Day 8: Feeling Off-Balance is Okay

Written and shared by
Julie Balen

Last week, we were asked as a staff to once again articulate what technology needs we  have. Like many schools and school districts, we are working hard to upgrade our infrastructure and our hardware. This is necessary work, to be sure. But as I listened to the ‘wish list’ that teachers have, I reflected on how this conversation about tools did not stem from the need to change practice.

And maybe it can’t. Maybe the process of the integration of technology and shifting practice has to happen at the individual level.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 11.06.29 PM

 Photo Credit: Mark Hunter via Compfight

I have a class set of Chromebooks, and the impetus for acquiring them was not pedagogical. In the fall of 2013, I was asked to teach grade 10 communications technology, and the Chromebooks were purchased to support that course. But I had them, so why not use them in all of my classes? This could be a bit of a pilot program, we (the principal and I) told ourselves. Let’s see how these devices work out in the non-tech classroom.

The Chromebooks worked marvelously.

I didn’t.

Sure, I knew how to use the machines and the apps. I knew how to set up student blogs and wikis. I knew how to organize documents and folders, to comment, and to share. What I didn’t know how to do was to integrate the devices into the teaching that I do.  Let me try that again. What I didn’t know was that I needed to see the curriculum (English) in a completely different way. What I didn’t know was that ‘changing my practice’ meant reconsidering every aspect of my practice from how I structured the course (traditionally thematically) to what essential skills I believed my students needed to have and how they would/could demonstrate them.

Here’s an example: Senior students need to demonstrate their ability to research, organize ideas, write, revise, format for publication, and cite sources appropriately. For many teachers, this translates into a research report or essay that is produced in Word or Google documents and that is printed or shared. Is that traditional research report/essay format still valid? Do I need to teach them how to produce their thinking in this manner because that’s the format required or expected in higher ed? Or can students research, curate, embed, link, write, and cite in a wiki? Or is the conversation really about choice?

This past February, I had a conversation with Steve Anderson (@Web20Classroom ) about content curation, in which I raised these same questions. His response? We need to understand that “there is no final solution when it comes to [student] learning.”

No final solution. No one way. No program. No script.

What I learn a bit more each day is to be okay with feeling off balance as I figure out what to hang on to from how I taught before and what to let go of. And this, I think, is not something that anyone else can do for me.

Julie Balen has worked for the Wikwemikong Board of Education on Manitoulin Island for the past 13 years, mostly as a high school English teacher, but also as a system-wide literacy coach.

Julie Balen

Blog: http://connectingtolearn.edublogs.org/

Twitter: @jacbalen

About Me: http://about.me/julie.balen

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10 thoughts on “Day 8: Feeling Off-Balance is Okay”

  1. I found this post insightful and reflective, embedded with a courageous vulnerability, due to the forum it was expressed in. I think you are very much on the right track and I think your post (and your actual work) will inspire others to be equally reflective of their practice. School leadership has a role in fostering this notion, and backing it up, not just with encouragement, but with meaningful feedback and genuine support. I look forward to future posts by the author.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words Mick. It is still a challenge for me to hit the ‘publish’ button. I am able to because to date my experiences online have been so positive. People like Donna Fry, Peter Skillen, and Lisa Noble (to name a few) are quick to encourage and support newcomers. They make the risk of public learning feel so rewarding.

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  2. Thanks for this; I’m just beginning in my ‘blended learning’ (also with Chromebook) classroom practice and hearing that even an experienced teacher feels ‘off balance’ when making this type of change makes me feel more comfortable with my discomforts and encourages me to keep moving forward. Thank you.

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  3. Great post Julie. Your statement “What I didn’t know was that I needed to see the curriculum (English) in a completely different way.” really resonated with me. I think you have highlighted a key element of change in instructional practice as we leverage technology enabled learning opportunities of the digital age. ~Mark

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    1. Thanks for your comment Mark. When I gather student feedback about the learning and the teaching,(and there are so many more ways to do that than ever before!), I force myself to revisit the curriculum document and look at it through that feedback lens. It’s remarkable what I see.

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  4. These same Chrome books are being used today, along with any other device students can get their hands on. This is consistently encouraged by Ms. Balen. Since the posting of this reflection, I can honestly attest that Ms. Balen has been relentless in her own personal growth and learning. My daughter is currently a student in her class, and her understanding and openness to learning is exponentially evolving. The initial jump into the deep end of new learning incorporating technology has reverberated into unforeseen student buy-in and success.

    Chi-Miigwech!

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