Monday, June 30, 2008

First Impressions of NECC

Here it is Monday morning and I’d like to tell you my first impressions of NECC.

First you should know that I was not here on Saturday. I spent Saturday in various airports trying to get here. But that’s a whole other story. So my first day was Sunday which I spent at Gary Stager’s Constructivist Consortium.
It was at the Consortium that I met my first twitter friends. I’m not sure what was more exciting – learning how to use Frames and creating ideas for next year’s class, or sitting with online friends while learning. Personally, I think it was the latter. I did, however, leave right after lunch to head back to the hotel to see if my luggage had arrived.

This lead to my second impression. I had to get back to the airport to actually pick up my luggage if I wanted to change my clothes. So Christine and I sent out twitter messages asking if anyone with a car would be willing to do this for us. Two people came through. One, Sandy, is someone who follows me. I have never even spoken to her before. And she volunteered. Isn’t that amazing? The other, Derrall Garrison, was at the Constructivist Consortium that morning and came to the rescue. I was impressed with, not only the power of the network, but also the kindness of virtual strangers. Thank you, Derrall.

And, last, the people. I have met and talked with some of the best minds out there. I spent my day feeling a bit star struck as I met, chatted with, a snapped a picture of each one. (I would love to add the pictures here but I left my card reader home.) It is so amazing, also, to be able to have a conversation about 21st Century education with people who know what I am talking about, agree with what I am saying, and can contribute something of their own to the conversation. I am among people from which I can learn. And that is a wonderful thing.

By the way, today will be the first day I actually attend a NECC session. Looking forward to it.

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