Seeing the Whole Elephant

by Jean Tower


R emember the old parable from India about the blind men and the elephant ? The parable tells the story of a group of blind men, each trying to describe the elephant from the one bit of the elephant he is touching. The blind man at the tail says the elephant is a rope, the blind man at the side of the beast says it is a wall, and the man feeling the tusk claims that the elephant is a spear.

Well, I am sometimes reminded of this fable when I think about how we all define good technology use and best practices. We all do our best to bring meaningful technology integration to our schools, teachers, and students. Naturally, we each bring our own perspective about what really exemplary use of technology looks like.

As I read journals, blogs, and books, I work to envision the big picture, the whole elephant. I continually learn from my colleagues, and as I integrate their great perspectives into my framework my understanding grows. I know I am more effective when I am part of a bigger team.

I suggest that all educators must enter the technology arena and contribute their unique perspectives and understandings. When all points of view are articulated, all facets of technology literacy and 21st century skills come together to form a comprehensive picture, one which we can all embrace. We have to put all the parts together to get an accurate picture so that we aren’t all seeing just our part of the “elephant.”

I share here some elements of my own personal journey . My own Personal Learning Network has developed in a number of spheres. Like many of you, locally, at the district level, I participate in many committees that are not directly technology-related and I reach out to connect with educators at every level and discipline. This really helps my picture of school level and classroom level needs and concerns, successes and challenges.

A little bit wider in scope, I attend the job-alike meetings of the Assabet Valley Education Collaborative . The collaboration with my remarkable local colleagues is incredibly rich. I learn so much from each of them and together we accomplish more than we could separately.

At the state level, as many of you do, I serve on several boards and advisory panels. Such commitments require my effort beyond the work day, but they are all incredibly enriching. They each offer a really good return on investment (ROI), if you think of investment in terms of time and energy. I learn so much from being active in these organizations. I can draw on the wisdom, experience, and knowledge of my colleagues.

Many of you are members of national organizations, as well. You belong to ISTE or ASCD or NSDC or CoSN – or maybe all of these! I encourage you to actively participate. Rather than be a passive member who receives the emails and publications, volunteer for something. It’s fairly easy to volunteer to be a reviewer of RFPs for a national conference and the experience if very educational.

Another excellent opportunity to collaborate with others and work in a team and bring others in your district into the dialog about technology is to bring a team to the MassCUE – M.A.S.S. Technology Conference . There are sessions in many content areas and at all levels, for teachers, technicians, administrators, and technology specialists. Maybe bringing a district team to Gillette Stadium for the conference will kick off a personal learning journey for your whole district and can jumpstart technology initiatives. Involve many people, as they will each add their perspective and help your schools to see the whole elephant.

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