esports scholarships. Games are serious business.

6. Interests and passions
Sports math, a physics teacher who helps kids chunk pumpkins, and kids who choose to matter are examples of how kids don't want to make grades -- they want to make a difference.

Teacherpreneurs are leaders.

With teachers claiming that most professional development is a waste, Edcamps and Teachmeets are a form of PD going viral (aided by funding).

Research is showing that new teachers who find a mentor (PDF) are more likely to make it through that tough first year, but informal mentoring (PDF) is shown to be more effective than formal programs.

Frustrations Mount

But not all of the news of 2015 is positive. Constantly changing political initiatives make many teachers feel like termites living in a yo-yo.

Learning is measured.

Common Core now seems to be in trouble. The year ends with the revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Tests are failing students.

With Pearson/PARCC losing their testing contract and resignations at the U.S. Department of Education, the message is clear that the current system is failing kids. The opt-out movement is growing, although schools are fighting it. Some computer labs have become testing centers. Concerns about computer-based testing are on the rise with kids who have never used a computer being asked to take tests online. Data analytics in education is one of the fastest growing sectors of education technology.

Investors invest in learning.

Many wealthy individuals are investing in education (as in the five linked examples in this sentence). But when efforts fail, sometimes districts are left with problems. The Zuckerberg-Chan foundation is a new player in the space.

Teacher evaluation systems fail to evaluate what matters.

New evaluation systems, like the test-based one just suspended by a New Mexico judge, leave principals scrambling to correctly implement them. Some politicians are reversing course or waiving test scores altogether.

Homework is taking heat.

The homework debate is raging. Parents want more quality time and wonder about the merits of homework, often questioning work on social media.

Teachers are burning out and getting out.

A mass exodus of teachers is either burning out or getting out with seemingly a new resignation letter going viral daily. Many schools have desperate teacher shortages of full-time and substitute teachers. (The fact that each of the ten links in the preceding sentence is from the ten days prior to this writing reinforces the point that U.S. teacher shortages are a current problem.)

Current research shows there is no shortage of qualified teachers, only a shortage of teachers "qualified and willing to teach in urban and rural schools, particularly in those serving low-income students or students of color." Additionally, researcher Gary Henry has found that teachers are leaving because of "administrative support, discipline, school safety, class size, and professional development."

Teachers are mistreated.

Then there are glaring cases that cause teachers to wonder about the mistreatment of their profession.

Violence can't be ignored.

Student behavior and bullying are reflections of an increasingly violent society. Teacher and student violence are seconds away from YouTube, Twitter, or Facebook. (But good things go viral, too -- and the five links clustered in this sentence lead to five positive examples.) Conversely, a new emphasis on restorative practices is emerging.

Learning is expensive.

The high cost of higher education has some looking to elearning (that edtech "wild west") for answers. Others question the value of a higher-education degree. But not all colleges are solvent, says Alan Arkatov, professor of USC's Rossier School of Education, adding, "500 to 1,000 colleges across the country will not be around… because they do not have a sustainable business model."

Look on the bright side.

The only thing great about frustration is when people get fed up and decide to make a difference!

What Has Your World Become in 2015?

Ultimately, our success or failure as educators is determined not by the larger world, but our smaller one: our classroom.

In my classroom, I became truly paperless, we programmed apps, used 3D printers and even shot video with drones. I’ve gone from a clunky IWB/projector/computer setup to a cool touch-screen TV that hooks up to everything.

But right now, I'm enjoying the best relationships that I've ever had with parents and students. Things aren't perfect, but we're working on our problems together -- because, in the end, learning is human and organic. And while we can standardize some things, each learning experience is uniquely personal. We can budget money, but teachers have an unlimited supply of caring.

The sooner we can appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of every child, the faster we’ll see massive and much-needed change in the profession that we love.

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