Courageous Online But Still Cowardly Lion in my School

Recently Elissa Miller and I exchanged some tweets about how it is easy to ask for help and exchange ideas online, but not face-to-face with our staff.  We decided to both write a post on the topic and publish simultaneously—a blogosphere first? So after you read this post from a 19 year veteran, head on over to Elissa’s blog and check out the view from a 1 year veteran.

Why don’t I ask for help with the people I work with?

I have been putting off this answer for over a week.  Have re-written the post three times.  Considered telling Elissa that maybe we should change the question.  FIrst I thought maybe it was fear.  Then I went with I don’t want to feel like an outcast because of my very un-traditional beliefs.  But the real answer…I can’t figure out how to write the real answer without seeming like the most egotistical conceited big headed person in the world…the real answer to why I don’t ask people for help is because I don’t want it.  I hated school growing up.  I really don’t remember anything interesting I did from k-12.  So I knew popping out of college that I did not want to reproduce the traditional model in my classroom.  I quickly learned that the typical “classroom management plan” was not the way I wanted to go.  I should say that I did all the traditional things in the beginning.  I had the big list of rules on the board, gave detentions, and even had tests that lasted two days.  I taught in the “toughest” school in the state for ten years before moving to the ‘burbs.  My current schools “worst” kids would have been the honor roll students at my first school.  While I hesitate to say I was successful, I did survive a decade there.  And as everyone in the school told me when I was hired, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”  What that experience ingrained in me is that there had to be another way to teach kids beside coming up with tricks to make them be quiet and listen to me.  There had to be a way to engage them and empower them.  A way to “manage” them without disrespecting them and without treating them like they were peons.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew that everyone around me wasn’t doing it.  I didn’t need to ask folks how to manage class with coercive rules or make kids study for a test.   That is not what I wanted to know so I never asked anyone for help.

At my new school, which seems to be on a different planet from my first, has the same type of teachers.  Mostly traditional who can be a bit more creative because of a more subdue student body.  So I am in the same situation.  I know I don’t want to do “that.” I hope that doesn’t seem insulting.  But I simply desire a different way of doing things.  I am searching for a way to create the ultimate classroom, the one that I never experienced as a kid.  One that does not exist in my school.  I simply don’t know anyone doing a project based classroom, with authentic learning, in a constructivist child-centered classroom.  I have made it to that place nearly on my own, and am still traveling without a navigator.  I wish so much that I could find someone in my school who would like to hop in and take that trip with me.  One or two are close, but I still think our opinions differ to much to make us traveling companions.

So why don’t I ask people in my school for help?  Because right now I am on a different path.  I have already been on their path.  I have seen where it leads.  I want to travel on a path less traveled, and I don’t know anyone who wishes to join me, or know anyone who has walked down it.  That is why I reach out and spend so much time online.  I have been able to find people who kick-butt with project based learning.  I have found people who amaze me with the authentic learning that their kids do.  I am still searching for people and to communicate about the way I think I want to interact with students in a classroom.  Probably because it is the hardest thing to get across in writing–they are out there and I have met many, but the mushy emotional stuff doesn’t get the re-tweets and pingbacks the way a good “Top Ten Tech Tools” for teachers post does.  I think because it is that last one that is the hardest to find, it is the area that I tend to keep coming back to in my posts.

I engage with folks online because they believe in what I am trying to do.  You have to realize that most…almost all people I know f2f would think that almost every post on this blog is ridiculous. This week I decided to share with my staff and the entire system the podcast that my kids do that I think is pretty darn awesome.  I thought they would express some extra interest in it since it included an interview with our incoming superintendent.  I can’t even write here how few clicked on the link in the email to checkout the website or how many fewer bothered to check out the podcast. I hear the rumors that come back that say my project based class is just me sitting around and letting the kids go crazy, all the tech integration is just kids playing on computers, and my “classroom management” will never teach the kids discipline.  They don’t believe in what I am trying to do.  My online “friends” and I share a common belief.  A common vision.  A common dream.  Online people push me to travel further down my path.  They warn me about the dangers ahead.  They support me when I fall. But most importantly, they never, ever, tell me to turn back. They push, pull, and cheer me onward.  The inspire me with their words, actions, and comments.  They are the ones I want to be like.  I have 100’s of online role models and consider myself very lucky to be in their company.

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