Teacher, author, and innovator Holly Clark recently examined in her blog why some educators tend towards innovation more than others do.
I've been at this for four years now, and one of the things that I've found myself consistently pondering is why it's been such a struggle to find enthusiasm for the adoption of educational technology in the classroom.
Of course, it all comes down to fear (or neophobia, as Seth Godin terms it.) And in four years, here's what I've come to understand about neophobia:
We fear the unknown.
Technology is the realm of the “digital since diapers” crowd, and since we feel like we are strangers in a strange land, we tend to feel excluded. And thus, there are educators out there who reject or avoid technology all together, expelling it from their classrooms, and continuing to teach as if the technology doesn’t exist. But here's the thing, though: everything evolves. What makes education so special that it’s immune to evolution? And more importantly, why would a profession that prides itself on shaping the future be so reticent to change? We have to turn it around. We have to embrace change instead of fighting it. We owe the medical, transportation, communications, and technology industries major props for being willing to evolve. And education is the one profession that gives birth to all of those industries. It's time to change. If we fight it any longer, we'll become irrelevant.
The inclusion (or intrusion, depending on how you look at it) of technology makes some of us feel as if we are losing control of our classrooms and students.
This makes sense when we consider how learning occurred in the pre-Internet days when the teacher held the keys to learning. However, we need to embrace a new model--that of facilitator, guide, coach--and we need to work collaboratively with our students. We can learn from them, they can learn from each other, they can learn on their own. There's no longer any need for us to be the gatekeepers to knowledge acquisition.
Technology makes some of us feel as if what we have to contribute is no longer relevant.
Nothing could be further from the truth, in fact. The human element has been, is, and always will be a necessary part of learning.
We feel attacked for not knowing.
We are expected to embrace the technology, and yet, very little in terms of support and structure is provided us. And so, change is painstakingly slow. “Sit and get” professional development is not conducive to long-lasting, organizational change. We need to change the model of digital learning to take into account our “digital immigrants.”
It prevents us from moving forward. Fear can paralyze us, and if we don't confront it--if we aren't willing to enter into a relationship and get to know it--then it will crush us. Ironically, the only way to banish the neophobe from our psyche is to be unafraid to confront it.
We should always remember that our goal as educators is to create lifelong learners. Let’s model what that looks like by being willing to confront our fears, to sometimes fail, but to ultimately succeed.
And isn’t that a totally awesome-sauce life lesson for our students?
Photo credit: Quotes Mixer
I’m giving you fair warning, buttercup: this is not going to be a warm and fuzzy post. So if you’re a sensitive soul, now’s the time to turn back.
I’ve been sitting on a draft of this post for six months now, hesitating to go public for fear of offending anyone. The content that follows--to borrow from the latest in adolescent vernacular--may ”trigger” you. Or it may inspire you. Maybe it will provoke you to stop following me. Or maybe (hopefully!) it will encourage you to think. Here goes...
Last week, I was working with a teacher during her planning period, brainstorming ways to integrate a specific instructional technology tool into her curriculum. As we collaborated, her veteran partner walked in, took one look at us, and responded, “Oh, no. No more technology for me! Absolutely not.” She promptly turned on her heel and exited.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon reaction to my presence in a classroom or a school. While I’m often welcomed with open arms, I’m equally as often treated like Frankenstein’s monster in the village.
I’ve tried to not take it personally. In my best Stuart Smalley voice, I’ve self-talked and mentally declared my worthiness to myself when I sense a reluctant adopter’s discomfort with my presence and with what I represent to her--which is change.
However, like Frankenstein’s monster, I believe I am (or at least my role is) frequently misunderstood. So please allow me this opportunity to clarify: Teachers, I was not put on this earth (or in this job) to torture you, but to instead make learning more engaging and productive for your students.
And promise you: This is not about you. And it’s not about me, either. It’s really, really about the kiddos. My misson is to act as a translator and tour guide into the digital domain--a world in which our students already exist. And a world in which they’d be really, really thrilled to have us join.
So when you get angry at me, or snub me, or tell me things like the following, I tend to take it, well, personally:
I take it personally on behalf of our students. I'm not working against you. I hope to work with you. We’re on the same team. Just like you, I strive to challenge students, to push them, and to inspire them.
Imagine how you might react if students said the following to you:
Listen, I get it. Change is scary. But it’s inevitable. Everything evolves. It’s that simple: every industry, every profession, every thing changes.
When an educator summarily rejects the notion that technology is a necessary part of educating our students, when an educator absolutely refuses to improve his or her own understanding of it, and when educators treat as the enemy the people whose job it is to assist them in making the shift, I have to say--and it pains me to do so--then you’re making it about you.
Again, I’m so very sorry if this post makes anyone uncomfortable. But maybe discomfort isn’t such a bad thing, because it’s only when we step outside our comfort zone that true change occurs. As author and speaker Brene Brown so sagely advises us, “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.” Of course it’s comfortable to stick with what we know and to do things the way we’ve always done them; however, it’s also incredibly courageous to venture into the unknown.
Yet, in spite of it all, I’m very grateful I get to do the work I do. Because even on my bad days, even when the villagers have chased me into the depths of the forest, I have to remind myself:
It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
Dewey quote from Twitter
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.
I missed my own birthday.
This blog--a true labor of love--turned one year old on February 20th.
When I thought about starting this venture last January, I was--in a word--miserable. I was in a school that was closing, in a job that wasn't professionally satisfying, and facing a very grim financial future. I had spent the good part of the previous year relentlessly pursuing every job lead I could find (100+ of them), even those barely remotely related to education.
I was frightened, anxious, depressed, worried, hopeless, and angry. When you have no idea what the next step is and when you're approaching rock bottom at lightning speed, the world seems like a pretty bleak and cruel place.
But when you're on your knees, it's time to look up. And so I did.
I'm not one of those people who turns to my faith only in times of crisis, but I do spend an inordinate amount of time trying not to rely on it too much. I like being in charge and being in control. Putting my fate in another's hands is difficult for me.
However, I'd spent so much time trying to prevent everything from spiraling out of control--trying to stave off fear--that I needed to be reminded I wasn't in charge. To be reminded of the beauty of fear.
Yes, that's right. The beauty of fear. At the intersection of despondency and abject panic, my higher power directed me to embrace fear.
I'd always thought that fear was something to be avoided. Naturally, we all do. It's painful and yucky and uncomfortable. Why would I welcome it into my life, set a place for it at my dinner table, and give it the guest room?
Because fear can paralyze you, and if you don't confront it--if you aren't willing to enter into a relationship and get to know it--then it will crush you. So, at the exact moment I was at my most fearful, divine intervention brought this to my attention:
So, once I agreed to ride the waves instead of getting sucked under by the riptide, once I remembered that worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair (it gives you something to do but gets you nowhere), I seized uncertainty and turned the tables, perfectly accepting fear.
While I waited for my dream job, I decided to occupy myself as if I already had it. I'd set my sights on transitioning from a classroom teacher to an instructional coach; so in the meantime, I was going to act like I was.
I'd been advised by a Twitter contact to start blogging, to create a website, to brand myself, to get my name out there and share my ideas with other educators. And while I was reluctant at first, thinking, Great, just what the world needs--another jackass with an opinion, I eventually said, The hell with it. I've got something to offer.
And here we are. I got peace of mind. I got followers. I got great feedback.
And I got my dream job. Finally.
Fear and I have reached an understanding: I'll stop trying to avoid it, and in turn, fear promises to help me grow.
I highly recommend dancing with fear. Everything you've ever wanted is on the other side of it.
Watts quotation via apisanet; Tolle quotation created by me with Canva
Has it really been two months since my last post???
Yep. It has been. New job, new district, new responsibilities. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.
If it means anything, in my head I was drafting all sorts of posts that just didn't quite make it here.
Anyway, one of those many drafts being telepathically composed had to do with fear. Or, more specifically, the fear of failing.
When friends and family ask me how I like the new job, my response is usually an enthusiastic one. The absolute and undeniably best part of my job is meeting teachers, listening to the ways they want to engage their students, and helping them integrate those new and innovative methods of teaching into their curriculum.
Committing to a new technology feels like standing on the edge of a precipice: you either experience an adrenaline rush that'll empower you to sprout wings and soar, or you endure a crushing panic that's going to catapult you to your death.
Hyperbole aside. . . either option is frightening. Crash and burn? Or take a flying leap into the unknown?
That's what stepping out of your comfort zone feels like. And the biggest question I hear (both verbalized and tacit) is "What if it fails?"
I work with a number of teachers who want to step out of their comfort zone; who want to trade in worksheets for Google docs; who want to exchange exit slips for Socrative; who want to dump stale end-of-the-term assessments for project-based learning and Genius Hour.
But. . .
Look at the image below. Do you see that tiny little space between the circle that says "Your comfort zone" and the circle that says "Where the magic happens?" It might as well be a murky chasm for some educators. A daunting abyss. A bottomless and black lacuna (More hyperbole, but I'm trying to make a point.)
Every single teacher I've coached has had that one soul-crushing moment of "I can't do that. It won't work." It usually follows pretty rapidly on the heels of that anything-is-possible moment of "I can't wait to try that with my students!" If we could just cross that teensy little gap!
I share with these skeptical teachers the story of every single time as a teacher I failed at technology integration. About the times I dove right in without grasping every single aspect of the technology. About the times I looked kind of dumb in front of my students for not having all the answers. About the times I didn't plan for server issues, saving, exporting, collaborating, plug-ins, or upgrades. About the many times that a great idea took a giant kamikaze nose dive.
And then I tell the stories of how as a result, I appeared more human in front of my students. About the times we worked together to troubleshoot issues. About the times individual students rose to the challenge of actively owning their own learning instead of passively waiting for me to deliver it. About the times they then collaborated with their peers to arrive at individual and class solutions. About the times we realized that maybe for this one particular issue, lesson, or content standard, technology wasn't even necessarily the way to go.
I grew up looking to my teachers for all the answers. And that worked at the time, because the teachers did have all the answers, remember? In that mammoth, well-worn teacher's edition? Back then, our teachers gave us the answers and we gave them right back--often as a test or a paper--to an audience of exactly. . .one.
The world's a much different place than it was when I was a student. Today, our students can publish to a global audience, and they don't need us to do it. They can find answers to their questions, and they don't need us to provide them. They can explore their own historical and scientific and literary interests, and they don't need us to give them permission. And I think that's most definitely frightening when we've spent a lifetime and a career providing answers.
One teacher who's about to retire confided in me that she's glad she's done because, as she puts it, kids today have "pulled back the curtain. We used to be the great and powerful Oz. Now we're just that little guy being exposed."
There's a lot of fear behind that statement; but it's understandable, given from where we've come.
I like to share with trepidatious teachers that they can find comfort in knowing that shift happens. (Couldn't help myself.) There's something truly liberating in not being required or expected to know everything. If we're preparing our students for college and career, then having them take ownership of their learning is a valuable skill. No employer wants his employees running to him 27 times a day asking, "What do I do now? How do I do this? Is this right?" We want self-directed, self-motivated problem-solving employees out in the workplace, so why would we want anything different from our learners?
My mother always said that experience was the best teacher. I'd add that failing is the runner-up. We shouldn't treat classrooms as self-contained bubbles. Bruises and scrapes are necessary; they build character. Failure is an option. I've always learned a better and more valuable lesson after experiencing skinned knees.
I like to view failure as Henry Ford did, at the: "opportunity to begin again more intelligently."
I think once we accept that we as teachers will (probably) fail the first time we introduce a new tool, platform, or app to our curriculum, once we embrace failure as a (necessary) step towards mastery, and if we (definitely) learn from the experience, then our failure is epic.
And I mean that in the best possible way.
I'll end here with a story I share with every teacher reluctant to let go of the past, hesitant to take a leap off the edge:
In 2008, just when Wikipedia was really gaining notoriety, and when wiki platforms were really gaining momentum, I had the bright idea to give it a try with my eighth graders. Instead of book reports, we were going to create a class wiki about Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. So, I stayed up until 3:30 a.m. the night before, reading the "rules" of how to create a wiki in PBWorks, checking the FAQs, and basically making sure that, in effect, I had all the answers. My lesson on wiki creation was going to be airtight.
But when Caitlyn and Stephen both tried to edit a page and couldn't, and when James became frustrated trying to insert an image, they looked to me for the answers.
I had none.
I panicked. My lesson was going down in flames. The curtain was being pulled back and I was being exposed as Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs, the real man behind the curtain. (Yes, that's his actual name.)
I remember thinking, "This is what I get for sneaking up to the ledge and thinking I could fly." It was like being the lead in a play and forgetting your lines: dumbstruck, open-mouthed, and staring out at the audience.
I swear I could hear crickets chirping. It was that quiet.
Then Nick said, "Hey, Ms. D? I can help James. I think I figured it out."
So I let Nick show James how to insert an image.
And I started breathing again.
A few minutes later, Mark called out, "Ms. D! Look what I found! Did you know you could...?" (Whatever it was, I can't remember. I was too relieved he had figured it out for himself.)
Nick went home that night and initiated the social networking feature, or comments section, on the class wiki. (Who knew?) With each "new comment" email alert I received that evening, I grew less and less anxious. They were teaching each other, collaborating, reviewing, and guiding.
I expected them to either be mad at me (for not knowing) or to be dismissive of me (for not needing me). They weren't. They were, as they informed me much later, happy I let them simply do.
That moment was empowering--for my students and for me.
Oddly enough, it's empowering as a teacher to not have to know all the answers. It's empowering for our students to know that they're capable of finding those answers all on their own.
So, I encourage you--if you're ambivalent or doubtful or just plain unnerved by the whole idea of integrating a new technology into your classroom, prepare to fail.
Do it epically.
And I mean that in the best possible way.
images via The Tilted Cusp, Start of Happiness, and edgalaxy.com
Educational consultant + #pedtech coach in Cleveland, Ohio sharing innovative technology ideas for educators.