11 July 2011

my sharpening stone

[caption id="attachment_620" align="alignright" width="187" caption="image courtesy of flickr user David Davies"]image courtesy of flickr user David Davies[/caption]

When I was a kid, my dad had a whetstone and he used it to keep his kitchen and pocket knives quite sharp. I was always fascinated by the ease with which he seemed to be able to put a very fine edge on my pocket knife after I had tried to chop a tree down or some other ridiculous task. He clearly had learned the way a whetstone and a knife are meant to interact. He understood the amount of pressure needed to make the knife sharpest. He also knew the correct angle to hold the knife against the whetstone to make a long-lasting edge.

I'll be honest, even at 42 years old, I still have not mastered the use of a stone for sharpening knives. I've tried and tried, but I cannot seem to get the method down. I've not given up, but my little v-shaped knife sharpener does the trick for me, at least for now.

During a recent road trip, sans kids, @mishelleyb and I were vehemently discussing teaching methods and technology integration. We both got a frustrated at times and maybe even a little upset. Now if you know @mishelleyb, you know she is someone who is not afraid to share her opinion. Additionally, she always has evidence to back up her claims and she shares that as well.

During the course of our discussion, I said "Technology is Just a Tool." I further stated that there was nothing I could think of that would indicate that student learning has been or can be increased by using technology. My platform for education reform is "Increased Student Engagement" and I connected tech as a tool for that purpose. She just about lost it. I thought we were going to have to pull over and result to fisticuffs. She was incredulous that the Oklahoma Technology Teacher of the Year would make such a statement. (In retrospect, I'm surprised I said it, too.) Incredulous is the only word I can think of to describe her reaction.

She began to ask me questions about the purpose of our wiki project. She expertly helped me realize (or remember) that I use wikis as a form of problem solving. I require students to analyze resources and evaluate whether they should be used for their research. But more specifically, I finally articulated that students learn to embed and format on the wiki using wiki code. I don't teach them wiki code. So they have to work things out on their own and do some independent learning to get their page to look the way it should. They also collaborate with one another to find answers.

Through our discussion, I realized that as someone who may be required to speak to and for other teachers, she was helping me to sharpen the edge of my position. She was being a whetstone and helping me to sharpen what I had to say. We discuss issues and methods pertaining to education on a regular basis. I always come away from these discussions more firm in my ideas and clear in my thinking. That is not to say that she tells me what to think, she simply asks the right questions to guide my processing of ideas.

When you use a whetstone, it actually takes part of the knife away in the process of sharpening. Discussions with Michelle occasionally do the same. Faulty ideas and unnecessary thoughts generally get whittled away through logical, critical thinking.

My strong desire for each of you is that no matter whether your discussions are about education, religion, relationships, or life in general, I hope you find a sharpening stone for your ideas. As life-long learners, we make each other better. We sharpen each others thoughts and positions. Do not shy away from heated discussions with colleagues, instead, seek them out but remember to be willing to hear what the other person has to say.

In fact, I'll get political for a second and say that calling for the removal of someone with different ideas than your own is counter-productive, not to mention the example it sets for others. Shouldn't we have a respectful discourse and look for common ground to make things better? If you simply focus on your differences, how will we affect change? All we do is stir the pot.

I suppose my journey towards knowledge nirvana is much like my prowess with a sharpening stone, I need a lot more practice and I have a lot left to learn.