It is back to school time for many of us in the United States and beyond… welcome to the future! I dedicate this post to all of you wonderful educators . Please enjoy this reflective journey.
It was a normal first day back to school. The building was still quiet and still. I could sense there was an air of extreme excitement and anticipation in the air. I sat at my desk and pondered the reality of a new year wondering about the new faces I would greet. I already knew that all too soon I would be waving good bye to another group I had come to know so well. It is amazing what the short period of a school year brings to both educators and students. Suddenly awakened from what was either my deep reflection or possibly a type of relaxing nap that only the whisperings of being another year older can bring, a panicked voice was heard at my classroom door.
He was a brand new teacher dressed as one who just might enlighten the downtown business club, yet he stood with the glazed eyes of a student still waiting for that moment of enlightenment. I had seen it all before, perhaps even in the reflection of a distant mirror over thirty-four years ago. He was summoning me to his room, not that I regarded it as his… at least not yet. You see, I had great respect for the educator who had been a part of the four walls that this soon to be teacher was leading me to. As he led me through the doorway of his new headquarters for dissemination of information I couldn’t help but notice a peculiar feeling of past warmth that was missing. It was a indescribable void, covering a large aura which had been in place for nearly fifty years.
As he motioned for me to look at the archaic blackboard behind the new, still packaged, and not yet plugged in interactive whiteboard I couldn’t help but smile. There, still written with chalk that had the smell of fresh dust, were the words “A Message from an Analog Native”. Then I heard the young teacher’s voice asking how he might get rid of the words. He pleaded that, after all, he saw no button to push to dissolve the print. I smiled and walked to the board and picked up the eraser. I cleverly planned to display to this obviously digital native, one of this school’s first such inductees, the magic of an eraser. I even had my strategy for providing a professional development moment on the use of chalk. After all, improper use of chalk can lead to an annoying screech that will send most students diving under their desks. As I held up the eraser I walked to the board and began to perform the ancient teacher ritual of erasing a black… not green,board. Amazingly, it did not work out the way I had planned. As I observed the pupils of this brand new teacher’s eyes grow large, I turned to the board and took a step back in awe. Not only were the words not disappearing… but new words were beginning to appear underneath. It was now quite obvious that we were both extremely engaged in the lesson that was about to begin. I have recorded for you the amazing script that came before my eyes that very day.
The Ten Lessons
Welcome to your new classroom. I am sure you are going to explain and teach in a way that I might never understand. You see, I come from a day of filmstrip projectors that beeped, ditto paper that left my fingers blue and the students enjoying the scent, bells that really did ring out a mechanical melody, 16 millimeter films that, if in color, amazed the kids. In fact, if these films were shown backwards it provided bonus entertainment. In recent years I have heard words that are so strange to me. These words include foreign terms such as twitter, blog, wiki, Skype, web 2.0, clickers, and interactive whiteboards. I have heard all this talk about 21st century skills and I am not even sure if I can tell you what they are. So there you have it. I am not one of those digital natives, nor am I a digital immigrant! I may not even be an analog native or immigrant. So, even though I do not know all the new terms, I thought that I might give you a list of ten items I feel just might ensure success no matter what century it is.
- You come to school to serve your students. Put them at the center of their learning. Find great books, integrate fascinating projects, and include engaging resources. As you do this, always remember that students must be at the center of their learning.
- As you teach you will come upon some amazing tools. My very first full sized erasable blackboard was wonderful and I was amazed by the pull down map. I remember the very first time I used colored chalk and our very first classroom set of encyclopedias. Imagine having almost all the knowledge of the world in your classroom. Please remember that tools are only as effective as those who use them. You will be introduced to amazing new tools. Make sure these tools become the servants and not the masters of your teaching.
- Realize that every student is truly gifted. It may be that your job is to find that special gift and make the student aware of it. Each gift is different and will ultimately lead that student to an interest and vocation that they find great pleasure in while contributing to society. They may even come back some day and thank you for revealing that gift to them.
- Learning does not just happen in the classroom. Open your students to the world by introducing them to experts, authors, cultures, and multiple disciplines. Teach them to become lifetime learners who will embrace learning beyond the classroom and beyond their school experience. It seems this world is ever changing and, in order to keep up with things, they may need to someday be their own teacher.
- Allow your students the experience of searching for success. This involves allowing multiple attempts, occasional failure, and eventual triumph. Learning does not always need to be graded, but must always be guided. Remember, it is not always the destination, but in most instances… the journey. Allow your students those journeys with multiple opportunities and outcomes.
- Encourage cooperation, teamwork, and healthy competition. Teach your students that the thoughts and contributions of many can be so much more powerful than just the contribution of one. Emphasize true discussion and listening, and allow for discourse. The ability to work, plan, and play together has been, and always will be, an important skill.
- Promote thinking that is outside what many might consider the box. Allow your students to have their own ideas, play with possibilities, and invent what doesn’t exist. Not everything in life can come from your textbook. Remember, what we believe as facts today could change in twenty-five to fifty years. It seems that information probably doubles every hundred years. I suppose that might even speed up a bit as time goes on.
- It seems that all of us learn best by doing. Allow your students to not just hear it or read about it. Provide them with real life experiences and allow then to do it. Guide them as they are doing so they are learning relevant content and gaining new skills. Give them some say in what they are doing.
- Remember your humanness. Always have a sense of humor and be yourself. Remember that teaching is a people business. Enjoy the laughter, the stories, the victories, the accomplishment, and the small (but really big) moments that can only happen in a real live classroom. Some say that someday robots or some kind of two way wireless radio will take over education. I truly think this will never happen because teachers will always show that the human element is essential. A smile from a real person sure beats that of a robot or a distant person on a wireless radio covered in distant sounds of static.
- Always remember that you teach children… not subjects such as science, history, arithmetic, ciphering, citizenship, reading, English, and shop. You see, it is the teaching of children that convinced me to get into this amazing business… and it is the reason that most great teachers have a hard time giving up a classroom like this.
Please take good care of this classroom. It never was mine, only one that I was allowed not just to educate children in, but so much more. It was a classroom in which I was allowed to perpetuate a culture of learning for almost fifty years. You see, not all of these ideas were mine. I found them on an old slate lying in a back closet when I first entered this room. I was so happy I had a pencil in hand, because no faster had I made my copy than the words on the slate disappeared. I think I may have made a few changes. I know I will have a chance in my retirement to read about some of these new tools and even learn about these 21st century skills. It will probably give me a chance think about what I might have done to make learning in my classroom even better. When I find out… I might even send you a message. Until then, please take care of this old classroom and, more importantly, take even more care with those children who will enter tomorrow and thereafter. I know you will perpetuate the culture of learning that has permeated these four walls for more years than even those I taught.
You know… there wasn’t much to say. I looked at the new kid who seemed even more ready to teach. His eyes appeared already a few years older. As we both stood there we saw the old blackboard magically erase and turn a clean dark shade of black. I picked up the eraser that I had dropped during this unusual encounter and handed it over to the new guy. He opened the closet door and threw it in. I heard a gentle thump as it landed on something that may have been a slate. Together, we both unpacked and plugged in his new interactive whiteboard. He carefully positioned it so he could still see a portion of that old blackboard from his desk. We both knew why. As I walked out of the room that day I couldn’t help but think about the history that just might occur in that old classroom in the next fifty years. But, I had plans to make and students to get ready for as I was incorporating many of those new 21st century skills I had been reading about all summer. I was so excited about providing so many new opportunities for my students. After all, this is a new era for new techniques and strategies.
Booking Info - Are you looking for a practical and affordable professional development workshop for your school or conference? I have traveled the country delivering PD relating to technology integration, PBL, STEM, Digital Literacy, and the 4 C’s. I have done 100′s of workshops and presentations. Check out my Booking Page… Dates are going fast, with time up to and including December just about filled, but i am taking 2014 dates.
cross-posted at 21centuryedtech.wordpress.com
Michael Gorman oversees one-to-one laptop programs and digital professional development for Southwest Allen County Schools near Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a consultant for Discovery Education, ISTE, My Big Campus, and November Learning and is on the National Faculty for The Buck Institute for Education. His awards include district Teacher of the Year, Indiana STEM Educator of the Year and Microsoft’s 365 Global Education Hero. Read more at 21centuryedtech.wordpress.com.