Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Continuation of Thought

My daughter is 12 years old and in 7th grade in middle school. Now, for those of you who teach in a middle school or teach 12, 13, 14 year olds, I give you credit. This is not a job I would ever want. Too many hormones, too many concerns about friendships, groups, fitting in. I have enough to deal with, with just my own child at home.

You see, Ali agonizes over her social network: who is her friend today, who will be friends tomorrow, what boy likes her now, what if no boy likes her, what group should she hang with, what if no group wants her hanging out with them, and, mostly, how does she stay true to herself when fitting in is the ultimate goal.

Sometimes I want to point out that the person she is having a sleepover with is the same person who told her two days ago that they are no longer friends. I want to teach her the difference between close, sharing secret friends and hanging at the mall friends. I really want to tell her to stop focusing on friends and pay more attention in school (although I did tell her that getting a B in chorus due to being too talkative was totally unacceptable!). I try hard to remember that Chip Wood, in his parent/teacher resource Yardsticks, does say that 12 year olds find their "peers more important than teachers." In fact, he says, "Twelve's greatest need is to be with their friends. Teachers and parents take a backseat..."

And all this dealing with the creation of friendships, makes me think even more carefully about how I deal with the creation of friendships. Jen Wagner's post about twitter started my thinking again. I guess I wasn't the only one since, to date, her post has 41 comments.

I think, sometimes, that I am stuck at 12. Sometimes I worry about friendships, too. Sometimes I get concerned that I am closer to someone than they wish to be with me. Sometimes it's the other way around and I feel uncomfortable around certain people. Sometimes I find it hard to fit in, missing the rules of engagement for a particular group. And, sometimes, like my daughter, I feel like a "poser" changing who I really am just to get along.

So who am I really? I am not someone who makes friends easily. I demand a great deal of my friends and, in turn, demand a great deal of myself as a friend. I have very few people in my life that I call close friends. In fact, my BFF (still feeling like a 12 year old) happens to be the person I live with, which is so convenient. I keep people at a distance and, while I will share what some people consider quite intimate details about my life, the real sharing happens only between me and my husband. No one else really knows who I am.

Now, having said all that, this doesn't mean that I am a hermit, living in my house, never dealing with people. I go out to lunch with a variety of colleagues each day, I attend parties, get together with other couples, and say hello to anyone and everyone I am remotely connected to. (In fact, this embarrasses my daughter greatly, although most of what I do these days embarrasses my daughter.)

The difference, I suppose, is the connections I have with all of these people. I have friends to talk about children with, friends to talk about husbands with, friends to gossip with, friends to commisserate with, friends to laugh with and cry with and go to the movies with. The closeness varies from friend to friend. Rarely do we misunderstand the closeness. This is, I believe, an understanding we learn that my daughter is still struggling with. How close is your friend? Can you be friends with someone you aren't really that close with?

On to the dictionary. According to wikipedia, friendship "denotes co-operative and supportive behavior between two or more humans." Hmmm. Doesn't say much about closeness. Can you have cooperative and supportive behavior with the friend you hang out at the mall with? Sure, if the cooperation is about where to shop and the support is how much to spend. Can you have cooperative and supportive behavior with your lunch buddies? The teacher next door? Your child (okay that went too far...there is little that is cooperative and supportive about a middle school child).

And back we come to Jen's post, "140 characters does not a friend make." As Jen asks so eloquently, "Perhaps it is just me — but I feel that I have created “friends” in the twitter environment — but can that be true? Can you know someone from 140 characters of text? Can you truly read between the lines of a private direct message? Can you get to know someone who is perhaps carefully choosing each word? "

So can you be friends with someone you meet in Twitter? Well, does that person fit the "cooperative and supportive behavior" rule?

Here are some posts from just the past two days. Some very cooperative and supportive behavior. Now granted, I was looking for these. I culled them from posts about dinner time, football games, professional development work, planning ideas, and more. But if I have someone who continually sends me supportive and cooperative twits, then perhaps I have made a twitter friend. Will I tell all my secrets to this friend? No. At least not until we've spoken in chat rooms, talked on the phone and in Skype, passed each other in blogs, and...well, you get the idea. Do we need to meet face to face? I don't think so but it sure would make the friendship seem so much more special.

So thank you to my twitter friends for being supportive and cooperative. And, I am sorry to anyone whose boundaries I overstepped. And, to all my online friends who I hope to meet face to face someday...I owe you all a big hug and maybe even a secret or two.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Shift in Thinking

This blog has been brewing in my brain for quite some time. I'm not sure why it took so long to finally make its way to paper (computer) but I think it has something to do with the fact that my shift was still underway. You see, I have come to realize that I have gone through some drastic rethinking in the past few weeks and am just ready now to start thinking about why.

I have shifted from trying to find ways to use technology in the class to embedding technology so thoroughly into my teaching that I didn't even recognize how much a part of our day it really is. Christine, my co-teacher, had to point it out to me just this week, in fact.

I have been spending a great deal of my time thinking about how hard it is to "keep up". My network, which is so new that I just started building it 8 months ago, is filled with innovative, amazing educational technology leaders. I spend my time in constant awe over what is being done "out there" and wondering how they have the time, the energy, or the knowledge to accomplish so much. I shut down often now, simply because my brain is so filled with new ideas that I just cannot hold anything else. And I live much of my time feeling like I will never be able to live up to the standards that are being set. When I go to school and my colleagues say that about me, I feel like a fraud. If only they knew what everyone else was doing.

But somewhere along the way, while I worried about keeping up with the Jones (or Kings or Wagners or Cofinos or Shareskis or Drapers get the point), my students kept learning. And I kept introducing them to more and more tools that would assist them in whatever they were endeavoring to accomplish. And, while I wondered how these people who talk about embedding technology into their classrooms actually do that, I did it. Christine and I have created a classroom where technology is a seamless part of every day, every subject, almost every lesson.

The SMARTBoard is rarely off, the class uses the blogsite daily, podcasting is happening a few times a week, screencasts are being created, wikis are used, digital stories are being produced...the list keeps growing. We learned about digital stories (Thank you, David Jakes) and immediately thought of the stories we were already writing about our favorite teachers. What great digital stories they would make. No extra time needed...we were already working on that. I listened to other people's podcasts and realized that I didn't always have to set up a podcast situation...I just had to turn on a mic. I introduced Salute to Seuss to the children, gave them free rein to create what they wanted, and they used technology naturally and easily. Problem solving in math turned into a screencast...turn on the recorder in SMART tools and go. Questions in health? Let's each take one and research it. You have 20 minutes. Then teach the rest of the class. We'll podcast your answers. Technology is now so much a part of our daily school day that the laptops have found a semi-permanent home parked outside our classroom. The children gravitate toward them.

So back to my shift from trying to use technology to actually using it. I now realize that what I needed, more than anything, was time. Time to let my new learning settle in, time to play, time to move back and forth from old teaching to new.

And, as I think about how to bring other teachers into the 21st century, I realize that they don't need to be wowed (Sorry Women of the Web - no offense meant - I do so love your show). Being wowed almost turned me off completely. I can't keep up with all the wows. And my colleagues don't need to see what I am doing in my classroom. It's too overwhelming to go from almost no technology use to almost constant use. What they need, what I needed but somehow worked through on my own, is for someone to show them how to take what they are already doing and use technology to make it...what?...easier, more engaging, prettier .... yeah, maybe just prettier. And before they realize what is happening, they will be using technology all the time. Just like me.

At least that's what I think.