Thursday, January 14, 2010

Make Active Patience a Habit of Life

So often in the discussion of ed tech integration -- and perhaps especially so in the discussion of bringing social media into the classroom -- teachers who consider themselves savvy in this digital age become frustrated with those who would rather not change their habits of teaching.

This frustration is understandable, but it is nonetheless unhealthy.

In my experience, the majority of teachers and admins opposed to social tech integration are those for whom social media itself has not become a habit of life. It is not that they are inherently 'against' whatever it is that social media suggests; if anything, they have so little understanding of it in the first place that 'engagement' is moot.

But engagement is the key. For engagement is active involvement; it is the truth of social media that often lies obscured by so much of that in the blogosphere and twitterverse that is banal and petty. We here in this conversation often tend to think of SM as fundamentally 'good', but a quick stroll through the comments on YouTube readily suggests that labels such as 'good' or 'bad' do not apply so easily to the Net; and perhaps we are better off gauging our critical eye towards modalities of static vs. dynamic, engaged vs. disengaged, active vs. passive. Certainly, the way in which we choose to describe what we find online tells alot about our own personal experience within the digital realm.

Now let's consider that admin who has heard some good things about social media, but who for several reasons resists allowing access in the classroom. Let's think about that teacher who by all regards has led a distinguished career, but who sees the current trends in ed tech as just another in a long line of educational fads. Let's think about the young teacher who can't wrap the mind around the idea that the same platform one uses to have a laugh with friends can be used to educate children.

How do we engage these folks? How do we get them to 'buy in'?

The traditional route in schools has been for those in charge to tell those on the ground that they are going to buy in. There is no choice: buy in or perish.

This route, however, is the source of so much frustration, anguish, and rough rivalry in education. It is all about power -- and the resulting friction is a source of untold amounts of unnecessary negative energy.

The second route is for those in charge to allocate limited control to committees with the charge of leading the parade. The problem with this admittedly very common solution is that it creates -- at least in the minds of many of those outside of the circle -- a minor hierarchy. Frustration therefore is directed towards the minor hierarchy, which by definition has only the most limited control and is therefore rendered passive by the negative energy directed towards it.

And so, we so often find ourselves in situations where stasis is tolerated in the name of definitional workplace satisfaction.

And so often with regards to ed tech and social tech integration, nothing gets done and no one understands why.

Well, the 'why' gets back to the very first point, namely: the majority of teachers and admins opposed to social tech integration are those for whom social media itself has not become a habit of life.

Without social media being a habit of life -- not unlike reading a newspaper or writing a letter have long been worthwhile and generous habits of life -- it will not be internalized. A operator within the realm of social media who has not internalized it as a habit of life will be as successful at understanding social media as an illiterate is at understanding a newspaper. Even less dramatically, consider the Op-Ed pages of your favorite paper. Given your familiarity with a given columnist, you may or may not truly be internalizing -- and thus understanding -- what is being said; but if the columnist is unknown to you, you may have more difficulty grasping certain habitual nuances of a given argument.

In other words, if you ain't a regular reader, you may not understand what all the hub-bub is about.

The same goes for social media.

In light of this, it should appear rather obvious to us that the best way to go about invigorating your faculty with the engaging values of social technology is not by some hamfisted top-down approach, nor through committee-level prognostication, but rather by allowing individuals themselves the opportunity to let themselves buy in.

And how is this done?

We so often think of 'patience' as a form of waiting. We are 'patient' when waiting in line at the supermarket; we are 'patient' when sitting in a traffic jam at rush hour. This type of 'patience' is passive; it is the patience of not being in control.

But there is another form of 'patience'.

There is the form of 'patience' that we need to exhibit when teaching a small child how to throw a ball. There is the 'patience' needed to get a bill through congress. There is the 'patience' of opening oneself up to one's inner feelings through meditation or prayer or ritual or deep thought. These are active forms of patience; they are forms of patience that are active complements to the will. The purpose of being patient with a child is to teach it. The purpose of being patient in legislating is to get the legislation through. The purpose of being patient in the approach to inner understanding is to manifest that which is within.

And it is that sort of patience -- active patience -- that should guide our thinking in making manifest our desire to get a whole faculty to 'buy in' to the full integration of tech and social media.

What does this look like at the practical level?

The key to becoming immersed in social media lies in the individual interest of a given person. While Teacher A may be an excellent history instructor and Teacher B may be a seasoned math teacher, in the life that exists outside-of-the-classroom the former's greatest passion may be for modern dance and the latter's for jazz. Rather than bring them together and try to get them passionate about using social tech in their classrooms, demonstrate to them what resources are available out there in the world of social media and then let them use it to pursue their own personal interests.

Let them experience the joy of discovering what social media has to offer them rather than telling them what a joy social media is.

Down the road, help teachers with similar outside interests start Delicious groups and write collaborative blogs. Give them time during the school day to collaborate on outside-of-school projects and encourage them to use the resources of social media to bring those projects to fruition. Re-allocate your scheduled meeting times and resource many of the mundane functions of faculty meetings to the Web and instead hold faculty meetings where you give teachers the floor to give presentations on the things they love outside of school.

This is all part of the method of active patience.

By letting teachers use social media to explore their own interests -- whether or not those interests are 'directly' related to school -- you will foster a culture that fundamentally understands and values the resources of the digital age. The 21st century faculty will create itself.

Just be patient.


  1. You hit the nail on the head. Nobody likes a zealot colleague telling them how to do things. Great post.

  2. All of this patience is wonderful, except that school is becoming more and more irrelevant to the students everyday. We are losing our audience.

  3. This works. Our staff established netvibes/igoogle to initially import their own interests.
    Only one, eyebrow raising, PD suggestion was made. Nothing to do with school was allowed, unless you choose to.
    The strongest shared revelation was addding our local paper RSS. It has proved powerful in embedding social media use amongst staff. Over the past 18 months they've become more comfortable with other forms of social media that works for them. Yes patience is a virtue, so is relevance. Great post.

  4. Very insightful! Sharing this with the tech leaders in our school...thanks!

  5. I appreciated your commments and thoughts. We all need to come to the realization on our own and in our way that technology is our friend! I agree with your comments that if you're not connected and linked in on your own it's hard to see any value for the classroom. Demanding that classroom teachers incorporate more techonolgy into their classroom when they are not familiar and enthused about it on their own is setting schools up for highly-stressed teachers. For the sake of education in the US, I hope more of our educators begin to come around...

  6. Great post for several reasons...
    Definition of patience was excellent...good examples. Idea for teacher inservice or faculty meeting , excellent.
    It is really hard to get teachers and sometimes administrators to see the value of social media and by starting with what is relative to them (their own interests) is the stragey we have to use to engage students in topics they do not see as valuable.


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