Friday, September 26, 2014

What I'm Thinking AND Feeling: Change

I've been doing a lot of contemplation about change lately. Now I know there is lots of research about change, many books and articles I could read (and some that I already have), and quite a few different schools of thought. But I have been less interested in seeking out the research and more interested in how my questions and thoughts about change make me feel. I'm not entirely sure why, but this time when I think about change it feels intensely personal, and meaningful, and heavy yet exciting all at the same time.

This change, and the contemplation surrounding it, have taken many paths and many forms in my head, but I keep coming back to the same questions:

  • Can you ever really enact change from within the system? 
  • Or can the most impactful changes only truly happen outside the system? 
  • But can change outside the system ever impact the system itself?

I am leaving this vague, perhaps even a bit confusing. What do you think? What do these questions lead you to think about? Do these questions make you feel something?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ed Tech and A Tangled Web of Learning, Sharing, Reflecting

I can't seem to escape Audrey Watters this week, and I can't say I mind.

It started when +Nancy White shared on Twitter about Audrey Watters' article Beyond the LMS . I immediately couldn't stop thinking about it, so I shared on Google Plus: "I think I've held some of these thoughts and beliefs for a while but hadn't been able to really articulate them, for myself or others. I have a feeling I'm going to be working through some of this thinking for a while. Who wants to process with me?!" 

Luckily for me I have an incredible PLN, and the (Ed?) Tech tools that provide me time and space to process and push my thinking even further. +Chris Rogers , +Nancy White and I have been talking all week on Voxer about the article and its contents, both in the context Watters presents as well as in the contexts and perspectives we each bring to the table. I won't get in to my thoughts on that topic quite yet, but I do wonder… 

Is my ability to build a strong PLN, reach out to them via Twitter and G+, and then hold a conversation with people who live thousands of miles away from me a benefit of educational technology? In this case I am the learner, and in a very authentic and meaningful way I am connected to other learners who carry different perspectives and are helping me to push my thinking to a new level. If I had read this article in isolation and had nobody available to discuss it with, would I still be thinking about the article's contents or re-reading it for the 5th time a week later? Maybe, but maybe not.

Several days after my (first) encounter with the LMS article, +Kevin Croghan posted on Google+ about Teaching Machines: A Brief History of "Teaching at Scale" #t509MassiveThis article, also by Watters, discusses some of the history behind ed tech and teaching machines and prompted a blog post by Kevin entitled Is it TechNo or TechYes? Once again I find myself contemplating and rereading, and I feel incredibly lucky to know that when I am ready there will be any number of ways for me to process and share my learning with others. After all, isn't that one of the benefits of the (ed?) tech we have at our disposal? I get instant access to rabbit holes of learning (in the middle of reading all these articles and watching the videos below I often stopped to look up a name, a term, or a concept to fill a gap in my knowledge or bookmark an idea to return to later). I see what others are learning because they are able to publicly share articles, videos, and their thoughts. I am no longer constrained to only learning with and from the people I physically encounter. For that I am endlessly thankful, because if we're being honest the limitations of the ideas and people in the room have often been huge barriers in my educational experiences since a very young age. Luckily I had other outlets to keep me motivated as a learner, but shamefully so many students do not. I digress, but more on that later.

I was starting to reach some consensus in my head around these 2 articles, and then +Ben Wilkoff messaged me on Hangouts with 2 of Watters' recent keynotes. What?! Earlier this week I had reached out to process and share a learning experience with fellow educators, and now someone was reciprocating that and extending my opportunities for learning even further? I know, right?! I am basically the luckiest. 

So I woke up eager to start my day with some learning, motivated by both the awaiting content and the acknowledgement that when I was ready to share my thinking someone would be there to share it with. Now I could interject a download of the fascinating courses I took all those years ago about motivating learners, but I don't think it is necessary. What is necessary is acknowledging the incredible opportunities all around us for learning. It starts to feel like an unwieldy sort of web just to relay my experiences of the last week, but that is a true representation of the process and products of my learning. Twitter, Google+, blogs, YouTube, Hangouts, Voxer… If I didn't have these outlets, these numerous places for idea consumption and reciprocal creation, none of this learning would have happened. Not only am I more motivated as a learner, fascinated by the ideas Watters presents and excited to continue the rabbit hole learning journey she has sparked, but I am also more inspired to continue with the work I do each day. For every new thing we learn, every idea we are pondering, we also bring a new perspective to our work and, for me anyway, a new dedication to the contributions to be made.

So where is all this going? Honestly, heck if I really know! That is the beauty of this space where I get to word vomit my thoughts onto a page. Sometimes I start in one clear direction and veer drastically in another. (Case in point: This blog post started as a way to share the notes I took and thoughts I had around 2 of Watters' keynote videos. It headed in a different direction, so that will be a separate post to come.) Perhaps this is a sign of my writing abilities, but it is something I have grown to love about reflective processing via blogs and vlogs. In the midst of sharing my thoughts I happen upon new ideas that hadn't occurred to me in hours or days of thinking things through in my head. I tell people all the time that the best way to get started with reflective blogging/vlogging is to stop worrying too much about the audience or the presentation. Those are skills that develop over time, but are often so paralyzing they prevent people from ever getting started. I suffered from this paralyzation for a long time, as evidenced by the trail of dead blogs and mostly unused online spaces I've been leaving behind me since about 1998. Recently I reflected on what has changed, what is different this time around? It is that every time I write, record a video, or share something on social media I remind myself who the audience is: me. I am the most important audience member I have, and so long as processing my thoughts aloud in these spaces is beneficial to me I will continue to share them. The amazing thing about that shift in mindset is that once I embraced it I began to get more people asking me about the process and content I share, and of course it feels great to know I am helping others in the process of helping myself. It is an exciting and sometimes precarious situation to be in when you gain viewership, so I will continue to remind myself of my primary audience and purpose for sharing my thinking to thwart off the paralyzation from ever creeping back in. 

Some thinking from an earlier blog post The Communities of Practice Gardener about how we cultivate and maintain our online spaces for learning. Needs some revision but feels related.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"You Make a Difference"

On Friday I received one of those emails that makes my breath catch and chokes me up a bit. You know, it is the one you want to print and hang up to read every morning so you'll remember what's important. The one you want to share with the world and simultaneously hold close to your heart.

It was an email from a former colleague who now has in 6th grade some beautiful kiddos I taught in 4th. That class is extraordinarily special to me because they are the class that almost killed me as a teacher. There was so much going on with those 30 amazing young people, and the intensity lived all balled up in our spacious and climate-controlled (ha!) classroom of 800 square feet. Each day was a test in survival and patience, and while they pushed me to my utmost limits not just as a teacher but as a human being, it also meant that I grew immensely because of them. For all our challenges we became a stronger community, and I'll never forget the number one concern expressed by kiddos in June when I asked why they were so nervous about 5th grade: "I'm afraid about our community being split apart, and I am worried that we won't build a new family like we had this year." Out of the mouths of babes, eh?

My babies on Valentine's Day, 2013. Heart you!
If you know me from my time in the classroom you know that instead of posting rules on the wall we had only Words to Live By, all chosen and created by the students, and we had Kohlberg's Stages of Morality. I'd been doing both these things since my first year teaching, but with this class I really relied on them to help us through every situation that came up. I also relied on our Words to Live By and Kohlberg's stages to keep myself grounded in why my work, though incredibly challenging, was important. I had to model what we talked about and make sure my kiddos knew how much I cared about them developing and taking ownership of the skills and mindsets necessary to contribute as a positive member of a community.

Our interpretation (a mountain we help classmates climb together) of Kohlberg's 6 Stages of Moral Development.
These guided our class discussions, read alouds, classroom management, and so much more each year.
The end of every year with my kiddos is (err, was - still getting used to that) always tough because I am sad to say goodbye and because I worry. I worry if I devoted the right amount of time to the right lessons, whether the way I empowered students to own their learning will benefit them in the short and long term, and most of all whether they will remember and follow through with all the work we put in to becoming better individuals and better community members. Each year I fret over these things and each year I remind myself to trust in myself and in them - to believe that the tools are in their toolbox and they need an opportunity to apply them without me being there to remind them so often. It is their chance to take full ownership of our Words to Live By and remember their importance, without seeing them on the wall every day.
The Words to Live By chosen by my first class of 5th graders.
Although I tell myself these things I can't deny the doubt that creeps in when they've been sent off to new teachers and new experiences. If I'm being honest I suppose part of the doubt is wondering whether I really made a difference, and if it was the right kind of difference, in their lives. Maybe that's one reason the texts and emails from students, and the stories of their successes, are so valuable to me. Perhaps that's why this email means so very much, especially as I process the start of my first full school year out of the classroom.

It is so nice to hear how they've remembered these lessons through the years, and it brings me great comfort to know they're with teachers who value and honor them as individuals. My teacher heart is so very happy right now, and I am reminded how crazy thankful I am for those 30 beautiful humans who changed my life for the better that year.