Emerging Tech Reflection

It’s hard to believe that sixteen weeks has gone by (I’m assuming the semester is 16 weeks; as that’s what mine at the local community college where I teach are). I was really nervous to take graduate courses again; it’s been about ten years since I’ve been a student and I had a lot of things to think about: I’ve been emotionally burnt out as a teacher for probably the last nine years and have felt very lost around figuring out what to do. I’ve thought about editing and going back to corporate America, where I worked from 21-25 before I started graduate school and became a teacher. Then, I spent the better part of the last year and a half talking to family, friends, and former colleagues about how to best pivot in the education field. I knew I wanted something where I could use my MA in English Education and on some level, utilize my writing degree.

Enter the Library Media Studies program. To be honest, I am still on the fence about pursuing this program. I chose the school at hand because it’s close to home and it’s significantly less expensive than the other library program in my state. That being said, I had a mixed experience this semester between the two courses I took and it has me questioning if this is the best place for me to continue.

All that being said, I rather enjoyed my emerging tech class. I learned a lot throughout the semester in this course and feel a slight sense of confidence around my abilities to take chances in learning new technologies and being able to introduce others to said technologies. This is a really big deal for me because I’ve never considered myself particularly tech-savvy and while I still wouldn’t use that term to describe myself, I definitely have the confidence to run PD sessions or classroom-based instruction or even presentations to school stakeholders. I really enjoyed learning new technologies and have several ‘bookmarked’ for ease of future use. Learning new technologies was not my only highlight in this course; however. I also enjoyed participated in the course discussions. My peers offered such insight into their school experiences and were constantly sharing information beyond what we read in class. I truly appreciated the engagement week to week.

My favorite part of the class was probably having topics to blog about — so much so that I asked for a topic book for Christmas so that I have more ideas outside of kids, tantrums, travel, running, eating, and yoga. Aside from my appreciation to writing, I truly enjoyed completing the assignments for class and thinking about how I could use them in the future. I really love the idea of being in a school library because I think it’s the perfect merge of interest and skill for me. It’s a position that will allow me to use my ELA teaching skills, my writing skills, and my passion for reading and learning and teaching.

It’s difficult to picture what things will look like in the next couple of years for school librarians in my area. I hope to find a position that allows me to really build upon what’s in place to work with teachers, staff, students, and families to really improve the school experience and it’s something I’m looking forward to.

Learning Theory Project

I am wrapping up the fall semester and have a final project due in my non-emerging tech course. For this assignment, we were tasked with using a creative outlet to present our final views on learning theory: what our views are, how we want to achieve them, and how we want to ensure our students succeed.

When I first started teaching, I had grandiose views of how things would work. It was great to imagine these ideal classroom situations; they quickly disappeared the first time a student got jumped outside of my classroom, or maybe it was the time a student ran through the halls after lighting his backpack on fire, or maybe it was one of the drive-by shootings that took place just steps away from the front doors. My ideological ways certainly shifted but much of them remained in-tact. I learned that I needed to adjust my understanding of my students to ever have the true gist of how to teach them, guide them, and learn from them.

That is what I did. I opened my eyes and I opened my ears. I looked for cues students put out into the universe; I listened to things students said in passing as they walked by my classroom; I read their papers and focused on their text:self connections; I heard them. Admittedly, I grew up in a stable environment and have lived (and still do) a largely privileged life, so figuring out what to do with all of the information I was taking involved quite the learning curve, but I figured out how to address students social-emotional needs in such a way that made academic progress possible.

My first year of teaching was rough: I was 25 and had no experience working with youth. I also had no exposure to the school I was in. I was given a reading textbook and basically told ‘good luck’ — from there, I created an entire reading guide for both ninth and tenth grade ELA and was part of a two-person team to design DC-CAS pretests and preparation that led to the highest scores our tenth graders had seen in years (sadly, still underperforming AYP).

It’s hard to think that was over 10 years ago. When I first took human development classes, I was in so far over my head that it all felt like words flying at me. Nobody addressed the issues going on with my students. Today, I am in a much different position: I’m a parent; I’ve had the exposure of teaching for the last 12 years at both the secondary and post-secondary levels; I’ve welcomed foster children into my home and have had a new outlook on trauma and social-emotional struggles. I feel like after these experiences, I’ve been better able to digest and connect to the information I’ve read in class this term.

A few weeks back, I wrote about crying when you get home— this is something that happened to me regularly in the school settings I’m used to teaching in. As I look to pivot to a district with a bit more stability and support, I want to keep in mind the theorists that influence my teaching style the most and the educational theories I mostly relate to:

  1. Humanism:
    Humanism is a theory I believe I employ most in my classroom. I love the idea of students learning from one another and often encourage discourse in both the small and large-group settings. “It assumes that students will be highly motivated to learn when the learning material is personally meaningful, when they understand the reasons for their own behavior, and when they struggle” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P483). This approach offers students the opportunity to support their own learning through understanding themselves as learners and people first. Such a big part of my beliefs as a person and an educator centers on students understanding their needs so they can best advocate for themselves and achieve their goals in education and beyond.
  2. Behaviorism:
    I’ve always found behaviorism to be fascinating. I remember sitting in my high school psychology class and learning about BF Skinner and Ivan Pavlov. After years of working in education and around others, I try to keep in mind how behaviors have an effect on nearly all other facets of our lives and I work to relate that to the needs of my students. I feel strongly in using positive reinforcement as opposed to negative and feel this something vital to the development of young people be it in the classroom or otherwise: “… the fact that many of the voluntary responses of humans are strengthened when they are reinforced and weakened when they are either ignored or punished” 
    (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P239). The tenet of this aligns solely with my philosophy of education.
  3. Cognitivism:
    The cognitivism approach to learning is one that also aligns with my beliefs: “Using information can mean experimenting, questioning, reflecting, discovering, inventing and discussing. This process of creating knowledge to solve a problem and eliminate a disequilibrium is referred to as constructivism” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P40). The reason that I can appreciate this methodology centers on my constant attempts at meeting students where they are, helping them to access prior knowledge and make connections to both that and what they are learning, and then elevating their thinking through an idea or concept based on lecture and class-based activities and assignments. I feel that moving through the discomfort of not knowing and coupling that with the behaviorism approach listed above (positive reinforcement) allows students to grow and best understand their learning styles and learning strengths (and weaknesses). 
  4. Constructivism:
    The last of my interested views is the constructivist approach. This approach is lesser-used by educators who teach in the typical lecture-drill capacity and thus, I feel it suits my teaching style and philosophy of education perfectly. When teaching, I focus my efforts on appropriate scaffolding and modeling because I feel these elements to be effective methods in the classroom. While I still use direct instruction/lectures, I focus my efforts around collaboration, checks for understanding, and mastery demonstration through projects and discussion. I have worked in a project-based school and thus have had school staff support the ideologies that put projects above exams and have seen first-hand the benefit to students from such an approach: “A constructivist classroom, on the other hand, is characterized by inquiry, collaboration among students, use of the teacher as a resource, explanations of points of view and solutions to problems, and attempts to reach consensus about answers and solutions” (Jack Snowman & Rick McCown, 2015, P479). Further, in my library media coursework, I have learned so much about integrating technology and how to work with school staff and content-area teachers to do so in such a way that benefits students’ curiosity and creativity.

Because of my work in an alternative school that employed school-wide project-based learning initiatives, I have a soft-spot for such promotion of thought, teaching methodologies, and assessments that push students beyond multiple choice with a side of essay question. As an ELA teacher, my inclination was to always assign written essays or projects as a means of assessment; as a future librarian, I won’t have many opportunities to assign specific deliverables but I will be in a position to work with students as they strive for success in their content-area courses. I will also be able to work with school staff to develop means and methodologies to support students in the classroom and beyond.

Taking everything learned about theorists and their research, lesson planning, assessment, and classroom management into consideration as I spent time in the library classroom is one of the many facets of adaptation I look forward to as I bridge the gap between being a stay at home mom and working back in a school environment.

The OPAC, continued and 10 more things…

This sounds like a sequel to a horror film combined with a grocery list (I kid, I kid). I actually enjoy doing procedural things — I know I’ve touched on this and if you’ve not deduced on your own, I’m here to confirm that I’m a total Type-A personality. Organizing is my jam and structure guides so many facets of my life. (Kids have helped to loosen things up, like the one time the Discovery Museum in Acton had a station where kids could paint their own faces… we all survived that day, so I like to think that as proof of my wild side!)

I really struggled to write this paper though because I feel like I entered it with 20% knowledge and experience, mostly because I’m not in a school right now and so I had to use my imagination and YouTube to find videos that showed front-end and back-end usage of a number of OPACs and then take what I watched and research the sites for cost, features, implementation, training, and other factors used in making a decision. I explored the community college’s front-end as well as that of my uni and the local public library; I tried to keep my perspectives around this experience when creating a proposal to the imaginary principal.

In my experience as an educator, school administration cares mostly about the bottom line: What does this cost the school in terms of finances and time. I tried to err on the conservative side of things to ensure school staff would be more inclined to listen and bite with the mentality that it is easier to add things on as you go instead of shooting for the moon and getting denied. I also figured that with that, I would be responsible for the bulk of the training (which I assume is typically the case as a school librarian).

In truth, this is something I’d really enjoy doing as part of my job because of the chance to showcase something that will benefit the school/community while allowing me the chance to put my writing and researching skills to work. Still, watching YouTube video after video to garner knowledge on the various online catalogs and reading the many sites got a bit overwhelming, so I gave myself breaks in the form of Law&Order: SVU, dog walks, online shopping for velvet skirts at JCrew, picking out outfits for our upcoming annual Finger Lakes trip, and reading Temptation Island spoilers on Reddit (I wish I was kidding).

Overall, I enjoyed the writing of a memorandum — I’ve not been consulting this semester (just schoolwork and 4, which has been amazing), so I’ve not had any opportunity to write a memo in a minute. Still, I felt like my deliverable was lacking but couldn’t quite figure out where so that I could make the necessary improvements. I am hoping that when classmates give feedback, something will click and I can figure out what I’m missing.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to reading what my classmates put together. I also took some time to re-evaluate my Top Ten Technology Tips for Teachers. Incidentally, the 4th tip listed was about checking out computers, something that you can use the Destiny platform to track (this is the OPAC I recommended in my proposal). The primary focus of my ten tips, however, centered on communication and I still stand by this. Through this course, I have learned about and have experimented with some really great forms of technology and I think focusing around those shiny and new-to-you technologies can help students stay engaged in classroom projects even if the teachers are not looking to learn those technologies. I think if I were to add another element to my top ten list, it would focus on the community as a whole.

I also want to be sure to emphasize the importance of community engagement in my communication tips. I feel it’s imperative to have the buy-in of the community at large and definitely those within the confines of the school (and families). I want to be sure to create a realistic social media campaign to help engage parents, students, staff, and stakeholders. I’d like to use my grant writing experiences to work closely with admin to obtain technology and other educational resources for the library through surveys and polls with the school community — I have so many ideas for work ideas that can extend beyond the library classroom in middle and high school capacities (college application sessions — co-curricular planning with the counseling team; vaping awareness — co-curricular planning with the health team, school nurse, and possibly the town’s Department of Public Health; language discussion groups; writing groups; reading circles…). There are so many opportunities to collaborate and build up the library program within a school.

When I complete this program and move into the role of librarian, I would like to hold events or at least create podcasts/video on topics important to the community: How to give back or donate to the schools; How to apply to college; How to complete financial aid forms; etc. I think that concerns about the community can be easily added to questions/polls put out by the superintendent’s office or the school principal even. This would be a really big initiative of mine and I think the value of community engagement would be all the more strengthened if the school participates in a program like METCO and offers those parents outside of the immediate neighborhoods to participate and engage in school happenings.

These are the elements I’ll keep in mine as I complete this program and work towards leading a library one day.