Sunday, January 1, 2012

There are Years that Ask Questions and Years that Answer

Novelist Zora Neale Hurston said, “there are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

Last year asked questions for all educators in the state of Wisconsin; last year asked questions for me personally: the two were not unrelated.

So now, after 18 years in the classroom, I have a new job. Part-time teaching English; part-time Technology Integration.

And along with this new job comes excitement and trepidation; energy and anxiety; I'm both completely ready for it and will never be fully ready for it.

I’m passionate about teaching and I’m passionate about technology, but this year, I found out that diving deeply into both simultaneously---in an authentic and effective way---is not humanely possible, at least not for this human. So I took a risk and pitched a proposal for my ideal job: teach part-time, help teachers with technology integration part-time. To my elation, I was not only given the go ahead; I was given a mandate: help teachers integrate technology in a meaningful way in their classrooms: not starting in 5 years, not starting next year, but starting NEXT SEMESTER - as in three weeks from now!

And so, green light on, here are my New Year's Resolutions 2012:

1. Deepen my professional social network. I can’t do this alone. I need help, and for me, Twitter is currently the place to get it. 2011 marked my turn from Twitter sceptic to Twitter enthusiast. I’ve been tweeting for 4 months. I follow 87 educators and 60 follow me. I resolve to grow my presence on Twitter while continuing to be hyper selective about whom I follow: my Twitter friends don’t tell me what they ate for dinner; they develop classroom ideas, debate pedagogical philosophies, brainstorm edtech ideas, share conference notes; in short, they give me a broad exposure to what’s happening in the field. Their expertise, advice and enthusiasm is like none I’ve found in my professional life. More please.

2. Keep my eyes on the prize. I resolve to maintain laser focus on helping teachers integrate technology in the classroom. In my proposal, I intentionally used the term “laser focus.” It’s easy to get bogged down in theory and meetings and strategic plans and flavors-of-the-day; I am committed to having an active presence in teachers’ classrooms. I am committed to figuring out how to help teachers integrate technology in a way that's NOT just "one more thing" for them to do. I’m committed to creating 24/7 “how to” resources that continue to support them when I’m not in their classrooms. I’m committed to being an available, responsive, helpful resource to these amazing people.

3. Focus. I'm exposed to dozens of new websites, 2.0 tools, classroom tech ideas on a daily basis. I resolve to focus on a few proven, streamlined, effective tools that will be of most practical use to teachers and most dramatically improve student learning. I resolve not to be distracted by the abundance of shiny, new things.

4. No complaining, period. A friend of mine uses the term “the Society of Yes” to describe the edtech community - a group of educators who are incredibly positive and extraordinarily determined to figure out how we can best use technology to benefit students and teachers.  And so, I vow allegiance to “the Society of Yes”: anything coming out of my mouth that begins to sound like a complaint will be rephrased as a potential solution. Period.

5. Integrate: Meaningful and effective technology integration is difficult, very difficult. What’s going on in education right now is staggering: mandates galore, blinding focus on assessment and testing, the restructuring of teacher evaluation and teacher preparation programs, increased class sizes, increased teaching loads. We’re all feeling the impact of these factors in our classrooms. How then can teachers, whose plates are already heaping, keep up with technology, which itself is changing at breakneck speeds? How can a teacher find the time to integrate technology in a way that streamlines his/her practice, teaches students 21st century skills, and increases student learning? This is no longer a rhetorical question; it’s my job description.

I’m hoping that 2012 will, as Zora Neale Hurston suggests, be a year that answers that question.