28 febrero, 2011

First Impression

Remember as a child your first day of school?
Well, as teachers, we deal with the first day of school as well, and it happens to be
important, and nerve-racking, because it is the first impression we make; like a seal, like a sticker, it’ll say what people think of us, how they perceive us. Doesn’t matter if you teach kindergarten or college, your students will get a first and indelible impression of you.
I have always thought of the first day of school as the first time you go out with a guy or girl you really like, let’s say it’s not a guy, it’s the guy. So, here’s the thing, you want him or her to like you so much as to ask you out for a second date, and not only that, you want to start a relationship with this guy, so you need more: you need to be great, you need to be awesome, all charm, all glow, in other words, irresistible, unforgettable, because remember, you want to impress this guy.
And, do you really know what makes someone like us? You know what really impacts, what really makes you unforgettable? Well, I know this one, and I’m willing to share the secret, I’m going to let it out. The key, the secret is to connect. Yes, it’s all about connecting. Happy couples who hit it off on the first date agreed on having felt, from the beginning, a connection (rings a bell?).
Well, teaching is not that different, really.
Not long ago, I was attending a course, and the first day of class all the teachers gathered together to introduce themselves. Boy! It was the most boring thing ever. All of them gave us their complete resume, stressing their PhDs, of course, and did they sound cocky! But you know what hit me the most? The sadness in their eyes, the lack of emotion in their words, the sameness of their ways, and the impossibility of making a connection with them. I remember thinking that day that if a PhD did that to people, I would never get one. So, yes, they did impress me, but in the wrong way.
Think about what impacts you. What causes in you a great or poor impression? To be funny, smart, friendly, open, active, energetic, engaged, sensitive? I don’t know, you tell me. But chomp, chomp, don’t take long, because your students, the ones who are going to see your pretty face for a looong year, or a looong semester, or a looong whatever, are waiting for you to come up with your best shot. And as we tried to conquer that guy -the guy- we should try to conquer our students as well. So, groom yourself, dress your best, work your mood, model your manners, plan in advance, bring extra material, prepare lots of activities to make them move, laugh, think, and share; know them by name, show them you care, be nice, smile, listen, and look into their eyes. Yep, so as in dating, impress, conquer, and connect.

16 febrero, 2011

For love's sake

About fifty years ago, one of my aunts fell madly in love with a struggling artist. Young as they were, they wanted to get married and explore the world together. Unfortunately, this never happened because her mom didn’t let her. Oh, don't get me wrong, her mother genuinely wanted the best for her, and according to The Good Mother’s Manual, money is an essential ingredient of a happy and long-lasting marriage, and let’s not forget that this guy had no money. What were they supposed to eat? Love?
But, in spite of her noble intentions, her mom’s disapproval made her miserable. A few years later, my aunt married someone “approved” by her mother: a professional, someone with a bright future. Well, let me tell you, my aunt’s future was anything but bright. She waited thirty years, until the last of her sons got married, to file for divorce.
The reason why I am telling you this story is because it is very similar to my own story. When I was nineteen, I also fell madly in love with an artist, yes, a struggling artist. (You know the profile: long hair, no money, no job, etc.)
Zentellita, my beloved mom, could have thought that marrying a poor artist was a mistake, and not just any mistake, but the biggest mistake of my life. But, you know what, she let me do it anyway. She let me decide for myself, and for that, among other many things, I will be eternally grateful to her. Marrying my husband, twenty years ago, turned out to be no mistake, but, exactly the opposite, it was the wisest decision I’ve ever made.
Zentellita was (is) a smart woman. She knew as I know now that imposition, no matter how well-intended it is, simply doesn’t work. She taught me, with her example, that intentions –good, bad, or ugly- by themselves are just not enough. Whenever we want to “help” or “show our love” to any human being, respecting the person's ideas, as well as his or her free will, becomes crucial. We can’t impose our own point of view of what we think is best for them, or what we think they need, regardless how much we love them, because we might be wrong.
Translating this into the education environment, let’s not impose our teaching upon our students, let’s not marry them to the wrong content or idea(s). On the contrary, let’s respect them by allowing them to explore, to search, to choose by themselves, to think on their own, to believe in their intuition, to follow their dreams, to interact, and to marry whomever they want, and, when that happens, let’s clink glasses and make a sweet toast to free will and free learning. Cheers!

13 febrero, 2011

We are all connected

Mayans had a greeting, Lak'ech Ala K'in", which means, “I am you, and you are me”. Therefore, everything that happens to you happens to me. Everything you feel, I feel as well. So, if you are hungry, poor, sick, lonely, etc., I feel the same way. Mmm, I guess that feeling that way would make me do everything in my power to help you.

What I like about connectivism, and what makes it unique in my opinion, is that it relies on the idea that since knowledge is distributed, everything is connected. We are all connected.

We always have been connected, but we have not realized it.
ICT makes us aware of it, makes us notice each other, makes us see our differences, but most importantly, it gives us the knowledge that we are not that different, and that we have more in common than we think we do.

At the same time, one of the strengths of connectivism is that it values, acknowledges and recognizes difference as a positive thing.
Ruth Demitroff said on Elluminate’s February 11 session, “The strength of the MOOC is that we all approach it from different disciplines and cultures”.

Being part of CCK11 makes me part of an incredible cultural mosaic, in which age, nationality, language or background is not seen as an obstacle or as a disadvantage; on the contrary, it is not only a plus, but, also, something desirable that enriches all. Connectivism connects me with everything and everyone, it makes me a part, it makes me belong, because, we are, indeed, all connected, aren’t we?

04 febrero, 2011

The difference between learning and teaching

When I was studying pedagogy twenty years ago, teaching and learning were a single word, single concept. Then, years later, I found out that these words weren’t inseparable. Now, everything is about learning and, according to some people, it has very little, or even nothing, to do with teaching.
Gee! I wouldn´t be so sure about that. Let me explain myself. Let’s think for a moment that learning is like eating. (I know the analogy doesn’t quite make it, but let’s think it does.) So, imagine that learning is about eating
tacos de cochinita pibil. You could eat these tacos standing up with hundreds of flies buzzing around you in any mercado of the incredibly hot Mérida, Yucatán; picture yourself aside a very crowded street with noisy buses passing by, smog everywhere and, because of the heat, you’re sweating buckets. But, you could also be eating the exactly same tacos in Las Mañanitas, the beautiful and fancy restaurant located in Cuernavaca, Morelos, enjoying great weather, in a wonderful garden with water fountains and framed by colorful bougainvilleas, listening to the birds sing, watching all kinds of animals walking around you. Wow! Now, add to the list that you’re sharing your tacos with the person you love the most, you are wearing your favorite clothes, and, by the way, you’re looking pretty good. You are relaxed and happy to be alive. Would those tacos taste the same? Maybe, but the experience -for sure- would be different.
So, if learning is about eating tacos, teaching is about enriching the whole experience of it, making it way, way better, by creating a thought-provoking, eye-opening, motivational and mind-blowing environment. As educators, we can nourish the learning experience with sounds, images, textures, colors, gestures, words and feelings. And, most important, if learning is about making connections, it is about interacting… how about sharing the whole experience?