What’s Holding You Back

A few weeks ago, my students were working on a large-scale, collaborative project that involved publishing content to our class wiki. After some time into the project, I noticed that my students productivity tailing off regarding the content that was posted to the wiki pages for their chosen topic (see class wiki for more). I clicked through the their pages on the classroom computer (using a large LCD TV as monitor) at the beginning of each class period and asked them, “What is holding you back?”

Although that is a specific story from a closed situation with limited global significance, I recalled that event after reading David Warlick’s recent blog post, “The Containerless Learning Environment.” I know his piece was about the traditional mindset that learning should take place in a classroom and how current social norms and technology are butting up against that paradigm. However, as I read, I was thinking about constraints somewhat differently.

When I asked my students what was keeping them from achieving at a level which they were capable, we were discussing our collaborative, cooperative environment — “who is doing what?” and “I don’t want to do more than anyone else.” However, the question, “What is holding you back? and “What constraints are there that keep you from achieving more?” 

There are always constraints present in education and teachers are constantly fighting to keep learning at the forefront. However, are we really doing all that we can? Take some time and look at your instruction reflectively and ask, “What is holding me back?”

I teach in an amazing building, within a great district. As a small school, we have been able to acquire the best technology and provide great opportunities for learning to take place anywhere our students are. One year after implementing a 7-12 one-to-one laptop program, I feel like our teachers have embraced the new technology remarkably well and have adapted to a culture unique to the learning environment that a one-to-one classroom creates. 

This is not to say we can’t expect more. The question “What’s holding you back?” is one that I plan to use often as we move to year 2. It doesn’t have to offensive, rude, or discourteous. It simply suggests that there is more that can be done in any classroom – with rookie teachers and seasoned vets. Most importantly, it suggests that we need to do this together. 

Almost all educators will recognize and acknowledge that teaching is learning. Ironically, teachers too often opt not to engage in learning to employ and integrate new technologies that have the potential of making instruction easier or more enduring for students. Why this occurs is a varied phenomenon. Some fear lesson failure; some aren’t sold on the benefits; others don’t take the time to learn; still others don’t like stepping out of a comfort zone. 

For a long time school teachers, leaders and administrators all used those to justify their instruction. At what point do these turn from valid reasons to excuses? What was once an acceptable way to ignore the increasing ubiquity of 21st Century technology, is now becoming a negligent disservice to the students around which we are centered. Technology has become the 800-pound gorilla in everyone’s classroom. 

As this school year comes to a close and we look toward the next, start asking colleagues that question, and make sure to respond with, “How can I help you with that?”
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