This summer I climbed Mount Rinjani in Lombok with a close friend of mine. To put it bluntly, we both are not much of the exercising type and we showed up with our running shoes and a few items in our backpack ready to take a stroll up the mountain. Little did we know what we had signed up for. We didn't know what lay ahead, the challenges, the mental game and of course, sore muscles. The 3 day trek that seemed almost impossible at times almost got the best of me and I thought I wouldn't be able to keep going a few times.
The physical exhaustion kicked in at 3am as I was literally taking baby steps up the gravelled trail where I would take a step forward and slide a bit back down. Without proper shoes, it was a struggle to move forward as I felt the world pushing back at me. It felt like I was doing all this work and yet getting know where. So what was the point of even trying?
At about 5am, I could see the top in the distance but the vertical climb was not something I mentally ready for yet. I almost just stopped to say this was a good enough view. But then a layer of sun started to rise at the horizon and the fire inside began to illuminate as well. The only thought in my mind was that I was going to make it to the top and that there was nothing anyone could do to stop me. The only one who could stop me was myself, and I wouldn't let that happen. I had set out on this journey to make it to the top, and that is where I planned to end up.
And so I pushed on with my brain cheering my physical self on with my head down, looking only where I needed to go next, focusing on the now. Every once and I while I looked up from where I was and could still see my goal in the distance. So again, I forged on.
Finally, as I pulled myself up, there I was at the top looking out at what I had accomplished. I could look back and see the hard work and dedication, the tenacity and drive and the mental willpower to achieve my goals. I could see ahead the volcano surrounded by a lake that was surrounded by mountains and just stood there enjoying the beauty that was there.
To me, this is my educational journey. I'm a long, long way to the top, a long way from where I want to be as a teacher and future career aspirations but nevertheless, I'm still moving forward. Some days you travel farther then others and some days your feet are just sliding in gravel.
As a teacher, there are so many other components to your job than just being a teacher - communicating with parents, staying current on best practice, collaborating with peers, meetings, paperwork, report writing - the list goes on and on. You can have days where your class just drives you a little crazy or you're dealing with girl drama or students using technology inappropriately. You can have the wind and the rain pushing against you as a teacher - but yet you keep moving forward.
The best part of my day is just standing where I am, no matter where I am on the mountain and enjoying the view. I see how far my students have come from the day they first come to my door, and I know they have a long way to go until I can help get them to their own mountain top in June. I love the smiles I see on my students faces when we spend the last five minutes dancing or when a student helps another one down the stairs who is on crutches. I love watching the students laugh as they play tag in the playground or succeed at a challenging task. Their resilience to the obstacles sets an example for us all. Their caring nature shows us how to support each other along the way. Their ability to take risks sets an example of how we should be in our own lives. They are the reason that you keep pushing yourself forward to be better each day.
The bumps in the road as a teacher are always going to be there. The one thing I've learned is that you may never make it to the top of the mountain any day soon but it is possible if you keep moving in the upward direction. But most importantly, you don't have to be at the top of the mountain to enjoy the view - your students are right in front of you.
According to Prensky, digital natives are “native speakers of digital language”, while a digital immigrant is defined as those who didn’t grow up with technology and had to learn/adapt along the way (2001a). But are these terms still relevant with the constantly changing and evolving uses of technology in the classroom? Technology has become an expected area of understanding for teachers as part of the overall best practice, similar to good classroom management being expected in all classes. While I would be more considered a digital native by Prensky's terms, I know people from all ages who are very competent using technology.
I believe the idea of digital natives and digital immigrants is very outdated in my international context. If we consider our students to be digital immigrants now, what will our students be in 50 or 100 years? Are these terms even necessary? Our school is a 1 to 1 laptop school for both teachers and students. It is essential that all students and teachers embrace the use of technology when appropriate for teaching and learning. The idea of digital natives and digital immigrants is erased and replaced with terms such as growth mindset and fixed mindset becoming more relevant for integrating technology. In a previous post, I focused on the importance of expanding our knowledge by problem solving, resiliency and pushing boundaries of personal understanding with an emphasis on growth mindset and not labelling individuals as digital natives or immigrants (MacLean, 2015).
We should be encouraging our teachers and students to be open-minded and willing to learn regardless of the medium. We should be encouraging our students to be risk-takers, to make mistakes and to learn from them. Having a growth mindset, allows us to be open to new challenges (which could be technology for some).
Our current school policies do not lend themselves to the terms digital natives or digital immigrants. Rather, again, there is an expectation of teachers using technology only when appropriate for best practice and students using technology as a resource only when it enhances their learning.
21st Century Learner Or Just a Learner
As a teacher, it is my role to facilitate learning for students by helping them develop skills and conceptual understandings that can be transdisciplinary and transferred into any avenue for their future. Students need to learn to be good communicators, creative and critical thinkers, collaborative, with an ability to be self-managed, engaged and passionate about learning. These skills can be developed through a multitude of learning experiences in both formal and informal settings. In addition, being reflective needs to be combined into this learning process as well.
Again, I truly believe that the label of a 21st century learner is now irrelevant. To me, it is just being a learner. We want our students to develop skills to be lifelong learners, now and always. It is not something that is restricted to only the 21st century and many educators understood the importance of teaching transdisciplinary skills before the 21st century and will continue to after the 21st century.
From an ICT integration standpoint, I use the 6 ICT in PYP skills as a way to fuse effective technology implementation into the curriculum where necessary. These include: creating, collaborating, organising, communicating, investigating and developing a digital citizen (The role of ICT in PYP, 2011). In order to be effective using any technology tool, students need to develop the finer skills associated with these to be successful. There are so many collaborative tools that exist, but it is more important for students to understand how to use group roles, taking turns, respectfully disagreeing and having healthy debates than how to use Padlet or Google Docs. Students need to learn how to build on others ideas while giving credit and not feel that someone is stealing their idea. These skills can be taken out of the technology world and applied into other real world experiences, which makes the learning meaningful and long lasting.
Through an inquiry-based, constructivist teaching model, students can develop their curiosity for learning and learn the skills to find the answers to what they want to learn. When passion and enthusiasm is involved as a learner, the learning really is limitless.
The role of ICT in PYP. (2011). International Baccalaureate. UK: IB.
MacLean, E. (2015, November 20). Digital Immigrant or Native? Growth Mindset More Important [Blog]. Retrieved from http://emilymacleanmed.blogspot.sg/2015/11/digital-immigrant-or-native-growth.html
Prensky, M. (2001a). Digital Natives, Digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5).
Without relationships, you can not learn. For me, you can't be a great teacher without developing a personal connection. There is so much depth to our students that on any given day something just might not be sitting right with them. This could impair any learning that would hopefully take place during a lesson. However, when students know they have a safe and secure environment with a teacher who actually cares, they are more likely to open up and work through whatever is going on to allow the learning to then take place.
When I think back to my favourite teachers at school growing up, it had nothing to do with the content they taught me (though I’m sure they were amazing at teaching) but rather how they made me felt. Just like in any relationship, it is the small things that make a difference and remembered. My ninth grade teacher not only showed up to a funeral of a family member but she also remembered every year throughout high school. My fourth-grade teacher helped me understand what it was like to overcome challenges and be resilient. My ballet teacher would sit and talk after a class about everything in life just because she cared. Not only were these meaningful conversations and experiences for me but this also translated into how we interacted inside the classroom. These are the teachers who have taught me most about what it is to be a teacher, how to teach and how to be a person you can be proud of.
Through reflection, this reminds me of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Students need to feel safe, to need to know that harm will not come to them and that they are allowed to be who they are without laughter directed at them. Our students need to be able to come to school feeling warm, clothed and with food in their stomachs. Our students need to feel like they belong to a community where individual differences are celebrated. Our students need to know that their teachers care. As students develop their basic needs and their self-esteem is boosted, it is then that the student is able to let their guard down to learning.
In the Durham District School Board in Canada during my student teacher practicum, I assisted with a morning breakfast club for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who may not have had another opportunity to start the day with a bit of food. These kinds of programmes within schools not only help to satisfy the basic needs of students but also helps to build the relationships with the students. When a student sees a teacher coming in early to make sure they have food there is this unspoken mutual respect that instantly appears. Even further when a teacher can then sit down beside the student and have a conversation with them before school. No longer is the teacher seen as just the teacher but more of an equal which allows students to break down barriers and develop a sense of comfort.
I currently work at an international school so things like a breakfast club will never exist at my school. However, even while a student’s home life might have some of the lower needs taken care of, students still need to feel safe and cared for in order to be able to learn. So much of my job revolves around pastoral care and well being of my students. One of the things I have done in my class for the past two years is have a weekly email programme as part of my writing programme. Students are required to write an email to me each week through their student accounts about one of the given topics or anything else they may wish to share. This has allowed students another way to feel comfortable talking to me about things that are happening at school and in their life. Sometimes it is not always easy to have conversations face to face but with the barrier of a computer screen, you can learn a lot about the person on the other end. I have had my students write to me from everything from homework issues, fights with classmates, the death of pets, best friends leaving the country, grandparents that are ill and much more. Would these conversations have come up inside the classroom? Maybe, maybe not. But what I do know is that having the dialogue through email made my learning environment a safe space for any conversation whenever they needed it. Even in the summer, I still sometimes get a few emails from my students showing me that to them, that connection was important to them and in helping them grow.
It is not good enough to just be a teacher who knows the curriculum if you cannot connect to your students to deliver the content in a meaningful way. The only way you can learn what will be engaging for your students is if you take the time to get to know them.
If you are interested in reading more about the email programme I implemented, please feel free to view the following resource I created:https://www.sites.google.com/site/msemilymaclean/gmailhome
Huitt, W. (2007). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved [August 10,2015] from, http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/regsys/maslow.html