by Tom McKenna, BLTN Director of Communication.
Emily Bartels, Dixie Goswami, Doug Wood, Lou Bernieri and I met with Karen Cator, Director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology in April 2012. We gathered to discuss how Bread Loaf Teacher Network teachers might inform the national dialogue on “Connected Teaching and Learning”–a core tenet of BLTN culture for decades. What ensued was a truly “Bread Loafian” moment: a fascinating turn of conversation took place between Ms. Cator and Emily Bartels, a Shakespearian scholar and Bread Loaf’s Director. Karen took a deep interest in how a Bread Loaf student encountering the foreign–in the language and culture of literature—might really be gaining capacity in the most important of 21st century learning skills: the ability to suspend one’s own assumptions and to navigate confidently and empathetically the culture and language of a previously foreign space. Karen’s active listening led to her suggestion that she come to the Bread Loaf Vermont campus at the beginning of August to kick off “Connected Educator Month.”
In addition to meeting with Bread Loaf administrators to discuss ongoing national initiatives and to learn about the history of BLTN, Karen participated in a panel of presentations by Bread Loaf Teachers.
- David Wandera outlined how his association with the BLTN has helped him to forge international teaching collaborations and to identify his own doctoral interests at the The Ohio State University.
- Lou Bernieri and Jineyda Tapia articulated the vision for Teach Lawrence, the movement catalyzed by the Andover Bread Loaf partnership, supporting the development of local teachers in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
- Lorena German spoke about “connected teaching” as a process of connecting with family and culture as a key component to breaking down the isolation of teaching and schools from students’ lives.
- Holly Spinelli added the dimensions of service and leadership to connected teaching, as she described how she and Jineyda Tapia created a Wiki to engage their respective students at the City as School in New York City and Lawrence High School in service and leadership projects.
- Brent Peters gave a detailed account of his collaboration with fellow Louisville, Kentucky teacher Joe Franzen to develop student literacies in reading the world of food and consumer consumption.
- Charlene Ortuno of Miami, Florida gave an instance of an innovative collaboration with Louisville BLTN teacher Paul Barnwell, as their students collaboratively crafted and critiqued media using synchronous Skype conferences for live small group collaborations, Google Docs, and YouTube.
Karen Cator’s professional roots in teaching and administration were clear as she listened intently and asked probing questions about the realities of these exceptional teachers’ work. Karen repeatedly impelled Bread Loaf teachers to disseminate carefully produced case studies of these exceptional practices.
Ms. Cator addressed the entire campus community in the Barn that evening, in a talk informed by the BLTN presentations and guided by the slides shown here:
A lively dialogue ensued–and continues—around the challenges to the roles of K-12 schools and higher education institutions in the face of “anytime, anywhere” learning like that supported by Khan Academy. A spark that continues to ignite conversation came from Cator’s recounting of the experience of several “MOOCs” (Massively Open Online Courses), where thousands of students participated in college-level instruction. At Bread Loaf, where learners expect to have intensive seminar-based experiences guided by colleagues or faculty–both within the face-to-face and the online terrain of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network–the conversation will always be informed by decades of practice in highly interactive connected teaching and learning.