Thursday, July 31, 2008

An Introduction

Hello! I am brand new to Heartland Area Education Agency, centrally located in suburban Des Moines.

In the state of Iowa, there is a level of support between the state’s department of education and the local school districts to help provide services to those schools, especially in areas such as special education, curriculum and assessment, leadership training, and technology. That’s the AEA. Being part of the agency, I get the opportunity to work with other prominent people in education, but also multiple districts and great teachers.

But, let me back up. I went to Luther College in Decorah, majoring in Philosophy and English Education. After a substitute teaching experience in Eagan, Minnesota, my first position was at North Winneshiek MS/HS, in rural Decorah (no, there is no urban Decorah… consider it more rural Decorah). Graduating class there was about 30 students, and I taught 6 different grades in an 8-period day.

While those details might bore you, there are some interesting things about my history. I consider myself part of the last cohort of “digital immigrants”. True, I’m geeky. I’m very intuitive when it comes to new things, and I like to play. I used some Mac computers growing up, manipulating the LOGO turtle, running the lemonade stand, and mastering Aldus PageMaker. But, I did not use the internet at all until my sophomore year in college, and I received my B.A. without ever having done internet research (in 1998). I went into the world of teaching not having any knowledge of technological integration or internet research.

The irony here is that everywhere I’ve gone, I’m assumed to be a “digital native”. I’m young, or comparatively young. I’m good with technology. I must have grown up with learning on the internet. When I teach graduate courses for teachers, especially those who are fully digital immigrants and self-admittedly struggle to learn technological skills, it’s hard for some of them to believe that I sympathize with them… I’ve been there!

The other interesting thing is that, I believe, I have a unique view of how education will drastically change forever. I have this view having grown up as a student in the old world, and having taught only in the new world, and there are many times when I marvel at the difference. I’ve seen this transformation at a time when I am reflective in educational pedagogy and aware of my surroundings. All of this leads me to believe that I’m seeing something very special. It’s more than the initiative du jour– the outcomes-based education, or guided reading, or whole language, or whatever else is said to be the future of education, only to be recycled into something else. In this case, education has no choice but to change.

The first year I taught, an 8th grader showed me how to make webpages. Before that point in time, I believed that the ability to make webpages would require many years of intensive study of programming languages and such, and was beyond the ability of those without the time to learn it. After that point, I realized that all the technology out there is not only neat, but learn-able. I could do it!

So, like every good educator, I experimented. Our class made webpages as a project. It wasn’t the most educationally sound, and I had several things I needed to fix, but overall there was one important success… the kids loved it! They came to my class early and stayed late. They talked about it during our basketball practices (note: I’m a better educator than basketball coach, as our record will indicate). There was a buzz! I was hooked! Other teachers began to notice, which is always very flattering for 1st year teachers. I began to dabble in other things… making powerpoints (another epiphany), making newspaper pages. I was now the tech guru of the high school. People were coming to me with their technological issues (all to the amusement of the 8th grader who showed me webpages in the first place).

And then… I lost my job. Well, not technically. Technically I left for an English position at Postville High School, but my job was due to be cut because tiny North Winn High School was closing and being whole-grade shared with Decorah. But in a way, I had really grown to enjoy working closely with the students on fun learning projects. Luckily for me, Postville was just as good of an environment.

I remember starting there, having talked about my past teaching projects at North Winn. Now I was an “expert”. I was put in charge of the district website and yearbook, maintaining computer labs. I continued to experiment with technology, but here is where I feel I learned how to teach with technology pedagogically soundly. I had built my theme-based units in literature to seamlessly incorporate not only technology but the district standards and benchmarks. It didn’t seem like technology was a project anymore, but rather an extension of the course.

The rest of my career to this point goes as follows: I spent 3 years at both of those schools, and then I had the opportunity to take a leadership position as the Director of Technology for Howard-Winneshiek schools. I was very blessed to work with the teachers at Howard-Winn, as I’ve never seen a whole group of teachers so open to learning and infusing technology in the classroom, regardless of “nativity” level. I had the chance to work closely (and eventually replace) one of the best educators in technology in Mark Johnson, but I also had the chance to work with many teachers new to technology, ready to try things. We became a leader in the state in our implementation of technology.

I then received the itch to be a principal. Being a principal isn’t something you just do one day, I found out. You have to prepare for it, through education, exposure to recent trends, building up experiences, and most of all, networking with colleagues. I received the opportunity as an interim principal at Grinnell High School. Here is where I really began to experience how education is changing in the state of Iowa. Topics like diminishing enrollment, NCLB, alternative education and dropout rates were (and still are) critical issues for high school principals.

I found out that I’m not a principal… at least not yet. There is a changing world in education, and I wanted to be part of it. That’s why I’m here, at Heartland AEA, in my first year as the agency’s director of online learning and a technology consultant.

And really, that’s the point of this blog. I want to throw out my perceptions on the way things are changing, and my ideas on how this shapes education. I consider myself in a lucky position, having unique experiences from teacher, director, and principal roles. My desk sits right next to people who are state-wide leaders in things like the statewide Iowa Core, the IPDM, special education in the state of Iowa, and so forth. You will find me as someone who has more questions than answers, and really enjoys getting into discussions with people on the way education is changing. Please feel free to comment on this blog. Point me to your own blog. Give me some other food for thought. I hope this to be a learning experience for me.