Thursday, December 19th, 2013...1:29 am

Are We Visualizing the Same Thing?

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Iris_-_left_eye_of_a_girlI recently gave a presentation to the entire staff at my old school.  It was a message about embracing change and the importance of understanding our students better.  The presentation went well, and it was nice to be presenting in a room of “frolleagues” (friend-colleagues).  After the presentation, one of the teachers emailed me to open a dialogue.  He wondered, “if most teachers love technology in their lives, where is the disconnect or lack of teacher initiative for wide-scale use in education?”  It’s an important question, and one that many in the EdTech leadership community would probably have different answers to.

This teacher had an insight that got me thinking about the assumptions I bring when presenting to a group of teachers.  The gist of his insight was that teachers may believe that technology undermines relationships (which most would agree is the heart and soul of teaching and learning).  His thought was that when teachers picture “teaching with technology,” they still see themselves in a computer lab.  Viewed from this lens, the disconnect for teachers between the use of technology in their lives and the use of technology in their classroom, is an issue of visualization – Teachers lack a clear sense of what a 21st century classroom looks like.  And of course, without a clear vision of where you’re heading, it’s hard to make any progress.

My vision of 21st century learning environments doesn’t really involve a computer lab at all.  It was always interesting for me to look over the statistics of the computer lab booking system at my school and compare my use of the lab to others.  Although I was probably one of the teachers at the school who made the most use of technology in my classroom, I was among the lowest users of the computer lab spaces.  Computer labs were, for the most part, a terrible way to integrate technology in my curriculum precisely because it was not embedded.  When my class makes a trip to the computer lab, the use of technology becomes an “event”, rather than part of the necessary background of every day learning.

In terms of relationships, it might very well be the case that teachers see the use of technology as something that is alienating them from their students.  Once again, my experience and the imagery in my mind is the complete opposite.

Reflecting on my own journey as a classroom teacher, I can remember the investments I made into building better relationships with my kids.  What started with “classroom management” turned into “classroom community”, and sent me on a learning journey into cooperative learning, “tribes”, character education, and ultimately shifting my role from a teacher in the traditional sense to that of a mentor or coach.  This became the foundation of my professional practice, and not something that I would ever allow to be compromised through the use of technology.  On the contrary, I believe that my investment in technology has only ever sought to improve my relationships with students – opening conversations that were not possible before, giving me a greater insight into who my students are, giving a platform to help all students find their voice, and opening up new spaces for learning beyond the walls of my classroom.  In my experience, technology considerably improved relationships.

Overall though, I think that teachers are often far too fixated on the image of technology hardware devices in their classrooms, as though that was what defined a 21st century learning environment.  Once again, the use of hardware is only one part (and in my opinion, a small part) of what it means to be a 21st century educator for 21st century students.  The great shift for us is not from “technology-poor” to “technology-rich” environments, but from the “teacher as purveyor of knowledge” to the “teacher as the lead-learner.”  A lead-learner is a mentor and a coach; a lead-learner takes risks and is prepared to fail; a lead-learner is a role-model in the positive use of technology.  Most importantly, a lead-learner does not know all the answers, but is very skilled at asking the right questions, and accessing avenues/resources to answer questions.

In my experience, many teachers might like to think of themselves as a “lead-learner”, but their classroom practice is in fact fairly stagnant and devoid of ongoing progress.  How many teachers do you think take risks on a regular basis (with lesson design, or assignments, or technology, or empowering students, or professional development, etc.)?  How many make new developments on an ongoing basis to push their professional practice to the next level?  Probably not enough.
The implications are important.  How can we ever expect our students to embrace challenge and change (and sometimes failure) if no one is modelling for them what that looks like?  In my opinion, this is what it truly means to be a 21st educator and build 21st century learning environment – teachers need to embrace challenge and change, and they need to learn openly for students to see.


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