Common Sense Classroom

Putting Pedagogy in Practical Practice

Change a Mind, Change the World!

“Meet the Teacher Night” was an amazing success this year! I met the children, parents and some grandparents of all but three of the students on my new class roster.

As always, I became instantly enamored with my new crew.  I found myself daydreaming of the first day when we would all joyfully begin this year’s learning adventure!  As visions of excited, confident 1st grade munchkins danced through my head. . .what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a very reluctant little lady who was literally being dragged through the door by her infinitely patient mother.

This suspicious little cherub took one look around my room -  said, “I’m not doing this!” and ran right back out the door.  Admiration bloomed in my heart for this little mind speaking angel.  I thought to myself, “This one is going to be my very special little friend this year; if I can keep her in the classroom, that is.”

Ready or not, the first day of school came and went in all of its glory.  My special little friend kept a wary, watchful eye on me – daring me I suspect, to give her a reason to bolt for the door.  I cheerfully went about my quirky teacher business, entertaining the troops as we learned classroom procedures and dabbled in content for my sneaky preassessment purposes.  I kept myself positioned and poised for intercept,  should she make for the door.  I ended each day in relief that there was no escape attempt, yet.

As the 3rd day of school commenced, I passed out paper to let the kids have a go at a task I had just modeled.  My little cherub looked up at me, with eyes that had lost their haze of suspicion, and proclaimed loud enough for all the world (or at least everyone in our pod) to hear, “I know I can do this Mrs. Gustin. I can do anything you give me!”

I thought to myself, “I’ve got her! The sky’s the limit for this little girl, and it only took three days!” Little miracles like this are the reason I love my job.

I believe it was Samuel Clemens who said, “I can go for a month on a good compliment.”  The euphoria from this event will likely carry me through the rest of this school year,  if not longer.   There is no greater compliment or award that can even come close to measuring up to the gift this particular child has given me;   her trust.

What had changed for her?   What inspired this new confidence in her own ability to tackle the challenges of 1st grade?   Only one thing I can think of. . . her perception.

What is the moral of this story?  If you can change a mind, you can change the world - or at least your little part of it.

Happy Teaching My Friends!

No Teacher Left Behind!

If you are in any way unfamiliar with the NCLB Act, you probably don’t reside in the U.S.A.  No Child Left Behind has been the mantra of those who hang out in educational circles for the better part of a decade. While I have always been quite vocal in my assertion that, “Every child I’m given the privilege of teaching WILL learn as much as they are able (beyond what I expected, or even hoped) within the time I have to spend with them – no excuses!”; I have an additional concern that often weighs heavily upon my heart.

While reading the chapter 4 about wikis in Will Richardson‘s book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms,  the following passage started me thinking:

Already, students are turning to Wikipedia as a resource for research, much to the chagrin of many teachers and librarians.  As we’ve already discussed with blogs, knowing what sources to trust is becoming a much more labor-intensive exercise, and wikis, with many often anonymous authors, make that even more difficult.  The  idea that “it might be wrong” is a tough one for most people to overcome. (p. 59)

As I read this, my mind began to wander away from the examination of the role of  wikis in the classroom, to a quandary that has been a constant topic of conversation since I entered the online discussion regarding all things Edtech.  I began to reflect on the laments I have heard continuously from tech directors, coaches and facilitators throughout my PLN (both web-based and in RL).  They express a deeply felt concern that there are scores of teachers who are still reluctant to embrace technology as an integral part of the classroom curriculum. Tech integration as a seamless part of the content based curriculum seems to be beyond the comprehension of, what is perceived as, the vast majority of teachers.

This is a broad generalization, but in 19 years of public education I’ve made some observations.  Teachers tend to be “control freaks” by nature, and usually will not enthusiastically venture into things which we believe go beyond what fits into our personal sense of “rightness”.  Most teachers also seem to be resistant to change, and given a choice would probably never move to a new classroom, grade level or content area.  Finally, teachers are very busy folks, and find it difficult to give up things seen as “tried and true”, in favor of things that don’t fit into our entrenched paradigms of “quality” education.

The central question:  What is holding all of these teachers back and what can we do to change it?

I’ve often wondered, as technology liaison on my own campus, if it is a simple “fear factor” that holds some of my colleagues back.  Is embracing technology like going to the dentist – “I’m not sure what to expect, but I’m fairly certain I’m not going to like it…” -  thus leading to avoidance behavior?

I confess, there are many times, when I encounter a new tech tool that seems beyond my scope of current understanding, I still get that “niggling” feeling at the back of my neck.  I frequently face that moment of, “I don’t know if I can do this…” – but I don’t let it hold me back.  I just go ahead, dig in, and give it a go.  Unfortunately, I seem to be part of the exception, not the rule.  I have to admit, it bothers me more than a little bit that my young 1st grade students, who are into blogging, wikis, digital storytelling, and other  Web 2.0 technologies, are not likely to have the opportunity to grow in their use of the read/write web once they move beyond my classroom.  This could very easily lead me to embrace the pessimistic view held by many of my techie colleagues, but…

I see a new dawn on the horizon!

Through my online PLN I have been able to “hook up” with other like-minded educators, which make me feel part of a larger community and not quite so isolated as I explore things I never would have tried on my own.  I have my own 24/7 tech support when I get in over my head with an unfamiliar tool, courtesy of Twitter and Plurk. This opportunity has enabled me to create working models to use as examples to help more reluctant teachers visualize the possibilities, which could not have been conceived within their current scope of understanding.  Also, a climate of collaboration which has been encouraged by my past and current administrators, as well as a wonderful technology coach (even if he is my husband) who is there virtually “on demand” as much has possible, has created an environment for change.

In our culture of instant gratification, the change might seem like the ripple made by a gnat upon a great lake of calm waters; but it is change nonetheless.  I see change when there is an uproar led by the “old guard” teachers when email or network service goes down. I see change when teachers stream video to bring content areas alive rather than using the book and its worksheet companion.  I see change when teachers are using web-based applications as a literacy work station in the classroom on a daily basis.  I see change where within 3 years time, I went from being the only classroom blogger in my building, to having one or more active classroom bloggers in each grade level.  I see change.  I see change!

With a climate of collaboration and support, quality real-life classroom examples, and the enthusiasm of a few crazy teachers like myself, more and more students are having daily opportunities to work with Web 2.0 technologies, and as with all change – it starts small, but it begins to grow exponentially.

How do I hope to make sure there is no teacher left behind?  Easy!  Have a vision for the change I want to see, then let that change begin with me.


Richardson, Will. Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. California: Corwin Press Inc.,U.S., 2008.