Digital Doors was created as a place for me to blog and share resources that I think would be helpful for teachers integrating technology in meaningful ways in their classroom. My goal would be to write a blog post a week, but with my busy schedule, that doesn't happen. I write when I can and rely on nifty tools to help me share what I am finding when I don't have time to write.
I was recently asked to be on an advisory board at the University of Washington. This board is looking into the possibility of developing a certificate course or other type of advanced training for educators who hold similar positions or responsibilities to those of my responsibilities. As a part of this process, I have been asked many questions about just exactly what it is like to be in my position.
I am a teacher on special assignment charged with providing professional development and supporting educators in using technology in ways that amplify student learning. I am one person, supporting a district of 6 elementary schools, 2 middle schools and 1 high school. I work hand in hand with the Teaching and Learning Department in our district which is a great fit because all that I do should support teaching and learning. I am lucky enough to have dedicated teachers in each building who have taken on the role of Digital Literacy Coach at their sites. They are the local cheerleaders who work to model effective use and inspire others to try innovative ideas and gently nudge those who are a bit resistant. Although I get many questions about hardware and software support, I try to communicate these issues with our IS staff and let them handle the support issues with the “stuff”. But, of course these lines are often blurred, when it becomes important for me to be the educator voice that helps the IS staff not only see the technical implications, but also the educational implications. I also, often find my self sharing the tech implications with teachers. In addition to being the connection between teachers and IS staff, I also find myself being the connection between district policies and plans and the classroom teacher. Being out of the classroom for the last 3 years and in the position of trying to help make a bigger system work efficiently, has helped me to see the big picture pieces that myself and other classroom teachers, when we are rightly focused on our own classrooms and students, often miss. What seems best for one individual teacher, might actually cause disruption or delay for many others.
There are many things I love about my job. I love those big picture pieces. I get to see and talk to teachers and students across the district. I am involved in learning initiatives across the curriculum and across grade levels. I get to see how the pieces fit together. How we move from one place to the next. I love that I get to experiment and try new things. I get to spend time researching and developing new ideas. I love that I truly get to be a learner every day. I love that I get to share with others. I love that I get to share how powerful sharing can be with others. I get to dream.
As with any job, there are also things that I wish could be different or are not that fun or pleasant. Although most people would agree, that students and teachers need to be developing 21st Century skills in order to live and work in our society. Unfortunately, as schools we are struggling with so many mandates to do things in a certain way. Money, time and effort are funneled in to what is being tested and measured. Even though my focus for support and resources revolves around tools, resources and skills that can be used to enhance student learning in literacy, math, science, etc. and the district sees the value in my position, it is still very difficult to get people on board. Technology, for the most part is looked at as “one more thing” in a schedule where there is definitely not time for “one more thing.” Not only do teachers feel that they do not have the time to learn to utilize these tools and resources in their classrooms, they also don’t feel that they have “permission” to “teach outside the box”. I have a hard time helping teachers see ways that tech is not an extra, or a supplement. Because of this, I dutifully plan and prepare workshops, blogs, podcasts, tutorials etc. weekly. I jump at every chance to provide ideas and resources when asked. But, when I look at the numbers, I feel like very few are taking the time (or feel able to take the time) to take advantage of the resources I provide. Imagine prepping and planning for your class each day but not knowing if any students are going to show up or who those students might be. It can get discouraging. The other thing that makes my job difficult is the fact that I spend my time connecting with other educators across the world and I see snapshots of how technology is transforming learning in many ways. I get excited about the possibilities, but then I have to be tethered back to earth with ties of lack of funds, lack of time, lack of interest, restrictions to the technology we have etc. I guess that if I wasn’t aware of all the truly inspiring things going on all around me, I wouldn’t be so frustrated at the slowness in which we are moving forward.
I really do love my job, and I love the fact that my mentors and inspiration come not only from teachers in our own district but from educators in all parts of the world. The teachers in our district are so dedicated and hard working. I am sad that so many of them feel the need to apologize each time they see me. “Hi Martha, I’ve been meaning to come to your classes, but I just can’t find the time.” Hi, Martha, I haven’t had a chance to read your blog, but I am saving the link and planning to read it when I retire.” Etc. A common theme is to blame the administration for such things. But I actually feel very supported by our administration. It seems to be a bigger issue. As a district we are growing, improving, working harder than ever to meet the diverse needs of our student population. As we do so, there are so many areas of urgency. Although time and a birds eye view might help us be able to put all the pieces together and come up with some pretty exciting solutions, we lack that luxury of time or the opportunity for seeing things in new ways.
I will continue to look for new ways to support learning opportunities for students and teachers and be as faithful as possible at sharing my birds eye view with all who feel they have time and energy to listen and learn something new.