Category Archives: Ed Tech Coaching

The Power of Stories and Storytelling

I heard this story on a radio station.  I have looked for it online, but am coming up empty.  Let me know if you know who I can attribute this story to.

A man opened a coffee shop in a nice little town.  Eager to get to know people in the town, and drum up some business, the shopkeeper put up a sign in his window.

cuppa_joe“Free coffee, if you listen to my story.”

The shopkeeper was very proud of his new shop, and wanted to share the story of his dream with everyone in town.  But, when he opened the doors, not a soul came in.

“What a terrible, unfriendly town this is,” bemoaned the shopkeeper to the bank’s business loan officer, who was there for the opening.  “I’ll never make it here!  You might as well take the deed to the shop now.”

“I have an idea,” the loan officer kindly offered.  “I think your sign needs a little change.”

He took the sign out of the window, found a thick marking pen, and changed the text.  He placed the sign back in the window and told the shopkeeper to get things ready for the next morning.

When the next morning came, the shopkeeper was stunned when he raised the blinds and turned the “Open” sign in the door.  The line was around the block!  As he fumbled to unlock the door for the crowd, the shopkeeper looked to the side at the changed sign in the window:

“Free coffee if you tell me your story.”

Everyone has a story.  And, they’re all worth telling.  If we want people to tell their stories, we have to first be willing to listen.  In education, in work, in life.  You have a story worth telling.  Be ready to tell it.  But first, be ready to listen to the stories of those around you.  They are worth hearing.

That is the first and biggest lesson I have learned in my new job as an educational technology coach this year.  I should probably say “re-learned,” because it’s something I already knew.  But I have not been doing a good job of putting into practice.  I often felt like there was too much to do to invest that time.  I felt like I needed to focus on the technology.  I felt like I needed to work in the short-term and go for immediate results.  In short, I made all of the mistakes I see some teachers make in allowing external pressures to steer us away from what we know are effective practices.

The problem is, even when focusing on the wrong things results in success, it is the wrong kind of success.  Fireworks are dazzling, for an instant; but a pilot light can be called upon to do its work at any time, and it will roar to life… only because it was always there, calmly and quietly waiting for the moment of need, and responding accordingly.

Everyone has a story worth hearing.


For further investigation, see Dave Isay’s TED Talk about his StoryCorps project:

And Karim Jovian’s “New Yorkers Share Their Story for a Dollar” project:

The Opposite of Tech Integration

“Technology Integration Specialist” is the title on my business card.  I like it.  It speaks directly to what the primary focus of my job is – how to use technology to intentionally increase achievement for all learners and close gaps for historically underserved subgroups.

Explaining what that looks like can be difficult.  It’s as difficult as explaining what “good teaching” really looks like, especially once you get beyond definitions that are all about compliance (“students are quiet”, “desks are in neat rows”, “assigned work is turned in on time”) and get to definitions that actually reflect learning (intellectual, emotional, and behavioral advances made by the students).

Sometimes, we can get a clearer picture of what something is by defining what it isn’t.  So, what would be the opposite of Tech Integration?

How about “Tech Segregation”?

“Tech Segregation” separates the technology from the learning process, or relegates it to its own learning path.  Learning to use technology becomes a separate subject, like English, math, social studies, or science.  Or maybe even more like a foreign language.  And anytime learning in one field helps a student make advances in another field, the effect is a happy accident instead of an intentional outcome.  We are misusing students’ time when students in a Technology class learn to create PowerPoint presentations about topics with no explicit connection to the curriculum, and then type or hand-write a book report for Language Arts.

“Tech Segregation” relegates technology to extension activities, only for students who have already achieved the day’s academic goal.  Or, the technology becomes a reward for compliance – something students get to do after they finish the stuff they don’t want to do.  In that system, students have to find a way to perform without the technology before they can use it.  It’s as senseless as making kids prove they can walk all the way to school before they’re allowed to get on a bus.

“Tech Segregation” makes kids achieve a standard or pre-qualify before they can have access.  Access to technology is seen as inherently motivational for students, but that attribute is used as the carrot on a stick to get kids to do things the old way, instead of transforming the way we teach to take fuller advantage of the way we learn.

“Tech Segregation” preserves the rank-and-sort, label-and-identify system that has resulted in significant gaps for students who don’t fit typical socio-economic and cultural norms.  Kids who are “good at school” get the bells and whistles.  Kids who don’t are told to try harder, while we turn away and suck our teeth at the sad state of their homes and families.

Conversely, Tech Integration acknowledges that quality tools in the hands of practiced learners makes amazing things possible.  When that position is paired with the belief that every student can learn, then it becomes unconscionable to keep those tools out of the hands of the very students who need the most support when it comes to accessing the general curriculum.

End Tech Segregation.

 

Why I blog… and why you should, too.

In February of 2014, I made a decision.

I started a blog.

This one.

A little over three years later, I have to admit that part of the reason I did it was because it seemed like all the cool kids were doing it.  I didn’t really think I had enough to say to make a blog worthwhile.  Anything I could say was already being said by other people who already have established blogs with large numbers of followers.  I had lots of reasons why starting a blog wasn’t a practical thing to do.

But, I did have some good reasons to try it.  I told myself it wasn’t a lifetime choice, I could easily stop doing it at any time (but isn’t that what smokers say?).  I knew I wanted to become a better writer, and one of the best things a person can do to become a better writer is to, well, actually start writing.

There have been some additional benefits that I was not expecting.  First, I found that my own blog was a great place to organize and archive things that I wanted to go back and access later.  Resources such as links to my previous presentations and snippets about news stories or other online materials go in posts or pages that get categories and tags.  Spending a few extra seconds setting categories and tags for my posts makes it much easier for me to go back and find things later when something reminds me of a useful resource.  And, I don’t have to try to remember if I saw that resource on Twitter, or Facebook, or in an e-mail, or….

Second, I have been able to incorporate the practice of reflective writing via blogs with my college students.  Reflective writing assignments in the form of neatly typed paragraphs or pages are a staple of many education courses, but I wanted to take it a step further with my students.  My class (Communication Tools and Strategies for Students with Moderate to Intensive Special Needs) was reading Ellen Notbohm’s excellent book “Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew”.  Rather than having the students write reflections on the chapters that would only be seen be me, I asked them to publish their reflections on a publicly available class blog.  Years ago, I heard Rushton Hurley tell a room of educators, “If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good.  If they are sharing it with the teacher, they want it to be good enough.”  There is a big difference between good and good enough.  An authentic, global audience can be the key to making that leap.

Third, when I go back and read some of my old posts, I am noticing changes to my writing style and the language that I use.  I hope I am also becoming better at getting my ideas across.

Enter “Blogging Buddies!”

ISTE’s Ed Tech Coaches’ Network is starting a new program called “Blogging Buddies”.  The idea is based on Jennifer Hogan’s “Compelled Blogger Tribe” idea from her blog.  I am committing to producing at least one new blog post each month.  I am also committing to visit the blogs of four specific individuals and leave comments on their posts once a month as well.  The second part is the “new adventure” for me.  There are a couple of blogs I peruse regularly, but most of my blog-watching comes from links I happen across via Twitter.

I look forward to getting familiar with not just the ideas that my “randomly selected” blogging buddies will produce, but getting to know something about them as people as well.  I don’t just want to know what they know about what works in educational technology, I want to know why they do what they do.

More to come….