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Friday, September 12, 2008

Dear Tom Part 3: Be a Visionary or Be Blindsided



Another installment in the email correspondence between Tom Harrison, 7th grade teacher in Delaware and me.  In Email Letter 1, we talked about wikis, Letter 2 was a follow up on wikis and blogs, and in this letter we talk about wiki text, diigo and bookmark sharing, and staying motivated when other teachers seem not to care about what we're doing.

Thank you, Tom, for your transparency and willingness to let us share our conversations openly.  In this letter, Tom is in blue and I am in black -- following are the two emails we shared yesterday.

Vicki,
Feel free to continue sharing.  I have a reputation as being transparent and saying what I think.  Sometimes that gets me in trouble, but how I feel and what I think is just the way I perceive things and that's that.  Around here I go by the "handle" of Biogeek (tells you something about me, doesn't it), but Tom Cat is really cute (never thought I would say that to ANYTHING related to me!).  Feel free to use that if you think that works.  I will let you know if things need to be private.

Biogeek!  ;-)  Sounds like you have the name of the blog already done.
You totally lost me with the comment about wikitext.  What in the world is that?  Please tell me because if I don't know then my kids are sure to find it and I will be !%*!!

If you go into the edit mode and click on "text editor" you'll see the programming language that is behind wikis.   Sometimes a page will "glitch" and I have to go into wikitext to fix it -- particularly with the headings.
After you're more comfortable, you may want to take the time to go through the wikitext tutorial on wikispaces. (http://help.wikispaces.com/Help.Text+Editor shows about text editors and here is the information on Wikitext (http://help.wikispaces.com/Help.Wikitext). 
The most important ones to me for "fixing" problems are the horizonantal rule and the headings (which are done with equal signs -- one equal sign on each side makes a heading 1 -- like this =Computer Fundamentals= would put a heading at the top of the page that says computer fundamentals.

The other essential wikitext that you can just type on the page in the wiki editor is the table of contents tag -- I teach this to my students in the first lesson -- [[toc]] anywhere on the page will take the headings and make it into a table of contents. I require them on every page!
I, too, am really enjoying the conversation.  I agree with your thoughts on sharing.  I am attempting to do what I can in my district.  I started a district science teachers Ning site for all of us to share.  So far almost no one is using it.  I do have a Diigo account and I am just starting to use that.  I still don't get most of it, but I am learning.

Why don't you join us on the educator diigo group - it is a GREAT place to share and Anne Bubnic is a wonder and is a master of keeping it organized.  Besides Maggie Tsai, Anne is my Diigo GURU -- we also have another group collecting and organizing links for digital citizenship called Advocates for Digital Citizenship Safety & Success (ad4dcss for short) - we are categorizing and organizing links based upon Digital Citizenship in Schools by Mike Ribble.
I still feel so far behind the curve.  I sort of envy those teachers who just don't care about all this stuff.  We still have teachers here who feel that using email is huge stretch.  (Scary sometimes when I hear this stuff in meetings.)  In many ways they are short-changing their students and hurting their survival in this business.  But I know that they seem less stressed.  The pace of change is a bit overwhelming and I feel like no matter how quickly I learn new things there are more left to learn (and the shear number is increasing exponentially).  It's also getting much harder to figure out what will work with my curricula, the technology I have available, and the way my students learn.  I have no idea how we keep up.  It was easier years ago to just take out the good old textbook and start with Chapter 1.  I know teachers who are still doing that...and it is probably a lot easier that way.  I feel bad for their students because they are missing out on so much.  But sometimes I would love to go back to that way of teaching.  Of course, there is that small little piece of the puzzle called learning (both for my students and me!) that keeps me moving forward.  I guess if using your brain consistently keeps Alzheimer's away, those of us involved in learning and sharing all this stuff must be immune!

Wow!  I think we all feel that way.  However, let me tell you this.  Many horses race in many events -- but the ones that are remembered are the ones who win the race.  The teachers who are stretching and evolving, changing and improving are the WINNERS!  They are the ones who connect with students and stretch their brains.  The teachers who prepare kids for the jobs they will have tomorrow are the ones who will be thanked. 

Now, like you, I know of some great teachers who use the textbook and are very good teachers.  But all of the teachers I know like that who are truly GREAT are stretching in their own way.  It may mean that they are using PowerPoint for the first time or Word Art or Venn Diagrams in Word 2008, however, if it is a stretch and it is new, it is an evolution even if it pales in comparison to your revolution

We must encourage those teachers to go where it is appropriate for their class and their work.  None of us are clones of one another and we have to do what we are where we are. 

It is easy to judge others and see what THEY need to be doing. However, when I get judgemental, I take a look at my monstrous stack of papers and my wish list of things I WANT to do and realize that I'm in a competition with myself to improve myself every day and every year. 

We're either improving or getting worse -- no in between.  Better or worse.  Helpful or hurtful.  Inspiring or demotivating.  I've not ever seen a teacher that wasn't one or the other of these things.

So, be the winner -- the one who finishes the race and emblazons hope and wisdom and problem solving ability on the brains of the future leaders of this world.  Be the excellent teacher that you are and realize it takes time for others to understand what you're talking about.  We're blazing the trails that other teachers will follow later on. 

I'd rather be a visionary than blindsided, how about you?
Well, I need to focus on some actual teaching now.  I am currently working with a student teacher which leaves me a little time to do things like this while class is going on...as long as I can multi-task ( a real challenge being male!).

Me too -- got lots to grade, but I'm still enjoying our conversations -- look forward to more conversations in the future.
Thanks again for everything.  I'll keep you posted on my progress.
Tom
 2nd Email from Tom

"Vicki,
Thanks for clearing up the wikitext thing.  You were just referring to the text editor (jargon alert!) which I use frequently when things in the visual editor are being cantankerous.  I was curious as to how you did your Table of Contents...and now I know!  I will try to set that up on my space later this weekend.  Thanks for that.  You anticipated an upcoming question...well done!  I will put checking out the text editor tutorial on my "to do" list for once things settle down a little.
You were correct about those teachers who are stretching in their own way.  I am not seeing too many left who are pulling out the same plans this week that they have used for the past 10 years.  For some, learning how to use email or PowerPoint is a big step.  I love helping them with that stuff.  I am one of the administrators of our school web site and am always helping teachers wherever they are and with whatever they need.  I also was not being judgmental.  I just think sometimes that it would be a little easier to be at the back end of the curve than the beginning...but then that's not my personality.  I got into teaching late after another career and have felt that I had to hurry, hurry, hurry to be current since I got such a late start.  I have learned that it's just my personality to want to compete...always against myself.  I love pushing my limits and seeing how much I can learn and incorporate so my students do better.  I am one of the early adopters (although not at the very beginning of that scale) and love being able to share my mistakes with my fellow teachers when they attempt the things I have tried.  That's why I came to you in the first place!  As to one of your last comments, I hate being blindsided.
I will check out the Diigo group.  Sounds like fun!
Take care,
Tom"
 Now to make a point, these types of conversations are being carried on behind the scenes in tens of thousands of teacher email boxes around the globe.  Becoming connected is the first step to flattening your classroom!  It is true!

And we are gaining our PD from one another!  We are our own PD now.  Perhaps this is why many of us are frustrated w/ traditional "binge" PD experiences.  We're in PD daily!  Let us apply what we learn and let it count for something (although that is not why we do it.)

If you're not connected, you're missing something.  It may be an email to someone.  It may be a comment on a blog.  It may be trying a blog on your own.

The question is -- what are you doing to connect?  There is nothing to be ashamed of in beginning now -- I'm a "late beginner" in Web 2.0 too.  

Weather changes rapidly and so can your classroom -- we just want it to be for the positive!


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