Improve Your Mind

As part of my graduate internship for St. Joseph’s University, I will periodically be blogging and reflecting on my progress.  During the closing weeks of the school year, I decided I needed to tighten up my Google Apps knowledge.  I had put off becoming “google certified” because I honestly wasn’t sure how valuable it would be.  After some reflection on the year and the needs of the staff at my school, I thought it would be a good idea to “beef up” my Google knowledge and the certification process seemed like the obvious avenue.  Despite the school year winding down and all the chaos that comes with that, I really enjoyed the process and the certification exam.  What follows is a reflection on my thirst for knowledge.  

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Pretend like it matters for a second: Is learning cool?

If you’re honest, most people probably don’t think so.  That’s why there is a nerd stereotype at all.  Its why when we are suddenly and passionately talking about our work we say that we are “nerding out” as if talking about our learning is reserved for so-called geeks.  Its why people act a little surprised when the star athlete and cool kid is also an excellent student.  Learning is so often associated with pouring over a textbook, writing a research paper, taking a test and going to a stereotypical-traditional-sit-in-rows-and-serve-your-time institute of education.  Learning frequently is equated with school. And school, for the great majority of people, does not equal cool.

In the modern world, learning does not have to follow this pattern.  School does not, and should not, either.  Let’s put a pin in that thought for now.  

Embrace learning, for yourself, right now.

A friend recently shared an incredible video of Isaac Asimov being interviewed and “predicting” the internet as we know it today.  When you have 10 minutes, I highly recommend you give it a watch.  At the 7:00 mark, Mr. Asimov states, “there’s no reason then, if you enjoy learning, why you should stop at a given age.”  While I write this in a coffee shop, there is a small group of elderly folks discussing a book and apparently learning Italian together.  How awesome is that?!

As we move forward as a society, there is more and more information available to us.  None of us can be an expert at everything but all of us can be experts at something.  Pick something you have a passion for: music, gardening, photography, whatever you like – and start learning more.  Just whip out that smartphone and start searching.  Soon you will start connecting with people.  Share your successes and failures.  Find an enjoyable route towards learning and then try to create that passion for knowledge within your students.  Model the learning process.  Learning does not have to lead to a degree, a certificate or a job.  Some of the best learning occurs without any of those incentives.  Become the lead learner in your classroom and ignite a fire in your students to want more.  

Ultimately, most of us don’t care if learning is perceived as cool.  Or we realize that the nerds actually are the cool ones.  But for kids – it can matter, and the whole concept can be upda.

We need to collectively move away from the old style notions of learning.  Learning is what sets us apart from other animals.  It is merely exercise for the brain and it should be done daily.  We have the tools and technology to allow for anybody to learn anything at anytime.

How is that not the coolest thing EVER?

In the Asimov video, he recounts a story about Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, at the age of 92, was asked by president Theodore Roosevelt why he was reading Plato.  “To improve my mind” he replied. Now go nerd out over something.

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Patience Compromise and Edtech

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As part of my graduate internship for St. Joseph’s University, I will periodically be blogging and reflecting on my progress.  At the close of the school year and as part of the beginning of my internship plan, I created surveys to get feedback from the staff on my value to them, their comfort level with technology and other questions that can help me to plan for training in the fall.  The following is a post about my process of reflecting on this first year as a tech coach and the expectations I place on myself and others.  

 

My mom has told me, more times than I would have liked, the story of when I threw a tantrum in a supermarket when I was 3-4 years old. I wanted some candy in the checkout aisle (watermelon Bubblicious gum if my memory serves correct). It was a doozy: full throttle, arms and legs pounding the ground, screaming, kicking and crying. It is only now, when I have children of my own, that I understand the complete and utter embarrassment that I was causing her. What did she do? She calmly placed her items on the belt and waited to pay.  And ignored me. Even as people started to stare at the spectacle I was causing (No cell phones back then to divert your attention) she just kept moving forward.  Channelling her inner Mick Jagger, “You can’t always get what you want” was the lesson my mom started teaching me that day.  It worked, sort of.

Confession time: I still throw those little hissy fits.  The only difference is that they happen inside.  They happen when I get impatient with the process of change in utilizing technology in our schools and becoming a more relevant educational institution.  As we wind down this school year, I have reflected on all my work and found myself frustrated that we haven’t moved even further ahead than where we are. I’m frustrated that I haven’t helped more people realize the amazing potential of social media to advance one’s own learning and connect to educators around the world.  I’m frustrated that more blended and flipped learning could be happening in classrooms and faculty meetings.  When your catch phrase is “relentless forward progress” it is hard to exercise patience.

Then last week I was watching the Tonight Show and President Obama was the guest.  Jimmy Fallon asked him about this part of his commencement address at Howard University:

“Listen to those you disagree with, and be prepared to compromise.  Democracy requires compromise, even when you’re 100 percent right,” Obama said. “You can be completely right, but you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want.”

There it is.  Whether we are talking about Democracy, Public Schools and the Educational system or our everyday personal relationships, the hissy-fit method just won’t cut it.  We need a serious dose of patience when it comes to the evolution of the American classroom.  So many connected educators get frustrated at the state of the modern classroom.  It is not without good reason, but an overnight change just won’t happen.  We can not create an “us vs. them” culture with regard to educational technology.  Doing so will only further increase the gap between so called “modern” classrooms and the “old school” model of teaching and more importantly, the educators in those classrooms.  For the greater good, as well as our own betterment, we must focus on positive, incremental change.  Any frustration we feel should be channeled back into better efforts at modeling the change we seek and patiently helping those who need guidance.  We need coaches, integration specialists and administrators who consistently show the positive benefits of progressive pedagogy and savvy technology use.  As my good friend and colleague, Cathy Isaacs (@iwearthecrowns) once tweeted to me, “It’s like teaching a kid how to cross the street. How many times did we (and still) tell our kids to look both ways?”.

 

So what’s the answer? Rest on our laurels while others catch up? Give up and resign to the idea that some people will just never change? No. We relentlessly pursue the best methods of teaching and learning for our students.  We model and share those. Every. Single. Day.  We are persistently patient with our colleagues who are resisting change.  Change is hard after all. As educators it is imperative that we model the type of collaboration and collegiality we want to see more of in this world.  Look around.  There are plenty of grown ups throwing hissy fits and hoping the “other side” will change.  Let’s be the change we want to see in our schools to positively impact student learning.