Reflecting on the Purpose of My Blog

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I took the summer off from blogging, with the intention that I would return to it when school began in August.  Well, imagine my shock and dismay when I learned my library assistant was moving back home to Virginia and would not be with me this year!  The old saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” is certainly true in my case, because every day as I wait for a replacement to be hired I come across something else she used to do for me that now I’m having to do myself; hence, the lack of time for blogging. 

So I’m returning to “The View From Here” with very fresh eyes, and I’m wondering what I want to accomplish with my posts this year.  If you read my “About” page, you’ll see that I tend to clarify my thoughts and opinions by talking them out, and that I use my writings in this blog as a way to wrestle with the issues I face as a librarian managing a library and all its holdings, a teacher with a full schedule of 27 classes per week to plan for and teach, and a school technology coach responsible for helping teachers learn how use new technology and for troubleshooting their equipment when they have technical difficulties.  Yes, there’s a lot of overlap in those three areas, but there’s also enough diversity there to cause me some concern when it comes to writing blog entries.  Don’t the best bloggers choose one thing they’re passionate about and stick to the subject in their posts?

For instance, take the blog Free Technology for Teachers, which I absolutely love.  You know exactly where you stand with a blog like his; his purpose is right there in the title!  Every day he tells you about a great free web resource that you can use with your students, and it’s so helpful I keep his feed at the top of my Technology Blog tab so I don’t miss anything. 

Or how about Lucy and Ethel’s Library Schemes, an account of the endlessly creative ideas “Lucy” and her assistant “Ethel” dream up to lure students into their media center?  To quote them: “This blog is not a site where we will wax poetic in educational mumbo-jumbo about the grand scheme of all things library related. Our sole purpose is to share with other high school library personnel practical ideas we have used to bring high school students to our media center.”  

And then there’s The Planet Esme Plan, where you find the most marvellous book reviews, complete with annotated listings of related titles.  Granted, that blog name doesn’t really tell you anything about what type of content to expect from Esme’s blog, but her focus is laser sharp and the blog is a must-read when I’m preparing a book order for my library. 

Each of those blogs speaks to one of the roles I play in my professional life.  One of my roles.  Not all of them.  Which makes me wonder:  Should I narrow my scope to either books and reading OR library lesson plans OR technology integration, rather than writing about all three?  Do I need three separate blogs?  Three blogs?  Do I need to have my head examined???

But seriously, who am I writing for?  Sure, forcing myself to ponder my professional life by writing blog posts is helpful to me, but is anyone else out there really that interested in my struggles and frustrations?  Wouldn’t other educators prefer more useful information and less navel-gazing?

Well, I guess that’s what tags and categories are for.  Instead of spending so much time agonizing over what I should or shouldn’t write about, I should just revamp my organizational system so that it’s easy to locate posts that are only about tech tools, or about reading activities, or about my perspective on teaching.  That will make it easier for my readers to pick and choose among them, and I can continue the blog as a true representation of my personal experience.  Glad I got that settled!

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To Catch a Fish

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If you’ve read the “About” page of this blog, you know that I’m a person who thinks things through by talking them out, and that writing these posts is like having an internal conversation with myself to sort out my feelings on various subjects.  Lately I’ve been writing a lot about how frustrated I am with the apparent lack of interest in technology integration at my school, and I must say that even I’m getting tired of my whining on the subject!  “Oh, I wish more teachers at my school were interested in using technology in their classrooms.” 

Well, a couple of days ago a third grader shared a poem during a Poetry Pass in the Library that smacked me right between the eyes:

To Catch a Fish

It takes more than a wish
to catch a fish
you take the hook
you add the bait
you concentrate
and then you wait
but not a bite
the fish don’t have an appetite
so tell them what
good bait you’ve got
and how your bait
can hit the spot
this works a whole lot
better than a wish
if you really want
to catch a fish

Eloise Greenfield

So, am I letting my “fish” know what great bait I have, and how it can hit the spot in the classroom?  From now on, no more sitting around wishing — it’s time for positive thinking and constructive action!  I do have good bait, and it’s up to me to make sure my teachers know it!

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My Vision For Technology?

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I’m excited about writing this post, because it concerns the EdTech session that was the most thought-provoking for me: Planning a Technology Vision: I Know Where I Want to Be…Now How Do I Get There, by Jeff McCoy, Director of Instructional Technology for Greenville County Schools.  I expected the session to be about technology visions and missions and goals, and in a way it was, but not in the way I thought it would be.  Confusing?  Let me explain.

I am guilty of never having articulated Technology Vision Statement for myself personally or for my library media center.  The closest I’ve come is that I want to be known at my school as the “How to Integrate Technology (and media resources) into the Curriculum” specialist, not the “Change the Laminating Film and Come Hook Up My Printer Cable” specialist.  (And believe me, this is an uphill battle, much more so than I expected when I started this job last year!)  So I guess I thought Jeff was going to do my thinking for me and talk about Technology Visions, and I could just piggyback off of his Dreams for a Technology Utopia.  What he presented was much less mystical, much more practical. 

Jeff is the guy who is responsible for planning and implementing actual technology projects involving hardware, software, ongoing maintenance, budgeting, communicating with board members and administrators, professional development opportunities for users, and ongoing as well as final assessment of success.  Whew!  I feel exhausted just thinking about it.  The project in which he’s currently immersed is putting 5,000 Promethean boards into classrooms, training teachers not only to use them but also to troubleshoot their own technical difficulties (!), and demonstrating that their usage (they have 3,000 boards in place so far) is having a positive effect on student engagement and achievement.  Technology dreams?  Sounds more like a nightmare to me!

So Jeff is all about reality.  He took us step-by-step through how to plan for every aspect of a technology project, no matter how large or small.  He shared his early failures and his current successes with us, giving concrete examples of each.  He outlined each phase of the process, starting with approval from administrators and early buy-in from stakeholders, and ending with plans to continue building on what you originally accomplished.  He even offered some strategies for bringing curriculum zealots and IT nazis together to work in harmony!  Now that does sound like a dream!

If you’d like to learn more, visit Jeff’s website, where he shares his presentations and handouts, his training manuals and tutorials, and some “Cool Websites” that he finds valuable. 

Now, I still need to do my own thinking about technology.  After all, the first part of the session title states, “I Know Where I Want to Be….”  Do I?  I believe it’s time to do some more reflecting on just what it means to be the Technology Integration Specialist at my school, and what steps I can take to accomplish that.  How about you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it all fits together.

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If you’ve been following my blog, you know that a few weeks ago I created a Delicious account and imported all the bookmarks from my home computer, then spent many hours tagging them.  If you’ve seen some of the comments I’ve posted to others’ blogs, you also know that a week later, when I tried to access Delicious from my school computer so that I could import and tag all of those bookmarks, I was horrified to find the site blocked.  I immediately sent a pleading e-mail to our district technology coordinator requesting that the site be unblocked, and I found out yesterday that my request had been granted!  Whew! 

I discovered Delicious just as I was beginning to realize what an inconvenience it was to have two separate sets of bookmarks, one at school and the other at home, so I was immediately attracted to the site as a way of solving a personal problem.  Now that I’ve explored it further I am seeing the value of Delicious as a networking tool as well, and this is where the real shift in thinking is occurring for me through the SCASL 23 Things program.  After all, throughout my entire career I’ve adopted tools to make my job easier, whether it be something as low-tech as a subscription to a professional magazine, or as high-tech as a computerized cataloging and circulation system, so using internet resources to help me do my job better is really nothing new.  It’s the interaction, the ability to connect with other educators to share and collaborate and create that makes Web 2.0 so different and so valuable.  I’m not just working in isolation, passively viewing and adopting the work of others, but rather I’m responding and discussing and contributing to the common good.  That’s the power of a network!

So, I’ve added SCASL to my Delicious network, along with another user who also seems to be collecting school librarian-type websites.  From now on, I will certainly be more aware of which of the bloggers I follow are sharing their sites through Delicious so that I can check them out as well.  I know now how take a look at the most popular sites on Delicious, and when I’m researching a particular topic I can do a quick tag search to see what websites others are finding useful.  And I’ll be sure to share what I find, too, to keep the circle going.

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Stages of Personal Learning

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This past summer when I started the 12 Things program through the School Library Journal website, I came across a blog entry from The Thinking Stick by Jeff Utecht that intrigued me.  The post is entitled Stages of Personal Learning Networks Adoption, and it outlines the path most educators take when they begin changing the way they teach, learn, and interact:

Stage 1 Immersion: Immerse yourself into networks. Create any and all networks you can find where there are people and ideas to connect to. Collaboration and connections take off.

Stage 2 Evaluation: Evaluate your networks and start to focus in on which networks you really want to focus your time on. You begin feeling a sense of urgency and try to figure out a way to “Know it all.”

Stage 3 Know It All: Find that you are spending many hours trying to learn everything you can. Realize there is much you do not know and feel like you can’t disconnect. This usually comes with spending every waking minute trying to be connected to the point that you give up sleep and contact with others around you to be connected to your networks of knowledge.

Stage 4 Perspective: Start to put your life into perspective. Usually comes when you are forced to leave the network for awhile and spend time with family and friends who are not connected (a vacation to a hotel that does not offer a wireless connection, or visiting friends or family who do not have an Internet connection).

Stage 5 Balance: Try and find that balance between learning and living. Understanding that you can not know it all, and begin to understand that you can rely on your network to learn and store knowledge for you. A sense of calm begins as you understand that you can learn when you need to learn and you do not need to know it all right now.

Well, I realized last weekend that in exploring the SCASL 23 Things this fall, I had definitely followed this path up right up to Stage 3, and it wasn’t good.  I was feeling totally overwhelmed by how many tools were out there just waiting to be discovered, and I was despairing of ever mastering them all.  Suddenly it seemed appropriate to revisit that blog entry in search of some perspective and balance.  As I scrolled down and began to read the comments on Jeff’s post, certain sentences began to jump out at me.  The first commenter said, “I find that a number of people will reach Stage 3 and then decide that it is all too much and drop their PLN altogether.”  Hmmm, others must experience that feeling of “so many tools; so little time,” too. 

The second comment was even more to the point:  “Somewhere between Stage 3 & 4, if we hope to make it to Stage 5, we must first admit we have a problem. That’s what it feels like–an addiction that can consume us. I’m glad to hear someone else’s spouse is fussing, reminding him that life does exist beyond the keyboard and glowing screen. ”  Wow, I’m not the only one experiencing this determination to learn everything about 2.0 or fall asleep over my computer at midnight trying! 

Obviously it was time for some Stage 4 Perspective!  According to Jeff, this usually occurs when a user is forced to leave the network for some reason.  Well, with no vacation, computer theft, or extended power outages in sight, I just had to give myself a time out.  I took last week off and, except for whatever e-mailing, etc. had to be done at work, I stayed completely away from the computer.  I read no blogs, listened to no technology podcasts, played with no new flickr toys, and created no new web accounts. 

It really wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  In fact, as much as I have been enjoying these learning exercises, it was actually a bit of a relief to devote my evenings to something other than the computer for awhile, which is probably a sign of impending burnout. 

Remember earlier in this post, when I said I was despairing of mastering all of these tools?  Well, I’ve realized I don’t have to master everything, and certainly not immediately.  My attitude should be that I’m surveying the web, sampling from the 2.0 buffet, not loading up my plate and stoically eating my way byte by byte through it all. 

My goal now is to be a more thoughtful user of Web 2.0, putting more time into the activities that are meaningful to me, rather than spreading myself too thin over a larger number of applications.  After all, by beginning with the end in mind (remember the 7 1/2 Habits?) I can always go back and learn what I need to learn, when I need to learn it, for any project I might care to undertake.  And that’s surely the path that will lead to Balance.

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Style and Substance

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Well, I finally finished tagging all 355 of my bookmarks in Delicious! This was one of those mind-numbing organizational tasks that just has to be done, like sorting your email into folders so you can find that important message from your principal a month from now. But something good actually came of reviewing all the sites I’ve bookmarked up until this point: I reacquainted myself with all the wonderful content that is available on the net. I took a second look at some sites I want to share with my teachers. I dusted off those plans to start a book discussion group with some of my students. And I reminded myself that the content has to drive the technology, not the other way around.

It’s easy to be wowed by all the flashy 2.0 applications that are out there.  It’s easy to get so caught up in exploring all the “cool tools” that I neglect to spend time implementing what I’m learning in my media center program.  And what’s worse, it’s easy to start a project like a blog or a wiki or a podcast and then fail to maintain it.

For example, ever since I learned about Google Book Search in August, I have been using it to keep a list of all the books from the Alice Drive Elementary Library collection that I’ve read since I started teaching at the school last year. It’s linked from my media center webpage so that my students can see what I’m reading and hopefully find something they’d like to check out. I realized today that I haven’t posted any new titles in over a week!  This is partly because lately I’ve spent more time with the computer than with a book, and partly because I just haven’t taken the time to add the books I did read.  Will the kids notice I haven’t added anything new this week?  Probably not. But it’s a slippery slope when you start to let those projects slide.

So I guess this blog post is really more of a reflection on the need to keep my technology priorities straight, rather than a description of my experience with Delicious.  But that’s okay; it’s just part of sharing The View From Here.

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Life-Long Learning

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I just finished viewing the 7 1/2 Habits of Lifelong Learners video, which was interesting to me because it presents a different viewpoint of learning – putting the learner in control of the process and outcome.  Too many of us in education keep all of the learning “power” in our own hands, rather than allowing our students to make decisions.  Even within a set curriculum, there ought to be room to factor in the interests and strengths of the individual learner, perhaps in the topic chosen, the resources used, or the end products created.  Starting now, I plan to look for ways to give students more freedom of choice when it comes to projects.

The easiest of the habits for me is accepting responsiblity for my own learning.  I have always been willing to read and research new things, attend workshops and trainings, and play around with available technologies.  Although not a digital native, I attended college in the 80s when computers were beginning to be widely used, so I’ve used them enthusiastically throughout my professional life.

Ironically, the most difficult habit for me can be using technology to make my life easier.  That’s because sometimes it seems as though the amount of time it takes to become proficient with an application outweighs the time that will be saved in the end, or that the time to learn a new skill just isn’t available at all.  It’s probably Habit #1, Begin With the End in Mind, that will help with this problem.  If I can pinpoint a particular task and recognize that there is a more efficient way to accomplish it, then I can feel good about taking the necessary time to become familiar with the new way of doing things.

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