Friday, July 10, 2009

Supporting Reluctant Swimmers-or letting them drown?

0463 S at pool's edgeImage by WoofBC via Flickr

I left this as a comment over at Duff's blog but I have really been struggling with similar thoughts. I have used the “pool metaphor” many times in the past but the more I thought about the post and the comments, the more I felt like I needed to expand my ideas about our responsibility for getting folks to "test the waters" to support our “reluctant swimmers” to start seamlessly integrating technology into their teaching process.

In her post Durff asks
How far are we to go with other educators? If we instruct on the technological skills, isn't our responsibility done? Isn't it the responsibility of individual educators to swim? the comments she says “I jumped in on my own,”
I have to wonder how many folks would jump in at all if they were afraid of the water. As David Truss points out, "too many people fear drowning and never get into the pool” and that in most Teacher Ed programs the amount of technology skill they leave the program with seems to be optional... to me that's like throwing a non-swimmer into the deep end.

I have to be honest, the more summer professional development I do, and the more in-service workshops I do, the more I worry about this. I spend a day or two, sometimes a week “teaching folks to swim.” I give them the skills and we go SLOW. We work on voice threads, and wikis…easy entry points. I model (swim along with them) give them support (sometimes putting on water-wings) but at the end of our time together I feel like I am still throwing “non-swimmers” into the deep end. My greatest fear, is that without a guide swimming beside them, they may find themselves close to drowning and perhaps no longer want to go to the pool :(
Candace Hackett Shively explained this beautifully in her post The Swimmer’s Obligation
I do not recall figuring out that I could not swim. I do not remember discovering the power of water. I try to imagine how it felt. I could not get my feet to touch the bottom at the same time as I opened my mouth to gasp above the surface, and I had no idea what to do about it. But some kind parent or bigger person reached under my armpits and supported me, laughing and congratulating me for a great jump. He or she likely placed my hands on the pitted concrete of the pool’s edge and told me to “kick big kicks and blow big bubbles.” Trusting, I must have done so, because eventually I learned to swim.
What happens when the support is not there? Unlike Candace, I DO remember the minute I figured out I couldn’t swim. I was 5 years old. I had just gotten my cast taken off that prevented me from having swim lessons all spring.. I was standing at the edge of the deep end and one of the older neighbor boys, thinking I could swim, pushed me in. I am 40 years old, but I remember to this DAY the fear I felt, struggling to get to the surface. I recall my fear and remember being pulled from the water barely breathing. Although I did go on to become a competent swimmer that experience had an impact on me that summer. I became, for a long time, very tentative around water.

There has been talk in the edtech community for a long time that we need to stop talking about the tools, but I disagree. You are always going to have those non-swimmers who finally find their way to the edge of the pool. Teach them what the water feels like and support them as they develop confidence in using the tool. When I share a tool like voicethread with a teacher, they can see so many ways it can be used in the classroom. They get excited about the potentials but they don’t understand the many concepts that go into it, embedding, and sharing, and privacy, and moderating comments, are so new to them…They are excited about being at the pool's edge, but it is like being thrown into that deep end for the first time.

Sure I can teach them the skills to use it, but I know from experience with my own children that I would not trust the swim lessons alone, nor the life vest for them to develop confidence in the water. I know just how far away from the wall I can move before my 7 year old gets frustrated. I knew that if I could just tread in the water beside him...on the other side of the lane…that my 9 year old could pass the test that earned him a green band allowing him the independence he was so desperately seeking. They need me as a coach and a guide continuing to support them, pushing them to take risks, and being to there to support them and pull them up when they go under or feel uncomfortable. Unfortunately teachers more often than not don’t have this. Sure, we give them the skills, but then too often we send them back to schools that don’t have the equipment or the support and ask them to “jump in.” The biggest piece of feedback I get in every professional development workshop I offer is…”I wish there was someone at my school that could work with me as I learn to do this with my kids” They are not lazy, or traditional, they don’t fear change, they are just reluctant to jump in the water- they are afraid of drowning…they don’t understand what that water feels like and want a guide to support them when they are struggling

There was also some talk in the comments on Durff’s post that administrators must make technology a priority if we are to get teachers to "take the time" to explore new things- it is one of the things that is driving me to complete my administrative certification. Provide opportunities for teachers to see what is possible (take them to the pool), Give them the skills they need (the swim lessons). Provide support for them and swim along side the teachers. Only then will you have competent swimmers.

My friend Marcie Hull from SLA talks about how technology at their school is like air. It is just always present and you don't even recognize it exists. This is because at SLA they are competent swimmers, surrounded with support when they are ready to try a new skill & test new waters. Until we can give teachers confidence in the water, I am afraid we may continue to see them simply sitting at the edge of the pool. I'd love to hear your thoughts...are we supporting reluctant swimmers or just pushing them in to let them drown?

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  1. Kristin,

    I have been spending some time pondering this whole thing as I shift roles into my new job. As I look around my region a few fortunate schools have decided to pony up and keep the CFF Coach full time. A few others are dependent on state funding, and if cut, will likely return to classrooms.

    These schools that sustain the coach are also schools that I expect within 5 years will be one to one in some way. They have the needed leadership and core of understanding of the how and the why.

    I feel the same way you do, that so many times we walk peopel to the edge of the forest, take the first 10 steps and tell them we will see you on the other side. I know my teachers were willing to try more, simply by knowing they could call or get me to help if they had problems. Some were ready to run, and others needed more support, but they all tried because it was safe to do so.

    So how do we make the wish of someone at each school to support them come true?

  2. Hey Kristin,

    So here is the line that stops me: "When I share a tool like VoiceThread with a teacher, they can see so many ways it can be used in the classroom." I think too often we frame all of this in "teaching" and not "learning," and I think that' what Chris's tweet is getting at. The pool that we seem to be leading people to (and I frustratingly include myself in this) is filled with tools when it should be filled with people and connections and networks. And I know it's hard to get to those networks without some tools, but just like swimmers at some point swim out and practice on their own without the floaties or whatever, we need to make a bigger part of this supporting the personal learning, not the toolset.

    I think the reason most people slide back is because they haven't made the connections that you and I have. They haven't felt the power of this, not to publish but to really learn with others who share our passions. If we don't get them there, they'll never get out of the shallow end.

  3. Great point Will...
    But you have to bring them to the tool for them to even UNDERSTAND the network. This week I was the "network connection" at the powerful voices camp and when I shared things like THIS they don't even get that the network exists...that concept is one of the things they are drowning in. My point is until they have you or I in the pool WITH them...we can teach them about the tools, the networks, whatever and it won't make sense to them. They don't know what the water feels like!

  4. I like your points and I agree with them at the same time I think educators need to take on more personal responsibility.
    On the very rare occasion that one of my colleagues where I worked showed interest, I was more than willing to go the distance right there beside them. I know you do that too.
    It's when educators glibly dismiss everything I say and/or do in lieu of industrial age/lecture style teaching that I get very frustrated.
    When such attitudes emanate from administrators who prefer the status quo, I see little hope.
    Maybe I just need to look elsewhere.
    Especially now that I contemplate Nikolai's future education, I naturally want the best for him.

  5. More and more I'm seeing the importance of technology being an integrated part of professional development... and professional development being community oriented or networked by nature. There needs to be a marriage of the two and then some of these issues will disappear.

    When our learning is necessarily shared, and technology is necessarily part of that sharing, then the value will be seen be those involved.

    I did a video a while back that looked at how my network supported and helped me, and then I asked the question, 'wouldn't our students benefit from this too?'I think that the best way to get teachers to 'swim' is to let them get wet on their own terms and for their own, (hopefully professional but even personal), reasons. Once they see the benefits of using technology for their own learning, almost every teacher would make the connection that this could help their students too!

    That's my thinking right now, we'll see where I stand a year from now! :-)

  6. I hear you. I think my bigger point, though, is that teaching tools in the context of classrooms isn't the best way to start. Just mho. I think we need to help them find their way in the context of what they love to do for themselves. Might be one in the same, I know, but it gives them license to explore. When I say to teachers "Don't worry about your kids, your classrooms, your schools...worry about yourself" I have a lot of people say "whew...that took the pressure off." Hopefully, we can trust teachers to create good pedagogy around the tools on their own once they've built the connections for themselves.

  7. One of the biggest take aways for me from NECC was the importance of community building as the avenue to meaningful professional development. Being introduced to a community that is eager to learn themselves and one that focuses on student learning is infectious and exhilarating. One of the primary goals that I am working on for the coming school year is how to create that type of synergy in my small school setting when there few folks who "get it" and the rest are newbies. Can a few mentors create that atmosphere? Will the reluctance of the newbies kill the atmosphere. It's a fine line of support, learning and hopefully, some fun!

  8. Will...Although I do tend to teach some tools in terms of personal relevance iphoto being a good example-teachers use it for their own personal photos then see how it would work in their classroom) I don't know that Web2.0 works the same way...
    David Warlick had a good post back in June about Prerequisites for PLNs in which he shares that one must be...
    * Computer savvy — practiced mouser; capable at opening, saving, and navigating files; accustomed with working multiple windows; able to connect to WiFi networks; and able to identify and even download and install software appropriate to a variety of file types.
    * Internet Savvy — Browser literate; experienced Web navigator; able to keep and manage bookmarks; able to capture and save (download) text, images, audio, and video files (under most circumstances); Confident at signing up for online services.
    * This is the most important — Willing to redefine your job as a teacher. Willing to call yourself a master learner

    I think that most of the teachers I work with fit into the last category, but the first 2 they STILL NEED SUPPORT...That is what I like so much about your PLP model but that still takes leadership and support from within for it to work. I am not doubting that teachers WANT to get in the pool, they just need to feel supported.
    Colette I wonder the same thing....about killing the atmosphere. I would encourage you to plant the seeds in the fertile soil & let them chip away at the rocks;-) I guess my main source of concern is what happens when you get teachers started, but aren't around to create that f2f environment of support?

  9. Hi Kristin,
    As an avid swimmer, I have been thinking about your comment about the need to focus on tools at least enough to build skills. Perhaps the subtlety that I did not explain well is that those who are natural swimmers (in water, I mean), have an extraordinary ability to FEEL the water. They have a heightened sense of what water does and how it works with and around their bodies.

    Perhaps the best analogy for understanding and diving into new ways of learning is to be aware that new "swimmers" need extensive opportunities to develop that "feel" for the water of learning. The feel is not for the tools (strokes and skills like kicking of blowing bubbles). It is the way that learning flows around us as we allow ourselves to work WITH and respect the water instead of fighting it.

    In other words, we need to give people as many chances as they need to slow down and pay attention to what is actually happening as they kick or move their arms. Some may need a long-term "coach" to occasionally watch their strokes and point out what the water is doing, but eventually, with repetition and deep muscle memory, they CAN use the feel of the water to change their entire interaction with this new world of learning. For some, this happens in a few days. For some, it may take years. I believe in patience for all of them, as long as they can trust enough to keep coming to the pool. Will's suggestion may work for some: make it personal. What works for one swimmer does not work for all. It is worth trying many ways. I have seen a swim coach (the real kind) do everything from play "sharks and minnows" to dipping a kid in by the ankles to having the kid try to lie flat on the bottom, all in the name of "feeling" the water!

    I learned to "feel" the water (the real kind, not the analogous learning) at an "old" age in my thirties or forties, because I was determined to do so. For my children, the feel came naturally at 3 to 5. I know teachers who had the feel for learning at 20, and some who still mechanically move their arms but do not feel the water in their classrooms. It is our obligation as those who CAN feel it to give them time, opportunity, and assurance that they will not drown. Meanwhile, we owe them patience as we head to the deep end and high dive.

  10. Anonymous6:33 PM

    The more I think about teachers, schools and technology, the more the importance of a learning COMMUNITY becomes apparent. At different times and in different situations we need different types of learning support. Sometimes we need a coach who can break it down to basics and show us the "how" of some new app or gadget. Sometimes we need a visionary who can give us a glimpse of the possibilities in using something different. Sometimes we just need an encouraging friend to give us a boost. Teachers must be learners, but no one person can be all of these things to everyone they are connected with. That is why we need a community to support us as we teach and learn. Every teacher must seek out and build the support network they need, with encourgemnet from those who are already part of their community.

  11. We need to apply some common sense to getting teachers to use technology. All of what you are saying in your blog and the following comments has been true as long as Technology has been around. Look at your faculty and determine what percentage are using technology effectively as a tool for learning. It doesn't matter whether it is Higher ed, Secondary or elementary. Honest answers should bring in a low estimates in most school districts or institutions. Why? We have had computers for at least 20 years. What's the hold up.
    We need to convince the convincible. We need to train, support and nurture and almost revere those teachers who show an interest in using technology. The Merit pay that Duncan is trying to jam into the system is all wrong. More money does not make a non-tech-using teachers use technology. Training and attitude changes will promote that. Use merit pay to have effective teachers counsel and train and use technology in best practices for less effective teachers.Use Merit pay for tech-Using teachers to educate parents in the use of educational technology so they have a clue about what their kids have the ability to do in a tech competetive work environment.
    After 20 years of the same old arguments and excuses not to use tech, I want to see people offer common sense reasons for using it. Business pays a high price for people who effectively use Tech to store, interpret and communicate Data.If we use it to teach more we would have to teach it less.I would say more but it is the same old, same old.
    I could use educators on my Personal Learning Network on Twitter @tomwhitby.
    Thanks for the space and the virtual soapbox.