As I plunge into another year as a middle school language arts teacher, it feels necessary to take a moment for some deep reflection.
First of all, way to go! I remember heading into my first year not only wondering how my 21-year-old self was possibly going to have a real academic impact on 120 8th graders, but also debating if being a teacher was truly the right career path for me. Seven years later, the moments of joy, pride, and fun that teaching brings to my life tell me that I have made the right choice, but upon some deeper reflection, I have recently noticed something else. One of the real reasons I now find my career so fulfilling is because of something so embedded in my everyday practice that I had never taken the time to really notice before. I am so lucky and so empowered to have grown up in the teaching profession during the course of the “Web 2.0 era.”
Even though I have always collaborated with my colleagues, with the shift to interactive online technology in education, collaboration has become not only seamless, but a welcome necessity. My professional-learning community has strengthened so much since my district became a Google district; everything we create is shared and drafted together, live, through Google Apps for Education. We work together through hard-hitting conversations on data and assessment development, all because we can create and analyze everything together, at the same time. I can crunch data in a Google sheet in a split second so that we can collaborate on appropriate intervention and enrichment planning in the same setting. Additionally, our learning-management system allows other teachers to have access to my assignments and student work, to give feedback to both my students and me in an interdisciplinary manner. Without a doubt, my positive experiences with collaboration in my profession are a result of some of the best tools that Web 2.0 has to offer, making planning and teaching more efficient and effective.
Can You Hear Me Now?
One of the no-brainers for why it’s been great to grow up as a teacher in the Web 2.0 era is drastically improved communication. I have certainly learned how to up my email game with parents these days; I now email a weekly update to all of my students’ parents with a link to a Google calendar, giving them access to all of the assignments and resources their students are currently working on. I have received so much gratitude from parents for this method, largely because of the transparency offered to them on what we are working on in school, and what is expected of their child.
Technology providers continue to up the ante for communication on many apps and websites that we frequent in class. Whooo’s Reading offers student and parent accounts, allowing parents to monitor how often their child is updating their reading log page, and it even lets parents give feedback on their child’s responses to reflection questions. Sites like this make communication so much more seamless with parents, as they do not have to worry about getting their child to share their private login information. Finally, the Remind app has served as a communication life-saver when I have forgotten a last-minute reminder in class, or I want students and parents to know that I have updated or changed an assignment. I can use the app on my laptop or phone to directly communicate with parents and students in the form of a text message—all without relinquishing the privacy of my own phone number. Communicating with parents and students has come so far from the occasional phone call home.
Over the past several years, I have heard and learned a lot about the importance and value of giving students timely and meaningful feedback. These days, with nearly every web tool coming fully equipped with a commenting feature, I have zero excuses for not providing my students with effective feedback at a swift pace. My job is made much more efficient when I can help a student with a writing skill in Google Docs comments, auto-grade a Google Forms assessment using Flubaroo and email results to students, or respond to discussion board topics on Canvas with feedback and links to additional resources. The days of laboring over grading essays as my sole means of student feedback are certainly over!
The Pace of Change
As an educator, one of my favorite ways the web has impacted my professional development is by always encouraging me to innovate my practice. As technology changes, I find that I rarely use many of the same programs and websites from year to year—and I like that! I am always on the lookout for systems that can help me improve my teaching. Reflecting on my classroom digital timeline (utilizing Moodle, then Schoology, then Google Classroom, and now finally, Canvas), I must say that I am proud of myself for trying out new technology as it becomes available. This pride is yet another encouraging factor that keeps me loving my job and looking forward to how it continues to change under Web 2.0.
Please understand this raving about online tools doesn’t mean I never get overwhelmed by them. When I attend a tech-heavy professional development session, I still leave with my head in a cloud and experience the same amount of panic all of us feel when something new is put on our plates. What I have learned about the benefits of embracing these tools is that I just need to always be on the hunt for technology that will make me a more effective and more efficient teacher. “Doing technology” just for a check-mark on my summative evaluation is not going to achieve anything substantial.
I must admit that I truly owe a great amount of my job satisfaction to Web 2.0’s contributions to the teaching field. I can’t wait to see what is going to be available next to improve my work as an educator.