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This Ain't No Industrial Age Homie: Teaching In The Information Age, Part 2: Be Like Taylor Swift

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“Authenticity Starts in the Heart - Brian D'Angelo

This is Part 2 of the article I wrote last week: This Ain't No Industrial Age Homie: Teaching In The Information Age, Part 1: Preach Like Brother John. In it, I discuss the need for our students to be creative in solving relevant problems, appropriate to the times we live in, using tools and skills they will actually need to use/figure out, when they venture out into the "real world." This can only be done through transforming our teaching practices and how we approach the learning process. Below is a continuation of the same 3-part discussion. So, put your spacesuit on and enjoy Part 2!

Be Like Taylor Swift

Okay. So chances are you’re not going to become a top digital music-selling artist, be in a relationship with Joe Jonas (who???), or write extremely catchy songs that capture the hearts and minds of teens. You can however, just as Taylor does it, connect to the highs and lows of this generation, be current, and gain relevance with your students.


Be Authentic and Connect.

The hard truth is we are educating a different breed of learner this day and age. And that’s okay. It’s supposed to be this way. It’s part of the evolution of things. What that means is that we must earn our students’ attention by being authentic. What does that entail as far the millennials and the iGEN kids go?

For one, we have to sell what we teach in a way that does not feel desperate and overbearing to our students. We must do it with confidence, conviction, and good intentions. We also have to do it comfortably by staying true to ourselves. The time of the bully teacher is long gone and the era of the Student-Champion has begun.

If you are a teacher who struggles with accepting any of this, then get out now. Seriously, this gig ain’t for you, because it ain’t about you! It requires putting students first and serving them; not controlling them (although their acceptance of your guidance is a nice byproduct if you meet their needs first - insert smiley face here -).

Good news is that most of us, the ones committed to the teaching cult, can and do learn from our mistakes. And, that is why this job is so awesome! We learn and grow with our students.

I still remember the prof leading my first teacher prep class say: “Do not smile on the first day of class.” What a load of crap that was! Of course, I did not smile that very first day of my first year... I regret that now... Oh what was and what could have been... Alright, enough sobbing for one article.

But what is the lesson I learned from this one and other experiences I’ve had? It is to BE YOURSELF. ALWAYS. BECAUSE “YOURSELF” IS THE ONLY PERSON YOU CAN AND WILL EVER BE. You cannot fake authenticity, nor can you fake that you care. You have to BE authentic and really do CARE. Besides, students can smell bullshit from 1.609 km away. That’s why they spray so much AXE in the school hallway (I really should be getting paid for this advertisement - I better call 1 800 ASK GARY, oops...).

Be With It.

Look: You gotta be relevant. If you’re not, you hardly exist to many students, and are a complete waste of air and space to others. Use the tech and let them use it, because this is the age we live in. Use it, because your students are using it and are comfortable with it. They use it, but (and this may surprise you) they are not proficient at it.

When you start, you will notice that some kids have used apps and software for things other than gaming and socializing, but many have limited experience with software that doesn’t involve these 2 things or standard word processing applications, and need time and opportunity to learn and become good at it. This is key for students. You do not need to be a technology guru, because if given time and chance, your students will figure the tech out and use it (and you can take ALL THE CREDIT for it as their BTF).  

And yes, allow BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) learning. Some (okay, most) students will get distracted while using their smartphone. They have good intentions mostly… It’s just that the smartphone gives you access to so much information and has so many cool features… Besides, if you own a smartphone, you can probably relate, because the last time you were trying to look up the weather on it, you checked your e-mail, squeezed in a quick text or two while at it, and then viewed that cute cat video your friend recommended you like.

So, while always striving to stay focused, we must accept that phones are here to stay and try to integrate them into the learning process. And, if that one annoying kid keeps using his phone when he’s not supposed, to take it from him, because it is not okay for students to be on their phone during direct instruction, even though the phone is basically an extension of his hand (this is one of those times you are allowed to go all Darth Vader on his ass and cut his hand off just as the tin-head lightsabered Luke’s left extremity off in The Empire Strikes Back).

There are 3 main reasons you should not fight the phones in your classroom:

1. You can’t win,

2. You can’t win, and

3. You will always lose (and remember: this isn’t the “you against them” sweepstakes).  

If you decide to be “that teacher” and ban phones from your classroom not only will you miss the opportunity to use powerful interactive apps, such as Kahoot!, Poll Everywhere etc. for formative assessment, but you will be slowly killing yourself! Think about the stress of constantly policing students, breathing down their necks, dealing with multiple offenses, and always being the bad guy. Being a teacher, chances are you are already experiencing stress at work (my entry for the understatement of the year contest) and STRESS KILLS, SO IF YOU CAN, AVOID IT.

The alternative is DEATH.

That does not sound cool, but you know what does? Michael Jordan. Whaaa?


How do you create authentic and relevant interactions in your classroom or life? Do you have ideas or resources you can share with others on this topic? Please comment below.

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Oskar is a Science, Engineering, and Learning How to Learn teacher and an author of the Crush School Book Series. 




His professional interests are brain-based teaching and learning, flexible seating (#StarbucksMyRoom founder), social-emotional learning, social justice, and using technology to enhance learning.




He is also a fan of the Jedi order (and uses DA FORCE frequently), ninjas, and the superhero in all of us. He is on a Quest to Change the World because he can. We all can.
















Follow Oskar's blog Focus 2 Achieve for newest education related articles, infographics, and swag.

  • Gail Multop @gailmult
    Gail Multop @gailmult Tuesday, 19 January 2016

    I totally agree with you that authenticity is key. You have to be human, and they have to know that you don't hold yourself above them. On the other hand, you need to keep your expectations high. You KNOW they can do what they need to do to learn. You also know what they don't know...the part of life they haven't lived, yet. So I assume you aren't saying what they started saying in the '70's--"it should be relevant...let's teach about dope and life and The Mothers of Invention", instead of what is necessary for them to know and be able to do going forward. You aren't saying that, right?

  • Oskar Cymerman | @focus2achieve
    Oskar Cymerman | @focus2achieve Tuesday, 19 January 2016

    Thank you for your comment Gail! I hope I am interpreting your question correctly here... The relevancy and "being with the times" I am talking about has to do with the delivery of instruction and not changing the content itself. I believe that, if as an educator, I focus on the process of learning, and do it in a way that is meaningful to my students, they will internalize knowledge, be more invested in the subject, and gain skills that will allow them to be successful in the future. I do not promote any pop culture "abuses," if you will... I mainly focus on developing cognitive and metacognitive skills in my students through establishing respectful and caring relationships with them, teaching them that failure is really a learning opportunity (e.g. I allow quiz/test retakes), being intentional about teaching them how to learn etc. I do all of this without taking myself too seriously.

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