Who is telling the story of education today?
I recently spent the last year working with teams of teachers in our four elementary schools on two technology integration initiatives: the iPad Initiative and the Chromebook Initiative. Teachers volunteered to learn about how to use tools like iPads and Chromebooks in their classrooms over the course of several professional learning days in the summer and throughout the year. In order to monitor the progress of student and teacher learning, I asked all the participating teachers to join either the iPad or Chromebook, depending on which initiative they were in, Google Plus communities created for teachers to share and ask questions of one another since meeting after school was not always feasible.
At first, some of the teachers shared ideas and thoughts about what they were doing and learning with iPads and Chromebooks in the classroom, but for the most part, the Google Plus communities were not generating the kind of sharing I felt was necessary and expected for those who volunteered to be in these initiatives. I didn’t see much being posted and wondered what was the problem?
I and other teacher leaders for both these initiatives would reach out and remind teachers to post and share, but this did not lead to any change. In all honesty, I was becoming quite frustrated. How can I as the Supervisor of Educational Technology help to promote technology integration in the classroom if I don’t see or hear what is going on in the classrooms of these teachers who volunteered for these initiatives and I believe, knew and understood the expectations? It wasn’t like I was asking to meet before or after school. Teachers are extremely busy and sharing something on our Google Plus community takes all but a few minutes at most, right? I decided to meet with each cohort in each of the elementary schools to see if we could have a conversation about how to better share and tell the story of their classroom and how they and their students were learning using iPads and Chromebooks.
The teachers shared with me how busy they were trying to manage the new evaluation systems, implement a whole new set of standards (the Common Core), creating and delivering SGOs and quite frankly struggling with the new technology they now had at their disposal. At the end of the day, the last thing on their mind was sharing on the Google Plus community. It was foreign to them. Many forgot how to sign in. Some teachers felt that unless they were sharing some amazing lesson plan, there wasn’t much worth sharing with other teachers.
This last point reminds me of what Anne Whitney writes about in her article Lawnmovers, Parties, and Writing Groups: What Teacher-Authors Have to Teach Us About Writing for Publication. She writes that teachers, in studies, have explained that they had to over come what is know as the dandelion feeling to share what is going on in their classrooms. The tallest flower in the lawn is the one that gets chopped off. Teachers feel reluctant to raise themselves up above their colleagues or presume to tell another how to teach. Even teachers who are professionally active outside the classroom often feel they must be quiet about what they are learning and doing. They have that dandelion feeling that they may be shut down or cut down.
One of the teacher leaders in district shared with me that some teachers may feel that they are bragging and that too prevents them from wanting to share. As Whitney writes so accurately in this article, sharing “is not exactly telling others what to do; it’s describing with complexity one’s own decisions and walking readers through the ideas behind those decisions….it’s not a matter of selling the practice to other teachers….it’s a matter of saying, ‘here is something interesting that’s happening, and here are the problems and potential I see in it that might be interesting to you.’ Sharing what we are learning and doing with iPads and Chromebooks is not bragging and I do believe all educators should not worry about being that “dandelion” and “fear the lawnmower”. If we rethink what it means to share and tell our story, we all can benefit from this opening of one’s self. Research actually shows that you personally benefit from sharing because in its essence, sharing is a form of self-reflection. Reflective practice is vital toward the continuous growth and learning for all educators.
Time will show how the meeting to encourage and remind teachers the benefits of sharing and telling their story will unfold. I listened to them and understand them. I do believe they understand me and my position. I wrapped up my meeting with this, and I do think it is a vital message for all of us in this most noble and important professions to remember. If we choose not to share and tell our story as educators, aren’t we surrendering our voice to those “ed reformers” and misguided policy makers such as Chris Christie, Bill Gates, Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee? Won’t we be surrendering our voice to those who want to shape policy based on international benchmarks such as our “mediocre” PISA scores or our so-called “failing schools” and “failing teachers”? Can’t we in our profession begin to frame and change the current story about education today by finding some time to write, blog, tweet, or share on Google Plus communities? I do believe if the public knew more about what we are doing, what our children are learning, how what we do do is enhancing student learning experiences as well as innovating instruction to meet skills and knowledge for a world that is changing daily, the viewpoints of the public would begin to shift. The reason it doesn’t or won’t will not be because of those who misrepresent us (they will always exist and have louder voices and easier access to a news media that is more concerned with entertainment and being a refuge for those seeking their confirmation biases). It will be because we chose to let them tell our story by not telling it ourselves.