The following is a guest post by Doug Johnson, Director of Media and Technology for the Mankato (MN) Public Schools and author of The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide.
Connecting with other people is easy – almost too easy. Walk into any place people gather – coffee shops, shopping malls, sporting events, bars, or parks – and it’s not very hard to strike up a conversation. Some of these exchanges may turn out to be informative, meaningful, and the beginning of a beautiful relationship. The vast majority, however, will be not be more than friendly and forgettable.
So too with connections we make online. Like in physical space – or even more so – connecting is easy. Subscribe to a blog and add comments. Join a mailing list. Follow someone on Twitter. Get involved in a Ning. Participate in a webinar. Some of these Internet-enabled communications will be informative, meaningful, and the beginning of beautiful professional relationships. The majority, however, will just be a giant time suck.
Technology professional development tends to focus on how to use the technology with little attention paid to being selective and balanced in its use. Online connections certainly need to be selected and balanced. Following the one great Tweeter who shares links and insights of use beats trying to keep up with fifty who believe followers are interested in what they had for breakfast.
In my book, The Classroom Teacher’s Technology Survival Guide, I offer some tips on being selective, achieving balance, and possibly keeping your technology sanity:
If you are a classroom teacher who wants to take advantage of powerful technologies in both your classroom and for other professional tasks but still have time to talk to your own family, read a book or even get some sleep, consider the following strategies…
- Start with the problem, not the tool. Rather than scan the flood of “new and recommended” programs, apps and websites for programs that look useful, start with two or three challenges you have in your work life. Do you have a unit that doesn’t engage your students? Are you having a problem getting a project done with your curriculum team? Is it frustrating keeping files current among the multiple devices you use? What might help meet the objectives of your PLC? Scan for tools that help solve real problems.
- Be selective about where you get your recommendations. Let’s face it, there are folks who get excited about anything that is new, shiny and beeps. For those who want to make trying out new technology resources their avocation and forgo any attempt at normalcy, that’s great. But I would select two or three trusted sources of new programs. These sources might be a websites or blogs, your librarian or tech integration specialist, or a fellow teacher. But let somebody else do a pre-screening of the new stuff.
- Try just one new tool at a time. Trying to learn too many programs can be as destructive to your professional life as ignoring technology completely. Pick one interesting resource and use it for a month. Then try another one. Nobody has to be the master of every technology available.
- One in, one out. When I buy a new pair of shoes, I throw an old pair away. (This drives my wife crazy.) When I start to read a new blog, I unsubscribe from an old blog. If you create an online webpage for your parents, stop doing the printed one. Figuring out what to stop doing is probably the hardest, but most important thing you need to do to stay sane.
- Don’t try to fix that which is not broken. If you are happy with your web browser, your online bookmarking site, your cloud photo storage space, your blogging software, your e-mail system, stay with them. Change for the sake of change is unproductive.
- Weigh the time/benefit ratio. Evaluate the new resource as objectively as possible. Will taking two hours to learn this program well either save me more than two hours in time in the immediate future or will it help me reach students who could not be reached before? Let’s face it, some programs are too complex, too time-intensive to learn to ever offer a decent payback. Evaluate.
- Give back and become part of a community of learners. Be your school’s guru on one helpful tool. Join a group of other technology learning educators either face-to-face or online. Make learning new technologies social and make friends. After all, misery does love company.
Striving for balance is the key to keeping your sanity in times of rapid change. You do not have to know everything, try everything, change everything. Just work on the things that make a real and positive difference.
Your insanity may be temporary.
Be selective about your digital connections.