Thursday, March 29, 2012

Promoting Technology Integration: A reflection and a philosophy

When I started teaching Math, I found many students came to me with a host of different feelings about the subject. Some hated it, others felt they were no good at the subject, and still others felt that they had mastered Math easily. There was a wide disparity of feelings among my students and it was my job to find a way to bring them all to a spot where they felt they could be successful in Math and were, in fact, successful. I found, without a single exception, that the students who did believe they could be successful were very able to be successful. Therefore, it became clear to me that my job was primarily focused on finding a way to help those students learn the truth about themselves…that they could, in fact, accomplish anything they wanted to accomplish. Teaching them the concepts was secondary. You see, once the first goal was accomplished, the rest was easy.

So, how to do this? First, I developed an atmosphere of safety and warmth. Yes, warmth! I built a classroom where students were accepted and cared about. I shared stories of my own experiences struggling with math when I was in school and let them know that it was okay to struggle. But, I also let them know it was not okay to give up. There was no need to give up because they could do it. They could REALLY do it. I employed every technique I could think of…I remember a lesson where I threw on a Southern drawl, wore a cowboy hat, and gave away a hand-drawn stick figure photograph of my family as a humorous reward for accomplishing the mathematical tasks at hand. I complimented mistakes because they meant effort…and effort was everything in building a sense of ability in my students.

At this point, I have to confess. I didn’t really understand Math until college. Before that, my math understanding and experience feels like a big blur. In college, they put me back to remedial math and I worked my way through. I often say a little angel hit me on the head and I started to understand. It became clear and the rhythm of math made sense. It flowed logically from this to that. Aha! So, when I decided to get my degree in education, I realized that it may just be a benefit to teach Math. I knew what it was like to not “get it” and I thought I could draw on that.

So, that is what I did…I taught Math…and I loved teaching, loved my students, and I developed a love for math but the truth is the content was always second to my strong sense that giving the students a feeling of safety and success was most important. We had a blast in Math class, from beginning each day with my really lame jokes to graphing music, we laughed and shared and explored the content. We learned from each other, no doubt about that.

My students lived in a very economically-challenged area. They were awesome kids in difficult situations. Many of them had lived through experiences most of us would not want to even imagine. They were real survivors. They just needed to see that the road ahead was one that they had control of and was a road that provided them opportunities for success. My job was to help them discover this truth.

So, what does this have to do with technology integration? Well, I’ve found that many teachers feel as uncomfortable with technology integration as my students did with math. I think we need to understand this, accept it, and stop trying to fight that reality. Instead, let’s build exposure to technology integration experiences with humor, understanding, and lots of opportunities to succeed. Don’t overlook the small steps because the truth is that they are truly huge because they lead to an acceptance and even a belief that technology integration helps students learn. Create opportunities for success with teachers. Very importantly, acknowledge their accomplishments. For instance, a math teacher who is using a graphing calculator is doing some amazing technology integration and should be applauded for their efforts.

The truth is that folks in education, in this profession are in it because they want to help children. I believe that with every bit of my being. So, when someone is negative, hesitant, or even downright loud about their feelings about technology, I hang on to that belief and stay true to my basic belief. Strive to build those opportunities for success to occur and then acknowledge that success. Develop relationships with others and enjoy the process. The process itself is magical, I believe, and so much fun as you experience learning what truly is possible together.

Some might say I’m sappy and that is probably true. I don’t really care. What I do care and love, though, is discovering how to make a difference in the lives of others and being privileged to experience successes with peers and students. There is no greater joy to me than that “I can do it” gleam in someone’s eye.

The truth is that we are just there to help others find the truth. We don’t really have a hard job because it is the truth. The students can do it. The teachers can do it. And, everyone benefits.

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