Tuesday, 18 November 2014

From 'newbie' to connected: How I learned to navigate the world of technology

I have a confession.

I have never used a SMARTboard. I didn’t use email, or even a computer until university. I’m still a bit taken aback when people refer to me as being “good with technology” because it doesn’t fit the image I had of myself for most of my life.

As a school administrator with a strong belief in not asking staff to do things that you aren’t comfortable doing yourself, I began to explore different digital tools that I hoped would support student learning, as well as my own professional growth. During the beginning of this phase I definitely lived the motto, “fake it till you make it”. However, the more I dabbled, the more I discovered that with technology, there is something newer and “better” around every corner. The fact that it’s impossible to keep up with the rate of change is a deterrent for so many educators who are beginning this journey.

After struggling with this for a while, I decided that I needed to be more specific in choosing a focus, and then go deeper into exploring how I could use it to improve my practice. That leads me to about a year ago when joined Twitter.

I had no idea how to use it at the time, but I knew that I wanted to be purposeful about using it to connect with and learn from other educators. It was at this point that I think I really began my journey into using technology as an accelerator to transform my own learning. It has challenged my thinking, caused me to become more reflective about my practice and it has connected me with people and opportunities that I never would have otherwise experienced.

Fast forward to today. I recently returned from Bring IT Together, my first “Ed Tech” conference, hosted by The Educational Computing Organization of Ontario. Had you asked me five years ago, this is certainly not an event that I would have either been interested in or pictured myself attending. I am pleased to say that I’m leaving the conference with a renewed sense of possibility, passion and pride in my chosen field of education.

My next step is to challenge myself by leading an online book study via Twitter. I have led a number of successful book studies with school staff, but leading one online is new territory for me.

How the idea came to fruition…first, I received feedback from staff members at my school that they were interested in reading the book Mindset, The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol S Dweck.

Typically, when I lead a book study, I ask that teachers commit their time outside of school hours in exchange for a copy of the book that they can keep. I was so pleased with the response that 17 staff from my school had committed to participate, that I posted about it on Twitter. Here’s where my planning took a change in course.

Donna Miller Fry (@fryed), an educator from Thunder Bay who I had never met, commented on my post asking me if I planned on connecting with others outside of my school community for the book study. This planted the seed in my mind that perhaps I could organize an online learning community for this purpose, but I still wasn’t sure that I had the skill or connections to effectively do this.

After attending the conference and meeting Donna in person during a session on Becoming Connected Learners, I took the next step and committed to give it my best shot, posting information on Twitter inviting others to join our book study.

“Join some of the staff from Alliston Union school in Ontario Canada while we learn together and connect with our global professional learning network. Beginning Tuesday November 18, we will be meeting once a week, Tuesdays at 3:30 EST. We will discuss one chapter a week. A group of us will be meeting face to face, and I will post our questions and discussion on Twitter for others to join. I will be posting from @A_J_Golding and using the hashtag #mindsetbook”

I have no idea whether people will join online or not, but I can guarantee that it will be a learning experience, which is the most important part!

My goal is to continue to put myself out there and stretch my comfort level with the use of technology in my practice and I encourage other educators to do the same. Change isn’t always easy. The fear of embarrassment is a powerful deterrent, but we ask our students to take risks every day so we need to be models of risk taking in our own learning.

Start by choosing just one technological tool that you are interested in exploring and jump in. Don’t go fast, but really take the time to explore how to go deep with it and use it effectively. When in doubt, get your students to help and learn together. Then, I encourage you to share your experience with others as it is often through those rich discussions with colleagues that we learn the most!

“The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” (Robert John Meehan)

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