Sunday, 9 September 2012

We Are the Light

Imagine 400 of the most proficient techies in Southeast Asia congregating physically (and virtually) to share the latest and greatest tech tools out there.  Scary, isn't it?  That's exactly where I found myself this weekend at the Google Summit.

I have to admit, on that first day, I felt out of my league.  I spent my day going from session to session soaking up every idea.  Some of them came at me so fast, the whole experience was "like drinking from the fire hydrant of opportunity," (as Brian M. quoted Bill Hoffman in one of his tweets).  By the end of the day, I was drenched.  Here was this whole community out there doing amazing things with innovative tools, and I barely knew about it.  

A bit overwhelmed, I returned on Sunday, ready to fill up an already full tank when the keynote speaker, Rushton Hurley, reminded me of something important, no matter where we lie on the technology continuum.

My "ah ha" moment began when he showed us this video:

My initial reaction was, yup, I'm the lamp.  I get it.  Like that has-been light fixture, I live in a fast-paced world, and I can't keep up.  That's when Rushton said, "We're not the lamp, we're the light."  And what is our light?  It's when we connect with our students at the time they need it the most.  

That's when it hit me.  Here I was trying to pick up every new trick and tip, but it's not about the technology.  It's about finding more efficient ways to connect with our students and have them to connect with each other.

I remembered the video I had seen in a session on Saturday.  In it, a science teacher used a Google form to ask her students about how they were doing.  As if unlocking a seemingly bolted door, she provided a way through which her kids could express their feelings.  She connected with them unlike any other teacher, and their learning flourished.  Her light shined brighter as a result.

I began thinking about all of the tools I was learning this weekend: Teacher Dashboard, Google Forms, Youtube, Twitter, Google Apps, Google Hangout, and more.  They aren't tools that I need to learn so I can keep up.  They are opportunities for me to connect with my students.  When I use Teacher Dashboard to quickly read through student drafts to see where my writers are or create a Google form to get some instant feedback from my students, I can fine-tune my teaching with more precision.  My light will shine brighter as a result.

The lamp video failed to mention one thing.  With both lamps working together, the whole room is brighter.  Last week, in my Power of Partnerships post, I wrote that I'm not the only teacher in the room. I know that my students have lots to learn from each other, and if I use just one tool that showcases their expertise and perspective, I know that my whole classroom will be brighter as a result.  Check out this video that Rushton shared with us:

By creating this video, this student is able to teach others new possibilities, and when they give him feedback, he finds purpose and place in the community.  His light shines brighter as a result.

Here's the thing.  Our lights aren't broken.  In fact, with the growth we've made over the past few years, they're brighter than ever.  I know this because I've seen it.  With technology though, we'll be able to do it even better.  Believe me, we shouldn't feel as though we need to learn every new tool and trick out there.  There's just no way we can.  After all, there are people around us who already have.  What we need to do is to keep them in mind and call on them when those tools may make a greater difference.  And by having those experts show us how to use them, their light will shine  brighter as a result.

By Sunday afternoon, I no longer felt out of place nor overwhelmed.  I realized that this wasn't just a technology conference.  It was much greater than that.  It was about sharing ideas that work.  It was about leveraging our collective intelligence.  It was about connecting with others to find purpose and place.  In essence, it was all about good teaching and learning, and that's what I strive for each day in my classes.  Now, with some help from those around me, I hope to do it even better.


  1. Even tho' I didn't participate in this weekend's summit, your wisdom here was what I needed. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of technology inundating us from what feels like every corner of our universe. It makes me feel old and out of touch and lacking relevance when I see my students tune out because I'm not entertaining enough or because I don't connect to them online. Believe me, there's nothing that cuts deeper into a teacher's heart than feeling ineffective, outmoded, irrelevant. So, I'll make an effort to learn technology that allows me to teach and reach today's kids. But, oh my, I'm slow at it and I make tons of mistakes in the process (such as losing three hours of comments on students' drafts yesterday because I used the wrong comment button). If only I can teach my students to be graceful about my mistakes as I learn something new . . . and . . . if only I can remember to grant them the same grace as they learn tons new too. [I think I'm too verbose to be a good tweeter!]

    1. @Nancy - You will never be "ineffective, outmoded, or irrelevant". I've heard you talk about your students and their learning, and those are not adjectives that describe you. It is ok to make mistakes, and by being graceful with yourself when it happens, you are teaching the students to do the same with their own mistakes, not just vice versa. I do feel your frustration re: the comment story you mention. :(

      One suggestion I have to deal with the overwhelming feeling of everything: pick one thing that you think will make a difference in your classroom. Focus on just that this semester. Maybe it's Teacher Dashboard and Docs...or maybe blogs....or.... Pick one. That's all it takes. And let me know how I can help!

  2. I know what you mean by slow, Nancy. I'm right there with you. And while a kid may not be able to help us with things like commenting on dashboard, there may be a quick tutorial on youtube or the dashboard site. I often forget to use the most efficient resources that will help when I need it, especially when it comes to technology.

  3. Jeff Utecht over the weekend suggested the number one skill students could leave school with is the ability to search discernibly online. Sometimes I think its a skill we need to make sure we also have.

    Some great thoughts Scott. Do you know you could also automatically have this posted to your G+ so you could use two methods of reaching your PLN with only one post? Happy to show you.

    1. Thanks, Anthony! I agree with Jeff's number one skill. I'd love to see G+. I don't know much about it.


  5. Thank you Mr. Riley for your eloquent summary of the weekend. I know that I'm seen as the 'techie' who knows everything, but really I'm just good at figuring it out. What I really LOVE is the connection piece. Rushton's keynote reminded me not to forget that and to make sure to highlight that when I'm working with teachers. Because we ARE the lights and technology isn't going to replace us. No matter how much technology I brought into my physics classroom, the students needed me to guide them through it....or rather I let them guide me through using the tech while I guided the learning.

    Another interesting tidbit...
    Rushton Hurley told the 7th grade teachers today about the button story. Students will push it to see what it does. Adults will ask what it does first. That's something we can learn from students.

    Anyway, thank you. Your blog post is my favorite thing about the weekend.

  6. Mr. Riley, thanks for your heartfelt thoughts above. I believe that the moments we remember as teachers are those when a child's face shows that understanding of what's possible, and technology is one tool in a talented teacher's toolkit to help make those moments happen. Jeff (Utecht) shared a video with me that Brian, one of his students at ISB made earlier this year. The story is not about the technology, but technology makes the story reach much, much farther. Here it is (have tissues handy):

    Operation Smile 2012: Nan, Thailand

    Stay in touch!

  7. Thanks for your comment, Rushton. What a video! I remember Jeff saying that the kid was even asked to be a keynote speaker for the convention. Boy is his bright light shining now.

    Seems as though we're not the only ones leveraging technology to make learning happen more efficiently. Check out this article from The Guardian:

    Thanks again for your inspirational talk!