by: Alex Stubenbort
“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”-Socrates
My closest friends and colleagues are not taken aback by the title of my post. They know that the man responsible for coining the hashtag “EdtechAfterDark” is only a year and a half removed from a classroom where student iPads were mere glorified paperweights. And yet, in the short time since I saw “the light”, I’ve quickly climbed to the ranks of an elite super user within my 1:1 district, created a Twitter chat that has reached over 15 million individual feeds, built an edtech consulting group with two of my closest friends, and have presented at countless seminars, edcamps, and conferences with no end in sight. How did this happen?
If you read the list of accolades above as a testament of my pride, don’t. It’s honestly embarrassing. At the advent of my Twitter use, I loved the breadth of wisdom available to a novice like me. However, as I shared and began to build a following of my own, I quickly realized that on Twitter the very real pressure to appear to “get it” was the unspoken law of the land. With every “Favorite” and “Retweet”, I added another layer of disingenuity. I am NOT what you say I am; I’m a phony, a fake, a charlatan. Until I realized that my unfamiliarity with all things edtech was actually my biggest strength.
Recently, I read Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Despite its apparent nod to the Judeo-Christian Old Testament, the book is NOT religious fan fiction. Instead, in his typical anecdotal approach, Gladwell challenges a world that assumes biggest, baddest, and strongest is best by suggesting that it is in fact our perceived weaknesses that can ultimately give us the advantage. However, to reap the benefits of this weakness to strength transformation one must have their backs pressed firmly against the wall. To quote Gladwell, “To play by David’s rules you have to be desperate. You have to be so bad that you have no choice.”
After reading the aforementioned quote, something clicked. I remembered my initial realization that technology was more than bells and whistles; that to prepare my students to create their tomorrows, I had to first utilize the edtech tools of today. I believe that a part of me subconsciously understood this to be true all along; however, my lack of expertise and prowess in the area of edtech kept this unfortunate truth at bay. But like all delusions, my insistence on doing things the way that it’s always been done gave way to the truth, and the truth made me desperate.
At first, realizing that the most important skillset for the students you’ve been called to serve is the one skillset you don’t possess is TERRIFYING! However, a complete feeling of incompetence can be a hell of a motivator. By seeing my benightedness for what it was, the need to get better at my craft was palpable. Believe it or not, it is that feeling that I miss so much. It is that feeling that kept me up at night lurking on Twitter chats. It is that feeling that granted me the audacity to declare my classroom a paperless one. It is that feeling that made handing over 20% of my class time to students’ passions seem reasonable. And it is that feeling that has rendered me a far better educator today than I could have ever dreamed of a mere year ago.
Speaking as sage on the stage at conference after conference; leading edtech Twitter chats that trend internationally; being a go-to guy for all things edtech in my district and beyond; these undertakings have created the façade that I am no longer in desperate need of guidance, insight, and inspiration. This couldn’t be further from the truth. My weakness is my strength and so is yours! Therefore, fear not when you don’t know the newest buzzword or gadget; don’t fret when you have to stare a coworker in the face and say, “I don’t know.”; and rest easy when you have that nagging realization that you’ve got miles to go. You are NOT an edtech guru, and you’re stronger because of it.