In January 2010, I attended EDUCAUSE Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference in Baltimore, MD. One session in particular, I Am Change inspired me to want more change in my graduate level courses. Being an ambassador for young adolescents and teaching exclusively at the middle school level since my teaching career began in 1993, I’ve always been all about change. That’s what middle school teachers do. We change, evolve and transform to better understand and meet the developmental needs of young adolescents.
I quickly started editing and deleting my syllabus. I was inspired to have my students take more of a leadership role in their own learning. On the first day of class, I presented my new idea and it was received with a lot of, “You want us to do what?” The first few weeks were rocky. One student commented, “I have to admit that the first day of class was terrifying for me. I am a type-A personality. I love deadlines, to-do lists, and due dates. In my learning experience in college and high school, a syllabus was made to be followed and that is what happened. Not in this course. I have to admit that I did not really reference the syllabus after the first few weeks of class because I knew what needed to be done.”
With change a level of trust must be established. I focus on the process not the final product and this can be very intimidating for the first time. I ask my students to “get comfortable with the uncomfortable” because this is where true learning happens. I encourage, applaud and celebrate risk takers. I ask my students to “own” their learning and drive the direction of the course and the assignments. With some hesitation students will ask, “Can I do this for that assignment?” And I always respond, “If it works for you, it works for me.”
I can’t imagine teaching any other way. My question to you now is how do see yourself as an agent of change? How do you model taking risks and embracing change? What can you do to encourage your students to become change agents? And how is this all connected with 21st century skills and learning?
Here’s my presentation from #tec11 session today, I Am Change.
“Surviving adolescence is no small matter; neither is surviving adolescents.
It’s a hard age to be and to teach.
The worst thing that ever happened to anyone happens everyday.”
Young adolescents rotate the same three questions day in and day out: Who am I? How do others view me? Where do I fit in? It’s a difficult age to be, to teach and to parent. As a middle school teacher, I witnessed young adolescents try on different personas each day as they were desperately trying to figure out the answers to these three questions.
Times have changed since I first started teaching in early 1990’s. The landscape now includes digital media which makes our young adolescents on patrol 24/7. They are now circulating those same three questions online using multiple platforms to figure out the answers. It is our civic responsibility to help them learn now to navigate through social media. If we are not integrating it into our classrooms and schools, we are certainly responsible for some of the awful things that are happening all over the Internet. Take for example the recent story about the “Smut List” circulating on Facebook.
Am I naive? Could things have been different if social media had been integrated into the curriculum? Would students have stopped and questioned how this list would have hurt and humiliated others on a global level? Would they have realized that the list included names that could have been their own? Those names are someone’s daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, neighbor and friend.
We need to constantly model what it means to be a digital citizen in the 21st century. What digital footprint are we leaving behind by the comments, pictures and videos that we post? Students need the opportunity to talk about this and figure it out as part of a classroom community. Please take the time to think about your responsibility to positively influence how children and adolescents treat each other in today’s digital world.
I am committed to changing the climate of how we treat others. I’m currently conducting research with one of my colleagues. Our website, Gone Virtual has more information and we would welcome your involvement and participation in our research.