Getting Over The Hump

I love hump day.

Coming back to educational thought, shouting hump day down the hall to students* got me thinking today about why the hell it's so hard to get over the educational technology hump. The incredible Collen McLain (@colleenmclain) was in my room today troubleshooting an issue with Moodle and I asked her how the whole 1:1 technology initiative was going building-wide. We just finished our 12th day of classes and I was curious how our school as a whole was adjusting to the change.

*I tend to do this many Wednesdays...don't judge me.

The interaction was really interesting. She told me that she had not heard much, and that in her mind no news was good news. I responded that no news might also mean that teachers who weren't comfortable with the technology to begin with were hesitant to try new things, which would in turn lead to e-mails and pleas for help to Colleen. I don't know which one it is. I'm hopeful it's her answer but suspect it might be mine.

There are several teachers that I've been working with who are jumping out of their comfort zone with technology. One of our spanish teachers is tackling Moodle with great zeal, has hit a few bumps, but seems to be moving along steadily. I worked with an english teacher this morning on downloading YouTube videos and uploading them back to Google Drive - something I had actually never tried before but figured out with her. Another social studies teacher has been dropping by my room periodically in the morning to ask questions about Moodle, which has pushed me to make some tutorials you can check out here.

There is certainly learning going on throughout our school, but I suspect there is also a great deal of hesitancy. Heck, I fight as hard as anyone at my school for technology to be unleashed and I'm still nervous about trying a new tool on Moodle or a new website that's been suggested to me. The hesitancy itself isn't bad at all. The reason for the hesitancy is worth some conversation. I hope if you're reading this you'll consider sharing your point of view below in the comments. Hearing others stories is really powerful.

Why is it so hard to get over the hump?

I should leave this to the psychology teachers out there, but oh well. I think back to my first two years of teaching when I regularly began classes at the start of the day with a vague idea of what I wanted to happen but very little direction. I think about the boredom I saw on the faces of the students. I think about the plans I had in my head and on paper that crashed and burned as if being chased by the Red Baron himself. I think about my emotions. I often try to get my kids to think about the emotions of the people we study in history and government.

What did it feel like to hear that people were being beheaded regularly during the French Revolution?

What would it feel like to hear shattering glass as you hide in your home during kristalnacht?

Why is it so easy to ignore the 900 things that went wrong in the hours, days, years and generations leading up to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO? Can you put yourself in the shoes of whatever race you are not and then think about what happened? 

I think back to the emotion of those first years of teaching. I think about the fear that I felt knowing that what I had planned wasn't good enough; knowing that I was not yet an expert in the content that I was teaching; knowing that my ability to scaffold a concept was far from masterful; knowing that this group of students was being taught by a less-complete version of me than is teaching today.

These thoughts can do a lot of things, but I think the worst thing they can do is they can cause me to freeze. If I let these thoughts take over my mind, then I can slip into a space where all I want to do in class is that with which I am extremely comfortable. I know it may not be life-changing or world-shattering, but I know it won't suck either. When it comes down to it, this is why we freeze up when fear and anxiety take over.

And that is the scary part of technology for many of us in the educational world. For those of you who aren't teachers, think about this for a moment:

I teach 6 separate classes on two different subject. That's a a total of 5 hours of true teaching, presenting and all that other things that teachers do each day. To get prepped for those 5 hours, I get 50 minutes. Rinse and repeat day after day for 175.

The prep time that teachers get compared to the time that we are 'on-stage' is ridiculous! Think of a business leader conducting a workshop or presenting EVERY DAY and only getting a little time each morning to adjust and reshape this ongoing presentation. It wouldn't happen! The ratio of prep-time to presentation-time is way out of wack in education.

So when I have something new I want to try, I don't have the time to thoroughly prep, plan and organize this new idea before I put it out there in front of over 100 teenagers. When I think about this with a piece of technology with which I am unfamiliar, the world starts to shrink, I start to sweat and I retreat to cuddling with my cat for safety. You can't think about teaching like this, even though it's the reality.

The Shift...

Here's the shift in thinking that I have learned to accept and that I propose to other educators. We must think of the 'show-time' in class not as show time, but as collaboration time. This is nothing new in education pedagogy, but applying it to our use of technology can be really powerful. My wife, a fantastic educator of children with autism, just gave me this quote that encompasses everything that encourages me to jump over the hump, regardless of what is on the other side of the hill:

"The best teachers are those who show you where to look but don't tell you what to see." 
-Alexandra T. Trenfor

There's the important part. I have knowledge about historical facts and I have knowledge about important skills. I also now have a tool (our laptops) that opens up a ridiculous amount of new places to look and new strategies for looking. And that's my job - to encourage looking without telling the kids what they will find and what they should feel about what they find.

I have talked with my classes a lot this year about process. I tell them that I am going to make a lot of mistakes throughout the year, as are they. I am going to try a lot of new ideas, new websites, new tools and new teaching strategies. The flip side of this is that I need their help and communication in letting me know when something works and when something sucks!

By doing this, something really cool has happened - when I ask how a particular idea worked, I tend to get really honest feedback AND a lot of buy-in as far as student effort goes. I certainly get told when things are boring and lame and suck (and some of them, like reading and writing and presenting, still occur often in class) but I am also told when things are great and when kids really enjoy class. I have heard positivity about class so much more in the first three weeks of this year and I'm convinced that my communication about the process is the reason why.

Changing your thinking about class a process rather than a moment of presentation can make 'the hump' much less intimidating. It raises your vision to a higher level so that you can see 'the hump' as part of a larger journey rather than a single, frustrating obstacle.

How have you gotten over 'the hump' in the past? Share below in the comments section!

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