Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Influence of the Connected Educator

I, like many educators, use the term "connected educator" perhaps too lightly. Yes, I am proficient in Google Suite for Education and with Apple and Microsoft products; I love using Flipgrid in the classroom; I blog (thought not as much as I should) and I love using Twitter for education chats and for connecting with my PLN. But am I truly harnessing the power of being a connected educator?
In his contribution for the anthology EduSnap17, Vol 1, Curren Dee laments, "The problem is that my school would say they provide digital access because we have access to Chromebooks and iPads, but this is NOT digital access." Curran describes classrooms where he is provided worksheets and limited choice, and then he paints of picture of how he learns at home. With true access, the world is at his fingertips. He is able to explore and investigate all manner of topics that interest him, all while his classmates are subjected to the education provided by their teacher at their "connected school."

Like many buzzwords, "connected educator" makes us feel like we are progressive, that we are somehow introducing students to the wide world that Curran explores away from school. Yet how many connected students are in our truly unconnected classrooms, feeling bored or out of place? Why am I not leveraging all the tools at my disposal to improve student learning? How does my image as a connected educator impact my students, both directly and indirectly?

Directly, I am actively inhibiting student learning any time I do not put my students at the center of a lesson or unit. Students are curious and they want to learn. Providing the most choice and as many outlets for their curiousity as possible is incumbent upon me. Using our iPads and other devices in the classroom break down the traditional four-wall structure of learning and open to students infinite possibilities. Studying Brave New World? Why not find an expert on Vedic Hinduism to join us via Skype or Flipgrid and answer questions about Aldous Huxley's philosophies as he wrote his novel? How can I best allow students to publicly share their written work and projects to a wider community than just the classroom or school? Dr. Nicol Howard writes in an Edutopia piece entitled "5 'Be's' for Connected and Curious Educators," "Be willing to connect with and learn about your colleagues." Am I the world's leading expert on BNW and Huxley? Of course not, so this means to give my students the best experiences, I must stand on the shoulders of giants and connect with those educators who are or who simply have amazing lesson plans. Being a connected educator means using all means possible to engage my students and enrich their experiences in school.
Indirectly, how I leverage technology in the classroom changes my students' views toward the world and their places within it. Howard's fifth "Be" in her article is "Be a current and curious educator." Being able to model for my students different platforms and apps is important enough, but being able to model intellectual curiosity is greater still. For every Curran who rushes home to his computer and his internet to research whatever is buzzing in his brain, there are ten who see their iPads and/or phones solely as portals for Fortnite or who rush home to no computer, no internet, no devices at all. Truly engaging students with the power of connectivity gives them a voice, gives them a choice in their learning, and this could change everything for them. Even if it changes everything for just one of my students, it is still worth it. I cannot single-handedly close the equity gap. I cannot freely hand out social capital to those with little. But for the time students are in my classroom, I can make it an equitable place where every student's opinion matters; where everyone is respected and respectful; and where, if only for forty minutes a day, they have options they may not for the other 23 hours a day.

Before I call myself a connected educator again, I must do better to expand this term to more fully encompass what I want to do or be, but what I actually do. I need more lessons and units with students at the center, engaging collaboratively with each other and calling on experts around the world through technology to explore topics that are well beyond my four walls and my own knowledge.

In one of my favorite Ted Talks, Teachers Create What They Experience, presented by Katie Martin, Martin advocates for using all the tools at our disposal in innovative ways to make sure we do not squelch the love of learning and the curiosity with which our students arrive to school. While bypassing the hurdles and obstacles that come with technology in schools is never easy, the outcomes, directly and indirectly, are far too important to gloss over. This mindset, moving onto the 2018-2019 school year, will be my new focus, and I am excited to see where it leads me and my students.

Monday, May 21, 2018

My Robert Frost Moment

When a school year begins to close, certain rituals occur. Students and faculty alike get excited for the upcoming months of no school. Teachers begin cleaning their classrooms, removing a year's accumulation of detritus. And at my school, the annual renewing of the one-year contract ensues. This last activity is always anticipated, as it elicits thoughts of the next year and what new techniques I will try, with which colleagues I will attempt new collaborations, and what new texts I want my English students to read.

This year, however, I'm a bit stuck.

I am completing a Master's degree in Educational Technology at Loyola University Maryland, and I have come to love the field and its possibilities. My feelings are so strong that they are encroaching on my excitement for next year's English classes and all the possibilities that come with that. I know that an edtech coach position at my school is simply not in the budget currently. And as my contract meeting looms (it is next Tuesday), I face a few exhilarating and frightening choices and thoughts:

1) Do I switch careers?

Option one would allow me to embrace educational technology and jump in with both feet. On the flip side, I have been teaching English at my school for twenty-two years, and I still love teaching English and inspiring young writers and thinkers. The freedom I possess at my school to teach and read a wide variety of books and subjects would be hard, almost impossible, to find elsewhere. Am I ready to abandon all I've gained in order to chase something that has kindled a new passion?

2) Do I remain patient and give myself a year to weigh options?

I am only just graduating this August and there is no rush to begin a new career path. With the extra year, I could test new techniques in my classroom and work to help others at my school become more comfortable with edtech. Maybe I could get some book studies started. I could work on a video reservoir of helpful tips and tricks with our LMS and other technologies. I have often been impatient in the past and making poor decisions under the gun is something I do extremely well. Maybe I need to learn to take some time.

3) Instead of diverging paths, create a convergent path.

As evidenced from the picture above, I've been thinking of this as a diverging path, and that the choosing of one path will make "all the difference," to quote Mr. Frost. Perhaps, however, this is my time to create something brand new and push for a hybrid position where I can teach English and be an edtech coach. While there may not be money in my school's budget for a full-time coach, I could propose an approach that would allow me to teach for some periods of the day and then be available as a coach for the others. This would be the dream for me, and it's definitely worth considering.

The myriad thoughts swirling through my brain are exciting and a bit exhausting. While I certainly enjoy reading all the books on edtech and pedagogy that I can, nothing really prepares you for an actual decision when it has the potential to affect your life so much. Do I dare greatly, as Brene Brown suggests, remain patient, or land somewhere in between?

This will be a thoughtful week, with some anxiety, I am sure. If you've been in a similar situation, I'd love to hear your insights! Comment below!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Embracing an Innovation Ecosystem

"Educators in diverse contexts choose to find ways to change how they lead, teach, and learn. And you can too."

This quote in chapter 2 of Katie Martin's Learner Centered Innovation hits home for me. I am fortunate to teach at a school where teachers have the freedom to teach in whatever fashion most helps their students learn. I'm constantly working to find new ways to help my students become innovators, and the ultimate goal is to have a fully functioning innovation ecosystem.

Before attempting to use any tech, and even before creating lessons and projects, the best use of our classroom space, I feel, is to build a culture of respect. Getting to know my learners personally gives me a better chance of finding what works for them in the classroom. Once I learn their names, their likes and dislikes, and their dreams (and sometimes even their fears), I can facilitate my classroom so that it becomes an innovation incubator.

I am fortunate to be attending grad school at a university that preaches cura personalis, or care for the whole person. That has been my guiding virtue in teaching lately. What matters more than tests, projects, and grades is how my learners are growing as people and how I might better guide them along their journeys. The content will be delivered; the novels read and analyzed. But I first and foremost want my students to know how much I care for them.

On page 86 of her book, Martin writes, "If you know that there is a better way to meet the needs of learners, you owe it to them and yourself to try it." I've found that the best way to understand their needs, and to be the best teacher I can be, is to know my students as much as possible. Once we all know, understand, and respect each other, it is easier to creative that innovation ecosystem where we will all thrive together. We will work better collaboratively, and we will be more likely to take risks because we won't be afraid of failing around people we trust.

I've begun trying a #FailureFriday, where I try something new, scary, or crazy every Friday to push myself and my students to new and sometimes uncomfortable places. It's my way of letting my students know I trust them and am open to them critiquing me. If something doesn't work, it's my way of modeling that it's ok if things go awry. I hope it inspires them to try new things and use failure as a launching pad for future greatness.

So how about you? How do you create your innovation ecosystem? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

This One Edcamp…

For the past several months, I have had the privilege of working with a talented group of educators at Loyola University Maryland. Our team had a big dream: we wanted to put on an edcamp, but not just any edcamp. We decided we wanted our edcamp to focus on educational technology and its applications in the classroom. As a member of the Howard County cohort of Loyola’s Educational Technology Master’s Program, this idea appealed greatly to me. It was a different angle that we hoped would attract a group of passionate educators -- and Edcamp Loyola (#EdcampLoyola17) achieved just that.

Attending an edcamp as both a volunteer and an eager participant is not easy. While the Big Board quickly filled with topics from Green Screen Training to Video Conferencing, I was working the registration tables and helping to set up the green screen area. While I wasn’t able to have direct input in Big Board sessions, there was definitely a wide variety of exceptional edtech topics. As official Tweeter of the day, I got to see most of the sessions underway, and I am not sure I have ever seen a more active group of edcampers. In the majority of the rooms I visited, there were spirited discussions with multiple educators participating and sharing experiences. I paused to listen to as many of these as I could, and I was blown away by the depth of experiences being shared.

The one session I spent the entire time in was Breakout EDU. I had always wanted to try a session like this, but I had never had the chance. While I understood the basic concept, actually participating in one showed me how amazingly complex it was and how much collaboration and teamwork was necessary to complete it successfully -- which we sadly did not. I left, however, with ideas swimming in my brain about how I could incorporate a Breakout session in my own classroom. And I’m not the only one who had visions of classroom applications dancing through his head. The chorus I kept hearing from participants all day was how excited they were to try a new lesson, a new tool, or a new platform in their classroom. This vibe fueled us all day, and before we knew it, the day was coming to a close.

Of course, the end of the day is one of the most exciting parts of the day for many edcampers. With a number of generous sponsors, participants had the chance to win opportunities to try tools donated to us. I want to take a moment to list all the fantastic sponsors we had on the day. We couldn’t have done it without you! Follow these fantastic folks on Twitter for the latest updates:

Loyola’s School of Education and Educational Technology Program deserve huge props for putting on such a fabulous edcamp experiences, and Dr. David Marcovitz (@DavidMarcovitz), Dr. Kelly Keane (@kellyjanekeane), and Ms. Irene Bal (@ireneamelia1) deserve a standing ovation for pioneering this day. I cannot wait until next year to see how they expand it and make it even better (which is hard to imagine). For pictures from the day, check out our Storify and search #EdcampLoyola17 on Twitter.

EdcampLoyola Planning Committee. Photo Credit: Dr. Kelly Jane Keane.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Blogging Buddies

One part of my personal PD that I am always attempting to improve is my blogging. I don't seem to have any trouble tweeting, e-mailing, or talking with my PLN, but sitting down to blog seems to be something I excel at making excuses about and forgetting.

So I decided to do something about it to become more consistent. Enter ISTE's Blogging Buddies. Early in May, I saw a tweet from Katie Siemer announcing that ISTE's #ETCoaches were hosting this group-based blogging challenge. I would be grouped with four other educators, and the goal was to blog at least once a month while also providing encouraging feedback on our group members' blogs. My teammates in this endeavor are Keith Hannah, Lorena Esper, Carrie Lowery, and Shaina Glass. Check out their burgeoning blogs, as well!

The real test now is to remain consistent with blogging. My next post will be a recap of last week's TxGoo conference in Spring, Tx. I love this conference, and this year marked my first presentation at an EdTech conference, so it was especially memorable and enjoyable.

Until then, if you think you'd like to join ISTE's #ETCoaches in Blogging Buddles, read through this Doc and register!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Not on Twitter?!?! Let's Get Started with Twitter 101!

I find Twitter to be one of the best communication and collaboration tools out there. My PLN has grown to hundreds of educators around the world, and they share with me, on a daily basis, new ideas, articles, and thoughts on education. While I feel comfortable on Twitter, I know many people do not, so I created a video with Screencast-o-Matic and EDPuzzle to help people get started with the mechanics of Twitter and reflect on how they will use this incredible social media platform. If you have questions, I'd be glad to share what I love about Twitter, so follow me on Twitter and let's engage in some EdTalk!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On Being a 21st Century Educator

Teaching in the 21st century has many advantages. Multiple technologies make possible what was impossible twenty-five years ago, when I was a student at the same school where I now teach. Although the technology is faster, better, and more innovative than when I roamed the halls of Mt. St. Joseph, teaching itself is not incredibly different. To me, being a 21st century educator and innovator means a focus on one thing: choice.

In the above clip from Jurassic Park, Dr. Malcolm laments over technology becoming blinding to the point that scientists do things just because they can instead of asking whether they should. If we replace the word "scientists" with "teachers," my views on 21st century education are perfectly summed up by Dr. Malcolm. There is so much technology at our disposal as teachers that many teachers use tech just because it is there and they can. These teachers do not exercise their ability to choose.

Teaching, as always, relies on pedagogy and content. What you want your students to learn, understand, and synthesize is still paramount. True, there are many tech tools that can help streamline material and make it more flavorful for our students. There is tech that makes teachers' lives easier and more efficient. But it is incumbent upon each teacher to choose only that tech that complements a lesson, a unit, or a project. Using a Google product, or YouTube, or an app simply to flout one's use of technology can be damaging and self-defeating. 

Being the best 21st century educator possible means knowing your content, understanding the myriad ways your students best learn, and then applying thoughtful, appropriate technologies, when it best serves the educator and, most importantly, the students. Educators have powerful tools at their disposal, but the most important technology choice is whether to use it at all or not. Only when the technology supports and facilitates learning should it be applied.

In this respect, teaching has not changed much since I was a student. What has changed is what technology is available -- and on a grand scale. More than ever, a teacher must understand his students and his courses and understand what technology helps make his students better learners. With this mentality, focusing on choice, a teacher can wield technology confidently, helping students become more collaborative, allowing students the freedom to express themselves more creative, guiding students to think more critically, and have students communicate more effectively.