It seems that all too often, personal connections get pushed aside for the sake of convenience or comfort. We look into tiny screens instead of engaging with the world around us. We move too fast to tie the important invisible threads together on a human level. And yet, quality personal connections have a direct impact on the quality of our lives.
This isn’t to say social media and various personal devices are the bad guys – far from it. The key is to connect community with technology effectively and make sure we all communicate in a variety of ways.
This is ISTE member Julianne B. Ross-Kleinmann’s mission as she pours this philosophy into educating her students.
“I sometimes feel like I’m a concierge,” she says. “I’m like a living resource in a lot of languages – I love language – and the one I practice the most is coding.”
As the lower school technology coordinator at the Foote School in New Haven, Connecticut – a title as long as her name, she says with a laugh – Ross-Kleinmann is able to pursue her passion, which is instructional technology in the service of teaching and learning. And she does it by weaving many elements together to create a well-rounded environment for education.
“I’ve always worked with the community,” she says. “I’ve always tried to bring the community into the classroom or take the classroom to the community. Everyone has wonderful resources that they can help share.”
Her deep civic commitment, always a part of her personality, grew significantly when she joined the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, a private, nonprofit organization whose purpose, according to its website, is “to provide assistance and support through established programs in local communities throughout the world.” She remains active in her sorority; having recently moved to New Haven, she has connected with that city’s alumnae chapter and has reached out to her sisters for their assistance. “Many Deltas are educators, so there’s another connection I can tap into for my students,” she says.
Now she is grateful to Foote for opening its doors to virtually any field – from artists to coders – and she has excellent professional relationships with external partners like the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which encourages “…mixing and matching seemingly disparate research areas;” the Logo Foundation, a nonprofit educational foundation; and the Harvard School of Education, which offers a segment on computational thinking through Scratch. The latter happens to be particularly near and dear to Ross-Kleinmann’s heart, the language that underscores her connections.
Ross-Kleinmann has a particularly close relationship with the Logo Foundation and its aim to bring coding into schools. To spread the word, the foundation supports and hosts “Scratch Days.” Ross-Kleinmann says one of her favorite features of Scratch Days is that she gets to co-teach with her students – but teaching Scratch is so much more than an activity, she adds.
“It is transformative for students, especially for those who others say are fragile,” she notes. “There are students who have a difficult time communicating. We need to try to find connections at all levels, with all people, in all ways.”
Beyond involving the community in her pursuit of educational excellence, Ross-Kleinmann keeps many plates spinning at Foote. She is a mentor for students, “pushes and pulls” into and out of classrooms and she helped develop the third grade stem curriculum at her school. Pushing and pulling allows her to work with a small group of students to really drill down on lessons and practice their technology skills.
She’s also active with ISTE, and this year she is chairing the stem Personal Learning Network. She recently spent the summer doing what she loves for a broad community: being a geek.
“I love learning and I love educating. Fortunately, I also love to travel. So my summer involved conferences and gatherings across the United States.”
As soon as she returned to Connecticut, she restarted her work to create the ultimate education experience.
“I help students and teachers authentically integrate technology, which I believe in deeply,” she says. “My real goal, though, is to work with everyone – at Foote, in the community – to make our students feel like they are home. That’s where we’re all most comfortable, and it’s easier to learn when we’re comfortable.”
There’s no home without family, and “family doesn’t mean biology,” to Ross-Kleinmann, reinforcing her belief in community and the power it has to shape students.
“I didn’t think I would be a teacher,” she shares. “Now, I wouldn’t do anything else. The biggest joy is when the student surpasses the teacher. That is powerful.”
Tim Douglas is a former television news producer who also served as a senior media consultant for several speakers of the california state assembly. today, douglas is a freelance writer who covers a wide range of topics.