Friday, March 13, 2009

Swimming Without Drowning

I went to a session at a conference recently with the above title. The session was led by a second year teacher (only halfway through her second year!) and the title referred to ways early career teachers could use technology (specifically web 2.0 technology) successfully. The session was, in a word, brilliant.

The leader took us through a number of strategies and tools she'd used in the classroom successfully and they were interesting and well-designed. What was brilliant though, was the philosophy that this young teacher has already developed well enough to be able to articulate it. Some highlights for me from the session:

Don't be afraid of the epic fail.
If you type define: epic into Google (yes, you can do that, you get a page full of definitions from various web dictionaries/references) one of the first phrases to appear is "of heroic proportions." In other words, an epic fail is one for the books, in which the role of hero is played by a teacher. If you set out to write an epic with your students, even if you fail, there will be reflection, discussion, thinking going on. Your students will see you struggle, fail, and think about what to do next time. Isn't that what we want for our students? Lifelong learning? Persistence in the face of difficulty? That ephemeral "pick yourself up, dust off, and try again" ness? So why do we let fear keep us from trying something new? I'm not just talking about technology here either!

Create a window into your classroom. Blogging rocks. I already knew that. My students blog about what they read, their projects, and discuss their posts with each other. I personally blog in three different places for entirely different purposes, not counting the occasional Ning blog post. What I haven't done though, is start a lively, student-run blog with my students. Kinda, sorta knew I wanted to, but just haven't gotten it done. This phrase "a window into the classroom" hooked me. So, the infrastructure is in place, the students are invited and just wait until spring break is over!

Cultivate support. Duh, right? But so easy to forget. We're all about PLNs now, but that's only part of having a strong, collaborative support network. A supportive community doesn't just happen. More importantly, they don't stay strong without regular nurturing. Venting over lunch in the teachers lounge, while it has its place, is not a support network.

Ever since this session, I've been thinking about it in conjunction with a session I attended earlier this month at NAIS that was led by Peter Gow. Truly an illuminating session (I don't blog the boring ones). Peter focused on revitalizing veteran teachers. Peter's session was pretty crowded. Unfortunately, there were only four attendees at the session led by this brilliant early-career teacher. If more of the veteran teachers I saw walking around the conference were attending sessions like Swimming Without Drowning, there might be less of a need for sessions on how to revitalize them!