Sunday, March 30, 2014

Powering Education by Unplugging

Working together isn't easy. It is more often awkward, frustrating, time-consuming and humbling than it is meaningful, joyful or inspiring. But the trouble is, when you’re doing big things like teaching children, you simply can’t do it alone. You either give up (you still go to work each day, but you’re only going through the motions) or you deplete your energy in the effort.

In education, small groups joined by common interests, goals and passions often work together. The hard work, though, and the work that matters most to our children who can only rarely pick and choose their teachers, is to make sure that we all work together even when we don’t exactly agree, when our methods differ, our personalities clash. What matters most is that the community where the children learn is one of connection, that if their teacher is overwhelmed, someone in the next room is ready to help; if a teacher is sad or frustrated, there is a team on hand to buoy them up; if a teacher struggles to support a particular child, he can reach out to say, I don’t know what to do; if a teacher’s methods are no longer supporting the students, the team can provide side-by-side help for learning new approaches. And the teachers each know it will be all right that they don’t know everything, that they find things difficult, that they need help. They know that they, too, are needed to support colleagues who don’t have all the answers, who struggle where they are strong, who need a shoulder once in a while.

The problems that most need to be solved so that each child has a teacher who is working at an optimal level are never ones that can be fixed by clicking for answers on Pinterest. In fact, I’m beginning to think it’s the opposite, a way to bury ourselves in busyness, so that we don’t have to think about hard things. I’m even beginning to think that an educator’s global connections, our twitter conversations, on-line seminars, Google hangouts, blog feeds and Facebook follows matter only marginally for our kids. Worse, I worry that these virtual communities have seduced our attention away from the connections in our schools that do matter. And who can blame us? When we can work with the whole world, we need only pick people who think like us. There is none of the frustration of diversity. We can turn our connections on and off as we get busy. We can “support” our global colleagues with a simple “like” or happy face. And if a particular group or individual no longer inspires us, we just delete them from our feeds. Best of all, in the virtual world, we can be polished and interesting as we craft our replies and showcase the good moments. In real life, we can’t air-brush out the stack of unmarked papers at the back of the classroom, the boy with his head on his desk refusing to work, the failed lessons, the exasperation and weariness: we can’t pretend that we are fine.

Working together day-to-day is hard and humbling. But I’m not sure there is anything more important. In fact, I'm almost certain, despite my continued infatuation with the promise and possibilities of technology, that the answers to our complex problems won’t be found by plugging in to the global community, but by unplugging to join hands with the people nearby.

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