Disclaimer: I will likely contradict myself, and/or prove myself a hypocrite on many of these points in the coming weeks. This is what I was feeling today, and felt I needed to write it down. Take it for what it is; a mildly self-critical moment of reflection.
Despite having joined the ranks of blogging educators back when blogging was fashionable for the first time, I have found my efforts to offer a mixture of reflective, humorous, and educative “how to” posts to be a mixed bag. To be fair, I had no over-arching goal when I first started blogging; sharing resources that might be valuable got me started, and then quickly moved into more reflective writing as I found myself overcoming the fears of the neophyte teacher. In my current role, I spend much less time with students, and more time thinking through larger problems with staff, and facilitating meetings of admin and teachers.
I’m exceptionally overly critical of my own work, and despite my best efforts, I find it difficult to escape the role of the critic when working with others. That’s not to say I criticize others at every chance. In fact, many that I work with tend to offer me thanks and praise for providing a direct and honest critique of their work, and how to make their instruction/projects/work better. While driving home from a conference in Detroit two years ago, one of my closest friends asked me if it was possible for me to “turn my teacher brain off?” My answer came quicker than I would have thought; “no.” I find myself constantly wanting to evaluate, coach, and critique those around me, even to the detriment of my relationship with them. It ebbs and flows, at times making it easier for me to ignore the impulse to suggest just a few “minor tweaks” to someone’s workflow, or offer up unrequested assistance. At other times, I seem downright rude, unable to contain glaring omissions of deeper analysis on behalf of my co-workers, and incendiary assessments of my own work. This blog post is a combination of the latter half of that reality.
#1 – I have failed to accept myself as a “brand”
Many of the top tier educators who blog (the ones making the rounds at many regional and national conferences) have either actively managed or encouraged the adoption of themselves as a “brand”. I know many of them, having conversed at conferences, and even collaborated on a few projects. I can honestly say there are very few of them that I find to be disingenuous (most educators really are awesome). But the rise of “rock star” educators as brands has never sat well with me, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I want to build relationships with people, not brands. I want all educators to be approachable, and able to be questioned, critically. I would gladly change my Twitter handle in a heartbeat to push myself farther away from branding if “Ben Rimes” wasn’t still squatting on it.
#2 – I write inconsistently
Mentioned in the opening, my writing is amateurish at best (editing is a constant process after I post, catching many mistakes post publishing). I write about Digital Storytelling. I create “how to” videos about geeky power user features of Google and other technology. I attempt to write about books intelligently (a practice that I am dubiously qualified to do). I share goofy videos, and half-baked thoughts. In short, I am a jack of many technology trades, and a master of none (except maybe WordPress). I don’t have a clear message, and I’ve been told by many that my blog is “difficult” to describe. Which….is fine. I’m okay with that, as I see this blog as a reflection of my own thoughts and experiences, which also tend to be sporadic and eclectic. But it’s difficult for me to establish a clear message for others to enjoy when I’m all over the place.
#3 – Follow through is lacking
After one of the most excellent MACUL Conferences I’ve ever attended, I was excited to write 14 posts detailing all of the thoughts and resources I had running through my head after 3 days of learning and conversation. I made it to 12. So close….yet not enough. So much for my dedication to following through on ideas.
#4 – I am reserved in my “Cheerleading”
I praise, exemplify, and applaud many amazing practices and individuals, but rarely do it here. There are exceptions, and even some to come (you should see my list of unpublished drafts), but for the most part I don’t praise educators as “all stars” the same way that many other bloggers do. It’s not that I don’t think my colleagues and friends are amazing; I just find myself slipping past the sentiment of “awesome work” to the more thought-provoking “how are you going to make it even better next time” much quicker than the average educational cheerleader. I re-read many of my more critical posts, and hear bitterness, disapproving, and confusion in my posts as I search for deeper meaning. The cheerleading that I do lead tends to be focused on the practices and strategies put in place, not necessarily the individuals implementing them.
#5 – I really dislike the “trendy” nature of technology
As a self-proclaimed technology enthusiast, I confuse many by poo-pooing many of the more consumeristic trends in the technology sector. Augmented Reality, Chromebooks, and coding are hot right now. Two years ago it was QR codes, iPads, and gaming. Coming up will be Google Classroom, iWatches, and personalized learning. I enjoy the benefits of some of these developments, devices, and trends, but I know they’re fleeting. The practices that don’t go out of style are what get me excited; collaborating, building relationships, and creating safe environments for discourse and critical feedback. Can I do this with the latest and greatest? Sure! But why share my hype about the “BEST NEW FREE APPS!” or the latest consumer device that educators are eager to co-opt as a learning tool when cardboard and tape still manages to enrapture us?
And that’s about it for now. I feel a bit better having written this out, and read through it a couple of times. This blog has been incredibly cathartic for me over the years, and for better or for worse, it will continue to be a reflection of my thoughts, not a branded, ad-laden, trend setter. If you’re okay with that, feel free to keep reading 🙂
Just get back to making art, willya?
Working on it, Alan! I’ve got a bunch of pictures on my camera, ideas rattling in my head, and a few starter projects on my desktop. Not sure I can make the trip to Bovine County for an extended stay, but will certainly visit 🙂
You made Steve Wheeler cry. You mean, mean, man.
I will gladly travel to the UK to make amends in person. Kind send me his address on the back of a round-trip ticket to Plymouth 🙂
You are definitely not alone with these thoughts… I feel like I could have written the same thing – but I didn’t and that’s why we should be reading YOUR blog! Looking forward to see where you go with this (if anywhere).
By the way, I like this writing style… Keep reflecting.
Thanks Lara! I know there are a lot of great bloggers out there that are still
keeping it real” with honest and personal reflection. I’ve always had a mixed bag here of personal thoughts and more professional resources/postings. I’ll certainly start working more reflection back into my regular writing habits.
Ben, you’re the best. I love this!
Right back at you, Chris! Keep pushing and praising the good stuff down in South Bend!
Your post reminds me a lot where I am as far as taking what we know from the collective wisdom of our PLNs and making it into our own message, of action. Teachers, the ones I respect and certainly am not, always have self-analysis at work, similar to the tenacity and loyalty of algorithms. Except we are human and coach, offer feedback, nurture in ways that machines cannot do. Your teflection strikes me as a call to synthesize, to articulate action to lead, albeit from the right place, your heart and will to constantly revise and learn in the service to yourself and to others. Great post!
A beautiful comment, thank you Ben. If my reflections help lead others to a deeper analysis and synthesis of the world around us, I’m happy to continue posting them 🙂
I have to say, this reflection definitely resonated with me. I have never been able to turn off my “teacher brain” (sorry hubby!). And I am consistently looking for ways to improve anything I am a part of, often short-changing the “cheerleader” phase you speak of. But what you are is a reflective educator – and there are far too few of them out there. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks, Ashley! I was blessed with a pre-service program that drove home the importance of reflective practice. I wish current reality was different as well in regards to reflective educators; we train teachers to be leaders, but not always leaders that are critical of their own work and effectiveness.
I was blessed with that as well in undergrad. My senior project was focused on teacher reflection and how to instill that in pre-service teachers.
Teachers are definitely not pushed to be overly reflective and critical. In my experience, we are the outliers, those who are willing to put ourselves out there and try new things. More often, it is about what it looks like on the outside (to parents and others). In teaching for 6 years, I don’t think I’ve taught the exact same thing any two years in a row.
In any case, I enjoyed this post and look forward to more (whenever you get to them!).
Too many educators are in fear of looking foolish. They have been told that they must know all, do all at all times or they are not a good educator. This is different from what we are most learners. Most people learn more by conquering their challenges of the unknown mistakes. We must keep encouraging those to refresh themselves and learn from great people like you as they allow themselves to be stretched not stressed (LOL) as a learner.
Thanks Ron! You know me well enough, that 99% of the time I have no problem looking foolish! I wish I could say that all comes from my experience and training as a teacher, but I spent a lot of years performing on stage in theater and band. I came to realize that making public mistakes are not the world shattering ordeal that some make them out to be, but I can easily see how many would be intimated, or simply not encouraged to share mistakes with a wide audience. As long as I’ve got people like you encouraging me, I’m comfortable sharing failure in spades 🙂
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