Although I’ve been teaching my classes differently for the past couple weeks, today was the first day we spent using technology.  In CE 10 we began researching the LRA and different ways our class might be able to help those affected in Uganda & Sudan.  In English 20, we’re starting The Secret Life of Bees, so we’re beginning with researching the Civil Rights movement, since all we were able to establish during a pre-assessment is that Martin Luther King Jr. & Rosa Parks were likely involved, and they think it may have taken place during 1965, although the dates offered ranged from 1864 – the mid 1920’s, likely because it was confused, by some, with the Civil War.

I spoke with them about the importance of using credible sources, and we brainstormed as to how we might know a source is credible.  We talked about the respectability of Wikipedia as a starting point.  My students are always shocked that I allow  Wikipedia, since in most classes they have been banned from using it as a source.  I’ve noticed that very quickly in this journey I have become the technology liberal at my school.  I also taught them how & why one would social bookmark with Delicious. 

With their new Delicious accounts a click away, I released them to learn on their own. They spent the rest of the class beginning their research.  And, to be honest, I felt utter disappointment.  This I was not prepared for.  I thought teaching my students research & using technology would be exciting.  Instead, I felt loss.  What now is my role?

Normally, in beginning a unit on Civil Rights, I would be the Civil Rights expert, and would have spent several days lecturing and telling stories of the great heroes of the movement.  We would have spent time talking, discussing the issues, and laughing.  I would be connected with my class.  But today, I was not.

Today, instead of teaching them information, I was teaching them how to learn.  And yet, I’m not sure what my new role in this is.  I’m not sure how to connect to my students and their learning process while doing this.  I’m not sure how to laugh and enjoy them. And I was not expecting the profound sense of loss and the pain accompanying it.

With one of my classes, the process feels inefficient.  It would be much quicker to do it on my own and present them with a few well-researched options, as I have done in the past.  I realize this is why I have done it this way.  But it wouldn’t teach them what they need to know.  With some of the less mature students, at times, I felt like I was babysitting.  A feeling I am not used to and strongly dislike.

My stronger students will likely pick some of this up in university, anyway; my weaker ones, likely not; but I wonder, will they learn and use it? And yet, I also wonder what is the alternative? To continue to pour into them information they will forget after the exam?  Can I really convince myself that this is why I decided to become a teacher? Or do I painstakingly take the time to teach them the skills required to become lifelong learners in a hyper-connected world?

The answer, when phrased this way, is simple; the journey to get there is not.  Somehow, during the coming weeks, in addition to figuring out how to create class blogs and learning how to create a portal, I have to figure out my new role as co-learner.  I realize that this process must be worth it because, otherwise, so many great teachers would not advocate it. 

Originally, this post was titled The Adventure Begins…but with that title I had nothing to write.  Nothing authentic. Nothing truthful. So I deleted it.  Once changed to Loss, the words & the tears began to flow– And this much more accurately depicts where I am tonight.

About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. Furthermore, I am Buck Institute for Education National Faculty member
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24 Responses to Loss

  1. Bob Cotter says:

    Congratulations on taking on the role of technology liberal. And, congratulations on introducing your students to tools that will allow them to store and share their findings (delicious) and discover current references (Wikipedia).

    You ask what you should do, and you actually reference it quite clearly in your text. You describe your past operations in part as a “Civil Rights expert” with “stories to tell of great heros”. Does this not make you a point of reference for your students? One thing I always used to say to teachers who made good use of the tools for electronic learning was not to forget the knowledge they have to impart from their years of study and experience in sharing and communicating. While some students are off to the library, or sitting with their computers doing some elements of their research, nothing stops you from working with smaller groups in a discussion (okay maybe a bit of lecturing) format to give them some of that data you have and to let them absorb that, research further some points you make that get them interested in further study.

    The adventure begins…

  2. Really enjoyed and was inspired by your brutally honest reflection. I am finding my journey is similar. In many ways this approach we share is scary and terrifying as it puts the students in charge of their own learning. Congratulations from @scratchie in Australia.

    • It’s encouraging to know that this is a normal part of the experience and that I am not alone. It is definitely scary to put students in charge of their own learning, so much can go wrong, but so much can also go right!

  3. Theresa M says:

    Remember the old adage that change is difficult and not usually easy. I am just about where you are and have had similar experiences as I turn my students loose to find the information that is needed to complete a project (and I have been giving multiple ways to show my their results). Do all of your students get it when you are the expert and they are the newbies? My results in the past has given me the confidence to try the new discovery trials. I hope that it all works well for you as they continue to work – I am thinking you will get a few surprises that make you very happy.

  4. “Loss” – It appears that you needed this title to realize the change that appears to be occurring. According to Fullan, with change comes a grieving process as one laments the loss of that which they are comfortable, but with change, real passionate change, comes growth. Years from now, you will look back at this post as a starting rather than an ending point.

    • Wow, although this makes complete sense, it did not occur to me this is what the process would be like, partially because this is a change I have willing embraced and embarked on myself. Growth is definitely painful. Thanks for the comment. It has been both insightful and encouraging.

  5. jeremylenzi says:

    Excellent post. I’ve been there myself, and would just add that I think you’ve answered your own questions, especially when I read this: “Today, instead of teaching them information, I was teaching them how to learn.”

    To me, this is what it’s all about – to lead our students to their own discovery of the information is incredibly rewarding to me. Immediately, I thought of a comment our principal consistently makes: “Are you the sage on the stage or the guide on the side?” (Incidentally, I’m sure he didn’t come up with that himself… ha!)

    And I definitely agree with the comment above – this was a tremendously reflective post.

  6. carla arena says:

    Dear Shelly,

    In no time, if you keep on going on this journey, the feeling of loss will vanish, giving place to stories, but not just those you tell your students, but the ones they will tell you. You might see some of the results of your teaching approach, but they will be part of what your students will take with them and will impact not only their educational, but also professional lives. Hang in there! The feeling of loss is common to any new challenging endeavor we take. I’m sure you’ll succeed. It takes time. Give yourself and your students some time. Remember, all is part of a new habit formation.

    A follower in Brasilia, Brazil.

    • Thanks, Carla, for the encouragement. It reaffirms that I am heading in the right direction, and this is a journey worth taking.

      • carla arena says:

        You are, Shelly! Remember also that you need to move ahead, but still respect your own style and limits. Take baby steps. Try different approaches, take notes of what worked and what didn´t, assess your students.

  7. Dorene Bates says:

    Shelly – great post and very insightful. Why not set up centers for researching and include yourself as one of the centers? When the students cite their sources, they can cite you also.

  8. Chuck Sandy says:

    Although I’ve become a big advocate of stepping back to let learners learn, I remember clearly the early days of my own journey away from the front of the classroom. I, too, felt at a loss at first. That was several years ago, and since then I’ve come to understand that my role has in fact grown enormously. I walk into each of my classes full of excitement for I never where the students are going to take me. Teaching moments I’d never anticipate come up, both from individual students and from the class as a whole, and we follow them where they lead. Meanwhile, my students are teaching me things. “Look at this,” one will say. “Have you considered this?” another will ask. In a single class period, I’m all over the room: talking with individual students, working with others in small groups, running up to the front of the room to share something someone’s found or to head people off in another direction. It’s wonderful the ways I now interact with students, and I love the fact that I actually now have time to interact more, more often, and more deeply. It’s not all about technology then. It’s about connection. Human connection. Don’t lose sight of that fact as you head off on your own journey and you’ll be just fine.

    I loved your essay. Beautiful.

    Chuck Sandy
    (a reader in Japan)

    • Thanks for your comment. It has allowed me to begin to see part of what my new role should be. Today I moved among my students and asked them what they were working on, what they were learning and taking a look at the videos and pictures they were finding. When I heard an audible gasp, I would move over to that student to hear about their findings and learn from them. Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. It’s given me hope!

      • Chuck Sandy says:

        Thanks for your reply Shelly. I’m so glad to hear you’re hopeful. The world needs more teachers who are doing what you’re doing and the generation of learners who are being empowered by teachers like you. In the long term view, it’s about much more than what we do in classrooms. It’s about who we are to each other. By creating lifelong autonomous learners who take their lives and the lives of others seriously, we literally change the world. It’s important work you’re doing.

        To say a little more, the next step is to get students teaching each other, working together, and organizing their own learning while you step back and marvel. Have you seen this?

        Sugata Mitra’s Child Driven Education

        Keep up the great work Shelly, and keep us posted please.

  9. Cassandra says:

    Hi Shelly – first time reading but I feel for you and your frustration. I wanted to just write and say that as a student (a recent grad student in a communications program) I don’t believe all is lost. My professors expertly used their research skills and today’s interactive tools to develop amazing presentations/lectures. They encouraged the discussions and debates every classroom needs to promote growth and learning. In my opinion, it’s good to let them practice researching in the classroom but better yet, show them what great research looks like when it’s all pulled together.

    For example: use video clips, third-party storytellers, posters from the era, news articles from the era, etc. It will encourage your students to dig that deep on their own research…and you maintain your expert status! Good luck!

  10. Jaclyn says:

    Excellent post! What if you inserted your favorite stories, anecdotes and of course laughs during consolidation? Students will be much more present b/c they have info to contribute, and its only fair that you get to provide input as well.

  11. Dan Boyle says:

    Shelly, this is such a timely and well-written post. I am in the process of letting go and letting my students do more of the learning on their own. It has been hard because I have the struggles that they have had with it and how much they still need those little pushes in the right direction. Just when I think I need to give in and do it myself, I keep coming back to “give a man a fish and eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats forever.” Our students need to learn how to navigate a difficult and challenging world. If I do all of the driving for them, they will never be able to do it for themselves. Yes, there are going to be mistakes, and days when they go “hungry,” but those days will not last long and soon they will be teaching each other how “to fish” and the cycle will grow from there. Keep working at it.

  12. “Only the student can name the moment of the death of the professor”…“And only the professor can welcome that moment”…the educator “might, through hard work and study, be able to name the moment of their own death as professor and celebrate their living as learners.” Jane Vella

    Get ready to celebrate!!!

  13. lewisv says:

    A very heartfelt post, Shelley. I admire the fact you are willing to take a risk and teach outside of your comfort zone. It would have been easier for you to teach the unit as you had in the past, but, instead, you are pushing your limits and are learning alongside the learner. Hang in there. This will be an amazing experience for all. I look forward to hearing more about it! 🙂

  14. Shawna Stangel says:

    I enjoyed reading your post. Very heartfelt and timely as many of us are finding ourselves in the same shoes. I have always been very honest with the students that I work with so in a situation like this I wonder how they would respond to you sharing your feelings of loss with them. I wonder if they may help you to define your new role as a facilitator of learning giving you ideas as to where they may be in need of support and in looking for your guidance. I’ve always found that we don’t give our students enough credit for them knowing what works best for them when it comes to their own learning. I noticed that one of your earlier reply’s mentions the work of Michael Fullen (Fullen is great, easy reading) and the sense of loss and grieving that one goes through during a time of change, especially when we no longer are in our sense of comfort. It is important to know that this is a necessary part of your own growth as a professional. And now, as you are in a time of self-reflection, realize that a change in practice will follow. Any “real” change will be preceded by a sense of discomfort. Change is uncomfortable – that is why so many people don’t like it. It is a part of the learning journey, and from the sounds of it you are well on your way to a successful trip. Best of luck!

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  17. CGibson says:

    When I read your post, I saw my own doubts and struggles…And I totally agree with your statement, “….I have to figure out my new role as co-learner”.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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