We often complain about the “echo chamber” effect out here in the education blogosphere. Sometimes it seems like we’re a group of technology cheerleaders enthusiastically shouting our successes to each other over and over – to the point that I often feel like I don’t have much to add to the conversation because it’s all been said before. But, over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that although we may be a vocal group online, the kinds of experiences we’re cheering about are truly few and far between.
A few weeks ago, I presented at the Teach IT! conference at Singapore American School. There were over 300 teachers at the conference, most teaching in international schools in Singapore, but a few from other schools in Asia. Over the course of the day, I spoke to dozens of educators who were excited about using technology in their classroom but either didn’t have access to the tools, didn’t have access to technical or pedagogical support, or didn’t have administrative support or expectations to move forward. Many of these teachers were working in complete isolation in their schools and had no one to inspire them, help push their thinking forward, or just support their ideas.
I got the distinct impression that they were excited about what I presented, but were already thinking back to their individual schools where they clearly would struggle to implement some of the ideas. Of course, this is what a personal learning network is all about, and of course I shared my contact info and gave examples of how they could connect with other educators, but I know that overwhelming feeling. The feeling that you want to make a change, but that you’re all alone, and it’s going to be harder than you expect – so why start?
After being constantly connected to my personal learning network, and being constantly exposed to new and challenging ideas about education, I realize I had started to fall under the illusion that most schools and educators were thinking about the same kinds of things I’ve been thinking about. After hearing the struggles and problems my colleagues here in southeast Asia are facing, I realized that for many teachers, these ideas are new.
My network of online contacts seems close, but in actuality we’re only a small group surrounded by our colleagues in the real world, some of whom might not even know about the ideas that keep getting bounced around our online “echo chamber.” Although it’s easy to get wrapped up in this progressive online environment, I’m realizing that I need to pay careful attention to the understandings and expectations of my colleagues here in the physical world in order to meet the very real needs of teachers that are not a part of this community.
Each of us needs to ensure that we are vocal not only online, but also in the real world, and in trying to communicate our ideas to wider audiences in order to make a difference in our own schools.
Obvious as it may be, I sometimes find myself getting caught up in the exciting opportunities and ideas we discuss online, but it’s important to remember that our individual schools might not be ready for all these things, and we need to help each individual we work with construct their own understandings, and that can take time and careful effort. I sometimes need to remind myself that the most critical part of my job to inspire change in the real world, not just within our connected group of educators. The reality is that those of us hoping to be voices of change need to make sure that we’re not speeding ahead on our own, but must always work to bring everyone else in our school environment along with us.