Friday, June 23, 2006

Losing the Passion? - a response

(So what do you do when you spend more time posting a comment to somebody's blog than you usually spend writing on your own blog? Well, copy your comment, and put it on your blog as a new post, of course)

Brian Crosby, a sixth grade teacher in Nevada, posted Have Too Many Lost The Passion? - talking about how one of the casualties of "programmed teaching" and testing - is the passion teachers have for their work. Another byproduct is that technology innovation, even real basic web 1.0 stuff, gets swept under the rug and forgotten. I couldn't agree more, and I encourage the reading of his complete post. Here's a bit...

This lack of passion means teachers are having fewer discussions about teaching and learning - and the programs so many of us have to follow leave zero time and resources to promote the kind of teaching we would like to be doing so sharing the new teaching tools becomes irrelevant to all but the few.

This struck a chord with me, so I left this lengthy response:

Brian, nice post. I do agree with you about what is sucking the passion out of the profession. I’m glad you see some cracks in the wall, because I don’t. The demon I’ve been struggling with this year was a schoolwide writing curriculum (built on the “writer’s workshop” idea) that had no technology component - pencil and paper, Mead notebooks, right out of the 19th and 20th centuries. I did it, but I also got my kids blogging - and that experience was just incredible.

Give teachers maybe just a little chance to change on their own, do their own thing, research and try out new things - and then let’s see if the passion is gone.

Yesterday, I brought my colleagues up to our computer lab - I promised them 20 minutes. Last day of work. End of a long day of meetings. I just wanted to show them what the lab would look like next year, since we just upgraded it. Imagine the energy. Imagine the enthusiasm… the drooped shoulders, the exhausted faces.

I talked for about 15 minutes about the lab, upgrades happening this summer, and so on. Then I thought I’d throw in just a bit about blogging. Why not? Nothing to lose, I had talked about it before, shown them my class blog during the year, etc.

I suggested they all get a personal blog going this summer. Just to try it out, I said. I worked myself up to some pretty passionate stuff in about 60 seconds - ending with something like, “if we as teachers don’t embrace and use these incredible new tools, and teach our kids how to use them safely, then I think we will be failing our kids, and I think ultimately, we will be negligent. Nobody else is going to do it. It’s up to us….” etc.

Somebody asked how they could start a blog. I showed them - within 10 minutes, over six teachers had a blog set up. I don’t know how many were successful, everybody was trying at once, getting a username, blog title, etc - I felt like I was back in the classroom again - yikes! It was great.

Now I don’t expect that they will all continue this - but I bet a couple will. I send this story along as an example of what teachers can do when the other stuff is out of the way - the tests, the rigid curricula, the endless meetings, the expectations that they be mindless implementers of the “perfect program”, etc.

I put a little passion out there for my colleagues, and many grabbed at it, even in their exhausted state. They were taking a chance to learn something new, to grow on their own, to experiment, to play. The spark is still there, it just needs to be lit - and given a little room to breathe.

I’ll get back to you on my “rant” later. - Mark


Graham Wegner said...

My only problem (and it is my problem!) is that when my passion about blogging starts to flow, I think I leave the audience behind as I wax lyrical about global conversation, professional dialogue, our responsibility as teachers to embrace new ways of learning and the huge learning curve I've been on. I think that some feel overwhelmed and I think that my job description in the school actually hurts my cause. I'm the ICT Coordinator (as well as tandem teaching a class) so that sort of makes me the resident "expert" in most of my staff's eyes so naturally I should know all about this technical stuff and be forging ahead. My teachers will always throw the old "I don't have time" thing at me - maybe it's really how they see it or that's the standard line to get me to leave them alone. The ironic rub is that as we install more of these Interactive Whiteboards at my school, teachers are volunteering to go on a big technology learning curve of their own. They still look at me weirdly when I say that IWB's aren't the future of technology in education just a more up to date way of ingraining traditional pedagogy, and that discovering blogging and other Web 2.0 technologies is, in my humble opinion, way more important. At a presentation the other night at staff meeting, I was showing the bare bones of a IWB presentation my team are doing at a conference later this year. I was trying to weave in new stuff as well, showing them the presentation wiki, the Activboarding blog and at the end, my boss (who is pretty technology savvy) encouraged me to throw my blog up on the big screen and told everyone they should be checking it out. (That was great!) But even then, there were a few hecklers in the audience making a few wisecracks about me not having a life and so on - ironically, I think that some people tend to mock what they fear or can't understand. They actually still believe that school is going to continue in its current form (except with the occasional IWB) for the rest of their careers so ignore the guy frothing at the mouth, showing a bit of passion, at the front of the room. I think you're right though, passion isn't enough, teachers need to be shown the potential and the possibilities. Sorry, Mark, guess I had a little bit of a rant bottled up as well. Have a great break.

Mark Ahlness said...

Graham, I'm with you 100%. I understand all too well the feeling of constantly having to rein in the enthusiasm for fear of alienating people even more. Wish I had an answer. What I have slowly settled into doing is being willing to "let it fly" a little more often. At my ripe old age, I figure what the heck. I've been quietly preaching for so long - with very little local impact - that I might as well not be so quiet. It boils down to style, personality, and so on.

Wow, an IWB! That would be very cool. My school is supposed to get "document cameras" in classrooms next school year - to replace those ancient overhead projectors. This will be exciting, using a new form of technology, but unless it is used in VERY new ways, teachers will be deluded into thinking they are using "the latest" - when, as you suggest, they are only continuing an outdated "traditional pedagogy".

All the best! - Mark