When I first considered writing this blog post, I wasn’t sure what I would write about. I have been tossing ideas back and forth or straight into the trash. Finally, I decided I would introduce myself by sharing my long journey and timid entrance into the digital age. No matter how it is viewed, I felt it was important to share this part of my background in order for people to understand who I am, where I’m coming from, and what’s driving me forward.
My name is Nicole Patterson and I have been a part of the Gold Trail School District for the past 20 years. After graduating from Cariboo College with a UBC Bachelor of Education degree in 1994, I immediately travelled north, dropping resumes along the way. When I returned home, there was a message waiting for me; offering me a job as a TOC in SD74. I gratefully accepted and have dedicated my career to the students in this district.
I worked in a variety of jobs in the beginning, but the majority of my time has been spent working with students in the immediate grades. My particular focus has been in working with Grade 7 students, but as our student population has declined over the years, I have spent time working with a combination of intermediate grades. And this year, I have the most awesome class of Grades 5-7 students who compliment each other beautifully. At times, I miss the unique culture of the straight grade 7 class, but I have learned a set of different skills by working in multi-grade classrooms.
When I was in Grade 7, our small high school had just put in a computer lab and our teacher was showing us how to use DOS. My friends and I were playing tennis on our ATARI systems at home and Ms. Pacman at the arcade. Nobody told us that we would have to use computers in the future and computer class was viewed as just another interesting elective. Our parents pressured us to focus on academic subjects because we WERE going to attend post-secondary school. And guess what? 35 of 41 of us did.
My parents were so proud of me and gave me a “top of the line” Panasonic electric typewriter and a mini tape recorder to record lectures. At this point, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I still didn’t know that computers would become a huge part of my life later on. They were still quite expensive and nobody was pushing the idea. I didn’t even have a cell phone until 8 years ago! My husband actually forced me to get a cell phone, using the excuse that we had two teenage children and a baby on the way. I was not at all fond of the idea, but I begrudgingly agreed. Why would I want people to think they could interrupt my life whenever and wherever they wanted? Couldn’t they just leave a message? Unfortunately (or fortunately), kids do have a way of needing you immediately and I could possibly need medical help during my pregnancy. It was really at that time that I started my journey to get connected.
I wouldn’t say that I went along kicking and screaming; however, I definitely wasn’t an eager participant. I know there are still some of you out there, but I think I was one of the last teachers to check my email on a regular basis. Once checking email became expected, I finally got myself a home computer. After all, it was about time; it was 2005! I couldn’t believe how much information was at my fingertips at any given moment. For me, this was bittersweet. I can get lost in that little screen for hours. It is so easy to get side-tracked searching the endless library of knowledge! And I can’t express how frustrating it was to navigate through the internet and different software. Everything in this realm changes so quickly. Just when I thought I had a handle on things...
Although I’m always trying to improve my skills and find more time, I cannot say that, even today, I’m terribly diligent about every email. It isn’t instinctual to use digital technology to solve problems or make life easier. There are an awful lot of things to do in a day, especially with two young children still at home and wanting all of my attention. If I could only have been born ten years later, I’m sure these skills would have been more like second nature to me. But alas, it was not meant to be. Getting connected has been a steep learning curve. I think I might be getting the hang of it though, lol!
In 2009, as I was getting “geared up” to have my last child, SD74 was just getting started with implementing the idea of Connected Classrooms. It sounded very interesting, so even though I knew I would be taking a maternity leave, I decided to use some of my time to take a few online courses to learn more about the digital tools that many teachers were already using. I did the best I could to concentrate on reading and connecting with other educators between cuddle time, poopy diapers, and piles of laundry.
In January of 2011, I was extremely excited to start back to work to try out some of the tools I had learned about. It was tough going, simply because, like anything else, unless you do something regularly, you are usually quite clumsy with it. My students were gracious and supportive as I practiced. I learned a lot from them and was able to introduce them to some tools that would make their school lives a little easier and more interesting. Still, the growth and diversity of technological tools seemed astounding in such a short period of time and I was beginning to see students with a variety of their own devices. It was clear that the students were learning and creating in new ways. Obviously, I would also have to find new ways to engage and teach this new generation of learners. I felt somewhat panicked that I wouldn’t be able to learn quickly enough, but I found comfort in knowing that, as long as I did my best to learn and grow along with them, my teaching would transform as well.
It wasn’t long before the idea of expanding the Elementary Connected Classrooms project was presented to the schools in our district. For me, it was pretty clear that this was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up and I was eager to show my interest. What better way to improve and grow than to jump right in? And now, as I enter the third and final term of my first year, I couldn’t be happier with that decision.
It certainly wasn’t an easy transition to go from my own private classroom with our own sense of community to one that included three other peers and over 80 students that communicated through video conferencing. On the other hand, I always wondered how we could bridge the gap between our communities. Our students usually came together during sports competitions and thought of each other as rivals, instead of resources and a supportive network. There were very few opportunities for them to work together and build relationships with one another.
Connected Classrooms has built a stronger sense of belonging and a culture of collaboration between our students and our teachers. We are all learning from one another and our perspectives and level of acceptance has broadened. We are able to draw strength to fill weaknesses, inspire to meet challenges, and thrive on our passions to fulfill our goals. And although we use technology to help us accomplish this, I realize that the bigger idea is how we interact and communicate. We need to continue to strive to become creative problem solvers who are willing to share solutions and resources for the good of the whole. We need to be prepared to make improvements based on feedback, critique, and proven results. The students who can collaborate and become fully engaged in learning opportunities will become the leaders of tomorrow.