Monday, April 11, 2016

Learning Together at #MACUL16: Common Ground

Our next guest blogger, Collin Nuismer - Central Middle School ELA, has written an excellent two part MACUL reflection which I am very excited to share with you all.

Below is the first part is his series - Common Ground.

What was my big takeaway from MACUL?  To answer that, I want to start with a conversation I had a few weeks after MACUL. After school, I was out enjoying some beverages with a few colleagues and myself and a colleague started an in depth conversation on the role of technology in the classroom and how its role impacts the role of the teacher. My colleague is an over 25 year veteran of teaching, and, seeing as I’ve only been alive for 27 years, you can imagine that we might have had some differing opinions on the role of technology in the classroom. And, for the most part we did. When I mentioned the word “facilitator” instead of “educator” or “instructor” I could see my colleague cringe, as I did when they mentioned teachers being “replaced by technology.” But, what struck me about our conversation wasn’t our differing opinions about how technology is changing, or will change education; what stuck me was our commonality in why we both enjoy educating, which, simply put, is the art of teaching. The fact that we come to our classroom everyday because our job consists of creating ways to inspire and educate future generations of human beings and we each have the freedom to do this in our own unique way.

As I was reflecting on this conversation during my drive home, I realized that over the last year I’ve had multiple conversations about the role of technology in the classroom with a range of colleagues because of my current label of “blended learning teacher” in our building, and every conversation was, overtly or subliminally, centered around the question “Will the role of a teacher be less in a blended learning classroom?” and, to a more poignant extent, “Will technology take away the art teaching?” The short answer to the latter question is “Absolutely not,” but I think it’s important to understand why this fear, or aversion, or apprehension, or whatever you want to call it, toward technology in the classroom exists in the first place.  

The fact of the matter is we, as educators, operate in one the most unstable and unsettling professional environments of any job in this country. Over the last 20 years, classroom teachers have seen the ideology that drives what we do (pedagogy) change at a more rapid pace than maybe any other profession in America. Throughout that time, we have also been subjected to a number of public disputes centering around our “effectiveness” as educators, but, for the most part, we have never really been asked our professional opinion on how our effectiveness should be judged. Or how the advances in our understanding of adolescent psychology is influencing pedagogy, and thus how it should play a part in any evaluation of our effectiveness. So, when you take all of this instability and mix in the rapid (and I mean seriously rapid) advancements of technology use in and outside of school, it is only natural for any classroom teacher to be skeptical, and maybe a little fearful, of how the proliferation of educational technology, yet another “change,” is going to affect their role as an educator.

So, with all of this in mind, my takeaway from MACUL this year was that we as educators all share a common ground: teaching and inspiring our students to meet and exceed their potentials in our own unique ways. Every educator, from kindergarten to college, has this same goal. We all want to take our individual talents and use them to educate and inspire something special in our students. In essence, that is the art of teaching. Currently, technology happens to be playing, and will continue to play, a much larger role in how we educate and inspire; in how we produce our art. But, the key word in that sentence is “we” because there will never be an alternative for a great teacher. True learning happens because of great instructional design and designing instruction that educates and inspires is a uniquely human quality. It cannot be replaced by any technological innovation.

My experiences at MACUL and discussions with colleagues have lead me to believe that, as educators, we should take our focus away from the unknown fear of what technology could do and instead focus on our common ground as we begin to discuss, debate, implement and iterate the most effective ways to use technology in our classrooms. While doing this we should not discount the unique values each classroom instructor brings to their students, and, above all else, we should understand that technology does not shrink our instructional canvasses; it broadens their potential to educate and inspire.

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