Passionately Preferred Paths

As I planned my recent trip to ISTE, I had several paths from Salt Lake City to Denver to consider. I could fly, or there were two logical ways to drive there.The quickest option would be an hour and twenty-minute flight. Although it was the quickest, it was also the most expensive.

The quickest option would be an hour and twenty-minute flight. Although it was the quickest, this was also the most expensive choice.

The cheaper option was to drive. This option would also give me more freedom to get around while in Denver and provided me an entire car full of space for packing. If deciding to drive, I now had to make a new choice. I could take the northern or southern routes around the Rocky Mountains. Going north was seventeen minutes quicker, but the southern route was much more scenic.

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So which path should I take? We could argue extensively which of these paths is the best, but it depends on several factors. I would also suggest that doing so would be a waste of time that is better spent moving forward towards our destination.

Just like my journey to Denver, there are also multiple paths to reach our goals in education. At ISTE I noticed many vendors, teachers, and Educelebs promoting their preferred educational paths. They had data, swag, examples, and thousands of followers that made it easy to believe their path would get students to where they needed to go.

There were game changing devices, 1 to 1 initiatives, programming, coding, makerspace, creating less stressful environments, how to keep up with other countries, no homework, flipped homework, easier ways to keep track of homework, turning ownership over to our students, project based learning, BYOD, and dozens of other things that would change education for the better.

A lot of time was spent this past week discussing which of these paths would best get us to our destination. As a teacher, I love innovation and doing things differently. Conferences like this get me super excited, and then I come home and try to face the reality of making that change actually happen.

I know that I am prone to being the teacher that hears the latest and greatest idea and jumps right in. After attending ISTE I have dozens of paths I want to take. Passionate people inspired me and I want to follow! But if we stick to the travel metaphor, it’s not possible to take every path. I could end up driving around in circles for hours switching back and forth and never arrive at my destination.

So which path do I take? Who is right? Thousands of voices this week told me which path was best, some sounded too good to be true, some conflicted, some fit my skills, and others would really stretch my comfort zone. So which way should I go?

A wise teacher told me early in my career to focus on one thing each year that I wanted to improve. If each year I improve one aspect of my teaching, I will achieve that goal. Once I’ve reached that goal I can reach the next checkpoint and it won’t be long until I have gone a long way.

There is no reason to have to continually reinvent myself. No need to be tossed to and fro carried about by every wind of educational doctrine. If I tried everything I heard this weekend, I would be overwhelmed and burnt out in no time, like many of our nation’s teachers.

Change is hard. Our first iteration rarely works out as perfectly as we intend. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try new things, but any new idea takes time and practice. Our expectations and reality don’t always come true right away or on our first try.

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As great as the continuous cycle of new paths in education are, and we should always be looking to improve, there is also great value in time-tested ideas. Paths that have been traveled on for years have been for a reason. So my original question still hasn’t been answered. Which path should I take? Which path should you take?

That depends. Just like my path to Denver, there are several viable options. If I wasn’t paying my own way, I would have chosen to fly. With driving, I could have gone the quickest path that my phone recommended, or I could enjoy the journey a little more with just a little bit more time.

There were several outdated paths that I should obviously avoid. As great of an object lesson traveling on foot, handcart, or wagon would have been when teaching my students Utah History, traveling by foot would have taken me 159 hours. For some reason, Google doesn’t provide information on how long it would take to get to Denver by horse. So again, which path?

Several people have asked me what my biggest takeaway from ISTE was, so here you go. Find your passion! I was blown away by so many amazing teachers who were passionate about their craft. They inspired me, they left me wanting to be better, and I could tell that they cared.

After having had the pleasure of attending this conference and coming away inspired, I feel it’s my duty to share what I’ve learned. To tell you which path will lead you to the promised land. The magical answer that made the hundreds of dollars I spent this week all worth it.

The answer is passion. Passion in your path and your journey. Passion in bettering yourself so that ultimately you can instill that same passion in your students, districts, states, and maybe even the world.

There is value in having multiple paths. So sorry to those who worked so hard convincing me all week, but many of your paths are just as good as the others. My advice, my takeaway, is just this; find your path and get moving!

I know some who could add an art or music component to every lesson that would be truly beneficial. Others may be able to add culinary components to their lessons that I would never dream of. Maybe you can teach the entire curriculum through reader’s theaters, good for you! Do you want to gamify your class? Go for it! Can buying a drone help you teach a concept? If you can honestly tell me that it’s truly not a stretch, then great, make your dreams come true and get that drone! (Then send it to me, because I really want one)

Once you have found your passion make sure your students can find theirs. I have a passion and talent for using technology. But ‘gasp’ I don’t believe all teachers have to use technology every day or for every lesson. Nevertheless, I do think all students should have access and experiences with technology as often as possible.

I am not as artistically trained as I would like to be, but students should have access and experiences with art and music, so make sure you provide them with them. Try something new this year, but more importantly, make sure your students have many opportunities to do the same. Just remember that you don’t have to do it all, all the time.

If you are still pulling a handcart in some areas, it’s time to abandon those practices. Until someone invents teleportation, many of the paths really are comparable. Instead of debating, criticizing, or walking around in circles, find your path and let’s get moving. There may be some detours along the way and that’s ok!

I believe we have a lot of the key pieces to make education great already in place, regardless of our preferred paths. There isn’t an easy answer or a one size fits all model that will fix education. Every class, every teacher, is a little different. Don’t try and be somebody else. Find your passion, and most importantly, make sure every one of your students has an opportunity to find theirs.

This is my takeaway, the path I have chosen, to use my talents the best I know how. To find experts and ideas that can help strengthen me where I am weak. To follow the things I am passionate about because passion is contagious. To give my students options and choices, because they deserve to find their path, their passion. I am going to make sure I’m not busy pulling a handcart when I could be flying, and I’m going to keep my eyes open for that next idea that may teleport me and my students to a place where we can reach our potential. I hope you will join me on that path, whichever it may be.

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