A Valuable Lesson

Before becoming a teacher, I worked in television production for almost a decade. One of the first lessons I learned during my career taught me a valuable lesson, not just about television, but about life.

My first job in television station was a videotape operator for the 10:00 newscast. This was before everything was digital. You had numerous videotapes for each broadcast and only four tape decks to play the tapes. After each story aired, you would have to play the next tape, rewind the previously played tape for the next newscast, and switch tapes.

A colleague showed me what to do for two nights, then handed the job over to me. The first few stories went smoothly. Then the stories started to go at an increasingly fast pace. After the ninth or tenth story, my mind was going faster than my hands, and I rewound a tape while it was still on the air. Tens of thousands of people saw my blunder on live television.

I thought that was the end of my career in television. I looked over at my colleague for some encouraging words and he said, “Bet you won’t make that mistake again.” Despite his lack of empathy, he was absolutely right. I learned from that mistake and never repeated it.

I thought about this technology blunder as many educators, myself included, prepare to make a shift towards online learning.

When new technology is used, mistakes are not only possible, they are probable. That’s why it is important to embrace situations like this with the right mindset. These are a three ideas I’m going to try and keep in mind during this journey.

Things will go wrong

Things will go wrong, and that’s okay. Teachers, students, and parents are using technology which may be new to them. It is important to be honest with all stakeholders (students, parents, and colleagues) and acknowledge that things might not go according to plan, but we’ll all work together to get through this.

Learn from mistakes

Mistakes will happen. Try to learn from these opportunities and grow as an educator. The legendary football coach Bear Bryant said, “When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should ever do about it: admit it, learn from it, and don’t repeat it.” That’s a pretty good approach to take.

Fear should not paralyze progress

While I think it is important to move slowly into this unchartered water, the fear of failure should not prevent us from trying something new. I’m trying a few things with my fourth graders, and I’m not completely sure they will work. That’s okay. They are good lessons, and I don’t want my reluctance to prevent my students from experiencing valuable learning opportunities. It is a delicate balance between trying too many new ideas and finding new strategies which will benefit my students during this unprecedented time.

Everybody has their own comfort level with technology. Regardless of where you are on that continuum, I know you’re going to be just the teacher your students need during this difficult time. It might not be perfect, but your willingness to try a new approach will create a wonderful learning environment.

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