Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Road to Online Teaching and Learning - Student Spotlight

Those who make a difference in their school, community, and world are those who do things differently than everyone else, those who do not simply follow the ways of others, or settle for the way it has always been. Those who make a difference question, rebel, create, collaborate, and change. Sometimes this gets them into trouble, and sometimes it makes them heroes, or at least really good at what they do. The most innovative teachers are the most innovative learners... they are the ones who dare to lead, in spite of the challenge, in spite of the fear, and in spite of the possibility of falling flat on their faces.

I have always done things a little bit differently than everyone else. In my family, there are not many teachers. Major in business, I was told... that's where the money is. I wasn't looking for money-I was looking for purpose. The reason to become a teacher is different for everyone. All teachers start somewhere, and everyone has teachers. The road to teaching can arise from one or many bad experiences. Teaching can be a profession or a calling. Some may be drawn to teaching because of an amazing teacher, or several amazing teachers who they wanted to emulate, and "be" when they grew up. Some feel teaching is simply what they were meant to do, and they really had little or no choice in the matter. Others try many other things before teaching tries them.

I am intrigued by the various roads to teaching, and learning. I became a teacher because I wanted to share my love of literature, to explore with my students, encourage them to find their powerful and unique place in this world, and because I wanted to continue to evolve. Teaching is a profession that is constantly changing, but after ten years, I felt like it wasn't changing enough. I was restless. I wanted more for myself and my students. I needed to mix things up.

So, in the fall of 2008, I began teaching and learning online. Teaching online is intense and invigorating. It has rekindled my passion for the profession. Teaching online and in a blended learning environment is the most challenging and rigorous experience thus far, which means that it has taught me the most. The goal of teaching is to guide our students in learning, inspiring them to think, take creative risks, and lead compassionately. One of my students does this on a daily basis, and today I want to share his story.

Zachary Dorson came to the Riverside Virtual School as an 8th grader. He was in private school from Kindergarten through 2nd grade, and then home schooled from 3rd through 7th. When his mom decided she wanted to return to the workforce, they began searching for a place that would meet their needs. They wanted rigor, yet flexibility. Initially, RVS was going to be a transition to face to face public school. That was three years ago, and Zachary, now a junior, has experienced great success as an online student.

Zachary is an introvert who admittedly used the internet very little before entering an online school program. "The irony is that learning online has allowed me to be more social, and enabled me to create an online presence," Zachary says. He has come a long way. As a freshman in my English class, Zachary preferred paper and pencil, and was not at all interested in social media. This year, he has flourished with his blogging, is opening up to new things, and follows several favorites on Twitter. Learning online allows Zachary to reflect and critically think, "When my teachers and fellow students post in discussion boards, I do not have to respond right away, quickly, out loud, and on the spot. I can think about things, create rough drafts of responses, and edit a few times if needed before publishing to the class. I like that." Zachary explains that, in his experience, extroverts look down on introverts, and view socialization in a traditional sense. He says with online learning the interaction is there, it's just different. "It is more thoughtful, and that has given me more confidence." When Zachary and I do meet face to face, our meetings are purposeful. It is here that we are able to continue the conversations started online, and work together on his questions, insights, and goals.

Last summer, Zachary joined a discussion forum for young people interested in politics and science, he continues to blog and use Twitter, and has pen pals from various places around the world. What is the biggest challenge for Zachary and many online students? Time management. "Learning to be self-sufficient and organized are very important lessons to be learned right away."

I am beyond proud of Zachary and many online students who dare to do things differently, and who challenge themselves on a daily basis for the love of learning, technology, and growth.