Cover photo by Mike Cohen on Flicker
In coming back to my blog at the end of the COETAIL experience, I have a general plan for how I’d like to approach the final COETAIL course. I skimmed all my blog posts and wrote their core concepts/ideas down, then I categorized them based on theme. I found 3 prominent themes emerge: Relationships, Authenticity, and Tech. For my first three posts, I will be consolidating these topics and exploring where I am now in my thinking and how it might have changed.
In this week’s post, I’m going to be consolidating the topic of authenticity.
One of my favorite posts during this course has been on Empathy. In rereading this post, I have to say that I still agree with its ideas and approaches. I wouldn’t say that I have learned any new approaches to being any more empathetic. But I bring up this post again because of one of the comments I received. Ryan Persaud brought the idea of “authentically empathizing” online. In rereading this comment, I had a bit of a lightbulb go off. To connect with one another, we have to be willing to take a risk and make ourselves vulnerable. This is nothing new, but I can’t help but wonder: if we want to make learning authentic, does that too involve risk taking?
Another post that connected with me in the theme of authenticity is my case study. I did it back in Vietnam when I asked a group of students about social media. In the post, I paraphrased the students’ responses a few times and came up with these statements:
- Paraphrased part 1: Today we all are online and many of us have access to technology. When we are close to someone, we like to engage with their recent content; maintaining friendships online is just as important as maintaining friendships outside.
- Paraphrased part 2: Today we communicate in different ways because of the availability of various technologies that allow us to communicate with anyone we want at any time. Technology is changing rapidly and people like things that are new.
- Paraphrased overall: To distill the students’ ideas down: as technology changes rapidly, so do the ways in which we communicate.
I wanted to connected back to this post because it kind of showed a disparity between adults and adolescents. Young people have different ground rules for communication and friendship. Those communication approaches affect what is authentic. I bring up this post not because it specifically showed how education can be authentic, but because it shows the need for the adults to be good listeners and hear what it means to be a young person today.
My colleague Kim Hogg put it well when she said something to the effect of are we asking the kids to bend to our ideas of authenticity? Perhaps teachers should be the flexible ones.
Another post that stands out to me from the last year is on the teacher as questioner from way back in the beginning of COETAIL. One of my favorite parts of this post is about Diana Laufenberg’s TEDx Talk and how we live in a time of data surplus. I love that. Data surplus.
We are so surrounded by information there is no hope to actually consume it all, is there? Netflix is such a good example of this; how many different series are available on Netflix alone? It’s impossible to keep up! But I digress. As the supernova gets bigger and bigger, the gap between what we know and what is available will only widen. One way to make sense of all this information is to have questions that we ask of this endless source of information– or to inquire. Inquiring, while it is an educational buzz word, could very well be another of the 21st Century skills. And as I mentioned in my above blog post, asking good questions is a skill that can be developed.
So let’s see if I can synthesize these ideas thus far. A teacher’s role is to be an empathetic listener who helps the students to devise their own good questions about the world.
I remember way back in the beginning of COETAIL, we talked about not being a consumer, but a creator. I wonder if I might append that statement and say “curious creator”… somebody who can question and synthesize their findings together into meaningful artifacts to share with online and offline communities.
I’m starting to sense a theme from my consolidations above. Authenticity and relationships stem from listening. This brings me back to an idea that I may have mentioned before– we teach by listening, and we learn by talking. I love that.
My former curriculum coach once told me that teachers can be selfish. I couldn’t believe my ears. That was preposterous! Teachers are the salt of the earth! Teachers are under-appreciated! Teachers are… While all of that can be true, it can also deafen us to how crucial being a good listener can be to a person’s education, thinking, and relationships. The danger can be in the way we tell teachers that they are master’s of their craft and they often have a kept audience. It’s tempting to be a sage on the stage. It takes great intentionality to be a good listener.
Furthermore, learning to be flexible and adapt with the times, norms, and values is crucial for teachers who want to be able to engage kids with relevant content, skills, and dispositions.
It’s also essential that we teach kids to be curious creators that question and want to harness the super nova to better understand the world around them today.
In short, there is a lot we can do as teachers to make learning authentic for our students. If we look inward and examine ourselves, we can try to connect the outside world, sure, but we can start with our own behaviors to make a meaningful experience for our students.