Thursday, September 23, 2010

Feeling Overwhelmed? Join The Club...

Last night during #NTChat on Twitter, my good friend Mary Beth (@mbteach) was a guest moderator. The topic centered around helping new teachers figure out the best applications and programs to use. At one point there was some conversation about how overwhelming it can be with all these tools and ideas. Not to mention all the other issues first year teachers deal with when it comes to technology.

The short conversation there got me thinking. What would it be like now to be a first year teacher...

Now let's be honest here for a moment. I have only been out of the classroom for 3 years. I was a classroom teacher for 5 years. So that gives me a total of 8 years in education. In just the time I have put in things are radically different from when I started, oh so many years ago. Getting some computers in my classroom was a big deal. In many places kids were going to the media center or a lab to use them. Now many kids are starting school with their own school issued laptop. Document cameras were large, bulky, digital overheads that I had only ever seen in one room on my college campus. Now they are becoming more and more standard. Web 2. what? Nope, that was just starting and really didn't come on strong until the last couple years.

For a moment, I want you to think. How many Web 2.0 tools, online applications, or sites can you think of? Could you name 10? 20? 50? More? There are lots. Many I use everyday and can't think what my life would be like without them. Heck, when Twitter goes down or the network at school goes down I feel like part of me is missing. (Ok, not really. Well, maybe a little.)

I could not imagine walking out off my college campus and into the classroom with everything available today. But isn't it a double-edge sword? Yes, there are tons and tons of tools, apps and devices that we can use to help students engage and boost achievement and connect in the classroom. But at the same time it can be too many. And it can be easy to fall into the trap of trying to do everything in the first year.

Part of the problem is those of us that deliver professional development (myself included). We get excited. I live and eat and breathe technology. Normally there is a web connected device (be it computer, phone or iPad) that is no farther than 3 feet from me. I read about, think about, wonder and ponder about, technology. So when I discover something new or interesting I wanted to share it with my teachers. Or I wanted to give workshops on a broad range of topics, covering 3-5 tools in the hopes that one would stick and they would use it. The reality is, many times, none of them would get used because it was just overwhelming. It was too much.

Now put yourself in the shoes of the first year teacher. Not only are you sitting in a workshop hearing about these 5 tools you have to use and your kids have to use, you are thinking about your lesson plans, administrator walkthroughs and more. Many times these teachers want to use the technology but just feel like it is too much.

So those of us to deliver professional development and who plan for PD have to be mindful of our audience. Sometimes less is more...

And just a few pieces of advice for new teachers:

You will feel overwhelmed at some point. Join the club. I feel like that regularly. (I think that is more a personality flaw and my own problems with time management...) It will happen and will happen a lot. And it is ok to feel that way. Take a step back and evaluate what you are doing, often. Is there a better way, a different way? Can something be put off for a while or at least wait until a better time? Taking the time to reflect is crucial.


Tools, tools, tools. Pick 1 or 2. (And this is advice for beyond the first year too.) You are going to hear about the latest and the greatest tools. And they are going to be changing and changing fast. Focus on 1 or 2 and use them, extensively, until their use is seamless, either in your classroom or for your own professional development. Then when you feel comfortable, add something. But always remember, tools are just that. It is what we are creating or using the tool for that is much more important.

I dunno. I am not a first year teacher. Maybe you are or will soon be one or know one. What do you think? Add to the conversation below.
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