Over the weekend, I attended my first Special Education UN-Conference, which was unlike any other professional development I’ve ever had. It was called an UN-Conference because it was less like a room full of people listening to a speaker and more like a gathering to share information and learn in an open environment through discussions, demonstrations and interactions.
The conference, presented by the Illinois-based special education technology collective called SET Connections (www.setconnections.org), was meant to deliver information about how to better integrate technology into our classrooms. I had been to this conference three times before, each time feeling equal parts overwhelmed with technology and hopeful that I too could find a way to make these strategies work for my students.
This year, my school provided me and my fellow special education teachers with iPads. I have stared at mine, researched apps, tried e-mail and worked with a few students individually with the technology.
I would not say, however, that I have fully embraced this flashy device in front of me. And yet, as I stare at it, right next to me as I type this, I realize that this small rectangle of glass, wires and some fancy interface could be the kind of game changer that my students are longing for. Maybe it could even level the playing field for some of them.
So, with this in my mind, I marched off again to SET Connections, to be surrounded by the kinds of teachers who are so unlike me, who take technology and feed it to their students and raise it up to them in the hopes of success.
The morning began with a rather unconventional speaker, brought to us via satellite (or Google Hangout, I think) from California. Teacher/nentor Jen Wagner (www.projectsbyjen) delivered to us this message: Do One Thing Better.
I heard her say these simple words and I thought to myself, “I can do this technology thing better. I can do this one thing better.”
I hurried off to the various breakout sessions. The communication was teacher-driven and student-centric. We all got what we needed from the experts surrounding us, and I got to ask all of my simple questions:
How do I use this 1 device with 20 students?
What is one thing I can do better?
How can I get started?
The best part, though, were the conversations I had with other educators in my field. We are all on the same side, no matter what methods we employ. Sure, I may still be scratching words into stone while they shoot movies complete with titles and transitions, but our missions are aligned.
I want to help my students be better than they are. They make me want to be better than I am, too.
As the weeks progress I hope to share some of my stories of transitioning into the 21st century with all of you. I’m sure I will have my share of failures, but as long as my kids come to school every day and don’t give up on themselves, I won’t give up either.