As an educator who strives to continuously improve upon what I’m doing in the classroom, I know how important it is to stop, take a breath, and reflect. Despite knowing this, I’ve been finding it challenging to document my teaching and learning experiences. I think it is because I am still adjusting to life at Burlington. I’m still adjusting to a school culture where I am given tremendous autonomy, support, and empowerment as a teacher. In a sense I am still experiencing culture shock, but in the best way possible. However, for the past several months, I’ve been internalizing most of what I’ve been doing in the classroom. And I know I shouldn’t. I consider myself a connected educator, so I should do what all connected educators do. I should be sharing on a more consistent basis the ups and downs, successes and challenges of life as an educator. This is not to say that I have kept all of my experiences to myself.
I do love the connectedness I have with fellow educators on Twitter and Google+, but I am still “old school” in the sense that for me, nothing beats a phone call and an extended conversation. I know you are thinking, “phone call? how does she make phone calls? what kind of technology is she using? Is there a new app I’m unaware of?” What most people don’t realize is that an iPhone, or Android device, actually does have the capabilities of making and receiving phone calls. You hear another person’s voice and everything. It is quite thrilling. But I know for most of us, phone calls aren’t the preferred method of communication. I get it. I don’t like it, but there’s not much I can do about it. All kidding aside, I do prefer phone conversations with my colleagues and friends. In fact, several of my virtual “friends” whom I met initially on Twitter are actually people I’ve developed friendships with in real life. Imagine that? It’s pretty amazing what can develop from 140 characters.
Like my phone conversations, which tend to be long, my blog posts, while still sporadic, tend to break the blogging rules of short and sweet. However, I’m doing this (blogging) predominantly for myself. Again, I’m breaking one of the basic rules of blogging by writing for myself, but my blog stats don’t lie and I’m ok with that. My students have been blogging for about four weeks and most have more pageviews than I do, which I love by the way. I’d love to write a Seth Godin-type post that’s fifty or so words and gets me thousands of followers, and allows me to blog for a living, but who am I kidding? That’s not really what I want or why I blog. I’m definitely in the education field for life. Perhaps I won’t always be in the classroom, but I care too much about students and couldn’t imagine my life without having some interaction with kids.
For me, this “personal blog” is a space I’ve dedicated to reflections on my teaching and learning (as the tagline reads). If someone happens to read this and can relate to my experiences or it helps or inspires another educator in some way, then great. Glad to have helped! But reflecting on my practice as an educator is essential. I know that. I have to do it more and yestetday I was reminded of that by my Assistant Superintendent Patrick Larkin. He dropped by the Help Desk and we were able to catch up. I mentioned I wanted to blog about the exciting things that were going on but that I just hadn’t found the time. He encouraged me to try and write a short reflection, or a series of short reflections. So I’ve taken his advice. The reflection part. Not the short part. I have a few subscribers, which is still amazing to me, and they know that short posts are not my specialty. Whenever I do finally sit down to write a post on this blog, it reminds me of just how much I love to write. I guess these long posts are indications that I have a lot to share and need to stop internalizing everything. So here’s a reflection on Friday.
On my way home (I have an hour commute and yesterday I didn’t hit the road until about 5:00 so I got stuck in rush hour) I started thinking about my day and how amazing it was. It was busy and hectic as always, but it was still amazing. I just hadn’t slowed down long enough to realize that and let it all digest. It started with a quick meeting led by my Director of Instructional Technology Dennis Villano. He went over the final details of PARCC testing which begins on Monday. From there, I headed to Deb Deacon’s (my Assistant Principal’s) office to arrange for sub coverage of my Web 2.0 class all of next week since I will be assisting with PARCC. My mind started racing when I realized I will only see my students one day next week. Thank goodness for Google Drive and Remind 101.
Once sub coverage was confirmed, and I was on my way to the Help Desk I was stopped by a colleague who needed assistance with file conversions so that she could send an email attachment. After finding a solution for that problem, I was able to sit down with my Help Desk students and provide them with feedback on their teacher profile blog posts. I also worked with one of my students on a logo he is designing for a new Help Desk initiative launching hopefully some time in April.
During this same period, a math teacher wandered into Help Desk and wanted to try Google Glass. She had seen the models wearing them Thursday night at the annual BHS Fashion Show and wanted to try them out. I gave her the Glass crash-course tutorial and mentioned a few ways she could use it. I specifically mentioned flipped lessons. I’m hoping she’ll be coming back to arrange a time to use Glass to record a math lesson. I’ll be curious to talk with her about how her students react to that strategy. After she left, I went to take a peek at the Help Desk business card holder that was being printed in 3D. Two of my students wrote a 3D printing post a few weeks ago so as a follow-up, I wanted them to design and print an object for the Help Desk that was functional and cool (pretty much anything you print in 3D is going to look cool, just and FYI). Two of my students collaborated on the design of the holder and earlier this week they brought it my colleague Christina Chang to be printed. They were told it would be a four hour print job. I grabbed a quick Instagram video of the printing process and headed back into Help Desk. I proof read a few more posts and then the bell rang. Again.
Next on my schedule was my Web 2.0 class and Friday is their blog day, but before they started blogging I had to break the news that I would only be in class one day all of next week. There were a bunch of “awww’s” and “how come?” and that made me feel pretty good! I explained that I had to be available for tech support during PARCC but that they would be able to email me or come see me in the Help Desk during the day once testing was over. I then explained how we were going to tackle the Digital Citizenship magazine project. Again, Google Drive to the rescue. I will be creating a project folder with subfolders and sharing everything with my students. They will be working in teams to research their designated topic, drafting their articles in Drive and saving photos for the magazine in an image folder in Drive as well. I’ve never attempted a project like this before, but I’m excited to give it a try. My students know this is a first for me and I think they too are eager to build something that we can all be proud of.
The next part of my day is always interesting. Every Friday, for the past seven weeks, we’ve been doing a Live Google Hangout On Air known as Help Desk Live. It’s been a huge project, but also very rewarding. My ultimate goal is to have my students running every aspect of the show, including the logistics planning and follow-up blog posts (which have yet to be done) but for now, they are getting comfortable in front of the camera and talking with people they’ve never met. Students conduct preliminary research prior to the interview, and to help them (and me) feel more comfortable before going live, we chat with our guests a few minutes before the broadcast begins. Almost everything that could go wrong with a Hangout has happened to me and my students. We’ve had a laggy camera, poor audio, and one episode where our guest couldn’t access the link to get into the Hangout. That glitch was ironic, since our guest that day was my former student Michael who just so happens to work at Google! Despite these minor hiccups, our Live Hangouts segment has been going rather well. We are still looking for interesting guests, so if you happen to fall into that category and you’re doing something innovative in the world of educational technology, please let me know and we could discuss having you on as a guest. Ideally though I’d love to have your students serve as guests. My ultimate vision is for our Hangout to be run by students for students.
After the Hangout On Air, I had one last period of Help Desk. My students came in and I once again worked with them on their posts for the Help Desk blog. I have a student that is tackling the giant and rather complex topic of creative credit and copyright and two others that are doing app reviews and screencast tutorials. So to say we are able to handle a variety of multiple projects at once is an understatement! During this last period I had another student come to Help Desk who wanted to know the details of the New England Student Showcase that she’s going to take part in on April 12th. I gave her the details of the event and then shortly after that Mira, one of my Help Desk students returned to finish up her iMovie Google Glass project that she had started earlier in the day; she had actually started it Thursday night immediately after the fashion show when she started downloading videos from Glass into Drive. This is where my day got really interesting and prompted me to write this post.
Mira started Help Desk in January and although she’s only been in the program for just under three months, she has immersed herself in hands-on projects and is taking on a leadership role not only in Help Desk, but in her classes. Yesterday she told me that she’s getting asked by more and more of her peers in her classes how to do certain “tech things.” I have witnessed her confidence grow over the past few months and her work ethic is impressive. What has impressed me the most about Mira though is the diversity of the skill sets she is demonstrating as a member of Help Desk. I read a recent article in the New York Times about what Google looks for in their employees. More so than a high GPA, the article talked about people who can show the value they can bring to an organization by what they do, how they lead, how they follow, how they demonstrate creativity, their ability to take ownership over projects, and so on and so forth. Although she is just a junior, Mira is already starting to show the “Googleliness” that my former student Michael talked about during his Hangout with us. Most notable is Mira’s passion.
I read A LOT of blog posts about student passion. I advise the TED-Ed Club at BHS that is all about helping students find and share their passions in a TED-like talk. Heck, TED even featured an article on their blog which referenced me and passion, which was a HUGE honor. But here’s what I notice about students and passion. Most don’t have any. Yet. I’ve heard students say, “I don’t know what I’m passionate about.” And I think that’s true for most teenagers. I think that’s where I have the biggest impact on my students. I help them find that passion and I do it by recognizing their strengths, building their confidence through encouraging them and giving them the same type of creative freedom and autonomy that Burlington has given me as a teacher to let that passion develop. When a student stays after school on a Friday until 5:00 p.m. to finish a project because she wants to, not mentioning anything about extra credit, or a grade, that is what I would classify as passion. So how would I grade that? Earlier in the day when Patrick and I were talking, the topic of grades came up. He mentioned an educator who allows students to grade themselves. That got me thinking about what grade Mira would give herself.
If I’ve had any type of impact on her, and I think that I have, I would venture to guess she would not give herself a 100% , although she comes pretty close with her Glass video and her Aurasma tutorial, because she recognizes she has room to grow and improve. Just like all of us do. The idea of perfection is something that I’ve come to realize, especially since this past September, is not only unrealistic but dangerous. If we get to the point where we think of ourselves as perfect, where do we go from there? How do we continue to grow and improve? I think folks who view themselves as perfect end up in the long run becoming obsolete. Up until this year I always wanted to be that perfect teacher. But I’m not. Not even close. I make mistakes and I learn from them. I do this all in front of my students. I am very honest about my flaws and I think that may be refreshing for students to see. I admit when and where I make mistakes and I think critically about what I need to do to avoid those mistakes in the future. It’s just who I am. I am human and humans make mistakes. We are all works in progress. And if you don’t believe that, you need to stop kidding yourself. I predict that your students will probably end up being more receptive to you once you stop and try to relate to them on a more I’m-a-human-and-I make-mistakes-just-like-you-do level. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want to live a life as a teacher or as a person for that matter where I never make mistakes. If I ever get to that point it means I’m not trying anything new. And that will not only be a disservice to me as a professional, it will be a disservice to my students. So as I reflect upon my crazy, non-stop, typical Friday at Burlington, I learned a lot and I left feeling satisfied, happy, and ready to tackle Monday.
PARCC testing and all.