Today’s Lesson: A Learner is a Learner

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Our county has adopted Exam View Pro for assessments this year. Every middle and high school teacher has been trained on how to use the software, and they were asked to create their exams on it for this first semester. We have been using Exam View’s Test Center as a host for the tests. Tuesday, as (conservatively) 8,000 middle school students and 5,000 high school students tried to access their respective tests, the who system started to, well, crap out. Error messages were flying. My inbox started puking out emails from panic-stricken teachers, and the phone outside my office starting “cooing” at me. Now, I feel I’m a competent troubleshooter, so when I started making rounds to see what was going down, I figured the mantra that I have lived by this year (“Easy Fix”) would come into play as usual. Then I saw the first classroom of computers with database error messages cutting through the screen. They reminded me of many of my misplaced bits of code that sent the blogs I have customized into a tizzy.

This mess was totally out of my hands. No “Easy Fix”.

Before I let the panic set in as I told the teacher there was nothing I could do, but I would report it to our Technology Department, I remembered something I learned in seminary (yes, I am a Master of the Divine–comes in handy when your only hope of fixing a computer is to lay hands on it). When talking about the role of pastor during a crisis, we were encouraged to be “a still, strong presence in the midst of the chaos.”

So I smiled at the teacher, suggested that the students hit the back button and copy down their answers, and encouraged him to swing up the the copier and make a class set of the exam. I tried convey a sense of peace, and told him I would be back to him as soon as I got word from our Technology folks. As I moved from room to room (fully recognizing that I had no solution for any of my teachers), I continued to convey that peace.

Looking back on the week (we had more of the same on Wednesday, and encouraged teachers to switch to paper Thursday), I realized that our job as instructional technology advocates is not simply to preach the good news of this new frontier in education. We have to be ready to “pastor” our “flocks” (Ok, enough with the Christianspeak). I’m working with a staff of 140–1/3 of which were not there last year. They are as varied in their ability and zeal as you could get. I’m beginning to see their individual needs, and, probably more important, I’m beginning to respect them as individual learners.

I could fill their brains with weird words like “blogs” and “wikis”, but until we have a relationship that gives me insight into how they teach and what are their passions, we will both continue to be frustrated. A learner is a learner–no matter her age.

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