You know the old adage, “It’s lonely at the top”? A similar saying could be applied to forward-thinking, tech-integrating educators like those who make up the ISTE community. “It’s lonely on the cutting edge.”
If you’re one of the few at your school who is Skyping with experts, implementing Genius Hours, creating makerspaces, incorporating project-based learning and otherwise integrating technology to provide a digital age education, maintaining momentum can be a grind. And it can make you start to question your practice and its efficacy.
Stop. Right. There.
Just because you may be among the few ed tech integrators at your school today, it doesn’t have to stay that way. Why not bring others into the fold? Why not begin to see yourself as a catalyst for change? What would happen if you did?
Catalysts for change
In August 2014, a group of educators from Chicago responded to questions just like those —and the payoff was big. After hearing Kevin Carroll keynote at ISTE 2014, teacher Kristen Ziemke and members of her Chicago PLN created a Google Doc to share ideas about how Carroll’s message could transfer to their inner-city students.
Ziemke also tweeted about how the presentation had impacted her and her colleagues. Carroll tweeted back, and before long, he invited the Chicago teachers to be his guests at Chi-Talks, a TED-like experience featuring prominent leaders of color who speak to Chicago students and athletes.
The speaker line-up included influencers like: Scottie Pippen, Scoop Jackson, Common and Sheryl Swoopes. Carroll emceed the event.
Say yes to learning
Ziemke, Autumn Laidler, Benjamin Kovacs and Katie Muhtaris spent the day hearing from the speakers who told students that their circumstances didn’t have to dictate their futures. The students attending the event were much like Laidler’s students, “urban kids with little time to explore and be creative,” she said.
The teachers also observed a couple of the activities students participated in, including writing “I am” statements and creating their own personal credos, a statement of beliefs that drives actions.
Laidler says for her, it was all about empowering students to see that what they do today can change their futures. Ziemke connected with the concept of empowering high-needs inner city kids to follow the event’s key message, “Listen, learn, lead and stand up.”
It was a day of inspiration for the educators made possible by their willingness to reach out. “With that simple act of saying, ‘I’m in,’ you open all kinds of opportunities for being a catalyst,” Carroll explained.
For Ziemke and her colleagues, it wasn’t the first time their tight-knit tribe said “yes” to a learning opportunity.
“Our philosophy is that you have to find those people in your life that will push you to be better and drive you to be a better educator,” Ziemke said. “The reason we say ‘yes’ is because we see what connected learning has done for us, and we look to empower our kids with that connected learning mindset. Kevin’s message transcends the high stakes curriculum we’re seeing, and we need to bring it back to asking the kids what they are passionate about and helping them find their red rubber ball [Carroll’s symbol for the importance of play].”
Here are some steps you can take to begin your journey as a catalyst:
1. Offer to give a tech demo lesson to a teacher who’s reluctant to integrate technology.
2. Share your ideas on Twitter through one of the many ed chats.
3. Join an ISTE Professional Learning Network.
4. Share an amazing lesson plan on Project ReimaginED.
5. Collaborate across classrooms. Do a joint lesson with another teacher so that educators and their students can see what engaged learning looks like.
6. Blog about what’s happening in your classroom.
7. Find another teacher to plan with.
8. Participate in a webinar and bring at least one idea back to your school.
9. Invite teachers to participate in a professional development session on a single ed tech tool.
10. Create a Facebook page where you share all the out-of-the-box things your students are doing.
11. Build a network of encouragers and advocates.
12. Create your personal credo a la Kevin Carroll and let it drive your actions.
13. Have “the talk” with administrators: Tell site-level leadership about your successful tech integrations and get their buy-in for expanding your ideas.
“Commit to doing one thing each quarter,” Ziemke says. “By the end of the year, you’ve done four things to become a catalyst for change.”
“It’s as easy as saying ‘yes’ to something and doing something to stretch, to make yourself uncomfortable,” Carroll adds. “That’s what happens with people who are out front on things. They step out, and then they get out of the way when it takes on its own beautiful inertia.”
ISTE members are a tribe of cutting-edge thinkers. Be a catalyst for change and join ISTE today.