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!