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In the Company of Sages

We all pay lip service to the need for educators to be learners as well as teachers, but how often do we really act on it?

Don’t underestimate yourself. It’s advice that every educator has provided to students at one time or another. Yet this time it came from Jillian Conrad, an incoming senior at Jeffco’s 21st Century Virtual Academy in Golden, CO, outside Denver, who was speaking as a panelist at a session at the recent International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. The panel also included another student, Britnee Osteen, as well as Judy Bauernschmidt, director of student online learning at the academy.

Conrad’s comment was in response to a question from Julie Evans, CEO of the nonprofit education group Project Tomorrow, which co-hosted the session along with e-learning solutions provider Blackboard. Evans asked the panelists what advice they would give to the educators in the audience. Conrad opened with, “Don’t be afraid to engage with the younger generation because of the gap in knowledge about technology. Don’t underestimate yourself.”

Earlier in the discussion, Conrad had told her story of how online learning had rescued her from dropping out of school. Her father’s bout with cancer had depressed her. School bored her and her fellow classmates didn’t seem serious. She saw no reason to continue going. She stayed at home, investigated some online options, and chose Jeffco’s virtual academy. The school allowed Conrad to study at her own pace and interact with classmates and teachers who challenged her.

Meanwhile, Osteen explained that her route to online education grew from her frustration with the traditional school setting. She is a stutterer, and her classmates didn’t have the patience to hear her out. Online she can communicate easily and fully, and she has grown confident to the point that she can sit in front of 100 or so adults and tell her story. There were a few pauses, but she was clear and articulate and very smart.

We have all heard stories of technology’s positive affect on students’ lives, and online learning has been the source of a healthy share of them. But I sat in awe of these two teenagers, mature beyond their years yet still with the innocence of youth, showing great courage in relating their compelling personal stories while also offering such sage advice.

And sage advice it is. When was the last time you offered words of encouragement to a fellow educator? Do the teachers in your district feel too afraid to engage with students about technology? I often turn to teenagers for help with technology, but I tend to take the lazy way out and have them do things for me rather than teach me to do them for myself. We all pay lip service to the need for educators to be learners as well as teachers, but how often do we really act on it? The courage and success of these two students should inspire us to take a risk—to use technology and to not underestimate ourselves. I looked at Prezi.com as a presentation tool today and have resolved to use it in my next presentation. I can do this.

This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of THE Journal.

About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).