Only a Never Away

Two experiences recently within classrooms have me musing about the “nevers” we set up for ourselves. I think what caught my attention was the seemingly connected comments from two separate teachers. Both comments occurred while sharing the navigational ins and outs of the HWDSB Commons blogging platform. I use the term blogging platform loosely, because aggregating and collecting all of the posts from the numerous websites the Commons hosts is a Social Network functionality that extends the site beyond mere blogging tool and creates connections and collaborative opportunities across the board from multiple users.

This Social Network portion can be scary: moving from an educational culture where our classrooms are private places, where we ban YouTube and Facebook and Cellphones, towards one where we see these tools as relevant, engaging, and frankly so cohesively knit into the culture that to feign ignorance as to their importance in the lives of the students we teach, and to pretend that they they have no place in the classroom, no function within the learning space, is folly. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that Facebook does not permeate the walls of our classroom, even if we don’t use it as an instructional tool. We cannot deny that we ourselves have “googled” for the answers to questions we have (perhaps from our smartphones). One of the key functions of the Commons is to create a safe space to teach students how to navigate social networking spaces. I’m not advocating the use of Facebook (I’m not dismissing it either) within an instructional space as much as I’m saying we need to teach students how to navigate those spaces. We need to allow them to make monitored mistakes in an environment that relishes the teachable moment before they go off ill-prepared into the Facebook where their mistakes are more indelible, and more likely shared without the vetting, guiding eye of a caring adult watching over them.

Which brings me to the two comments.

The First:

I never do Facebook, or anything like that, so I’m not comfortable teaching within this space.

The Second:

I’m on Facebook, but I don’t get Twitter, and will never use something like that.

These are interesting “nevers” because they are imaginary roadblocks. As educators, as learners, as the ones leading and modelling learning for young minds whom we hope to inspire to be lifelong learners, why do we suddenly decide that our brains are full, and we are no longer capable of learning new things? Why is the statement not, “I never do Facebook, so I’m going to need a bit more help to learn how to do this” or “I don’t understand how Twitter works, could you explain it to me before I dismiss it outright”. Are we afraid that the students will see us make mistakes? Are we afraid that the students will make mistakes in a public forum that may embarrass us? Are we afraid that parents will see us make mistakes? The revolutionary teacher, who teaches out loud, and takes risks, and embraces failure as a learning opportunity, is running the classroom the community wants their child enrolled in (they’ve sent the request to your principal). As teachers, we need to flatten the walls of the classroom to allow parents to see the learning taking place within, and engage parents in that learning by making them partners who can extend the ideas beyond the school day, and ensure they have been proactively informed of the purpose — in the same way we share learning goals with our students so that they know where we are going, we need to share the learning goals with our parents — so that they understand the motivation behind what we do; so that when mistakes are made, the learning behind those mistakes is clear. We need to stop holding onto the idea that we are the keepers of the knowledge, and allow ourselves to be co-learners with our students. Admitting you don’t know everything is courageous. Admitting you don’t want to learn something is troubling.

I’m not saying that those two teachers need to get on the Commons, or get on Twitter; only that they need to re-evaluate their “nevers”. I position that we must never say “never” when faced with new learning opportunities. We must be constantly ready to learn something new, and model life-long learning to the young minds in our charge.

Published by jarbenne

Jared Bennett is the Student Information System Consultant at Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.

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