Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Few More Random Thoughts

As the year winds down and I gear up for NECC, I have been thinking about how things went in school, about how things are progressing in my life, about - well, as Douglas Adams says, "Life, the Universe, and Everything." (This is the second time a book title of his came to my mind this week. I think it's time to reread The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.)

So what have I learned this year?

1. Failure leads to learning.

I know this probably sounds simple to most of you but it took me 44 years to figure this one out. I always view failure as - well, as failure. Not an option. And I am known as one who is persistent, tenacious - the adjectives can get nasty here depending on who is labeling me. But I finally realized this year that with every failure, comes learning.

How did this revelation occur? I taught a staff development course in the spring. It was one of many classes I have taught in the past few years. My courses are always evaluated quite well, boosting my ego enough to make me want to keep teaching these courses.

But the last course I taught was different. Somehow I knew during the class that not everyone was with me. It was a course on what a 21st century classroom looks like. I worked long hours planning for the class. Figured I'd do my usual - dazzle 'em with my charm and knowledge. Show 'em that I am here to help anytime. Instead, some of the people in the class evaluated me poorly. They wrote on the evaluations that this was too high a level, it shouldn't have been labeled as a beginner class, and there were too many tools discussed during the 15 hours.

So I went home crying. My goal, afterall, is to charm everyone. Everyone loves me. Why would anyone say this? The next step, denial. Of course, it must have been teachers who only took the class for the credit. They don't really want to learn. What a waste of my time! But, finally, the learning came in.

Of course the class was too difficult for some teachers. I am talking about copying urls, hyperlinking pages, setting up user accounts. Perhaps some teachers need to learn how to do these basic things. Perhaps a class needs to be run that truly is a beginner class. How do we copy and paste? What is a url and how do we find it on the page? How do we save to folders and flashdrives? How do we search for information? So now I am creating just such a class. Truly a beginner class. How did I miss the fact that the digital divide left some people very far behind? How can I help bring these people up to speed? Now I feel excited about teaching these teachers. And I can handle the failure because of the learning it brought me.

2. Change involves risk, if one is to be successful.

For those of you who don't know me well, I hate change. I have mentioned this in previous blogs. I like things to stay the same - always - regardless of how much I despise the way things are. Everytime a change has occurred in my life, it has occurred for one of two reasons. One - I am forced. Two - I am so sick of hearing myself complain that I force the change to occur. The first is occurring this summer when my principal retires and a new principal begins. I have no choice in the matter. And I love my principal.

My fear, with my new principal, is that my program will be halted. My choices are continue working as is but keep things quiet. Don't celebrate award wins, don't even apply for awards. Don't send out emails about new ideas and projects. Just keep things hush hush. But where is the risk in that? Another choice would be to continue sharing everything I learn and hope that my new principal will be just as open as the old one. Afterall, do I really want to work in a district where I need to work secretively?

3. Learning never stops.

When I first started working in my district, I was 23 years old. I was hired and started setting up my room one week before the students arrived. I was nervous, excited, and very pressed for time. I worked endless hours that week, getting everything just perfect, planning my lessons, finding material, and meeting new staff members. On Friday, the last day I had to prepare, a teacher came into school to set up her room. She pulled paper off the bulletin boards to expose the posters she put up the prior year. Then she pulled open her desk drawer, pulled out her plan book from the year before, opened it to September and said, "Okay. I'm ready."

I was impressed and awed. "Oh," I said to my principal later that year, "someday I want to be so together that I, too, can pull out my planbook from the year before and be ready for a class." His response, "Hope you never get that way. It is not something to aspire to."

I didn't get it. I didn't know much about this teacher but she had to be good if she perfected her plans in prior years. Of course, now I look back on that and understand completely. She had stopped learning and growing. I don't ever want to stop learning. When I do, I hope I realize it and I leave the classroom.

Sometimes, I still dream of a day when at least one unit I plan will be perfect when I look at it again. But somehow, the children have different needs, the timing is just a bit off, the projects won't work with the present group. There's always something I've learned that makes me need to change things around. And I guess it's always going to be that way.

4. NECC is scary.

Yes, I know. I have been talking about how excited I am about NECC since I first registered months ago. But now that the time is here, I am scared. I am scared that I won't recognize anyone and no one will recognize me. I am scared that I will be wandering around each day wondering where I am supposed to be. I am scared that I will miss something important or something I signed up for because I am wandering around aimlessly. I am scared that my hotel reservation will fall through, that I will miss my plane, that I will not find a shuttle to get me to the hotel.

Why is all this happening? This is a first for me. I have NEVER flown without my husband. I have only been away from him and my daughter for a night at a time and this occurred only within the last two years. (We have been together for 23 years.) He is the one who always makes all of our travel plans. I rely on him to get me where I need to be. Now I have to rely on myself. This is pretty scary. And most scary of all is having this revelation at 44.

So NECC is not only the most exciting conference experience I've had, it is also another learning experience for me. I guess I should be happy that the learning keeps going on.
* Pictures: Not Yet Another Failure by Behrooz Nobakht on Flickr
Lesson Plans by Fuschia Foot on Flickr

19 comments:

Ryan Bretag said...

Lisa:

I think number three speaks to the type of professional you are and how you are striving to make a difference not only within your classroom and with your students but with all students that enter your school.

By sharing and risk-taking, you are opening yourself up to criticism but understanding it will lead to the type of change that benefits all.

I commend you!

PS: I have a feeling you'll be fine at NECC but I can imagine the level of anxiety has to be high.

Mrs.A said...

Lisa,
I have enjoyed following your journey this past year, learning with you and from you. NECC can be overwhelming, but you will do fine as long as you realize you can't do it all, you will make spontaneous changes during the day, go with the flow, enjoy the networking and collaborations. Learning will be everywhere and friends will be everywhere. Take a deep breath, hop on the wave and enjoy the ride. I so look forward to meeting you f2f.

mmkrill said...

I'm not sure if it makes any difference or not, but you are not alone in your feelings. Many of my workshops are more than the teachers bargain for - they attend hoping for a stand and deliver experience and when they have to work, some leave feeling unhappy.

Your beginner course is a good offering, I hope the ones that need it come and really learn so they can move forward.

Be sure to be on the lookout for others that are wandering around aimlessly at NECC - I'm sure to be one of them. If we run into each other, that will be great and a nice side benefit to feeling lost:)
Michelle

diane said...

Lisa,

I think I'm too ignorant to be as scared as I should be about NECC. I've been blogging for a little over a year; I spent many of my working years outside of the ed/tech world. I'm 61 years old and beginning over, yet again.

My fear is that my facility with words will betray me - that my online personna will peel away to leave an earnest but puzzled over/under achiever.

My husband will be in San Antonio, but not as a NECC attendee. Please be sure we meet up! We can remind each other why we're in SA and how we got there. Should be an interesting conversation.

diane

Congerjan said...

Lisa,
Have fun at NECC. I wish I was going. I have never been either and hope to change that next year. I actually went to my first conference this year too. And I agree, it was a little scary but it was also fun and so worth it. I brought home so many new thoughts that i am still sorting them out. Enjoy!
Jan

jenny said...

Hi Lisa,

Thanks for sharing in such an open and honest way. I wish I was going to NECC, but no mind, I'll immerse myself in the online conversations and soak it up that way. It's a long way from Melbourne, Australia. I presented at a conference on Saturday and once again came away surprised at how far ahead I seem to be compared to other teachers who can barely cope with email. We do have to understand that in order to bring people with us we have to make them feel comfortable about joining us in the journey, and hand holding is going to be required. Enjoy your NECC experience - many will recognise you from Twitter - you'll be fine.
Jenny Luca.

Clarence Fisher said...

Lisa; Thanks for being open and sharing your thoughts and worries. You are truly one of the people I am looking forward to meeting in San Antonia. I have ustreamed into your classroom a few times this year and am amazed by the space you have created. As for attending a major conference, I always plan ahead of time, look at schedules, make some decisions, and then be open to changing any or all of my schedule when I get there and see what is happening. Certainly there are sessions I want to go to, but more importantly, there are many people I want to meet.

Have a safe trip and I'll see you in a week!

Cathy Nelson said...

I am so excited for your journey in teaching and your journey to NECC. Last year when went, i had just gotten to where I was using tools, so I was like a star-struck fan who couldn't really speak. All I could do was stare and say over and over there goes so and so. My reader had come to life Im not kidding you! At Edublogger Con it was so nice to meet the people I read and to see that we all have a common theme and belief system. There we could debate and disagree without worry of hurting anybody's feelings, Twitter was not a concern in the least(though it was popular), and you could speak your mind and not fear losing Twitter followers or readers. But that was the beauty of face-to-face. No room for misinterpretation or naysayers to stir the ot. If you were not clear on a meaning, you could ask for clarification, and the whole group would get involved. You are absolutely going to be a CELEBRITY at NECC, and I for one will have my camera so prepare to be photographed!!

I'm also pleased as punch to see that while you are disappointed with the course eval, you realize some need even babier steps than what was provided, and you have set a new course to meet their needs. BRAVO!

44? I'm 45 and very proud of it! Welcome to the forty something club! See you at your poster session IF no where else (but will be VERY disappointed if that is the only place we get to meet!)

Andrea Hernandez said...

I appreciate your honesty. These are the types of posts that mean the most to me. It helps to give me courage and to make me realize that maybe I'm a little too hard on myself sometimes. Even Lisa Parisi has people who don't appreciate her!
Anyway, I just wanted to leave a comment. There are a lot of comments already. Your post obviously struck a chord.
I wish I was going to NECC! I'm sure you will have a great experience there.

Moturoa said...

Hey

I'm in the over 50 club- (only just).

And you can teach an old dog new tricks. NECC will be great- if you get stuck- tweet via ph and someone will come to your rescue.

If you hear a kiwi or aussie accent do go over and introduce yourself as there are about 30 of us at NECC this year and I am sure we would know mutual friends. Have a ball.

We are all learners!!

Cheers

Allanah K

Karen Janowski said...

Love, love, love your post!
Once again, Lisa, you have nailed it with your insights and examples.

#1 is one of the most important points we can teach our students once we learn it for ourselves. Out of failure comes possibilities. Failure offers us the chance to improve, to adjust, to modify. The result is the opposite of complacency which is what you are describing in #3 with your "experienced" teacher example.

Who you are comes through so clearly in your posts - a woman who values learning, reflection and pedagogy and is not afraid to admit faults. Thank you for being vulnerable with your readers. (And that could be point #5 - Vulnerability in the Edubloggersphere is a good thing).

Lisa Parisi said...

Ryan, I never realized how important life-long learning really is to creating an ever-changing, ever-growing classroom environment.
Mrs. A, I too look forward to meeting you f2f at NECC. You are one of the people I will be relying on to help me out when I am wandering aimlessly. :)Michelle, I did need this reminder to take a few steps back in my teacher instruction. And I’m glad we can wander NECC together.
Diane, congratulations on being a 61 year old learner. I admire you.
Jan, I expect to be going through my findings from NECC for quite awhile after I return. Be sure to check ustreams for your access to NECC from home.
Jenny, do you, as I do, get continually surprised by the lack of knowledge? I know I keep needing reminders so I will slow down and help make this technology accessible for all.
Clarence, all I can say is- OMG Clarence Fisher wants to meet me? I am floating!
Cathy, we must meet up for drinks at some point. So much to discuss!
Andrea, you made me laugh. If there’s one thing I am very good at, it’s making mistakes, sometimes over and over. And I obviously have no trouble acknowledging that to everyone who is willing to listen. ;)
Allanah, I so wish you were going to be at NECC. Someday, we will meet f2f. In the meantime, we can continue to connect online.
Karen, next time I will add vulnerability. I don’t think this is something I have an issue with. :)

colleenk said...

Hi Lisa,

What a refreshingly honest post!

I'm so glad you were able to learn from the negative evaluations. It's too easy to remain stuck in the "taking it personally" stage. It's always tricky to know where a beginner class should actually begin. I rarely get it right.

I don't understand why you think your program could be halted. What you've done has helped students make tremendous gains in their learning. I would encourage you to talk openly about your work and share your results. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Loved the story about the pre-planned lessons. Lessons are meant to evolve over time. That was a wise principal. Sadly, I think a lot of college professors (in my day) pulled out archaic pages of notes and delivered the same lesson year after year.

You're going to have an incredible time at NECC. I can see how it would be overwhelming, though. I can't wait to read your post-NECC blog.

vejraska said...

Lisa,
I'm telling ya'... wear the shades and I'll see you coming a mile away! I hope we run into each other at some point- I will be cruising the NECC world on my own as well, so I hope we run into each other early and we can be lost together! Looking forward to it:)
~tansmom~

nhill said...

Lisa,
Best of luck to you at NECC. I can understand your fear. I too had a first time away from my family in many years this week. Although, my trip is not nearly as exciting as flying to NECC. I am away at a clinical experience for my masters program. I had to drive 3hours. I can handle that, but I am the one that handles everything in our household. I was fearful as to how my husband and children would make out without me for the week. As it turns out they are just fine. My husband is a very capable father. I have learned that I need to stand back more and let him lead. This is hard for me. I am very independent and it is hard for me to let others do, what I can do for myself. I enjoyed your blog, best of luck.

Lisa Parisi said...

Colleen, it only took me 44 years to learn to get past the "taking it personally" stage. ;) Glad I finally did. I will miss you next week. Look forward to hooking up closer to home.

Tansmom, I do still have those shades. Will be wearing them outside all the time. But maybe I can be so cool that I will need them indoors too. ;)

NHill, I didn't even want to get into the worry I have over leaving my husband and my daughter together. But I trusted him for her first five years of life (he was a stay-at-home dad) so I guess he can handle the pre-teen years (maybe even better than me).

mrsdurff said...

I do the same thing Parisi. See the kids know exactly what I mean and are never afraid to ask. Adults, especially the ones labelled teachers, are a different story. I have only met one adult who is not threatened by being wrong. She and I learn so much from each other because of our attitudes. She is a high school graduate. I wonder if years in schooliness places has anything to do with it?

Stephen C. Veliz said...

Great post. I was so glad to read #3. I've been teaching for only about 4 years now (came to my calling late), but I'm struck by these same thoughts each August as I'm setting up my room. In fact, I've already begun mentally scrambling about my new US History course next year. But I'm beginning to agree with your first principal, my teaching wouldn't go as well, or be as rewarding, if it were already in the can.

Keep posting from NECC. All the tweets and posts from those attending are convincing me that I need to be there next year.

Ann Oro said...

Lisa:
Your points hit home on so many levels. I'm always amazed at how the blogs I read somehow underestimate the tech ability of others. I hate the feeling that I'm overwhelming people. I think it's easy to forget how hard what we are doing is to many, many people.

I can understand the new principal fears. All change creates fear. Take a deep breath and make it business as usual - because that's how it is in your classroom.

I hope I never stop learning. This is what make life interesting.

I've been to two conferences this year and met some wonderful people. Even though it's scary, it's actually nice to not feel alone at a big conference. Instead of walking in feeling like a total stranger, you find a nice group that you're somewhat familiar with. From your next post, I can see how that has already happened for you.

I'm looking forward to the day I finally meet you face to face.

Ann