Building the New

The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

— Socrates

Over the past few years, my focus has been on learning and using educational technology as a teaching tool.  During that time, I have had the privilege of attending several #edtech conferences where I have learned techniques that have transformed my teaching.  I just returned from an awesome 3 days at MACUL ’14, where I attended sessions on all kinds of edtech strategies of interest to me.

But I’ve also discovered a secret:

Edtech conferences are not actually about edtech.  

Don’t be confused — there is plenty of edtech at an edtech conference.  I’ve engaged in sessions on everything from Chrome to scripting with Google Drive, from useful digital tools to creating iTunesU courses, from screen-casting to blended learning to online learning.  It’s exhausting to think about how much I’ve learned over the last three years alone.  With “love of learning” as one of my core strengths, I soak it all up and bask in the brainstorming, sharing of knowledge, demonstrations, and teaching.

Yet the biggest learning experience for me has been discovering the philosophy of the edtech people, the people I call “my people” (I also call Star Wars people my people, and luckily there are also several of those at edtech conferences as well).

Edtech people see possibilities.  They see potential — the potential of education, the potential of students, and the potential of teachers to shape and change lives.

Instead of focusing on what teachers aren’t doing, edtech people focus on the good things teachers are doing.  They celebrate the risks that teachers take using technology with their students.  They support and encourage teachers who are willing to try.  

Edtech people say, “Just try it and see how it goes.  We’re here if you have questions.  And good for you for wanting to do this for your students!”  If you knew how often I’ve heard about what I MUST be doing on a daily basis with lesson planning, you’d understand how great it feels to be appreciated for learning something of value.

Edtech people like to share.  Instead of competing with each other and keeping resources to themselves (which our current teacher-evaluation system promotes), they encourage share-and-share-alike.  If you’re doing something that works, they promote what you’re doing.  They go out of their way to share your story.  

Instead of saying “you need to be doing more,” edtech people say “we know how hard you’re working” and “you are making a difference.”  They recognize and trust teachers as highly-educated professionals.

Edtech people don’t make excuses.  They don’t talk incessantly about theory.  They put their energy into building instead of tearing down.  They produce change.

Edtech conferences are all about creating change, from a single lesson or strategy, to an individual teacher, to the entire business of teaching and learning.  They do so by bringing in educators who support, encourage, collaborate, and respect.  They bring in people who want to build the new.

It’s a philosophy that is heartening and too often missing in the daily lives of teachers; it’s why I consider myself an edtech person and keep going back for more.



Getting Connected

I recently participated in my first educator’s unconference, Connected Educator Un/Conference, where teachers from across the state connected and collaborated on a range of classroom practices that focus on technology tools.  Willingly.  On a Saturday.  To be fair, there were donuts.

Over the last 12 years of teaching, much of my professional development has consisted of an auditorium or library of teachers who sit and listen to hours of lectures by “experts” who hope to inspire, motivate, or change our instruction.  There’s a lot of painful deep sighing, contemplation of life choices, daydreaming about other professions, or calling in sick on these days.  I’ve even put together entire meal plans for the week, complete with grocery lists organized by aisle.  On the best of these PD days, I’ve been able to take away a glimmer of an idea I can use in my classroom.  On the worst of these PD days, I’ve written and edited my resignation letter. - I want you to know I'd be very open to some freelance work as a pirate.

An unconference is different in brilliant ways.  After the initial panic and discomfort of being forced to move around the room (I have to what? I have to get up?), I figured it out.  Teachers sign up on the spot for a slot of time to discuss something they do well and can share, or they sign up to openly discuss a topic they’d like to know more about.  It gives teachers a chance to see what’s happening in rooms of other educators . . . since teachers are the experts on curriculum and lesson delivery.

The Connected Ed day had a similar format as an unconference, but specific “learn by doing” sessions were also scheduled and led by expert teachers who are using technology tools in their instruction.  I was able to choose which sessions I would find most useful for my needs in my classroom.  Allowing me to choose what I would like to learn at a conference was huge for me, because if I have to hear about bucket-fillers and boxes of textbook resources ever again, I’ll apply for the first position I can find as a Wal-Mart greeter.  My resignation letter has already been written.

On the Connected Ed day, I went to a session on Google Drive, Bring Your Own Device, Standards Based Grading, and hacking your own textbook with iBooks Author.  My head is buzzing with ways I can put GoSoapBox and Evernote to use in my room.  I’m checking out ActiveGrade to see if it suits where I’ve been heading in my classroom.  I’m also thinking about the unconference format . . . how it could be used similarly in the classroom with my students, maybe for review.

So thanks to the Ed Tech gurus at our ISD — Dan Spencer (@runfardvs) and Brad Wilson (@dreambition) — and to the presenters whose sessions I attended — Gary Abud (@MR_ABUD) and Anthony DiLaura (@anthonydilaura).  It looks like they’ve saved me from becoming a Wal-Mart greeter.