Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Forget the Unchangeables

I speak with a lot of faculty, staff, and administrators about teaching with technology.  And nearly every single time, one of the first questions I am asked is, "What do we do about all the faculty who don't want to change?  Who are resistant to trying new things?  Who don't believe, for example, a cell phone could ever have a place in a classroom?"  The fact that this question is asked so much is, I think, indicative of a bigger problem. I think it's time, folks, that we reframe our focus. 

Yes, many faculty are resistant to change.  Yes, many faculty refuse to accept new forms of technology in their classrooms.  We need to accept that this is the way it is.  We need to accept that we can't change everybody's perspective on what teaching and learning should look like.  After all, academic freedom is at the core of our teaching values, right?  

Why would I suggest such a thing?  Because as so many of us sit around tables building plans and strategies to figure out how to change the unchangeables or worse yet, throw in the towel and give up hope because all we see are the unchangeables we are ignoring and, in turn, risking the greatest assets to the future of our educational system -- the changers. 

Have you sat down and engaged in a Twitter chat using the hashtag #edchat?  Or #flipclass?  Don't know how?  Just go to Twitter.com and in the search box enter either of those two terms (#edchat or #flipclass). These are called hashtags on Twitter and when you send a tweet with a hashtag, they can easily be filtered into a search stream creating a 'chat' like scenario.  By doing this, you'll see tweets sent from educators around the world sharing resources with each other about how and why they're using emerging technologies to reinvent their classrooms.  These are teachers committed to change.  These are teachers driven by an internal passion.  This passion doesn't stop at the concrete curbs surrounding their schools or campuses.  It doesn't sync up with an academic calendar.  They don't wait for professional development or teacher inservice days to learn.  They're always learning, always sharing, always innovating -- and social media tools like Twitter and mobile devices like iPads and smartphones enable their learning and facilitate connections with their growing global networks.  They understand how to use technology to change the way students learn because they use technology to learn.

All of you have creative, risk-taking educators on your campus.  There may be just one or there may be many -- but they are there.  They may share a lot with their colleagues and they may share absolutely nothing, but that does not mean they aren't sharing with someone, somewhere.  Last year I enrolled in a full-day Google workshop to learn how to use the latest Google tools in my classes.  It was an awesome day.  The facilitator was fabulous -- someone I had known previously and is part of my own personal learning network (PLN) on Twitter.  I won't name that person here, as I do not have his permission.  Throughout the workshop he referenced how he uses various tools in his own classes.  We had a few casual conversations throughout the day and at one point I asked, "Wow, what do your colleagues think about all this great stuff you do in your classes?  Do they love it or what?"  He shrugged his shoulders and said, "They don't know what I do. There's just no interest."

I do not intend to put words in anyone's mouth here.  These are my own observations ... and I certainly welcome yours. I think many of our innovative teachers -- regardless of the level they teach -- feel smothered by bureaucracy, frustrated, unsupported, exhausted, overworked, unappreciated, and may even at times question if they've made the right decision to become an educator.  Last summer after I finished presenting a keynote at a conference, a woman approached me with tears in her eyes and said, "I was going to resign this year.  After hearing that presentation, I'm going to give it one more year." As we approach that one year mark, I find myself thinking about her and wondering where she is in her journey.

Folks, this is our crisis.  Let's try to stop focusing on the unchangeables and shift all that energy to those who are already out there changing the world.  
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