Monday, July 14, 2008

An Existential Crisis (Sort Of)


I had an interesting conversation with my wife the other day about "THE FUTURE."
Now, it wasn't the kind of conversation you might be thinking, where she confronts me, a la Twisted-Sister-video-adult-"what-do-you-want-to-do-with-your-life?" This was more of a, "So, what's next?"-type of thing, and it raised some questions within myself.
First, a little background: I was a classroom teacher for 9 years, and while my colleagues and administrators might have described me as excellent or outstanding, I never really felt like I was that great. Sure, I knew my subject matter, I like kids, and didn't have huge classroom management problems, but I always felt like I could do better. I don't know if that's a result of insecurity with my abilities, low self-esteem, or an awareness that one can always improve, but I never fully felt comfortable with the praise of others.
During my teaching career, I earned a master of arts degree in educational technology (from a school where I really felt like I worked for the degree and deserved it, not a pay-for-advancement-on the pay-scale kind of place), and started providing tech support and some staff development at my school site. I received a stipend for this service, as well as spots on school- and district-level leadership committees. I felt comfortable doing this, and thought this might be the direction in which my future lay, a "tech guy" at a district, or even county, office.
A few years passed, and my classroom teaching experience began to decline. I was getting burned out, and didn't have the mental energy to devote to innovation in my teaching. Fortunately, I recognized this condition before it was too late, and knew I had to make a change, to get out before I became toxic to the kids and to the school as a whole. I went back to school again, and earned a masters in educational leadership and administrative credential. I felt that I could still make a positive impact on the lives of kids without grinding myself down in the classroom, a place I was no longer happy. I hadn't given up on the idea of a "tech guy" position, and in fact felt I was becoming more qualified be getting site administrative experience.
The doubts began to creep in, though, as I followed edubloggers, people like Bud Hunt, Kathy Schrock, Eric Langhorst, and others, who were really doing ed tech, who were innovating in the classroom and teaching others how to do it. "Do I belong with these people?" I asked myself. "Is this something I am really capable of doing?"

"Is it where I belong?"

What do I really have to offer as a leader in educational technology? Well:
  • I have a familiarity with what's "out there" because I keep up with trends and developments.
  • I understand how schools work and what teachers need, because I've been there.
  • I have a "big picture" point of view from my experience as an adminstrator (not to mention my experience as the husband of one!)
  • I have, according to my wife, anyway, an ability to explain technology to non-tech-y people.
But, I haven't really done a lot of the things that are big in ed tech now. Web 2.0 wasn't really in existence when I got my first MA, and by the time it was around I was in the throes of burnout. I used a classroom blog as a communication tool for students and parents, and tried to teach some information literacy along with the social studies curriculum, but never wiki'd, moodle'd, or podcast'd. I know about these things, but can't talk about them first-hand, can't say, "Well, in my class..." I believe these are things that are good for kids, good for schools, good for education, but I don't know that I have the "street cred" necessary for the "tech guy" job.

So, where does that leave me? As I see it, I have a couple of options:
  • Stick with site administration, and support my teachers as they use these tools in their classrooms. Encourage them to innovate where I did/could not. Hold them up as examples to others, and effect change that way.
  • Personal professional development. Attend workshops, NECCs, CUE conferences, whatever I can in order to fill in the gaps I perceive in my knowledge base, then go after that "tech guy" job. Instead of "This worked for me," say, "I've seen this work in other classrooms."
  • Become the leading Luddite in Southern California, fight against all technology in classrooms, and make sure my schools return to blackboards and paper-only assignments.
Honestly, I think some combination of the first 2 options is the way to go. I love what I'm doing now, and can see myself as a principal of a school in the next 3-5 years, but I don't think that's where I am destined to spend the remainder of my career. I still have 20-25 years or so left before retirement, after all, so it's way too early to settle in.
The question remains, though, "What next?" Right now, the answer is, "I'm not sure."
What do YOU think? I welcome your input.

6 comments:

Chris Lehmann said...

I think we need principals who can help teachers harness the tools, wed to smart pedagogy, to change our schools.

Be that guy. We don't need more great tech guys, we've got a lot. We need school leaders who have a vision.

Bud Hunt said...

Chris beat me to it - and I agree with him.

Eric Langhorst said...

From your thoughts posted above, I would agree with Chris and Bud - be a tech leader as an administrator. I would love to see a building lead by a principal where the "technology" is not a gadget but rather a natural part of the curriculum. You don't need to have created a podcast or set up a Moodle to help make it a part of the culture of your building. I think one of the biggest gaps we currently have in education is the one between teachers trying to push with these tools and some administrators who aren't even aware of what the potential of these tools.

I have thought about moving into a "tech guy" position - my district actually created several of these for the upcoming school year and I choose not to apply because I enjoy being in the classroom. I still help as a part of district tech committees and I'm what they call a "tech mentor" in my building. That is where I am at right now but that might change in a couple of years.

I feel a little odd giving you advice about huge life changing decisions but I would hope that you follow your heart and don't let the fact that you haven't used some of these tools directly in the classroom impact a possible move into administration.

Thanks for the comment about following my work - I am humbled and it made my day.

Eric

Mark Wagner said...

Jim,

I think I'm jumping on the bandwagon with this one. One of the biggest things I've learned from training administrators in the AB 430 program is that if there's one person who's fire you want to light (about technology and learning) on a school site, it's the administrator. You'll be in a better position to effect change.

I'd add one caveat though... be sure you pick a place where you'll have the freedom to innovate and support innovation. I think Chris has found one of these places. At this point I think there is such need for change that you are well justified in going for the low hanging fruit and not settling in for a demoralizing uphill battle. Make sure you choose your next site, not the other way around. ;)

Not that I'm in any position to talk, having chosen another route altogether, but that's my 2 cents anyway. :)

-Mark

Mr. C said...

I am thankful for the Blogosphere.
I know of no other venue where, as a complete unknown entity, I can approach some of the best known names for advice. And get it.
Thank you, Chris, Bud, Eric, and Mark, for taking the time to read my post and offer your opinion. I wager none of you would really consider yourselves to be celebrities, but the truth is, in the educational technology world, anyway, that description is not that far from reality. Seriously, ask around.
I appreciate the advice!

Kathy Schrock said...

I definitely agree with the group-- to move seamless technology infusion ahead, the school leader has to "understand the possibilities" and it is obvious you do! You don't have to know how to do it all, just what it can do.

In addition to supporting your teachers, allowing them to take a risk and try something new, while keeping them attuned to student achievement, is important. I use the Leadership and Vision standard in the current ISTE NETS*A when I need to get myself back on track in the district.

Kathy