Mission, Model, and Mirror

As the Digital Media course draws to a close, it is time to reflect upon the Five Minds put forth by Howard Gardner and how these minds can influence our current and future teaching practices, and in reality, our current and future roles as global citizens.

What is my mission as an educator? I feel that cellist Yo-Yo Ma, in his response to Gardner’s question about what constitutes good work (Chapter 6, The Ethical Mind) really laid out a formula for the teaching profession. To paraphrase:

– to perform as excellently as possible
– to be able to work together with others and develop common understanding and trust
– to pass on knowledge, skill, understanding, and orientation to succeeding generations so that the joy of learning may endure

I have taken liberties with his statement about music and applied it to teaching, but I feel the idea of “good work” spans all professions. I will take that a step further and say that, as a Catholic school educator, it is inherent upon me to model Christ-like action to all I meet. From our school mission statement come these words:

Welcome to Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, educating Pre-School to Eighth Grade students in the Diocese of Allentown, Pennsylvania.  We are proud of our school and glad to have you here. We strongly believe that close cooperation between the school and the home is essential in promoting the education of the children entrusted to our care.

At Our Lady we strive to maintain a caring and peaceful environment in which all students can feel comfortable. We believe that this atmosphere will facilitate learning and nurture respect among students, teachers, and parents.

In his remarks on the ordering of the Five Minds, Gardner states that  “From the beginning one must begin by creating a respectful atmosphere toward others. In the absence of civility, other educational goals prove infinitely harder to achieve.”

With such a noble, and at times daunting, mission for educators, to whom do we turn for our models? Who are the leaders in our quest to meet the needs of today’s students, the students who need 21st century skills developed and nurtured with 21st century tools by educators with a 21st century mindset?

We cannot operate in isolation, relying solely on our own knowledge and creativity to meet the needs of our students. And so we develop our Personal Learning Networks, our groups of fellow educators, leaders in the field, gurus as it were, from whom we learn about the latest and greatest. These individuals point us to the cutting (or bleeding) edge, are often the first to try the tools or offer new ways to use old tools, who are willing to give it a go and let us know how it went. As the network expands and we participate in sharing opportunities, we ourselves occasionally may be the ones who offer a new twist, a fresh outlook, a way around a stumbling block.

Being an old-timer, I am reminded of a shampoo commercial  that showed a girl talking about a shampoo, and she told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on…  And just like viral video, the good ideas spread. The more groups you are part of, the more opportunities you have to get in on what is happening. How have I picked up on “the buzz”? What constitutes my PLN?

I must start with the DEN. The Discovery Educator Network was the door-opener for badge-100x100_4me. Back in January of 2006 I applied to be a STAR educator and had some correspondence with one Lance Rougeux, who decided that I should not withdraw my application just because I felt I might not be able to do all that was expected of me. I am very glad he took a chance on me. Attending my first PETE&C that February was like opening the door from Kansas to Oz. There was no turning back.

In addition to the fabulous learning opportunities afforded by the DEN, I have a blogroll listed here that is just a microcosm of the ed tech blogosphere. I must admit, however, that during the school year, and especially now taking a course, my opportunity to read my favorite bloggers’ thoughts has shrunk due to time constraints. I find it hard to choose just one to recommend. If I had to narrow the list I suppose I could choose two that have expanded my horizons more than any others. First is Steve Dembo’s Teach42 blog. Steve is known as a guru of Web2.0 tools, but he is passionate about empowering teachers and improving education. His post on Feet on the Ground or Head in the Clouds is a great example of what he is about and what he tries to do. An interesting conversation developed in the comment section as well. And I truly do agree with him that little tricks and tools may be just the thing to get a teacher energized, get the kids excited and engaged, and it may not solve the mysteries of the universe, but if it makes a difference in some classroom for some child, then why not give it a try?

And if I had the chance to get an autograph or choose someone with whom I would love to have conversation over dinner, it would be Vicki Davis, aka Cool Cat Teacher. I could write several paragraphs on what I have learned by reading her posts. She shares the successes and failures, the tips for beginners because she remembers being one herself. She never lowers her standards and expects the best from her students and gives her best in return. How she finds time to sleep I have no idea, but it is obvious from her posts that her family comes first. I loved her post about burning three different colored candles, each representing a different facet of her life, and if one was burned down farther than the others she knew things were not balanced in her life. Can’t find the actual post, but it was very thought-provoking.

So now when I look into the mirror (the dreaded mirror test?) I must ask myself if I am living up to my potential as an educator. Am I producing “good work” and encouraging others to do the same, both students and fellow teachers? Some days it is hard to motivate, and sometimes teachers are harder to motivate than students. And yet, aren’t we all students? Shouldn’t we all be life-long learners? That is the underlying theme of my Blackberry Alley blog. I began as a student, and went on to become a teacher, who has realized that she will always be a student, even as she continues to have students of her own. What I see in the mirror needs a little work (and I don’t mean just the wrinkles) but there is some promise.  As I continue to develop my “five minds” perhaps I can be a model for my students of respect, good work ethic, and a touch of creativity. With periodic innoculations from my PLN as well as my students, I may yet pass muster.

Man Plays Cello. Jupiterimages Corporation. 2006.
Discovery Education. 13 October 2009

Buyer, Elizabeth. mirror.jpg. May 2005. Pics4Learning. 13 Oct 2009 <http://pics.tech4learning.com>

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