I’ve been back from EduBloggerCon and ISTE for a few days now, and the high that comes from such an energizing gathering has begun to wear off. Now I’m left with the real work of attending a conference: reflecting afterward on how everything fits into the big picture of my work, and allowing what I’ve learned to shape my future practice. How will the things I’ve learned impact the way I blog, write, and coach teachers? Can the amazing stuff I’ve seen actually be implemented in my real life? What will my role be in creating change?
Here’s what I’ve come to understand about the different types of people in our field. The educators who tend to frequent large conferences–especially ed tech conferences–are often like haute couture fashion designers. They are visionaries who think outside the box and enjoy pushing the envelope. A select few people can afford to buy into their visions and pull them off, but there’s often a divide between them and the average person. The response to high end fashion is often: “Who would ever wear that? That would look ridiculous on me!” And the response to edu-visionaries is often: “How am I supposed to do that? That would be ridiculous in my school! It’ll never work for me.”
The thing about high fashion is that it’s not intended for the masses. The gigantic hats and orange eyeshadow and outlandish outfits are never meant to be seen on a regular American woman as she does her grocery shopping. Instead, haute couture designers understand that they will set the trends and inspire other designers to reinvent their ideas in ways that make sense for the average consumer.
People who are passionate about fashion will watch the runways and incorporate bits and pieces of the latest styles; they’ll take small trends that fit their personal style and adapt them to varying degrees. And those who couldn’t care less about fads but don’t want to become outdated will wait for the ideas to trickle down to magazines and their favorite clothing stores, and then start selecting new items that fit within both their budget and their existing pieces.
I think our natural approach to the evolution of fashion should be the way we should approach our personal evolution in educational practices. All educators can attend conferences, read the latest books, and grow through their personal learning network to figure out what works for them in their current realities. Some will be the trend followers who devote a large portion of their free time to experimenting with new ideas and sharing them. Some will hang back and wait until a trend is ubiquitous; only once they’ve seen it work for other people will they attempt to try it themselves. And that’s perfectly fine. There’s a role for each type of person in fashion as well as education.
As a consultant and edublogger, I’m creating rather than just consuming, but my style is less couture and more ready-to-wear. My passion is taking the big trends and ideas and making them accessible for everyone. The visionaries at ISTE are pioneering revolutionary ideas like the paperless classroom with 1:1 computing. I watch and listen. And then I think, How does that translate today for the teacher who doesn’t know how to turn on an LCD projector and only has a 2004 Dell in her classroom? What are the implications and applications for her?
Unlike haute couture designers, edu-visionaries don’t always accept that the average person is never going to fully embrace their ideas (and more importantly, doesn’t really need to.) As a result, the typical educator can sometimes be a bit apprehensive about the new ideas which threaten their status quo.
But in education, we need people who understand pedagogy to dream big. All of us understand that our educational system is seriously screwed up, and someone who cares about kids has to plan for change. We need edu-visionaries to imagine new possibilities and share ideas about how to change the way we think about education. We need them to build new narratives about teaching and learning. Then, the rest of us can take a step back and consider what works for tech beginners in schools with little updated technology and limited PD support for teachers.
There’s nothing to resist in 21st century visions of education when you realize that you don’t need to overhaul your entire teaching style. Have the confidence to accept yourself at exactly the place you’re at in your professional development, and don’t allow yourself to feel intimidated because you don’t know what a hashtag is and you’ve never heard of Moodle. THAT’S FINE. You don’t have to be visionaries! Their role is to serve as inspiration, not the object of emulation. Rather than compare yourself and get discouraged, let their ideas stir you up, give you new ideas to try, and help you recreate your passion for teaching.
After ISTE, I feel even more impassioned about helping classroom teachers improve their practice. I have a stronger sense of the direction the edu-visionaries are helping move us toward, and I see the ways their ideas can work for educators who don’t yet have either the technology or the know-how to get there. I’m seeing the baby steps along the way. And I’m also seeing the hang-ups and reservations, which are usually based on the management piece (How do you teach kids to care for computers? How do you ensure they’re on-task and learning, not just wasting time? How do you keep current with the latest educational tools when you’re trying to have a personal life? And what do you do when you’re in the middle of a lesson and the wifi connection drops?)
These are the small details that I love. I’m happy that someone else is dreaming big right now on their blog, because on mine, I’ll be coaching teachers through the little stuff. Different voices and different approaches working together: that’s how we create real and lasting change.
In opening my eyes to new possibilities, the edu-visionaries I’ve had the privilege of interacting with at ISTE have done their job. And I’ll be doing mine by sharing the practical, realistic applications here.