I’ve a confession to make. It’s hard to confess things when you know that possibly the whole world will read them but I hope that by doing this it might help.
I was a young administrator and had just taken on my first job as as a principal. I was eager to prove that I was capable, could handle the responsibility and could do what was asked of me. I was fresh off having just finished my MEd and couldn’t wait to put all my newfound knowledge and ideas into action. I was also very much an “on the edge” teacher/administrator – using different strategies and technologies in my teaching – wikis, videos, LMS – when these were usually found only in computer classes or specific courses, was experimenting with no student desks and other room alterations and was bringing the idea of Student Led Conferences to each school where I worked. At that time I remember writing in my MEd about how technology was going to change education and, specifically, teacher Professional Development.
It was a Saturday. My wife and I were working at home. She was trying to email something and was frustrated because it wasn’t working. At the time we owned the first versions of imac – you know the cool looking one with the half-moon bottoms and the arm with screen. I had shown my wife how to add attachments and send a few different times. I could hear her frustration as she tried a few times. Being the “techno-nerd” I was, I went over and proceeded to show her how to do the procedure again – finishing with something like “Did you get it?”
She started to cry.
“You don’t get it do you? Just because you can do all this doesn’t mean you have to treat me like an idiot!”
She sat crying.
I was stunned. Ashamed. So sorry.
“I didn’t mean to…”
“You don’t get it. Just because something comes easy or you see that it can be done in such and such a way doesn’t mean that everyone does. You treat me, and most others who don’t “get it” like kids.”
She left the room.
I sat – silent – contemplating.
I understood – a little bit anyway.
And I was Ashamed. I was not the helpful one who knew – I was a know-it-all who didn’t.
Over Time I understood better
We’re still married.
I’ve learned so much in the intervening years about teaching and technology. Teachers might use technology and might be willing to try things – but that isn’t what makes them great. It’s because, no matter what, they focus on developing incredible relationships with their students – are willing to try different things with them – and have them not work out so great – but still focus on learning and love the learning. They are excited to be in the room with their students and show anyone who will take a moment the great things they are doing. I’ve learned that it isn’t the tools but the relationships. The tools might allow them to explore different things or make great presentations or books or… but they don’t replace the relationships. That’s why, although integrating technology has always been important for me, I’ve come to see that the relationships are key. Many people disagree with this and that’s okay . No matter how one mixes the soup – technology won’t make a poor teacher great and lack of technology won’t inhibit a great teacher from finding a way to reach their students. I agree that great teachers create powerful learning opportunities through integrating technology but they also create incredible relationships that are the foundation of their teaching.
I’ve worked in many schools with numerous teachers and taught all sorts of classes. I have a litany of different technologies that I have used. However, it took me some time to transfer that first lesson. It took a while for me to understand that, to really bring about change building trust, being humble and showing compassion were much more effective than trying to “show and conquer”. I’ve come to understand that before the technologies or tools, it’s the relationships around learning that will really transform things and listening to people, especially teachers who are intimidated or apprehensive and working with them from where they are is so much more effective than telling them how technology will transform their classrooms. Over and over again I keep hearing that “It is about the technology” yet, delving deeper, I believe it’s about the connections and collaboration which, in some cases, the technologies facilitate and support. I agree with George Couros when he says
innovation is not isolated to what we do in our schools today. We just now have more of an opportunity to move it from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture”. The access and tools are there, we just need to embrace them.
We do need to embrace them – but that shouldn’t be what creates the excitement for, or the culture of, innovation and learning. Embracing these tools helps us to expand our world and explore it in different ways but that excitement for learning should be what moves us forward. Driven by curiosity and a desire to learn and be innovative, these tools should be part of how we, as learners, continue to explore and seek new worlds, boldly going where no one has gone before, excited by the learning and what happens along the way.
I’m saddened when I hear about teachers rediscovering a desire for teaching. Not because they’ve rediscovered it which I think is so wonderful but because, somehow, they were not able to continue to grow their love of teaching and lost it. I know that for many, this happens with the introduction of something like technology. The teachers I want my children to have are great teachers with or without technology. They don’t suddenly come alive because of the tools or the technology but are always learning and look for ways to share that in different ways. I want my children to have teachers captured and excited by the wonders of learning not by the technologies they use. My kids are way past the “wow” factor of the technologies. They totally get when a teacher is excited and thrilled to be learning and teaching. Really, they could care less about the technologies if they are just “wow, look at the cool things we can do. Wow! Wow!!!! Look at what we just did!”. Students need to be guided in the use of technologies and shown ways to use it more effectively and efficiently – to be productive not just busy, to learn to develop as citizens in a world that is rapidly changing and will be different from what it is now.
I have had the privilege to work with, and watch, some incredible teachers. Not one of them was incredible because of the technology they used, and many of them used technology – that never wowed me because I was looking for the learning – the relationships with the students, the connections with what they were learning, the big ideas and the thought provoking questions – how they interacted with the students – how they encouraged and pushed students to be independent thinkers and seek alternative solutions – to boldly seek new worlds and share them with others.