I always considered myself to be a struggling math student. I was either scared of my math teachers, or scared of the content, or I thought I understood what to do when I really didn’t. At Syracuse, when I was an undergrad, there was a Math or Foreign Language requirement, which made perfect sense to me, so I took Spanish. And I happily told people that, “I’m just not a math person.” The truth is, almost everyone accepts this statement as fact because they either feel the same way, or hear this statement from others regularly. With relative ease, I could put together a group of like-minded colleagues who also view themselves as Not Math People.
A few years ago, I was in a National Institute of School Leadership (NISL) session, for administrators in my district. The topic was Leadership in the Mathematics classroom. The instructor asked us directly who thought of themselves as math people and who did not? More than half the group, including me, raised their hands and defined ourselves as Not Math People. His second question was, “Who doesn’t think of themselves as a reading person?” No one raised their hand. Why is it socially acceptable and reasonable to think of ourselves as Not Math People, but it’s completely taboo, embarrassing and inappropriate to define ourselves as Not Reading People? The Not Math People I know carry their Not Math Peopleness as a badge of honor. But to define myself as Not a Reader, or uncomfortable with literacy, just isn’t okay.
This lesson struck a chord. In fact, I felt a little ashamed to have used the Not a Math Person vocabulary for so long. I’ve proudly defined myself professionally as a problem solver for quite some time. So now, when faced with math in my daily life, I try and view it as a problem to be solved. I’m not yet the mathematician I want to be, but I’m improving.
Now I regularly meet I’m No Good at Technology. I’m No Good at Technology is someone who is usually comfortable with a few Web1.0 tools. But anything beyond email, and Microsoft Word, and I’m No Good at Technology tells you it’s not their thing. Would I’m No Good at Technology find it acceptable to not be a reading person or a literacy person?
As a leader, I’m struggling with how to address this issue with my colleagues. I want to push gently, introduce tools one at a time, and build comfort and confidence with Social Media and Web2.0 tools in the classroom and with my administrative colleagues. But I also feel a sense of urgency. In my urban district, students drop out every month. We have to engage students where they are, and the truth is, even in high poverty areas, students are online. Furthermore, while schools may be measured by their standardized test scores, students, after graduation, are not. Out in the world, they are measured by their ability to create, collaborate, write, innovate, use technology and be successful in blended environments. We don’t have any more time to wait for I’m No Good at Technology to slowly feel more comfortable. I can set up Google docs at work, point teachers and administrators to specific blogs and posts to read, encourage teachers to use Diigo and Delicious, but I can’t make teachers and administrators use these tools, and forcing the culture to change on my terms isn’t what I’m looking to do.
That’s why John Carver’s tweet today struck such a chord with me. He sent out an article entitled Three Trends That Define the Future of Teaching and Learning, by Tina Bardeghian from Mindshift.org. The author framed three key trends in teaching and learning. Teaching and Learning is Collaborative, Tech-Powered and Blended. I like the article, and I like the terms because they are tangible terms with clear definitions for I’m No Good at Technology to grab onto. I won’t summarize the entire article, but like John Carver, I think it’s a must read.
Here’s what I think is most important for change to occur in my context. As a leader, I need to name the change I want to occur. Using the term technology isn’t getting us anywhere. In the same way the word math was intimidating for me, the term technology is a nameless, faceless behemoth that equals fear for some of the administrators and teachers in my district. If technology is the answer to every question, it’s not an answer at all. It’s just like highlighting every word on the page in the book. It’s no more useful than highlighting nothing.
One of the biggest challenges I faced when I left the classroom and entered administration was learning to work with teachers around what would work for them, and not what I would do in any given situation. My style, my way isn’t the right way. It’s just a way. I had a vast instructional toolbox to meet the needs of my students in my teaching style. I had to increase my toolbox to be able to support teachers in their own style of instruction. As I write this, I think I’m in a similar place now with tech tools. I’ve only been on twitter since July, and blogging for an even shorter time. I know how I am learning, and how I want to use Social Media and Web2.0 tools, but I haven’t yet expanded my toolbox enough to have an answer for all of I’m No Good at Technology’s questions to help them feel more comfortable and ready to meaningfully apply tech tools in the classroom.
Here’s what I do know. As a district, we need to rethink how teaching and learning is occurring and we need to be purposeful about the why of technology. To move forward, we need I’m No Good at Technology to engage in the conversation. We need to understand that in the same way it hasn’t been acceptable for me to be Not a Math Person, “technology” is a vital component of teaching and learning. But I have to practice how I speak about tools. I need to practice being more purposeful about why tools are relevant in the context of student learning. As a leader, I need to build a bridge between using Social Media, using Web2.0 tools and the skills students need to be successful in their future. I have to continue to build my own toolbox to speak about these issues more articulately so we can move forward as a district.
Is anyone else having a similar struggle? How are you handling these challenges?
Alan Guth Equations by opacity
Logo2.0 part 1 by Ludwig Gatzke
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Bridge over Tara by daninho _ibk
This post is cross-posted on the Growing Good Schools blog