Life as an Agent of Change
I came to a realization this morning! As I drifted out of sleep, I realized that the dream version of me was dealing with a situation similar to what I had faced my whole career. In my dream, I had quietly gone on doing things my boss (always cute and younger than me, and sometimes male) didn’t even realize I was doing. In the dream it meant tagging along on ocean ships to far away places and helping clients build their “system” whatever it entailed. In this case some kind of circuit. The boss had no clue I was even on the trip as I had tagged along on a bus full of co-workers. The boss made a comment to me at the end of the dream about not being there, and I pointed out to him things we had done that made it obvious I had been along. My thought on waking was “I’ve done this so many times!” That made me realize that I was an Agent of Change!
When I was teaching 4th graders and having them write emails to a class in a school down the road, using 1200 baud and Apple IIe computers in 1988, I was an Agent of Change! I went from there to a small rural school whose principal allowed me to attend a workshop given by experts from Ft. Collins, Colorado, who were attempting to make schools aware of the Internet. A condition of attending that workshop was that I ran phone wires through the ceiling of the hallway of my school down to a far classroom so I had a dial-up connection to the Internet. After that class, I was hooked! At first, the phone line was used with the 4th graders to research using umd.edu’s (University of Maryland’s) dial-up connections with Archie and Veronica, (pioneer search engines). Then as I got involved with Kidlink, my kids were doing projects with peers around the globe. We wrote poems about snow to kids in Japan, who drew pictures from our descriptions and sent them back to us. We researched Native Cultures around the globe and shared the history of our own Natives. And the best project was when we wrote a mystery story with kids in Denmark, which was critiqued by kids in South Africa and the Eastern shore of Maryland. In addition, the actual writing of this story was guided by an author in New Hampshire, who became my co-author for my first published book, Scribes Online: Learning in a Electronic Writing Space (and its teacher’s guide).
Even though my students were part of the success, and their picture was in the intro to the book in gratitude, my district wouldn’t let me even tell the parents of my students the book was published. When the book debuted at a local convention, I was informed that I couldn’t go to that convention, because I had a 5th grade picnic to attend. I felt that the parents of that class, and the students would rather have been told of the book’s debut, but “That’s solicitation!” was the response and against district policy. In addition, when I put in for a Curriculum Award, for other innovative activities I had done with the kids on the computer, I was told they didn’t have computers on the committee, so they couldn’t see my project. Again, I was an Agent of Change!
When I left my district because I felt I couldn’t grow there, and went to a local college as an Instructional Technologist, my main assignment was to speak geek to professors, and get them to use their computers, particularly the Blackboard system for their courses. My young handsome boss had other ideas as to what my position was, so we butted heads a few times. I wanted to do more, and he was more focused on keeping the status quo. It wasn’t until the grant I was on ended, and I stated that I had met the criteria of what I was hired for, that we finally realized why we had butted heads. We parted on good terms, but again, I was an Agent of Change for that university.
When I went to another college in Colorado, I was part of another grant to create a database to evaluate pre-service teachers (now teacher interns) skills before they graduated. That database wound up being very similar to the one created a year or two later by school systems to evaluate teachers during the decade when testing and evaluation became the mantra of the federal government for fixing our schools. Again… an Agent of Change! That position was under another grant in which I was tasked with creating online courses for the pre-service teachers, again an Agent of Change!
The position involved being on the computer for 40 hours a week and I missed the classroom and kids, so went to a tiny school in the mountains of Rye, Colorado. A teacher there had befriended an explorer who had traveled around the globe using only human power, and my kids used the computers to communicate with him via his blog as he completed one of the legs of his journey. I showed him how to use the blog, and helped create his website @ Expedition 360. Again, a different type of Agent of Change!
From that school, I went to a district near Denver, Colorado. I finally was near the area of Ft. Collins where my career as an Agent of Change had gotten the seed that was planted in me began. In that district, they had already done lots of change and were way ahead of my home district and the one in Rye, Co. However, the leader of that department recognized the seed in me and hired me to make those changes. But I was fighting a political battle there as well. Previously, they had 7 people in my position, who had done their job so well in training teachers and schools, that they had gone down to 3 of us that year. The person in charge of us saw the solution in giving more training to trainers and utilizing some Apple incentives to motivate teachers, which were all good ideas. However, I saw the real growth in the district as adapting curriculum to utilize the technology, as well as develop online learning more in the district. In attending the meetings for those, I stepped on the toes of one of my colleagues, and rubbed my immediate boss the wrong way. But I was able to get my message across to my colleague, who wound up being the only one left in the position the next year. Again, as an Agent of Change, I accomplished what needed to be done, but the job didn’t last long. As it turned out, I had to get home anyway as Mom was sick and my family needed me.
My path back home led through a for profit Virtual School. I was hired to help develop teacher development and accreditation procedures, as well as teach online technology courses. Unfortunately, my marriage fell apart at that time with my husband coming out of the closet as transgendered, so I wasn’t able to give my job the full attention it needed. So I wound up teaching online from home while I worked through it all. But even as an online teacher, I was part of the paradigm shift, and an Agent of Change!
The next year, I was able to get a job back in my old district, which was still lightyears behind in technology. I also got a job teaching online with a new Virtual School in Wisconsin, which had a rudimentary version of online software. I helped a new teacher through his first year of teaching both face to face and online, so an Agent of Change for him, as well as fine tuning the system’s courses.
I returned to my old district as a technology teacher in Middle school, where I was able to utilize my tech skills finally. I also encouraged teachers to utilize Web 2.0 tools. I finally wrote my doctoral dissertation on how teachers succeeded in utilizing those tools. As part of my own classroom, I used the online Edline tools to deliver my whole curriculum to my students. I also created projects with students in two other schools using Edmodo, which finally got noticed for a curriculum award from the district as well as gotten published in an educational magazine. Still an Agent of Change!
At that point in my career, however, I was used as a pawn in the budget war of the district. Since I was at the top of the salary scale, and as districts go, there is always the fight to cut costs, I was riffed. Even though I did eventually get that job back due to another teacher retiring instead, I saw the writing on the wall for further riffs down the road, so retired myself the next year.
And now, in retirement, I’ve realized I’m still an Agent of Change in small ways. I volunteered at a Veterans Home near me, and helped install a new lab and taught them how to utilize virtual software for patients to be able to communicate with their families. Thank heavens I did that, because the pandemic followed soon after, and it was a major tool put to use!
In addition, during the summer of the pandemic, the senior center near me attempted reopening with contact tracing tools used to keep track of those going in and out of the building. Because of my tech skills, I was able to volunteer to be a minor part of that contact tracing to enable the reopening process. At the writing of this, the pandemic is raging again, so the center is closing most activities, so I’m back to being retired again. But it was nice to be able to help in an emergency and give back to the community.
Part of my realization this morning was that my dad was an Agent of Change as well. He worked for IBM, and used to fix Big Blue (that computer that filled a whole room). He had also been flown to Texas during Apollo 13’s space flight that had glitches on its re-entry from space. So I guess I’m just following my dad’s legacy! I know he’d be proud of me. I recently learned that my great-grandfather on his side was a professor in Germany before WWII. So I’m off to discover how far back my legacy goes!
And the realization this morning was enlightening. I had always thought I was a trouble maker always bucking “the system”….. when in reality…I’m an Agent of Change!