I am taking a different approach to Parent Night this year. Instead of preparing some talking points to be sure that I do not leave out some critical piece of information, rehearsing in my head what I will say, and printing out handouts so that I have something to give to the parents, I am blogging.
So, I should blog about what to say, right? There is so much discussion of content v. skills, 20th century (or even 19th century) learning v. 21st century learning that I thought about tackling those issues with the parents. The problem is that I am still working my way through that, and I do not think that the ten minutes I am allotted for each class tonight would be able to do anything but open the conversation. I could always rely on reciting the list of curriculum units and watch the eyes glaze over as I speak. After all, many of these parents have had days that are at least as long as mine, if not longer, and I get to be active at least.
I have a bit of an advantage being an alum. People often ask me what has changed about the school and what is the same. Maybe that is what I should talk about. I learned how to craft an analytical argument, express myself, and wrestle with challenging ideas. I have been doing those things ever since. I learned how to jump in and try something new, to take risks, something that is becoming increasingly part and parcel of my job. I learned how to value every human being and feel empathy for others. I believe those things remain part of the learning. What has changed is that I believe the barriers between teachers and students have gotten lower. We are not always on the same side of the fence, but at least we can see over it and talk. Students seek out and value conversations with teachers, and there are casual exchanges in the hallways all the time. This is an improvement and an opportunity. We have the opportunity to know our students better and serve them better as teachers because they let us. I am not sure why it is different; I just know that it is.
In the end, I will likely spend a few minutes sharing the curriculum. I plan to talk about the skills we will be working on most this year also. I might let them in on some cool collaboration and connections I am planning with the outside world, even though they are not set in stone. Then, I think I will tell them how lucky I feel to be teaching in a school that has kept so much of what was important to me, and added more to it. Can I do all of that in ten minutes? Maybe I should just direct them to my blog.
I have seen the video clips, the ones where student are wholly engaged in their own learning, using Web 2.0 tools to connect with experts around the world and create their content. It is exciting. It is differentiated. It is not the reality in my classrooms – yet.
My own journey as a teacher has led me down this path. An urge to connect with the greater world led to me a conference session that gave me the information I needed to move forward. I have been blogging for several months now. I share and collaborate with teachers over Twitter. I am working on connecting my students with a wider audience for their work and a wider range of experts for their learning. There have been some successes, but there is still a long way to go.
What I am currently struggling with is the pace of the transformation. Is this better tackled the way one rips off a band aid – quickly and suddenly, or it it better to introduce the components little by little. I am not so concerned about having the students learn to use the tools. They may need more help than we imagine but most will catch on quickly. It is really about the shift in ownership.
I know that the videos all show students thrilled with control of their academic destiny with the teacher in the background in more of a support role. In my experience, though, I have had enough experiences where I have shifted the classroom to being student-centered and had students voice concerns that I was not teaching to give me pause. There is a shift in the mindset that is key here. Teachers need to make the leap, but we need the students to come along as well. We all need to be okay with being uncomfortable for a while, or maybe longer.
So I am excited about the journey, but have some questions about the path and pacing.
America is complex. In studying world history, we expect complexity. When different cultures interact the differences are easily noted, and expected. I used to think that teaching and learning US history was simpler – one country and a few hundred years.
I am rethinking that now. People in other parts of the country have very different perspectives today; two hundred years ago sectional interests tore the country apart. At the heart of the construction of the United States is an individualism that does not get set aside for the communal good often enough. At the same time, it is the promise of those individual rights and the dream of individual success that has drawn people from all over the world to immigrate here.
Despite the fact that we do not have an aristocracy, we do not live in a society where anyone can get ahead. There are all sorts of barriers to success, and they are not distributed equally. We call ourselves a democracy because of the political liberties we enjoy, but communist countries argued that they were the more democratic because they provided greater equality of outcome. I would not trade the political rights we have, but I worry about inequality of opportunity in practice.
I am still trying to wrestle with the fact that the immigrants/colonists from Europe devastated the native population and culture. A nation founded on freeing itself from tyranny, allowed slavery to exist for nearly a century. Looking back at those early episodes, realizing that the founding fathers really did not intend their words to apply to all equally, I think we have come a long way. Rather than assign a failing grade to the US, I would like to assert that we are not there yet.
I am finally through the week of meetings that precedes the start of school. I realize that I will be busier than ever this year, but I know that if I can sustain the energy I had at the end of last school year it will be an amazing journey.
Last spring, I discovered the world of incredibly generous and talented educators who tweet. I still struggle with how to label the virtual people in my life when I talk to my family, colleagues and students. What I can easily do is explain how much I have gained from the insights of my PLN and resources shared.
I also began to gather my thoughts, record them and publish them in this blog. Since then I have encouraged colleagues to blog, and we are ready to integrate student blogs into our curriculum. One colleague asked about the “rules” of blogging. I did not have an answer, and I truly do not think there are rules. At the same time, the quality of blogs varies widely.
As I move forward to introduce this idea of blogging to my students, I make a plea. Please comment and let my students know what you think the most important qualities of a blog are. What makes you want to read, rather than pass over a blog entry?