Other People’s Moments

Five years ago, I remember leaving a conference with my head squarely in my hands, staring back up at me in sheer wonder at everything I had seen to.  Eavesdropping on some conversations today at Classroom Reset, and following the twitter conversations around it, I was reminded of that moment when my thinking and my direction in education tipped.

See, we all need to have days where big ideas and impossible plans run amok and take us down corridors that had not seemed all that worth exploring before.  We also all need days of epic failure, where our supposed best ideas crash and burn and our belief in those big ideas is tested.

But today was not that day for anyone.

Everyone I met today was there for the single purpose of pushing themselves to try new things and look at their practice in a profoundly different way.  One of the afternoon sessions I attended (presented by a teacher from my district!) summed up the tone of the sessions: “Technology Integration: how to add meaning to the Language Arts classroom instead of bells and whistles.”  Today’s sessions were about pedagogy and not tools, about leveraging the capabilities of our technology to make us more human and not less.  It was about interconnectedness and how to take advantage of it.

For me, it was also a great reminder that I still have so much more to learn, not only about how we match traditional pedagogy with emerging social technologies, but also about the decisions we make regarding the uses.  Several conversations I have had lately deal with the age-old problem of “just because we can doesn’t mean we should.”  Two examples stick out in my mind:

  • during my session, I took an informal poll of the room about a service that came across my radar the other day, called Remind101.  It allows teachers to gather the cell phone numbers of parents and students and send text blasts through a web portal, allowing teachers to keep their private numbers private.  Some in the room felt that was only allowing for a further shirking of responsibilities by students.  “Why pay attention to that part of class when we know it’s being sent to our phones?”  Also, is it creating more work for the teacher to do this?
  • at the end of the session, I also asked the group about the availability of grades for students and parents online–a classic example of the “we can/should we?” dilemma.  The room was split there. Some felt that it was a great way to foster communication between parent and child, while others felt that it enabled parents to remove the child from the equation and just go straight from online gradebook to teacher contact, thereby bypassing the student, whose responsibility it is to track their grades.

Those two questions made me realized that we have some great conversations ahead of us.  And they also made me realize that questions like those should never, ever, get in the way of student learning.  While emotionally charged on both sides, neither has any real impact on how and what students learn.  Those type questions are the ones I am ready to tackle.

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