Monday, June 29, 2015

What Social Media (and Professional Learning) Should Be About

I'm currently at my 15th ISTE. Many things have changed in education and technology over the last fifteen years. In 2000, social media did not have a presence in our lives. People walked around, attended sessions, looked each other in the eye, and spoke to one another....because that was the primary way to make connections. Quite a few years ago, I was standing in line at a convention center Starbucks with my students when the teacher behind us, Linda Cooper, struck up a conversation about why my students were at ISTE. That conversation grew into what was my first collaborative effort with my students and students in another geographic location. She and I built a relationship that greatly benefited all of our students. Our dialogue, sharing, and connecting opened up my mind to new directions to grow in my teaching practice.

Several years later, Web 2.0 and social media came onto the scene.  I joined in and began tweeting and posting. Like many others, I became excited by the number of followers I had or who chose to follow me. It took two years before I realized that wasn't where the true value of social media was found; it was in making connections, building true relationships, and giving back to others in our digital/social media community...the very same thing that Linda and I had done years before. That was when my professional growth escalated exponentially.

I was able to find answers to questions that I had about how to meet the needs of one of my students. I could find different ways to turn the learning and our classroom over to my students. I could form partnerships to connect my students with their global peers. Because of the relationships that I built, my students were able to find their voices, build connections with global peers, and make a difference in the world. 

Because we are connected regularly through social media, building these relationships, we get to know one another. Friendships built on mutual respect develop. On my flight to ISTE, I had a young woman sit beside me who noticed my ISTE app. She asked me if I was headed to the conference. She (a second year teacher) and her two colleagues (first year teachers) were heading to their first ISTE. Her passion and enthusiasm were contagious. She asked so many questions about ISTE and teaching. As she began taking notes, I realized that this is one reason why we go to conferences (and engage in social media) make these connections. 

There are people who are all along the professional learning continuum. Some are ahead of us in their journey. Others may be just beginning. However we connect, whether face-to-face or digitally, we need to strive to share our learning with others. 

So as we continue the next two days at ISTE, I want to challenge myself and challenge you to look for someone who you can share with, connect with, and grow with. This will not only benefit our practice, but also the learning of our students. And our students' learning is what it is all ultimately about. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Are We Truly Listening?

Since March, my voice has been very quiet. Almost, crickets quiet. One morning, I woke up with an irritating pain in my back that quickly escalated into me being unable to walk, sit, or drive. Excruciating pain so intense I couldn't think. I tried everything in my arsenal (rest, heat, ice); nothing worked. I sought medical assistance. I kept saying the same thing. I need answers. What is causing this? How can we repair it? I didn't want to slap a bandaid on it, but work towards regaining my healthy, active life. Over and over again I said this as doctors, medical professionals, and my insurance company failed to listen to me. It took me 13 weeks to jump through countless (worthless) hoops until I finally was able to find a doctor who listened. Truly listened. He ran tests, formal and informal. He asked me for feedback. He communicated with me regularly...even out of office hours. He (and the fantastic physical therapist that he recommended) made themselves available to answer my questions, soothe my anxiety, and help me work toward my goal of a healthy back. Having them gave me a positive frame of mind that I could reach that goal even if it still may take several more months.

One day, as I was reclined on an extra-large ice pack, it occurred to me that many of our students may be on parallel journeys to this in their learning lives. They may feel completely overwhelmed by the expectations in our classrooms. They may have obstacles that seem insurmountable. They many feel that their voices are hitting an abyss and that no one cares enough to hear them, see them.

I couldn't help but ask, are we being the kind of teacher that truly listens? Are we talking to them? Asking questions? Listening not only to what they are saying, but what they are not saying? Are we building a foundation of trust with our students so that they know we care about them, not as just a student in our classrooms, but as individuals? Do we run formal and informal diagnostics and formative assessments to determine exactly what they need while giving them an opportunity to set their own personal goals? Do we soothe their anxiety, cheer them on, and provide guidance that they can build upon? Are we willing to go above and beyond what is "expected" as a classroom teacher to give our students what they need? Again, I ask, are we truly listening? Because if we are, it can make a world of difference in the life of that student even long after they have left. That's what they need. That's what they deserve.