Avoiding Extinction

If you’re not a science person, I apologize in advance for the science references.

Roughly 300 million years ago, life on Earth almost completely disappeared. Many scientists believe the number is between 90-95% of all life went extinct during this event. As a science teacher, that’s a really interesting concept to think about – how close humans were to never existing in the first place. As a living thing, that’s scary as hell. About 65 million years ago, the most “popular” extinction took place when the dinosaurs (and lots of other creatures) went extinct during the Cretaceous time period (not the Jurassic). Why does any of that matter? Because that’s what a science teacher like me thinks about when I think of how easy, fun, and beneficial it is to me (and more importantly to my students) to collaborate with other teachers no matter the grade or subject – and those teachers that don’t. Those that will go extinct. Yes, I can learn about classroom management and edtech tools from a kindergarten teacher that I can apply in my science classes even though I teach primarily upperclassmen in high school. However, that’s not what this is about. I am talking about the extinction of teachers who don’t see the benefit in collaborating and learning together. They are going to be extinct soon and hopefully you are not one of them.

How is it possible and how can I make such a claim? Competition and resources. It’s what has been driving extinction of life on Earth for 3.5 billion years. Living things have always competed for existence (you could just ask the Woolly Mammoth, but sadly, they’re gone). Life on Earth will always be about adapt or fall into extinction since life began and it will continue to be the theme forever…including for us humans. How does this apply to teachers who never come out of their classroom, never get on Twitter, never talk to anyone, etc.? Competition and resources.

You would literally have to be the most intelligent, most creative, most in-tuned human on the planet to be able to educate students in a more engaging and (dare I say it) enjoyable fashion than the teachers who are collaborating. Obviously, there are various levels of collaboration, from talking to only one other teacher in your hallway to collaborating with teachers from all walks of life anywhere on the planet…and eventually because of technology, you can learn from teachers who are no longer living as long as their blog, YouTube channel, etc. live on. One part sad and one part mind blown?

So what competition are we talking about? Clearly, if you are a 3rd grade teacher and I teach high school, we are not competing in much of anything. However, if there are 2 or 3 (or 13) third grade teachers, or 7 high school science teachers, or 29 middle school teachers on a team or 108 teachers in a whole building…the students TALK! Heck, other teachers talk. The students share with each other (and sometimes with parents and other teachers) how boring or exciting and fun our classes are. If your class is boring and/or not meaningful, they will call you out or cowardly post things about your class online. If you teach the same thing every year, the same way, and never innovate and you’re happy, your students likely are not. And we all know how miserable life as a teacher can be when your students (and especially their parents) are not happy. Therefore, can the “same-old same-old” teacher, really even be happy?

The competition thing might be a tough concept to see at first, but hopefully you get it now. I doubt anyone (unless you live in a cave and therefore are not reading this) doesn’t know what resources I am referring to. Most scientists can’t even provide an accurate number for the amount of species that have come into existence and gone extinct on our planet that we have never and likely will never discover. I would argue a similar concept holds true for teachers and the amount of resources that are available to us, many of which we will never discover. The scariest thing is that we don’t know what we don’t know, right? However…….you will know way more once you start collaborating. And I will speak from years of collaboration experience, if you try, you will find WAY more resources than you’ll ever need or could ever use, saving you from a terrible extinction event. Cool, right?

I’ve had these thoughts for a while, but they really “meant something” as we finished our second day of #patioPD at my house. There were 25+ teachers that walked into my house today (in two waves) to learn about engaging students with edtech. They are completing a 3 credit grad course through the Midwest Teacher Institute to learn, share, and collaborate IN THE SUMMER at my house. Thank you, Jason Bretzmann and Kenny Bosch for starting the #patioPD craze. It is the epitome of #personalizedPD. I’ve always said the measure for whether or not my students appreciate something I’ve shared with them is if they share it with others (students or teachers) or make a comment like, “That’s legit.” Shameless plug time…HERE is an example that elicited a “that was legit, Marchand” response in the past in case you are a see-it-to-believe-it person. It’s a trailer to a video I made to hook students into learning about the digestive system if you just want to take my word for it.

My measure of how “legit” professional development is for teachers is their excitement. When teachers say, “that three hours at your house was better than any (complete) masters class I’ve ever taken,” you know there is awesomeness happening. I was concerned at first to run a large #patioPD group, similar to how concerned I was to go to a mastery-based learning system in my Honors Anatomy & Physiology class. However, after the first year of completion, I would never go back to “the old way” of teaching. Yes, you can get great personalized learning for free at an edcamp, especially EdCamp Voice, or pretty cheap at a great conference like #ILfabCon, but there is no comparison of “personalized awesomeness” that has taken place the last two meetings at our #patioPD sessions. Teachers are learning, sharing, and collaborating because they want to like it’s their job…and let’s be clear…it’s actually not. We are choosing to get an awesome experience by sharing with others, being open to feedback and suggestions, being vulnerable when trying something new, and excited when we learn new stuff. We are choosing to avoid extinction and it feels pretty dang good.