Rich McKinney

Reboot and Recharge: The Power of Technology-Infused Instructors

Earlier this summer I created my first Vine. A month ago I would have thought that statement to be an indication that I had taken up gardening as a hobby, but I've since learned that Vine is a social media tool that allows users to create and share a personalized six-second video loop.

Each summer, when the school year comes to a close, I try to evaluate the past year, seeking to understand what worked effectively as well as recognize areas of needed improvement. During my 10 years in the classroom, I have avoided becoming stale by adding new advanced placement, and more recently International Baccalaureate, classes to my class load. As a result, my end-of-year reflections typically pointed out areas of the new content in which I needed to become more proficient. For two straight years, however, my schedule has not had any new courses, and as a result, content knowledge is not my main priority this year. Rather, I'm currently exploring ways to incorporate my district's goal of personalizing instruction for each and every student.

This June, as I reflect upon my content, my instructional strategies, and my rapport with students, there is one glaring weakness that is potentially limiting my instructional effectiveness. My students are extremely tech savvy and often try to engage me with discussions of what they are interested in, especially in the realm of social media. I have to admit that many times I am embarrassed to tell them that I have no clue what they are talking about. In my personal life, I am somewhat of a techno-recluse. A smartphone is not to be found among my possessions, I have no Facebook account, my thoughts are never confined to 140 characters or less, and as previously mentioned, I thought a Vine was something that grows in the garden. I'm coming to believe that this aversion to technology is fine in my personal life but totally unacceptable in my professional setting if I want to continue positively impacting the 21st century students who walk into my classroom each morning. Though my content knowledge and instructional techniques are strong, I will never fully develop my students unless I reboot my teaching methods and become more relevant. Furthermore, though they may know every answer on their final exams, they will not be prepared to create and collaborate in the world I am preparing them to enter.

This technology neophyte confesses that jumping head-first into the vast ocean of social media was initially even more discomforting than my first trip to Starbucks when I couldn't wade through all the grandes and lattes to just order a simple cup of coffee. However, this summer, thanks to a well-timed, quality professional development session and the inspiration of some friends, I am dashing out of my own comfort zone and immersing myself in as many social media platforms as I can. With each new tool that I try, I'm constantly asking myself, how could I use this in the classroom to create a more personalized learning environment?" In my Vine attempt, I used my daughters as my "students" and demonstrated Ekman's universal facial expressions. I'm excited about challenging my real students to do similar activities this year in my psychology class. I envision using live Twitter feeds for formative assessments, and I plan to show students how to assemble unit summary boards on Pinterest so that my visual learners can stay organized throughout the year. Most importantly, I welcome the opportunity to teach them how to use discretion and be wise when they utilize social media outside the classroom.

To be honest, I am not sure how tech-savvy I will be by the end of the year. I don't know if I'll be able to develop my students' technology skills in all the ways they will need. I'm still trying to determine the best ways to use all these new tools. But I do know this: I will model the spirit of lifelong learning for my classes and engage them with relevance, creativity, and vitality. I anxiously await getting back into my classroom and applying my newfound vigor for technology-based instruction as I not only teach, but also learn with my students. It is only the middle of June but I am totally recharged.

I would love to hear your ideas for incorporating these types of tools in the classroom. Please share them with me on Twitter @richmckinney1.

Rich McKinney, PhD, is an assistant principal for a middle school in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the 2012 Outstanding Social Studies Teacher for the state of Tennessee. His passion is improving student outcomes by helping teachers reach their fullest potential. In addition to his administrative responsibilities, he also serves as a professional development specialist for Knox County Schools and a Common Core coach for the state of Tennessee. Connect with McKinney by e-mail at or on Twitter @richmckinney1.

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