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Publishing and Sharing to Motivate Students and Inspire Teachers

This post was co-authored with Erin Olson (@eolsonteacher), Instructional Technology Consultant at the Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency in Northwest Iowa, co-organizer of #1to1techat on twitter, co-creator of Connecting Creativity, and the recipient of the 2015 ITEC State Technology Leadership Award Recipient. A former English teacher who is passionate about literacy and learning as a means to make a difference in the world, Erin also blogs regularly at rethinkredesign.org.

Like so many other conversations these days, this one started with a single Tweet.

I completely agreed with Erin. Publishing could inspire and motivate not only students but also teachers. To continue the conversation, we shifted over to direct message for several weeks and even started to co-author this blog post.

However, have you ever walked into a conversation in the middle and then struggled to catch up? That is exactly how we felt in co-authoring this post. Understanding the process of how the conversation unfolded actually seemed to add to the points that we wanted to make. Admittedly, we have edited and elaborated quite a bit, but we invite you to join our discussion, from the beginning, and encourage you to continue it in the comments - once you are all caught up.

Beth

Hi! Given the time crunch of school and the requirements of work, grammatically adequate became my moniker this fall as I went with "done" vs "great." I checked myself against the rubrics and often hit send just so that I could be done. Had I been required to publish any of my papers, I would have asked for feedback, dissected much of my writing, and possibly started over on a few occasions. Once I reflected on this reality, it was a really interesting experience!

Erin

But I see this as you doing what you could do with the time that you had. I am thinking of  student motivation and purpose. How could offering them an audience inspire them to work even harder?

Another interesting part to this conversation would be when students are in a similar position, but with more time and more support, how might that change their writing? I am thinking more about publish in the blog sense - that students could make their writing available to a broader community through their own blog and then also have the opportunity to curate all of their writing into a single online space.

Beth

So, I'll add this idea and shift the conversation from students to teachers. Jal Mehta (2013) discusses the concept of the "professionalism" of teachers. In short, he writes that K-12 teachers are viewed as semi-professionals due to their history of being bureaucratized. On the other hand, university professors have always been seen as professionals because of their reputation as "knowledge constructors." Professors have an expectation to publish in order to receive tenure and establish themselves as experts in their fields. Now, imagine if all teachers had to publish their own thinking and knowledge as well as help their students to publish theirs. What would the power of publishing do to teacher - and student - perception?

Erin

Okay, so there is something here. From a different perspective, now think about the transparency associated with publishing. Within transparency lies vulnerability. This argument now brings me to the question of barriers to publishing. We know those barriers exist, whether real or imagined; whether it be time, resources, lack of confidence or even excessive confidence, skill, and fear.

Beth

That's an interesting concept with the notion of barriers. From a cognitive perspective, learning is defined as a measurable change in knowledge, attitude, perception or belief. However, if that change is in direct conflict with previously held beliefs, then learning can be resisted (Alexander et al., 2009). So could a barrier to publishing actually be viewed as a barrier to learning? In other words, could a personal barrier to publishing actually be viewed as a symptom of a person's lack of willingness to learn?

Erin

Maybe, but I'd rather ask the question, what prevents an educator - or student - from wanting to share the awesome in their room? Oftentimes, it is the consequence, the perceived reaction to proposed ideas. This outcome could be paralyzing. With some teachers, it might be that they are not yet prepared or confident to stand behind their practice. They might fear the reaction to their ideas. This could be fearing for themselves or for their students. If the fear is legitimate, how do we address that fear and create a more nurturing community? If it is only perceived fear, how do we address that from the perspective of building confidence in practice and supporting their professional growth as educators?

However, if the barrier is true resistance to change that stops us from publishing, that stops us from sharing, that stops us from learning, then it would seem that destroying one barrier - that resistance to change - might actually be easier than fighting this blockade on three fronts. Fear of change and failure is a stronghold rooted deeply in misconception and perception which is deeply seated in fear and mistrust. To overcome that, what if educators felt the weight of the world waiting for their voice, and more importantly, their students' voices? Would that provide the catalyst or create a sense of urgency? As we retreat within ourselves, and within our practice, we ultimately destroy the opportunity to grow.

Beth

So what do you think is the root of this fear? Could the fear be that through the reflection and self-assessment associated with writing and publishing a teacher may discover that they are not the expert that they considered themselves to be? Or, maybe it is more tangible. Publishing and sharing also relinquishes control over the message and the sanctity of the classroom, allowing anyone to now peek inside, examine the practice, and again call into question the expertise of the teacher. The educator fears negative feedback because that could then call into question their existing practice?

Erin

As we consider barriers, I cannot help but think of Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Our reality is what is right in front of us. For the fortunate who escape their chain, become enlightened and find truth, there is a sense of responsibility to bring others to this new understanding. But knowing truth does not mean that all of us want the same thing. It may just be easier not knowing. It could be easier to accept the reality that is right in front of us instead of learning something new and becoming "enlightened." Because once we know, we cannot go back into the cave.

In fact, once we know, there is a new responsibility to move forward as a result of our learning. To improve, to share, to publish. Once we start, there is an expectation to continue. Stagnant complacency is no longer an option. As illustrated by the Allegory of the Cave, the enlightened can never remain the cave once they have left. There is no going back, and that produces fear. The fear of what happens as a result of growth might be paralyzing enough to keep us in the cave, to keep the teacher isolated. But for those of us who embody a learning spirit, we are never comfortable in the dark. We long for the light, we feel the urgency to share and to grow, and because we do, we are not bound by the barrier.

Beth

To overcome those barriers, maybe Plato also provides the motivation. The chained men assume the shadows to be reality until they see the sun. Perhaps providing students and teachers with the opportunity to publish actually is a mechanism to break out of the cave, to let them create their own reality. We might now be back to the beginning, offering up an audience inspires students - and teachers - towards greatness. The question now may be whether or not that motivation is stronger than the barriers...

We look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments. Please join the conversation.

References

Alexander, P. A., Schallert, D. L., & Reynolds, R. E. (2009). What Is Learning Anyway? A Topographical Perspective Considered. Educational Psychologist, 44(3), 176-192. doi: 10.1080/00461520903029006

Mehta, J. (2013). When Professions Shape Politics: The Case of Accountability in K-12 and Higher Education. Educational Policy, 28(6), 881-915. doi: 10.1177/0895904813492380

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