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Rich McKinney

Low Morale in Your School? Nothing a Little Teacher Empowerment Can’t Fix

Pick up a newspaper or spend a few moments watching the evening news and you will find evidence that many schools across the country are in the midst of a morale crisis. In many states, revised standards for Common Core State Standards implementation are taking a toll on teachers who feel as if they are losing the autonomy to plan lessons as they see fit. In some communities, budget difficulties are leading to job loss and stagnant pay. Increased accountability and new methods of evaluating teachers are also discussed as problems facing educators today. Often what frustrates teachers the most is the perception that their voice is not heard in public discussions about these issues. In describing this state of mind, a friend of mine quips, "Teachers are like France. We know that we don't have any real power but we want to be treated as if we do." In some ways, my friend is right, but I don't think the solution to today's morale problem will be found in treating teachers as if they have power, but rather in truly empowering them to be leaders in and out of the school and contributing members of education policy discussions.

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Rich McKinney

Leaving Behind the Golden Era of Instructional “Broadcasting”

During the 1950s, the golden era of television allowed marketers to broadcast commercials to large audiences. While the big three networks had different programming, little differentiation existed in the marketing; all viewers were exposed to the same products via the same message. In 1994, I was an advertising major and I remember one of my professors claiming that this model was rapidly drawing to a close and would soon be replaced by narrowcasting. We were told that narrowcasting would allow marketers to target specific audiences with a tailored message that was unique to their interests and needs. The only obstacles that remained were data collection and management systems to better identify specific target audiences and subsequently, cost-effective delivery methods to reach them. Within three years, the Internet boom began to eradicate each of those obstacles and narrowcasting became the norm in business. Interestingly enough, the evolution of narrowcasting messages has not only been confined to marketing products, but has also played a large role in the outcomes of recent presidential elections. Today, the basic tenets of narrowcasting are being utilized in schools to make learning more personal.

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Rich McKinney

How Can 20th Century Teachers Lead 21st Century Learners?

For years, school researchers have pointed to the digital divide between students from disparate socioeconomic groups as a major problem in public education. But now a different digital divide is receiving a closer look as research chronicles the widening gulf between the technology skills of teachers and the students who enter classrooms across the United States. While students often tend to be the earliest adopters of new technology, many teachers find that after lesson planning and grading there is little time left to become tech savvy. Unfortunately, many choose not to stay current, and they simply ignore or avoid technology as they continue to teach the same lessons in the same fashion. Therein lies the problem. Nearly 70 years ago, John Dewey claimed, "If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow." Dewey's prescient understanding of our emerging divide begs the question, "How can 20th century teachers effectively teach and lead 21st century learners?" While others have suggested a long-term solution that classroom educators must become 21st century teachers, I propose that the first step is in becoming a 21st century learner.

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Rich McKinney

Reboot and Recharge: The Power of Technology-Infused Instructors

Earlier this summer I created my first Vine. A month ago I would have thought that statement to be an indication that I had taken up gardening as a hobby, but I've since learned that Vine is a social media tool that allows users to create and share a personalized six-second video loop.

Each summer, when the school year comes to a close, I try to evaluate the past year, seeking to understand what worked effectively as well as recognize areas of needed improvement. During my 10 years in the classroom, I have avoided becoming stale by adding new advanced placement, and more recently International Baccalaureate, classes to my class load. As a result, my end-of-year reflections typically pointed out areas of the new content in which I needed to become more proficient. For two straight years, however, my schedule has not had any new courses, and as a result, content knowledge is not my main priority this year. Rather, I'm currently exploring ways to incorporate my district's goal of personalizing instruction for each and every student.

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Rich McKinney

Moving Beyond the Textbook: Closing the Book on the Textbook-Dependent Classroom

A few weeks ago I was watching my daughters as they were working through drills during their weekly tennis lessons. I observed a group of elementary kids dutifully take their places, hit the ball, and then move to the next station. It was simple, efficient, and monotonous. Though they were learning the basics of tennis, the kids simply weren't having much fun. Their coach must have noticed because he immediately changed pace and led all the kids to an adjoining field next to the courts for a lively game of freeze tag. All the kids were laughing and loving it, though I found that it bore little resemblance to anything even remotely related to tennis. I was wrong. What looked to me to be free play was really the development of skills such as acceleration, lateral speed, and footwork. This coach recognized that sometimes you can leave the court and have fun while accomplishing goals.

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