What Are We Afraid Of?
I was reading a blog post last week by Richard Byrne entitled “The Things I Wish Every Teacher Knew About Technology.” (I'm presuming it's inspired by the super popular #IWishMyTeacherKnew, which is powerful read, in case you're interested.)
But I digress. Back to Byrne's post--which stuck with me for a few days--because the thing I most encounter in my job is complete and abject fear of technology: both the fear of failing with it and the fear of succeeding with it. (Ironic, no?)
I totally get the paralyzing fear of failing thing: What if this doesn’t work? What if I look like a fool in front of my students?
My answer is always, What if you do? What's the absolute worst that could happen?
I’ve addressed the subject of failure pretty regularly on this site, so I won’t belabor the point except to say this: The only failing is in ceasing to try. To quote Michael Jordan, “I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Now, the fear of success thing had me puzzled for a while, until I was enlightened by a former superintendent whose advice I seek out on a regular basis. Fear of succeeding, he explained, means that you have to keep “upping your game;” that as soon as you master something, you’ll be expected to keep improving and to keep mastering, and then the expectations just keep getting greater and greater, until we overwhelm ourselves with, Well, if this works how long before the next thing comes along that I have to learn? When will it end?
My response? Why would we want learning to end?
We should always remember that our goal as educators is to create lifelong learners. Let’s model what that looks like by failing and succeeding. And isn’t that a totally awesome-sauce life lesson for our students?
There's nothing to be afraid of. I pinky swear.
Am I Smart? Or Lazy?
Last week, Mrs. H asked me to help her devise a plan to teach Google Drive, Docs, Slides, and Drawings to her sixth grade class.
And I started doing just that.
And then I slowed my roll.
And then my slow roll screeched to a halt.
Because sometimes I have to remind myself--even though I preach it like it’s my job and I’m getting paid for it (Oh, wait...I am!)--that I have to get the heck out of the way when it comes to learning.
Because when it comes to teaching, there’s a very delicate balance among leading, following, and getting out of the way:
Direct instruction (or “leading”) is the most predominant method of instructional delivery, and it occasionally has its place in the classroom; but it should be limited. Very limited. Like no more than a ten to fifteen minutes kind of limited.
Since my own classroom epiphany in 2008, I've tended to favor the “What Can the Kids Teach Me?” method of pedagogy (or what I like to call “following”). If 90% of what we retain is what we teach, then we should be encouraging our students to find their own answers by doing and teaching themselves.
Now, with regard to the above-mentioned scenario regarding Mrs. H's request, I opted to be the guide on the side--or what I call the teacher-bordered classroom (aka, “get out of the way”). What does this look like, exactly? It’s a combination of acting like a border collie while letting the sheep sometimes run amok. Actually, it’s more professional than that. Ever hear of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development? It’s where learning occurs just beyond the level of what students can do independently. Sort of a “lead-them-to-water-and-then-let-them drink” mentality.
What this involves is not telling...but asking. Not asking recall questions, but thought-provoking ones. Questions that demand exploration and investigation. Questions without easy answers. Questions that lead to creation.
And that’s when I came up with the idea of what I call the “Explore - Do” model. (Okay, okay...it’s not exactly a trademark-able name, but it does the job.) Instead of teaching Mrs. H’s kiddos, I opted to let them play in the digital sandbox and teach themselves.
In this glorious day and age of collaboration and social media, I tweeted out my idea, hoping others could use it in their classrooms. My buddy Jake Miller got me thinking:
We have to get out of their way sometimes and allow them to think for themselves.
Maybe it makes me smart or maybe it makes me lazy.
Either way, I believe it works out best in the end for them.
If you’ve heard the expression “Bye, Felicia!” ad nauseum recently, you can thank the 20-year anniversary of rapper/actor Ice Cube’s comedy flick “Friday” for its revival. If you’re not familiar, click here to understand its popularity. (Warning: The video clip is NSFW. Funny, yes, but definitely NSFW.) Anyway, I’m appropriating the phrase here because it’s succinctly and incredibly apt in describing the way I’ve revamped my own approach to professional development in 2016.
As they currently exist, professional development sessions can best be described as “sit and get” assemblies that fail to produce long-lasting and robust change. Professional development needs to be better. It needs to be more about development. And it certainly needs to be more professional. If we’re making demands on educators to transform the way we deliver instruction (i.e., collaboration, differentiation, and problem-based learning), then shouldn’t we also be transforming the way we help educators learn?
So, I’ve resolved to get better, not bitter. Here’s the thing, though: resolutions--like yoga poses--aren’t my specialty. In fact, I’m actually pretty awful at both. Don’t get me wrong: I’m great at intending to do them, but it’s the actual execution of them where I fall painfully short. However, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been “beta-testing” my PD resolutions (the whole putting-my-money-where-my-mouth-is-thing) to welcome reception over the last year.. So with that said, here’s hoping my 2016 test balloon results in 2017 productive results. And that’s why I’m saying sayonara to the following outdated PD practices:
1. Being the Expert. Personally, I don't like to make my workshops about me. (Which will certainly come as a surprise to anyone who knows me!) Yes, I like to provide useful websites and some kick-start ideas for incorporating them into your teaching. But, no, I don't particularly care to lecture at teachers. And frankly, I grow weary of the sound of my northeast Ohio nasal twang. (As do others.) Once I decided to stop talking and start listening, though, I realized that I was often standing in front of a room full of other professionals with their own experiences from whom I could learn, too!
The Result: My PD sessions are now (mostly) collaborative sessions where I encourage full participation, sharing, and even sometimes handing over the reins to audience members who have something to teach the rest of us. (That’s my favorite part!)
How It Works: I open all of my PD sessions with the following disclaimer slide: “We are a collaborative group of learners; there are no absolute experts in this room. Like our students, we learn best by doing...and learning is a process.” This sets the tone that I’m not the sage and my audience isn’t the empty vessel. It also takes the pressure off of me to feel like I have to know everything. In addition, I always have a collaborative Google Doc going where participants are encouraged to add their ideas, successes, questions for others, and other educational technology tools.
2. One Size Fits All. One of the things that always plagued me in the past was trying to keep everyone learning and creating at the same pace. It was frustrating for my reluctant adopters and tedious for my whiz kids. And then it hit me: “Duh! How come I’m not differentiating learning for my particular learners???” Now, when I present, I try keep it short and sweet and hand over the remainder of my allotted time to the teachers, allowing them to pursue their own learning at their own pace. I offer up a leveled challenge so that all learners--regardless of where they fall on the technology adoption spectrum--still leave having created something applicable to their own classroom and students.
The Result: The whiz kids speed ahead sans boredom, the collaborators work together and assist each other via peer learning, and I get to devote my full attention to the baby steps group, who self-profess to learning best when guided.
How It Works: Since my presentations have built-in “do” time after “learn” time, I always create a learning challenge or task to apply what we’ve covered. Using polling software (my current favorite is Mentimeter), I ask participants to self-assess their learning style based on the following choices: 1) I’m a lone wolf. I learn best by exploring on my own; 2) Buddy system: I don’t go into the water without a partner; and 3) Baby Steps: Please hold my hand and walk me through this! We then break into respective groups and get to work! Everyone leaves happy and creatively satisfied.
3. Breezing In & Out. The one-and-done approach to professional development is done like dinner. Gone with the wind. Over. In an attempt to be more collaborative, and especially in this age of social media, learning should continue beyond the four walls of the classroom--and beyond the four walls of the seminar room. Keep the conversation going with your audience by connecting with them after all is said and done.
The Result: Everyone gets heard, everyone is validated, and no one feels alone. And you’ve created your own little virtual PLC!
How It Works: I always create a session evaluation Google form to be completed at the conclusion of my sessions, and I also ask for email addresses so that I can inform participants of the latest and greatest updates to our topic at hand. I’m currently exploring the idea of Google Communities to keep the learning going, too. Sometimes, I’ll create a Remind group for the same purpose, but I definitely need to improve my upkeep skills with that one. (Another resolution?) In addition, don’t forget to invite your audience to follow you on social media as well.
And there you have it: help transform pedagogy by transforming professional development. I definitely think these are resolutions (or intentions or goals or whatever the heck you want to call them) that I can actually keep. In the spirit of practicing what I preach, please feel free to reach out to me with your best PD tactics.
In return, I promise to work on my yoga poses. Namaste, peeps!
Learning Designer. Instructional Coach. Trainer. Working my hardest to create Teacher-Bordered Classrooms.