Dec 09

Working in Isolation

Wikimedia Commons Image

Wikimedia Commons Image

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post reflecting on a wonderful STEM summit I attended on Dec 1st, the WA STEM Summit 2015. I was wondering which takeaway I wanted to share the most or what I was going to write about the takeaways. And I will, but this blog post is about the one takeaway that is gnawing at me the most because of one statement that I can’t let go of.

Three things where the highlight for me from that summit. First was getting to see and hear Dr. Mae Jemison’s keynote. I am embarrassed to say that I did not know who she was before Dec 1st (even though I had seen her somewhere before). Dr. Jemison was the first African American woman to go into space! A real, NASA astronaut! She founded the Jemison Group where she has not stopped doing amazing things! She shared with us a fascinating project she’s working on now to give humanity the capability to travel to another star in the next 100 years! What? Yeah! What was even more amazing and had me reeling was her comparison of that project, being able to send a starship to another solar system in only 100 years, to educating our children. Yeah, I had to think about that one for a while. She compares what we do to her project because we are working now to develop skills and abilities in our students to do things that don’t even exist yet! The kids in my class will have to solve problems that don’t even exist yet and I’m trying to prepare them for that. I kind of see where she’s coming from. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of this amazing person! Well, I had seen her before, but I didn’t know who she was. See, Dr. Mae Jemison is the only real astronaut to be on an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation! Embarrassing that the only way I knew of her was through a Sci-fi show!

Her keynote was inspiring and I took away also that we need to expose our students to STEM and everything we can because we don’t know, we cannot possibly know, what will spark an interest in our kids to find a passion or do something amazing. So I attended breakout sessions on Computer Science, it was between that or Engineering and I wanted both equally and finally decided on Computer Science because this week is the Hour of Code week for Computer Science week. I joined a group discussing the issues around teacher training and readiness to expose our students to computer science and we generated some ideas as we discussed the issues facing educators. It’s very different when you compare the needs to teachers in grades pre-K through 8 versus high school teachers because CTE is not something we deal with in the pre-K through 8 grades.

One of the last speakers was Laura Overdeck who is the creator of Bedtime Math. Laura is a champion of early childhood math literacy the way you hear most speak of reading literacy. Her presentation was awesome and her Bedtime Math is really cool. If my kids were toddlers I would totally be using her materials to help them love math like children naturally do!

So with all that awesomeness, what was gnawing at me? No, it wasn’t related to space travel, computer science, or math literacy. Early in the summit there was a panel of STEM professionals and a group of high school girls. They asked each other questions and all were amazing people. One answer given by all the STEM professionals stuck with me. One of them put it best when she said, “we never work alone.” I can’t even remember the question but all them went on to explain how they solve problems in teams. The thought of working alone to do their jobs was preposterous. And even though I never feel alone because I’m always surrounded by my students, I am very alone in my classroom.

In our profession, teachers can close their doors and not work with other adults, with other teachers. That is why I crave my PLN and my PLC. I enjoy the times we get to meet, yes, even staff meetings. I enjoy having lunch with my colleagues. How can we show our students how to connect, communicate and collaborate if we try to educate them by ourselves?!

So yeah, and great summit and a great day with wonderful people and great food. And my biggest takeaway is that we in education should NOT work alone. We need to teach our kids together, as a community. So if we can’t afford to team teach, because even though it would cost a lot, two teachers in a classroom is the way to go, then at least making use of our PLNs and PLCs is crucial.

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    • Aaron on January 11, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    It’s so funny- I was thinking about this very thing after I read your Happy New Year post. I worry about my future colleagues/administrators more than my future students. I think school culture is so important, and school culture is never set by individuals. It takes a village. We shouldn’t be trying to do stuff alone, but I worry I will want to work on things together, and everybody else will just see it as extra work. I worry that other teachers or administrators might even undermine me, somehow. I suspect that you are unique among your colleagues. Do you feel that way? And if so, does that make you feel lonely? Do you have trouble drumming up enthusiasm among your colleagues/administrators about the things you are enthusiastic about? How many educators at your school even care about Hour of Code, for example?

  1. Aaron, it seems like that’s the hump we have to get our colleagues over, seeing collaboration as extra work. I understand that we’re busy and have to balance our day so that we can still spend time with our families, take of ourselves, get our chores done, etc. but collaborating can accomplish so much more than working alone!

    So when I share something I’ve learned or ask who’s doing hour of code, I get some who get enthusiastic and try it but not all. I guess that’s pretty good! What is even better is that no one here actively or passively sabotages ideas that others share. We do question each other, discuss ideas, and seek to choose what will be in our students’ best interests though and that is fantastic. For example, we are discussing how best to be a PBIS school. I question and push back against rewarding students needlessly for doing what they are supposed to be doing or for behaving appropriately. The discussions are good and healthy and that makes all the difference.

    That being said, even though I share a planning time with my 6th grade PLC team, we spend every single day planning alone. That time is so valuable that I don’t push very much but I do want us to collaborate more and with after school responsibilities our planning time seems a perfect time for us to meet.

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