A "Nothing is working" kind of day
After a few weeks of pretty blissful trucking along in my new position, I hit a wall today. Nothing was working and the things I felt like I should have been productive with were all in holding patterns. My team and I reached the point where being proactive sometimes means backtracking because there are so many other perspectives converging. In my classroom, I was pretty much the decision maker. Though I value highly the role of student choice and student-led activities, ultimately if I made a decision to do something on path X, that's what we stuck with. But now, not so much. I have to learn how to LEAD within a team. That's a lot harder than it sounds! My new position is frequently, HIGHLY dependent on multiple departments, personalities, perspectives and administrators functioning in tune, and today I couldn't make it work.
My new computer keeps dropping off the internet. My email isn't syncing properly. My team still don't have that shared calendar we need. I spent an hour and a half on something that basically just went in the trash can. I thought something was really important and made kind of a big deal out of it, but it turned out it wasn't a big deal and I looked kind of silly. It was no one's fault, nobody had let me down or done me wrong, but in short, it just wasn't working.
You've had those days in your classroom, too. The wireless is down because someone crushed a cord with their chair leg, you cant remember any of your passwords, your attempt to share a document won't connect, a bunch of emails went missing, a child is eating an ipod, etc. I see the look of apprehension on many of my colleagues faces as we introduce so much new technology into our classrooms. "What if nothing works?!" The short answer is:
It IS frustrating, but no one thinks you should be doing a better job handling it than you already are.
A simple shift in mindset can be really helpful, and it took me until tonight to get it. I AM LEARNING from this. Even though the day felt like a waste, I now know not to get ahead of myself on a group project, and I have a better feel for who I need to sign off with next time. Ultimately, I didn't produce a product today, but I gained some good footing in the process. Here's another epiphany: Our students NEED, absolutely REQUIRE seeing how we handle these situations. They don't need someone flawless who always gets it right. Think of it as a standard: Troubleshooting and brainstorming 1.8.5 (Or something like that). This year students will brainstorm ways to handle epic fail situations. How can they practice that if you never have a day where nothing works?
There are some things you should get comfortable modeling for your kids. Things like taking a break and coming back to it, asking a colleague for insight, taking stock of what you know about the problem (like and inventory), brainstorming causes (hypothesizing), inventing solutions. For example, your projector bulb has burnt out and now all sort of cautionary lights are flashing from above making your room look like a disco. You had an AMAZING lesson planned. The kids were ready, that one kid even had a pencil out, it was going to be soooo awesome, but now, it won't work. Turn this into a learning moment. If possible, transition to something else for a few minutes to see if the bulb needs to cool down. Maybe ask a colleague from a class nearby if you can swap rooms for 30 min to use their projector (neighbors can be great resources). Discuss alternate ways to explore the info you were going to share. Kids need to see you work through this process, and they need to get better at becoming PART of the process. You are doing them a dis-service if they never have a day where a bunch of stuff goes wrong.
That being said. Sometimes things are COMPLETELY out of your control. You are going to need significant time to regroup. So, why not plan something completely tech-free that absolutely ROCKS. Plan it NOW, even tell your kids about it. This shouldn't be a go-to fun activity that you'll do quite often, and it shouldn't be a movie (because hey, sometimes the DVD player doesn't work either). This should be one of the most fun, engaging, and exciting activities you can think of. It should be something YOU really want to do, too. It will take restraint not to go to it every time things go a little wonky with the tech. You should really try to limit it to times when you can't make heads or tails of ANYTHING. Think: School-wide scavenger hunt, class sing along, create a play using student's favorite songs as the "main idea", a class vs. class game of Red Rover outside, color a giant class mural together. Something SERIOUSLY fun. Tell the kids about this activity of epic awesomeness now, tell them that someday, when you really need it, you'll do that activity. Then, after trying to save that flailing lesson, after troubleshooting, brainstorming, and strategizing workarounds WITH your students, if there's really no way to make it work, call it. Its a "Nothing is working CELEBRATION!" Close the screens, ignore the projector, and teach your kids that sometimes, there's nothing you can do, and so you make a new plan.
Let me be clear. I don't want you to teach them to give up. Your first line of defense should always be your strategies for problem solving. They should see that modeled, and participate in the process A LOT! But rather than see you reach your breaking point, or have them end up having a horrifically frustrating and stressful experience, once or twice a year... teach them to walk away. To know when there is nothing more they can do at this time, and teach them a coping strategy for letting it go (I secretly wish more teachers had helped me learn to do so).
Do make sure to revisit the lesson or activity in the near future. Tell them, "Well, that projector is going to need some healing time, so last night I figured out how to make this a team activity." Or, "You know, once I thought about it, I realized we can do that activity a little differently...". Maybe even, "I called an expert and they will have it working for us next week". Let them see the follow-through. Help them understand the difference between I am frustrated, but I need to keep trying and "this is out of my hands". Then, have them reflect on what the class did when it just wasn't working.
So, with that in mind, do you have a story about a time it "just didn't work" for you? What ideas do you have for your potential "its not working" celebration? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.