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Education Trends, Uncategorized   |   Jul 3, 2011

The haute couture of education

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

The haute couture of education

By Angela Watson

I’ve been back from EduBloggerCon and ISTE for a few days now, and the high that comes from such an energizing gathering has begun to wear off. Now I’m left with the real work of attending a conference: reflecting afterward on how everything fits into the big picture of my work, and allowing what I’ve learned to shape my future practice. How will the things I’ve learned impact the way I blog, write, and coach teachers? Can the amazing stuff I’ve seen actually be implemented in my real life? What will my role be in creating change?

Here’s what I’ve come to understand about the different types of people in our field. The educators who tend to frequent large conferences–especially ed tech conferences–are often like haute couture fashion designers. They are visionaries who think outside the box and enjoy pushing the envelope. A select few people can afford to buy into their visions and pull them off, but there’s often a divide between them and the average person. The response to high end fashion is often: “Who would ever wear that? That would look ridiculous on me!” And the response to edu-visionaries is often: “How am I supposed to do that? That would be ridiculous in my school! It’ll never work for me.”

Haute couture fashion and it’s real-world translation

The thing about high fashion is that it’s not intended for the masses. The gigantic hats and orange eyeshadow and outlandish outfits are never meant to be seen on a regular American woman as she does her grocery shopping. Instead, haute couture designers understand that they will set the trends and inspire other designers to reinvent their ideas in ways that make sense for the average consumer.

People who are passionate about fashion will watch the runways and incorporate bits and pieces of the latest styles; they’ll take small trends that fit their personal style and adapt them to varying degrees. And those who couldn’t care less about fads but don’t want to become outdated will wait for the ideas to trickle down to magazines and their favorite clothing stores, and then start selecting new items that fit within both their budget and their existing pieces.

I think our natural approach to the evolution of fashion should be the way we should approach our personal evolution in educational practices. All educators can attend conferences, read the latest books, and grow through their personal learning network to figure out what works for them in their current realities. Some will be the trend followers who devote a large portion of their free time to experimenting with new ideas and sharing them. Some will hang back and wait until a trend is ubiquitous; only once they’ve seen it work for other people will they attempt to try it themselves. And that’s perfectly fine. There’s a role for each type of person in fashion as well as education.

As a consultant and edublogger, I’m creating rather than just consuming, but my style is less couture and more ready-to-wear. My passion is taking the big trends and ideas and making them accessible for everyone. The visionaries at ISTE are pioneering revolutionary ideas like the paperless classroom with 1:1 computing. I watch and listen. And then I think, How does that translate today for the teacher who doesn’t know how to turn on an LCD projector and only has a 2004 Dell in her classroom? What are the implications and applications for her?

The vision for 21st century education (mobile technology in the classroom with students working collaboratively to create) and a baby-step toward it (older machines in a computer lab with students working in isolation as consumers of information.)
The vision for 21st century education (mobile technology in the classroom with students working collaboratively to create) and a baby-step toward it (older machines in a computer lab with students working in isolation as consumers of information.)

Unlike haute couture designers, edu-visionaries don’t always accept that the average person is never going to fully embrace their ideas (and more importantly, doesn’t really need to.) As a result, the typical educator can sometimes be a bit apprehensive about the new ideas which threaten their status quo.

But in education, we need people who understand pedagogy to dream big. All of us understand that our educational system is seriously screwed up, and someone who cares about kids has to plan for change. We need edu-visionaries to imagine new possibilities and share ideas about how to change the way we think about education. We need them to build new narratives about teaching and learning. Then, the rest of us can take a step back and consider what works for tech beginners in schools with little updated technology and limited PD support for teachers.

There’s nothing to resist in 21st century visions of education when you realize that you don’t need to overhaul your entire teaching style. Have the confidence to accept yourself at exactly the place you’re at in your professional development, and don’t allow yourself to feel intimidated because you don’t know what a hashtag is and you’ve never heard of Moodle. THAT’S FINE. You don’t have to be visionaries! Their role is to serve as inspiration, not the object of emulation. Rather than compare yourself and get discouraged, let their ideas stir you up, give you new ideas to try, and help you recreate your passion for teaching.

After ISTE, I feel even more impassioned about helping classroom teachers improve their practice. I have a stronger sense of the direction the edu-visionaries are helping move us toward, and I see the ways their ideas can work for educators who don’t yet have either the technology or the know-how to get there. I’m seeing the baby steps along the way. And I’m also seeing the hang-ups and reservations, which are usually based on the management piece (How do you teach kids to care for computers?  How do you ensure they’re on-task and learning, not just wasting time? How do you keep current with the latest educational tools when you’re trying to have a personal life? And what do you do when you’re in the middle of a lesson and the wifi connection drops?)

These are the small details that I love. I’m happy that someone else is dreaming big right now on their blog, because on mine, I’ll be coaching teachers through the little stuff. Different voices and different approaches working together: that’s how we create real and lasting change.

In opening my eyes to new possibilities, the edu-visionaries I’ve had the privilege of interacting with at ISTE have done their job. And I’ll be doing mine by sharing the practical, realistic applications here.

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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  1. If I’m anything in fashion, let’s hope it’s the vintage thrift store, where I try and remind people that there are some classic ideas that we’ve long neglected. That’s how I felt at ISTE – like a lonely guy advocating for ideas that are not sexy and new, but hopefully sustainable and classic. I have a hunch I failed, but it was a goal of mine.

    1. Hah, John, I love that! The vintage stuff I have in my wardrobe (both literally and educationally speaking) are some of my favorite pieces. There is MUCH to be said for sustainable and classic, and no reason to throw out everything that’s old to make room for the new.

      On a semi-related note, your ISTE time travel tweets made me laugh out loud. Repeatedly.

      1. I do want to articulate the notion that by “lonely,” I don’t mean that in a bad way. I connected with people and had a blast. It’s just that I often feel that way in crowds. I’m not entirely comfortable with myself. I look really outgoing, but I get super-self-analytical.

  2. Thank you for being the voice of common sense and real-world practicality and sensitivity. I’m with you on this all the way. It’s fun to be a spectator of haute couture, but I’m living with that Dell that barely works and no tech assistance except from the recent college graduate down the hall (and God bless her, she’s so patient!). It took the computer “repairmen” 6 months to get to my classroom (of course they came during instructional time), and the problems are worse than they were before they came! So for me, all this “haute couture” techie stuff is a dream world I’m not a part of, more importantly, my students are not part of either. However, I do know how to run my LCD projector, so all my self-created, curriculum-specific, vintage Powerpoints will not go to waste.

    1. Hah, that’s great to hear about your PowerPoints! And so glad to hear that you have an LCD projector. That’s one of the most powerful tech tools a classroom teacher has, especially in the elementary grades. I’m not sure how I ever lived without mine.

      I like the way you stated that the “techies stuff is a dream world.” I hope that in another 5 years, that will not be the case. I’m glad there are people working to make those dreams a reality, and I do think it will happen eventually. At least, I hope so. 🙂

  3. Angela,

    I love what you’re saying here. I feel like kids and teachers get trapped between high fashion and Target. Sometimes I feel like the fashionistas are look down there nose at me (ok, I think that A LOT) and the box store folks can’t imagine why I wouldn’t just be satisfied with that unflattering top and just be grateful I have clothes! I’m really hoping and dreaming that all of us in between will have the tools to care for ourselves and our students.


    1. Ooh, what a great point about the ‘box store folks’ not understanding why you shouldn’t just be grateful for whatever they offer you. That’s definitely a real problem in some schools/districts: “Hey, we gave you a laptop that we haven’t serviced in four years, whaddya want, you got a laptop, right? Go download some resources on it. What? It takes an hour to download a PowerPoint because your internet connectivity is slow? That’s alright, you stay after school for an hour to grade papers, anyway, right? Right??” 🙂

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