Waking Up Rip Van Winkle

Reflections on Edscape, Learning, and #ISuddenlyHadAFeelingItWasAllConnected


On waking, he found himself on the green knoll whence he had first seen the old man of the glen. He rubbed his eyes—it was a bright sunny morning. The birds were hopping and twittering among the bushes, and the eagle was wheeling aloft, and breasting the pure mountain breeze. “Surely,” thought Rip, “I have not slept here all night.” He recalled the occurrences before he fell asleep…He looked round for his gun, but in place of the clean well-oiled fowling-piece, he found an old firelock lying by him, the barrel incrusted with rust, the lock falling off, and the stock worm-eaten. He now suspected that the grave roysterers of the mountain had put a trick upon him, and having dosed him with liquor, had robbed him of his gun. Wolf, too, had disappeared, but he might have strayed away after a squirrel or partridge. He whistled after him and shouted his name, but all in vain; the echoes repeated his whistle and shout, but no dog was to be seen. -from Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle (http://www.bartleby.com/310/2/1.html)

Recently, my wife and I were perusing children’s books, folk tales, and fairy tales that we were looking to introduce to our 17 month old twins, and I had a chance to sit on the floor in the aisle at Barnes and Nobles and to revisit the story of Rip Van Winkle.  As timing would have it this came shortly after my simultaneously awesome yet humbling experience at the Edscape Conference held at New Milford HS in New Jersey.

As I was reading about Rip’s astonishment, confusion, and struggle to reorient himself to a world in which he woke up after roughly 20 years asleep, I couldn’t help but think what it would have been like for him to wake up today, in 2013…even after only 7-10 years of being asleep, and walk into a classroom.  So much has (or should have been in some cases) changed: our students have changed, technology has changed, instruction has changed, how we use time, space and resources has changed, our everyday vocabulary has (and for all of this I probably should be writing ‘is continuing to change’) changed.  This could be quite bewildering and quite overwhelming.

In regards to my professional life, I have considered myself very lucky to be where I am today. I’ve had great people to work with; people who have pushed, challenged, taught, guided and supported me. I have been in great situations; situations in which I have been given the freedom, tools and green light to ‘test the envelope’ with different teaching strategies, technology, curriculum, etc.  In all these instances what I began and continue to realize is that as times change and as new ‘stuff’ enters our world as educators, a key to staying sane and continuing to grow and learn is connecting with others. It is not just understanding that it is important to collaborate and share ideas, but to take action and actually do it (Nike did have it right from the beginning didn’t they?).

For a while, that ‘collaboration’ was only local…in my school, department, or team.  I found mentors, friends, colleagues, etc…who I was able to bounce ideas off of, run lesson by for feedback, etc.  All of this has been and is still VERY effective.  However, after attending Edscape about 2 weeks ago, I felt a little, myself, like Rip Van Winkle metaphorically ‘waking up’ to the true power that technology, specifically Twitter, plays in helping to grow this circle of influence and community of support…in essence my Professional Learning Network.

What was so eye opening about that experience was while I’ve been working with technology- instructionally, professionally, and personally- since about 2006 or 2007 and felt like I was at a pretty comfortable (dangerous word isn’t it?) place, I all of the sudden was back to being the ‘newbie’ at some level.  I have been on Twitter for about a little over a year, but what became apparent to me was that I was not truly ‘on’ Twitter…that is using it to connect with others. There were groups of educators who had been collaborating, sharing ideas, successes, challenges and the like for months on Twitter, who now had a chance to meet face to face, have those ‘local’ conversations in person…YET they had been National and even Global conversations way before that. Talk about very quickly ‘waking up a little astonished, a little confused, and struggling’ to gain perspective on how far I still need to go to keep pace!

In the now, though, I think the important piece is this realization that accepting disequilibrium is incredibly important, and that we all have a little Rip in us. Whether we are the educator in the session asking what Google Chrome is and how to open a new tab, or the leader trying to get ideas on how to flip faculty meetings and professional development for the entire district, the key is that we are growing, we are moving a few more steps along that continuum of learning, and we are doing this by getting connected not just locally, but also nationally and globally.

*Special thanks to Eric Sheninger @NMHS_Principal, George Couros @gcouros, Keith Devereaux @keith_devereaux, Tom Murray @thomascmurray, and Jared C. Wastler @jcwastler for the conversation, inspiration, and reflection!

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