Looking at Problems in a New Way
If someone were to ask me about my work, they would learn that as of late I am focused on designing opportunities for discussion. I’ve come to understand through the process of action research combined with my three years of promoting technology integration, that not having key conversations prior to bringing technology into the classroom crippled our capacity to transform learning for our students. Problems in the status quo were not addressed. As a result, by adding the technology, teachers shifted their frustration and blame from the kids to the distraction of the netbooks. Everyone, including myself, was so caught up in the change that we failed to focus on what stayed the same—teaching practices. Had there been dialogue about why we had bored students in classrooms, missing work in gradebooks, absenteeism, defiance and failures then realizations may have occurred and led to solutions such as engaging students in project-based learning or at the very least student-centered lessons. If rather than conceding to “kids these days” or “kids with this background,” educators and administration took ownership of the problems that existed, technology could have served these goals and therefore created an entirely different set of circumstances. However, we can only work from where we presently are. So the question I ask now is “How can I guide the educators I support in dialogue about unexamined ideas so that they consider new ways of thinking and acting?”
What I find surprising about this new direction in my work is that I am stepping out of my area of expertise, sharing new technologies. Galford and Maruca’s (2006) discussion of leadership legacy helped me identify that what I perceived as the demands of my position resulted in me focusing nearly all of my attention on my role as an experienced guide. I think this mirrors the faulty tendency to focus on teaching educators how to use technology and not answering the question why use technology. What occurred to me is that teachers I’ve worked with for the last three years often comment on my passion for technology. Now I pause and wonder why they haven’t asked about the rational behind that passion. Have I done enough to show that technology is a tool and not the goal? I believe if I focus more on my role as advocate that I will convey the message more clearly.
Looking back at the fall term as I drafted my force field analysis, I understood that the status quo needed to change, but I had not yet found the means for articulating my concerns. My justification for why pedagogy needed to change was not entirely clear until I completed the first sections of my literature review. In the same way, as I initiated my action research cycles, I did not fully understand that student leaders in digital citizenship would not be enough to impact teacher perception about student use of technology. Seeing students using technology in a responsible manner could easily be explained away as an exception to the rule in the same way where a school with a 33% absentee rate sees the student with perfect attendance as an abnormality. The key to convincing teachers that the risk of introducing new technologies into their instruction is worth taking comes through professional discourse that brings participants into evaluation of their values and how those impact their decisions.
It was a collection of factors that influenced me to shift my action research focus from my initial overall question, “What impact will student contribution in a district wide student tech team have on the integration of one-to-one technology in middle school classrooms,” to “How can I improve my technology integration support so that all stakeholders are invested and see their role in the successful implementation of the middle school 1:1 program?” Beginning in cycle one I realized just how critical it is to establish a relationship with building leadership so that I was viewed as an ally and they were invested in working toward teaching responsible technology use rather than expecting someone to come in and fix the problem. In the process of cycle two it became increasingly clear that students were also resolved to the way things were. Aware that teachers struggled with being digital, student members expressed doubts that their peers would even be interested in using the netbooks for learning purposes should teachers be willing to allow it. During that same time, in my other work, I began consciously planning professional development opportunities that applied the innovative teaching strategies we wanted teachers to be implementing. I realized that I too had been holding on to preconceived notions of what trainings looked and sounded like. The pedagogical shift needed to begin with me.
Looking at Self Identity in a New Way
I’ve always struggled with asking for help and would describe myself as self-reliant. Perhaps this explains my love of Emerson and Thoreau. While I personally would be quite happy living as Thoreau describes, I am by default a member of society. A year ago I would have said that I prefer to work alone to accomplish a task. While I view myself as a team member, when it came to dividing tasks, I would opt for tasks I could do by myself. When faced with a problem in the work setting, even if it would be smarter to rely on another person’s input or assistance, I would attempt to figure out a solution on my own. But with my job change and this program pushing me to examine my choices and the result of those decisions, I would much rather have a group to exchange ideas with and push my thinking. I now accept that we do not learn in isolation to the same degree that we can with others. I began making a conscious effort to connect with others and to involve them in my problem solving process. I have discovered the value in stepping beyond my need for control and acknowledge that I need others involved and invested in my learning in order to maximize growth.
Having considered myself a teacher since earliest recollection, I invested years preparing for that profession. However, coaching was never a consideration and is still new to me. I had no formal training for working with colleagues in this role. In fact, I often feel fraudulent as I have never taught in a classroom with ubiquitous technology. And with my job change, the title of specialist added just a bit more pressure to be that expert who came in with the answers. If I had come across a master’s program that explicitly described its goal as training for coaches and specialists, that would have been what I pursued. Fortunately, I did not. I realize now that I do not always have to have the answers. In fact, there are times when the question being asked is not even the right question, and by responding with questions I can help the learner get to what they really need to know. Particularly important to my new perspective is maintaining my approachability and authenticity. For this reason, I look forward to drawing the educators I work with into social constructivist learning. Not only will this help us form new understandings, it will begin the process of teachers evaluating their embedded beliefs about learning and students and restructuring them in this new setting that includes technology.
While the degree I am completing is in Learning Technologies, the label misleads outsiders into thinking it concentrates on that specific area. However, that barely scratches the surface of what I have been exposed to through the three strands that compose the program. In the same manner, I may work under the title Innovation, Curriculum, and Technology Specialists, but I will always be a teacher at the heart of my actions. There are three aspects of my identity that I will be consciously developing as I move forward. Foremost, I will concentrate on being a constructivist leader. This style of leadership reflects my personal values and models the type of leadership and learning that needs to be taking place in today’s classrooms. Secondly, I will continue to be a social-networker so I can remain current about trends and tools since I still serve as a resource provider for others. Ultimately I am an action-researcher. This gives me the ability to learn while I travel uncharted paths. I can question what I see happening, take action and reflect on what worked and what didn’t and alter my course as needed. But like the leadership I have chosen to identify with, this form of learning reflects the values I want to emulate. Action research means I control my work and the way I conduct my learning, yet I am not alone in the process. What starts with me as an individual is drawn into a collective we, a group of learners invested in discovering how to improve their practice.
Looking at Teaching and Learning in a New Way
I see a large part of my work as helping educators realize that they no longer hold the information students need in order to pass the test. In fact, I want them to be questioning the test itself. Student access to technology in the 1:1 setting has changed everything. What our students need are norms and expectations for how to access and interact with the information and networks now available to them. They need freedom in creating ways to demonstrate understanding. And most of all they need teachers as guides in the process. With a new cognitive awareness of transformational learning, I will work towards intentionally designing dialogues that draw teachers into examining how they might be limiting negotiations with their students based on their personal experiences as a student and others’ judgments and expectations. With critical evaluation of these influences and how they impact the way teachers function in the classroom, teachers can gain a more satisfying sense of control, convey their personal values and judgments, and have the satisfaction of being a leader in the classroom.
Moving back into my action research frame of mind, I will address the question of how to approach teaching digital citizenship. Clearly digital responsibilities need to be taught when learners are in a 1:1 setting. If you doubt the necessity, imagine bringing your students into a swimming pool and allowing them to jump in without assessing who your swimmers are and what is and is not appropriate in the water. The lifeguard’s whistle would be constantly blowing. In no time, you would be doubting your judgement in letting the students go to the pool in the first place. There is no question that digital responsibilities need to be made clear and explicitly taught, yet the real learning occurs through the application. Students need to be given opportunities to interact, learn, create and share online. Their learning should not be isolated to a technology or computing class. In the same manner that my learning in this program flowed across and through the different strands, digital responsibilities need to be fluid and accessible in many forms and across disciplines. In order for this to happen, educators must identify themselves as part of the solution and engage in learning and modeling digital responsibilities.