Act One. The scene is a large conference room. Laptops and iPads litter the tables that stretch from one end of the room to the other. Black power cords snake vine-like over and around the men and women in numerous chairs. They seem to wriggle out from the floor and the table legs and the leather attaché cases, in search of outlets.
At rise, we meet our subject of interest, seated back left, third row. She is by no means a principal character, but merely plays a small part in the intricate backchannel chat ballet that will unfold the moment the presentation begins. She positions her fingertips, poised to weigh in on the discussion, and much to her dismay, the stage fright sets in. Without so much as a keystroke, she slinks into the scenery and then disappears out the backstage door.
Act Two. Three months later. Ditch the conference room, keep the laptop. Add an active Twitter account, a handful of posts on her newly-launched professional blog, and a healthy dose of confidence. Our lowly player has catapulted herself into a more noticeable role in a learning community that is a living, breathing protagonist in its own right: defining and redefining its character with every click. She is replying to discussions within her online learning communities, she is writing blog posts, and she is transparently sharing her successes and failures as a learner and as a teacher. She is even starting her own discussions that — to her genuine shock (and secret pleasure) — have elicited responses and taken on a threaded life of their own, leading to others learning from and with her.
With this, her eyes are opened and her approach to the role she plays in this ensemble is no longer self-centered, riddled with worry about sounding uninformed or being cast aside as useless. Now, she sees herself in the part she was truly born to play, a role into which she has been written and with which many can identify. She is connected to every other player in a way that allows her to be a source of knowledge as well as an active participant in the shared learning that occurs.
But, with newfound confidence and involvement comes newfound respect and, consequently, responsibility. Eager, she volunteers to write for the Voices From the Learning Revolution blog. I have credentials, she says. A backstage pass. Experience. A writing degree. I can do this, she says. I have found my voice.
And then suddenly it arrives. The stage fright. Again.
It’s me, Stephanie
Our player is me: Stephanie, a second-year fourth grade teacher and novice player on the teacher-tech stage. I could be any one of the many teachers on a similar journey toward becoming connected educators who value life-long learning not only for our students but ourselves. I would venture to say that we all experience bouts of stage fright at some point in our careers, from directors to actors to understudies. It is normal. Expected, even. We ask ourselves the same questions: What do I have to offer that someone else can’t supply? What good will my opinion do? Hasn’t my question been asked countless times before?
At first, these questions were left unanswered. This collaboration thing was hard. I was plagued with Lurker Syndrome, and I resigned myself to thinking that I’d spend the rest of the year watching and waiting, letting this valuable time slip by without taking advantage of what was being offered. Soon, though, through conversations with educators in my PLN, answers began to surface.
Aren’t those teachers smarter than I am? (Some are, of course.) Won’t they fare just as well without my input? (Maybe, but they’ll be better off with it.) Who will benefit from what I have experienced? (Give it a break; no way to be sure, but someone will!) I began to realize that the journey toward connectedness, toward incorporating technology into my curriculum, has not been about the fear itself, but about how to overcome it, and furthermore, how to help others in overcoming it and fully transitioning into the 21st century educators we were written to be.
I am still faced with stage fright time and time again. But the professional relationships that I have cultivated with those who have a wealth of varied experience, and the conversations that have ensued on Twitter or other online communities, have given me the tools to confront it, to understand it, and to transform it into the kind of learning and teaching that effects change, promotes transparency, and showcases successes and failures.
Finessing the fear factor
Through several conversations and interactions, I know that some of my colleagues—both in my school and in my PLN–are still struggling with the stage fright. How to stand up to it. How to move past it. And surely there are many other educators who have entered this brave new place called “connected community” with some trepidation. Allow me to share what I have learned in hopes that it helps you to forget the heat of the spotlight and the pressure of a large audience (however difficult they are to see beyond the virtual footlights).
- Start small. And this is true, even if the work you’re there to do is almost done. It is never too late to jump in and it is never too late to learn. In September, when I started on my road to connectedness, I was bombarded with email notifications containing links to discussion themes that in some cases baffled me. I shut down and repeatedly hit delete. I rarely spent time in the community discussion space and certainly was not an equal participant in our shared learning. My presence on Twitter was weak at best. Sound familiar? Try this: pick one. One discussion thread. One task. One tool. Something that appeals to you. That sends that tiny spark. That makes you think twice, if only for a second. Click over. Read. Write. Ask. Reply. Reply again. Trust me when I say that it will be liberating and exhilarating and will give you a sense of worth as contributor of experience, advancer of knowledge, agent of change.
- Gather support. I didn’t even know what PLCs and PLNs were in September, let alone did I cultivate and contribute to one. (They are “professional learning communities” and “personal learning networks,” by the way.) And now, I am not sure how I’ve survived these several years without them. Within these communities and networks, look out for the friendly faces (or avatars). Our Voices editor, with his nudges to get writing, did not let me off the hook, even when I made the excuse of being caught off guard by stage fright and wanted to give up. A fellow Voices writer (Patti Grayson) offered her encouragement and direct support in the comment thread of a blog post we were both following. It happened to be a post about not being afraid to share. These are merely two examples of many that showcase what we can do—together. They are more than just a pat on the back. They are guideposts that seem to say, “I’ve been there. Others have been there. I’ve seen what happens when you get to the other side. Got your back. Don’t give up.” When I find something more valuable than that, I’ll let you know.
- Keep going. In order for the two previous bits of advice to work, moving forward is a must. It takes precious time. And it is hard work. But the feedback, conversations, relationships, and changes that take hold are worth every minute. Make an effort to build upon the simple steps it takes to start. Try new things often and seek support to help you through the learning process. There are many people in every connected community (I am assured by veterans of this work) who are just waiting to help, yearning to offer guidance and share their experiences, and eager to get you to peak performance.
This brings us to Act Three. We’re not the same characters we were when we started. Our roles are being written and rewritten, constantly shifting with each new thing we learn and bring to our teaching. Whether you have been center stage, playing your part convincingly for quite some time now or whether, like me, you’ve been waiting in the wings and are just moving to the edge of the spotlight, there is always time to own your role and deliver your lines.
There is no excuse for stage fright now. In the world of connected educators, Time is always on our side. The learning curtain has yet to close. In fact, it never will. The crowds are cheering and we’re stepping toward the front of the stage.