This is a unique time of year. As I write this article, we are in the midst of Thanksgiving and heading toward the Christmas season. Traditionally, this is the time of year when people are most grateful. How ironic it is that the season was prefaced by the release of our latest and most stressful test scores ever. It is without a doubt a very taxing time of year for all educators across the state, and finding the thankfulness is difficult.
French journalist Alphonse Karr said, “Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.” As we approach the daunting task of what to do next, we have a choice about how we approach it. Instead of seeing the thorns, we need to see the roses – the opportunities. With our unique situation here in Kentucky, we have the chance to demonstrate what good teaching is all about: teamwork. Whether we realize it or not, as the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and mathematics, and the first whose test scores reflect those standards, we aren’t the only ones paying special attention. Other states, most of whom have not started to implement the new standards yet, are watching Kentucky as we foreshadow the road ahead of them.
Jean Piaget said, “The principle goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.” The new standards are designed to do just what Piaget suggests, but being a trailblazer on this noble path is pretty scary business. Fortunately, there are a multitude of tools to make the journey easier, and the one that can lead us to and corral all the others is technology. It is no secret that I am a huge fan of technology in the classroom, but one of my favorite reasons to use technology is that it not only helps our students, but also supports the teacher. Over the next weeks and months, we will all work together to analyze scores and look back at what worked or didn’t. Most will use technology as a means to rework materials and locate new resources, but this type of research is the tip of the iceberg. One of the best ways to utilize this resource is through connecting and collaborating. Online networking – 21st-century teamwork – has become a very powerful tool. Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, we can work together across states and the nation to bring the best education possible to our students.
I am a member of several online groups of teachers from around the state and nation and cannot say enough about the high-quality conversation found there. I often refer to it as my “PD on Demand” because I can work on my schedule and my topic of need and participate as much or as little as I want. I have discovered that, especially in reference to the new standards, networking in this way gives me a sense of renewal and inspiration. I think the relief I feel as a result is a combination of the old adage “two heads are better than one” and holding a friend’s hand when you enter a haunted house. Either way, the support is invaluable.
I encourage you, if you are not involved, to link up with an online group to supplement what you are doing in your Professional Learning Committees. There is a plethora of online groups found through list serves, blogs and content area organizations – both state and national. My favorite site for sharing ideas is Edmodo, which has many other sites linked to its communities page. Edmodo isn’t just for student social networking. Many teachers use it simply for the educator benefits found on the communities page, which can lead you to so many other online groups for all age groups and content areas. The resources are limitless, access is free, and empathetic colleagues are waiting.
When you get frustrated, remember, while we must “boldly go where no man has gone before,” we do not go alone. I think of songwriter Bill Withers’ iconic song, Lean on Me, and as I, like most of you, reflect and rework my curriculum again I am thankful this holiday season that I have others to lean on both in my own school and online.
Kristal Doolin, a language arts teacher at Corbin Middle School in the Corbin Independent school district, was named the 2013 Teacher of the Year on Oct. 17, 2012. During her year-long reign, Doolin will write a monthly column for Kentucky Teacher that chronicles her experience as a classroom teacher. The column runs the second Thursday of each month.