Friday, November 4, 2016

Part 5: Avoiding the Professional Blind Spot

You must realize from the beginning that just because something comes easy to you doesn't mean it comes easy to others. Because of this fact, you should never make someone feel inferior because they learn slower or because they are interested in different things. We have a tendency to be incredibly patient with students, but not patient with colleagues. If you want to be an effective support person, you will need to avoid the professional blind spot and tame your tongue.

I remember when I first started in EdTech, I was humble because I didn't have a computer science degree. I was working in someone else's field in a sense. The most negative interactions I had as an EdTech person have generally been with computer science people, but not CS teachers -- with IT Admin. I don't want to paint all IT Admin the same way, because I have meet and worked with some amazing IT people. But there are some folks in IT, as there are in any subject, who seem to want to look down on others. Nothing will kill a program faster than people feeling pushed away by negative attitudes and experiences. I've had teachers tell me that they didn't want work with Mr./Ms. X because of his/her attitude/sarcasm/negativity. You need to respect people and appreciate their abilities, even if those abilities are low by your standards. You are building capacity; not everyone has it when you start with them.

I remember one conference I attended and in the first session it seemed that everything was blocked. We had no access to social media at all. I went to Twitter, my go to for sharing my learning and was blocked. Facebook -- blocked. Edmodo -- blocked. EDMODO! I approached the conference presenter about the problem and he said that everything was blocked. He was concerned because the first thing he wanted to show us was Edmodo. He then pointed me to one of the conference attendees who was the IT Admin for the school where the conference was being held. I walked over and introduced myself and asked about Twitter. The conversation went something like this...

Me: Hi! I'm Tim from ____ school and I noticed Twitter is blocked. (in a pleasant and unassuming tone)
IT Guy: Yes, it is. (short and curt)
Me: Would it be possible to unblock it? (still being pleasant)
IT Guy: Why? (now snotty)
Me: I'd like to tweet about the conference. (continuing to be pleasant, but struggling)
IT Guy: Tweet about the conference? (sarcasm and some eye rolling)
Me: Yes. I like to share my learning with my PLN. (more forceful now)
IT Guy: I'll look into it. Give me a few minutes. (sort of a strange look on his face; I think he realized that he was out numbered in the room or something)

It was like I fell into an episode of the IT Crowd. Surreal and bizarre. I realized later that I was a threat to his little kingdom. He was the authority on computers and Internet at his school and was very used to having others simply go along with his decisions and rules, so someone questioning that was a challenge and a threat to the status quo, which he usually crushed with sarcasm and rudeness. When it didn't work, he wasn't sure what to do. Within five minutes, I was on Twitter and Edmodo. To this guy's credit, by the end of the two day conference, he seemed like a changed person. I think the openness of other educators and fresh ideas expanded his mind. He was asking our team about social media that we allowed (everything) and how teachers were using it. He learned that he had things he could learn from us and that is the secret to avoiding the professional blind spot. Remember that other people may not have the level of skill that you have in a certain discipline, but they may have great ideas about the field anyway. When you are helping someone build capacity, keep your ears open and you may find that you learn something surprising and new. At the very least, you will learn more patience and that is something valuable.