I admit it: I used to blame teachers for not taking advantage of new technology. With all of the readily available means to learn about new tools and the new instructional methods they enable, I thought that those who weren’t taking advantage of it all weren’t really holding up their end of the educational deal: If we don’t want to learn to work better, how can we expect our students to? I began preaching my preachy message to teachers near and far, which was how I realized how wrong I was.

Turns out I was working under an inaccurate premise: these resources are indeed readily available, just not to the majority of teachers I spoke to. For many, a teaching career is very much a catch-22: they want to make a difference for their students in the best modern way possible, but their jobs are scheduled such that there is no time for them to focus on their own learning. There are bits of time here and there, but not enough that they can arrange into a meaningful block of time for a class, a conference, or even a seminar or workshop to help them stay current. In fact, if one wanted to create a schedule that purposefully avoided time for professional growth and collaboration, the model in many schools today would be hard to beat.

So it’s not our fault, right? Sorta. I still believe that, in a system where we might not be in charge of the majority of our time, what we can do becomes what we should do. Fortunately for us, there is so much learning out there today that is flexible, user-controlled, and asynchronous that our options are not nearly as limited as they used to be. So much so, in fact, that it can be a bit off-putting.

Many educators feel like it’s too much work to stay up on every gadget, app, and website that’s out there to be used in some educational way. They certainly aren’t alone, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Think of the constant stream of tools and new techniques as an actual stream somewhere in the woods…

It’s the same with technology and new pedagogy: there’s no need for anyone to be an expert in everything.

On a hike you happen across it and find something worthwhile: a nice view, a cool sip, a good fishing spot. You’re there for a bit, then you continue on your journey. There’s not a need to explore the whole stream or to stay there for longer than its benefit requires (though some people will and that’s OK; we call them explorers and they do valuable work).

After you return from the woods, you bump into a friend and end up telling her about the stream you found, how to get to it, and what it did for you.

Later on, your friend shares your story with some of her friends who in turn tell her about other streams they know about. The next time you run into your friend, she fills you in on what she’s learned about other streams and hikes, now that she knows you’re someone who’s interested in such things. You then get to decide which you will investigate further, which you’ll end up returning to again and again, or which streams you’ll not bother with.

The next time you feel the need for a different view, a fresh place to drink, or some more fish, you now have options. You don’t have to be a stream expert – or an explorer – to find what you need. You only need to have enough initial experiences of your own to have conversations with others who have their own experiences.

It’s the same with technology and new pedagogy: there’s no need for anyone to be an expert in everything – or even to know about all the options. That’s nigh impossible; there are just too many streams.

I see this especially with Twitter. People get discouraged because they can’t keep up with all the tweets in a particular hashtag. They feel like they’re missing too much and it makes them feel lost and overwhelmed. But that’s not what the tool is for! Twitter is a stream you happen by, not a to-do list. Like the conversations in the example story above, it’s a way to find snapshots of conversations that you can spend more time in if you’d like. Not everything out there is for everyone, but there’s enough for most to to find benefit in the conversation.

We should absolutely keep fighting for more collaborative planning time and more support for our professional learning, but we can’t let that timeline define our abilities. See you in the woods!


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, audreyjm529.

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