Friday, May 8, 2015

#beyouEDU Finding Your Niche with Kerry Gallager

Remember that a niche, by definition, is small

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

Dr. Will and I have talked about how all educators have different strengths, needs, and styles just as our students do.  Every person has a different niche in this world.  When I typed the word into Google, this is the definition I got:
So when I hear about an educator trying to find her niche, I imagine most would assume that means she must find the right content, the right school, the right colleagues, and the right community.  Once she’s there, life is good.

I don’t think of niche this way, as a noun or a destination where an educator arrives.  I don’t see the niche as an endgame.  For an educator, the niche is a short pause in the journey.  She is seeking a better way, a new approach, a way to contribute something original.

Maybe she finds her niche.  But the thing about a niche, according to the definition, is that it is small.  It’s a nook, cranny, or cubbyhole.  No one could be expected to stay in place that restricted for long.  On to the next niche.  That’s why it’s about the journey.

Middle or High?

My journey starts as a game of ping pong.  As a result of multiple forces (changes of my own choosing and requests from my employers) I’ve gone back and forth a bit between teaching history at the middle and high school levels.  It all adds up to 7 years in middle school and 6 years in high school.  Right now I teach high school, 2 years ago I was in a middle school, and a year before that I was in a high school.  I used to struggle with my identity as an educator.  Am I a middle school teacher or a high school teacher?  Now I’m proud of this first niche.  I’m a history teacher with experience at the middle and high school levels.  For example, I understand the middle schooler needs a lot of reassurance and room to experiment with personality in their writing.  But at the same time I understand that the high schooler needs to feel as though they’re being treated as an adult when receiving feedback on their writing.  The difference between the two is a fine line.


Once I was comfortable with the middle/high school history niche, I pushed myself to continue the journey. Over the course of a two years, my students and I eliminated textbooks and the use of paper in general from our classroom.  Two years ago we went completely paperless and I even labeled myself a “paperless history teacher” on my Twitter profile.  Edtech news sources asked me to write about my paperless workflow and the philosophy behind it.  Education enthusiasts reached out to me as an “expert” on going paperless.  It became my niche.  For a few months I loved it.  Then a new school year started.

Student Help Desk

A few students who enjoyed the paperless model in my history class worked with me to pilot a student help desk at our BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) school.  Our mission was to help more teachers in our school integrate the technology their students were already using to engage them and allow them to be more creative.  We called it Rockets Help Desk. Although it was only a pilot and it was during my lunch and my prep period, I dove in head first.  We immediately started producing tutorials, networking with experts in the edtech industry, and publishing our ideas.  Soon we were being invited to present to a district cohort of teachers, school committee, and local conferences.  We were awarded a technology grant and were able to grow our little pilot program into a credited business technology elective.  There are even plans to take it beyond our high school so that students in younger grades can have more interaction with high school students and maybe even develop their own student help desk programs appropriate to their schools.  So, I became known as the student help desk teacher.  I wrote about it for ed tech blogs and consulted with schools looking to start up their own programs.  There is still room to grow in this niche, but I’m also looking toward the next one.

I still fit neatly in these three niches.  I’m a paperless middle and high school history teacher with a passion for student-driven technology integration.  I don’t know what to call the next niche, but I know I’m still on the journey.

P.S. If you are still looking for your first true niche in your professional journey, I recommend reading Sir Ken Robinson’s Finding Your Element. It is a thought-provoking book about finding happiness and being true to yourself while living a realistic and successful life.

About the author: Kerry uses her varied experiences as an educator, attorney, and coach to maximize effective instructional practices in the classroom. Students in her classes experience a paperless learning process that allows them to collaborate, create, and publish their ideas. Her blog, KerryHawk02: Teaching HistoryTech, reflects her intense interest in world and U.S. history along with the benefits of using technology to create innovative experiences for her students. She is the founding teacher of Rockets Help Desk, a student driven technology integration support service for her school and district.  

Kerry is the 2014 recipient of the Yale-Lynn Hall Teacher Action Research Prize for her submission "Mobile Devices and Student Innovators: BYOD and the Paperless Classroom Model."  She was recognized as a 2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator.  Her video submission can be viewed here.  Kerry is a contributing writer for EdSurge and the Smarter Schools Project.  Kerry earned her B.A. in Politics from Saint Anselm College and her J.D. from Massachusetts School of Law. She is also a Level II certified Professional Ski Instructor of America.  Follow her on Twitter at @KerryHawk02.

No comments:

Post a Comment