What? I’m not normal?

I have been debating about writing this blog post for a while. Yesterday I shared this story with @snbeach while chatting at the PLP Booth. Today, I was sitting in an ISTE workshop listening to @web20classroom (Steven W. Anderson) talk about ISTE standards and school administrators and I heard it again. With this synchronicity,  I am taking these situations as signs to write and publish the post.

The ‘it‘ I referred to was the phrase “you guys are not normal” — and now for some context.

Several weeks ago I attended a Saturday breakfast gathering with a few of our high school teacher technology leaders. Surprisingly, we talked about, well, you know, technology and a passion for transforming teaching to improve how students learn. This particular morning, the discussion focused around Google Docs, publishing, benefits of developing online texts and resources for students — 24/7 access, one stop ‘shopping’, one stop editing, no old handouts floating around, no lost papers ….. well, you get the picture. Why wouldn’t you do this? Needless to say this was a passionate discussion that stayed with me.

Later that same day I was driving in the car with my wife and she asked the magic question: So what did you talk about at breakfast?  I happily recounted the story, trying to maintain the same passion level as the morning discussion. She listened intently, and then at the close of my story commented that “you guys are not normal”. WHAT?????   OK, maybe I (and likely others) are not normal. I will ‘wear the T-Shirt’ but asked that the comment be justified – you know, a few bullets under the title to qualify the comment.

Here are the bullets:

  • you (meaning us not normal types) are self sufficient
  • you don’t panic if something related to technology use does not work properly, even in front of a class or audience
  • you know how to problem solve
  • if you can’t figure it out as fast as you think you should, you have a network of people to help you
  • it is your passion, not everyone wants to invest like this

I thought these were good points — and really, the same context of the ISTE workshop comment.  In reflection, this conversation made me think of a few important things related to moving the educational change agenda along.

  • everyone can learn how to use technology better
  • everyone can become a self sufficient user of technology
  • personal learning networks (PLNs) ARE important
  • we need to be mindful of the best entry point for using technology, and starting the learning curve of independence.
  • the learning is on a continuum
  • supporting people means thinking about gradual release of responsibility
  • empowering people is important

Now, if these ‘everyones’ and ‘we’s’ are teachers and tech support/coaches/trainers, then I think these points are all worthy of consideration as we continue to move the agenda forward. Food for thought for sure.

What does this mean for your PD planning? How will you be more thoughtful about supporting people in their use of technology? How will you help them become more independent?

Please share your comments and stories.

Related Resources
Doug —- Off the Rectord


7 thoughts on “What? I’m not normal?”

  1. Interesting post, Mark. Perhaps instead of defending the technological position, would it not be better to ask for a definition of “normal”.

    Definitely, there are folks that are fluent with technology and some, like you, take it to the level of passion. But, could that also not apply to musicians, gardeners, joggers, nurses, etc.?

    I had a conversation with a friend once similar to this. He was a musician playing, what I thought to be the most hideous of instruments at the time, the bagpipes. From the outside, here was a piper wearing the clothes and playing something that remotely resembled music. (I hope he doesn’t read your blog…) However, half an hour later of letting him explain revealed his passion for the instrument. He was a collector of related artifacts and could recount the history of his instrument and it was then that I realized his deep passion for it. That, and getting paid for playing, put things in perspective for me.

    I think that people need to open minds and just converse rather than judging others according to their definition of “normal”, whatever that may be. Wouldn’t it be rather boring if we were all the same?

    In terms of leadership, I’m of the opinion that the best leaders don’t flaunt their skills but rather lead by quiet and productive expertise. There is less threat in that approach and it encourages the questions “How did you do that?” or more importantly, “Why did you do that?” When the skills, whatever they may happen to be, appear to be replicable, success has a better chance.

    I really like your statement “everyone can learn how to use technology better”. Truer words were never spoken. Everyone can model learning when they realize and admit that.

    1. Thanks for your comments Doug. I appreciate your feedback and insights. I was certainly not intending to ‘defend’ the tech position, but rather acknowledge that we all need to be thoughtful about how support for learning and therefore moving on the continuum beneficial.

      I like your ‘lead quietly by example’ insight, and I do believe in this.


  2. Your wife’s right. We’re not normal. That’s why having breakfast together is so great. It’s actually when I feel the most normal, being around people with the same passion for teched.

    I guess the first step in being more thoughtful about supporting people in their use of technology is the realization that we are coming at this from a very different level of ease. So,we have to understand the source of the resistance. Whether it’s embarrassment over a lack of trouble shooting skills or a lack of vested interest, it’s hard to tackle the issue without the background context. I wonder if it might actually be easier to win over those that have a lack of vested interest than the ones who just can’t or won’t see themselves as trouble-shooters. One of the attributes early adopters share is a willingness to try and fail, try and fail, try and succeed, just to get that last piece of success. Maybe that’s just being an avid trouble-shooter, but I think it’s probably the most common attribute we abnormal people share.

  3. Great synthesis of your thoughts here, Mark! I know you’ve had this mulling around in your head for a while now. I think that the ‘abnormal’ you speak of is really about passion for thinking, ideas and learning that many educators have – albeit it might look like a technology interest – and let’s hope that’s why we are in education in the first place!

    I happen to have been around long enough to precede any kind of decent amount of computer technology in classrooms, but before I got ‘hooked’ on learning with technology it was other things that allowed for student directed learning like process writing, math and science technology investigations, the arts and pen pals (I’m that old) that got me excited about teaching and learning. Active learning, constructivism and connections have always been something that many deemed worthy in our schools – doesn’t technology just seem to be the correct next step then?

    I agree that folks can always improve their tech skills and I am constantly looking to my colleagues who began teaching in the late 80’s or before. They are a gold mine of good pedagogy and if we can get them beyond the “I’m not a techie” thinking it’s amazing what they can do! After all, they’ve been inspiring kids for ages, back in the day when it was really hard to get the resources into your classroom! Ought to be a piece of cake to them now, shouldn’t it?


  4. Deep thoughts and it’s a Friday afternoon now. But I’d put forth that no one is “normal” to someone. That is, we are all normally passionate in a world where that passion would be abnormal in someone else. Looked at that way, “abnormal” is … well. normal. 🙂

    The question is how to inspire some of that passion in our teachers who aren’t. There is also the most excellent reminder in this post that we have to be patient, positively motivational, and always on the lookout for opportunities to let go of the reins. Thank you, sir! And thanks to Doug, for leading me here.

  5. Hi, Mark. I came across your post thanks to a link from @dougpete. I think your (wife’s) bullets about what makes certain educators not “normal” in regards to our technology use is spot on. I have two quick thoughts in response. First, and in connection with several other comments, I’m reminded of a mantra that a former colleague of mine, a guidance counselor, reguularly repeated, “NORMAL is just a setting on a washing machine.” In other words, when it comes to people there is no “normal.” Second, I think some of us are fortunate to be in settings where we feel safe taking risks with technology use. If my tech messes up or the learning session goes poorly, oh well, I’ll go with plan B or try again and things will be fine. At least in my area, many schools do not have a climate conducive to such experimentation. Here, the instruction is as high-stakes as the standardized, student assessments, and the culture of fear keeps many from embracing technology and taking risks with their practice. It’s sad, but I think it’s a least a contributor to our lack of “narmalcy.”

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