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Saturday, 23 August 2014

Things We Learn From Our Students


Every year, in June, our school board has a special event called Staff Recognition Night. During this auspicious occasion, we honour those staff members who are retiring. Our retirees are asked if they would like to make a speech, and many of them do. I love hearing those speeches and listening to how our various staff members have been modelled and shaped by their careers in education. 

One of my favourite speeches this year was by a Secondary teacher named Mark Whinton. Mark taught Tech as a Department Head at one of our high schools for twenty years. In his speech, he shared how he was influenced and supported by his many colleagues. But what I really loved about his speech was how Mark shared what he has learned from his students over the years. 

I've asked Mark if I could share his comments here on my blog and he graciously agreed. 

CC licensed photo  shared by Flickr user DigitalRalph
From my students I've learned a few things over the years, primarily about technology;
            1. Be an early adopter of technology - while students were learning Facebook back in 2007 the             Board was busy blocking it on our intranet system so they couldn't use it but a                                         student showed me and others an easy way around it. - As of last August the Board now has its             own Facebook page and it can be accessed from school - who is teaching who here?
                       
2. Go to YouTube (now the third most visited place on the planet) was the “go to” place if you wanted to fix something.
3. What they were interested in was all self taught and they didn't do it for a credit or money but simply because they were interested in learning it. - texting, developing, editing and sharing images, videos and music. Creating and using social media sites developing websites and blogs etc. Amazingly I realized they had created nothing short of a new system of knowledge. This system is so prevalent and undeniable that in today’s society the primary source of knowledge comes from a system of digital news not a classroom, not a newspaper, not a book and not a teacher. It comes from everyone and anyone at anytime.
So in my retirement I see myself putting to good use the lessons I have been taught by my students by creating an HCDSB NEWS site for former students, and staff, something I hope that will keep me connected to my former students and my many friends at the HCDSB.

When I suggest to some teachers that they tear down their classroom walls by encouraging their students to connect to the world outside of the classroom, they tell me they are not yet comfortable with the technology. I think they need to learn from Mark Whinton's experience. Students are teaching themselves how to use social media to share, connect and learn from one another, not because they are being told to, just because they are interested in learning how. We need to jump on that bandwagon. We don't need to be comfortable to do so. Our students, even the youngest ones, will teach us! We can and should be learners together in the classroom. 

We need more teachers like Mark Whinton who recognize that in education we can't afford to be the last ones joining in the digital world. We need to be the early adopters, the trend setters, the ones willing to take the risks. That is what we need our students to become when they get out into the world to take care of us in our retirement, the innovators and problems solvers. We need to start promoting that now!

As you step into your classroom in the next few weeks, please think about technology. How will you make it available to your students? What would you like them to teach you about their digital worlds? How will you use the ability to connect with others outside the classroom to stimulate and empower your students this year?

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