If you had asked me last year, I would have happily told you that I am a connected educator. I thrived on making new connections with fellow educators who I could bounce ideas off of; hear about new things that are working in education and things that aren’t. I searched for classes I could connect my fifth graders to, broadening our learning experience as a collective learning community. It was where I felt most comfortable as an educator. And when life handed me lemons (as life has a tendency to do)- it was no big deal. I’d make lemonade and blissfully move on while adding sugar and stirring. I had the year down pat and felt my students were learning so much.
But then seemingly overnight I found myself making connections and connecting less and less…. And oddly- it didn’t bother me. Once the new school year started, I not only connected less, I finally just unplugged.
Lights off. Game over.
“Why?” you may ask… (and I did! I asked myself that same question… A LOT). I really didn’t have an answer other than there were several pressing issues that needed more of my attention on a daily basis at this point in time, and… (how dare I even say this; it’s blasphemous) I needed a break.
The problem began, however, when I tried to resume my connectivity. I tried to use the same techniques I had done last year with this year’s new group of students. I anxiously awaited to same expectation and thrill of collaborating with other classes and students from various areas of the US, but instead was met with hesitation and apathy. Not only that, I have a different schedule this year making scheduling time to connect and meet-up problematic. Some days I felt like I was skimming the surface and didn’t know how to fit it all in, but knew it was worth it. Then frustration set in. Not only was I unplugged, but now I was frustrated and feeling hopeless. I felt like instead of lemons and lemonade, I was dealing with lots of lemon seeds with nothing to work with!
A few nights ago, I was thinking about my feelings of being stuck in a rut and wondered what advice I would give if a friend from my PLN was in this same predicament. I decided it all boils down to starting little. I needed to find one area to play with, experiment with, a willingness to try. I set up a Skype meeting with my friend Craig Yen from California. He and his class would meet with us to read a chapter from The Fourteenth Goldfish and discuss ideas from the book. Our students would verbally share their ideas via Skype, as well as use a backchannel for additional communication with one another. After our time together, my kids were excited, I was excited; the excitement of sharing our reading with others was present in the classroom again, and it felt good!
It was in this moment I realized that while I’ve been expecting the same outcome as last year, and dealing with problems the same as I would have last year, that’s not what being a 21st Century educator is about. It’s about flexibility, growing, and learning. It’s about realizing the learning comes first and everything else is extra to enhance that. It’s about realizing that instead of waiting to make lemonade, I’ve been given seeds and if I would plant them, they’d grow. It’s ultimately about being ok if this year doesn’t look identical to last year, because this year is its own- and that’s a good thing because with a little water and some TLC, this year might be the best I’ve ever experienced.