The starting is the easy part.
To start a blog, you need five minutes on Blogspot or WordPress and you’ve got a blog. Now, you can say you have a blog. You are doing it. But, of course, you’re not. You have to put in the time, day after day. You have to write, consistently.
In university, I was focused on sitting down and writing a novel. I did. I got started. I wrote the first three thousand words. I could now tell people, “I’m writing a novel.” I felt that was the accomplishment. I thought starting was enough. But years later, I only had 3000 words and a fading belief that “I was writing a novel.”
Last week, I started a podcast. (Just a Teacher Podcast) I was proud. I said, “Hey world, I started something.” It took me about fifteen minutes to record my first episode, another ten minutes of editing, five minutes to download the correct WordPress plugin, and before I knew it, it was done. I had a podcast. This week the reality set in. I’ve got to do again. And again to make it meaningful.
Starting is not enough.
Call it what you will, follow-through, resilience, discipline or whatever. That’s when it gets hard.
Yet, that’s when it matters. That’s what separates an idea with a product. That’s what separates an intention with delivery.
Don’t get me wrong, starting something is great. In fact, I’m always happier starting something and letting it fade away then having the idea festering. But the world will never be changed without the next step. Or the one after that. The world will never be changed by just the start.
I have to sit down and write the next blog post. I have to write the next chapter. I have to create the next episode. That’s when it matters. That’s when it counts.
It’s easy to start something, the next step is when it counts.
It’s around. With the internet, it never turns off. You can’t find any quiet places to get away from it. You can’t ever take back your actions online. All of this, yet in conversation with my class a week ago it seemed that they were content with blaming the victim. “Yeah well, she …” always leads to justification.
It’s mob mentality run amuck.
I wonder if this is the straw. The one that broke the camel’s back. The last piece before those ignorant of technology recognize that we have a lawless wild west right now. And Jesse James has rounded up the old n’er-do-wells and is using them to inflict damage.
Part of the problem is that we don’t really know how to define bullying.
My take is that our problem is not bullying. The problem is our culture of meanness.
We have politicians who would rather find faults, than fix breaks. We have a media culture that looks for another group of people that we can all safely sit and laugh at. We have students who think saying, “I was just joking,” is enough justification for being mean.
What I propose is a new culture of kindness. A conscious attempt at holding each other accountable.
It starts with parents and teachers. It starts with turning off Jersey Shore and Honey Boo Boo. It starts with making a concerted effort to praise, compliment and acknowledge. It is too easy to be mean, especially when the victim isn’t present, or no one holds you accountable.
Too many people blame technology for the bullying and not enough spend time thinking about the tone of our conversations.
We must be better than this. Kindness works too.
It’s not about the products.
Or the technology.
It’s not about ubiquity.
It’s about the relentless pursuit of something new, something bold, something special.
Leadership is not about getting people to follow you.
Leadership is about walking the path, inviting people to join you, but walking whether they come or not.
Steve Jobs did this like few others.
That’s his legacy.
Walking the path of innovation, alone if needed, with the mob most often. Either way, one foot in front of another in pursuit of something better.
Who walks this path in education?
Who is bold enough, to take the products, and the technology, and the ubiquity, and walk in pursuit of better learning for our students with or without the mob?
A few lists connected to the school year that passed.
Things to Do Again:
- Invite the outside world into my classroom. Throw open the doors.
- Be constantly striving for more authentic audience, task, learning.
- Invite scrutiny.
- Build rich connections with colleagues and look for opportunities to engage in good, though possibly uncomfortable, professional dialogue.
- Shift away from the centre. Don’t think top-down is teacher-student. Instead, think there is no top, “We are all in this together.”
- One rule: “Be Great”
- Have rich, meaningful, honest conversations with each student about their progress. These conversations were much more nuanced and useful then any mark or report card comment. They take time, but they are worth it.
Things I Didn’t Get Quite Right:
- Parents: I had no complaints from parents, well, none that I have any knowledge. I had some real great feedback from parents, though. But I didn’t quite get it right. Even after last semester’s reflection on the role of parents, I didn’t do a good enough job keeping/getting them connected to their child’s learning. I need to take more time to get them connected, get them involved. Especially as I use more and more social media, authentic audience, etc. It blends so easily. I want students, regardless of grade, to be talking to their parents about what they learned in class today. This breeds a greater importance on learning, less on the final numerical result of the learning.
- Flexibility: Some of the feedback I got from students was that I provided them, at times, too much freedom and flexibility. They felt that they hung themselves with it. Now each student recognized that they need to own the responsibility, however, they’ve never been taught how, so it is unfair for me to expect them to handle it. I had many of my students comment that their ability to “be in a regular classroom” was compromised because of the flexibility they had in my class. I look at that as something that I didn’t get quite right and I’m going to need to work to find a better balance.
- Sharing: It is one of those lessons you learn early, and it turns out often, about taking (or even better making) opportunities to share the things you are doing. I wrote a blog post entitled “If I Don’t Share, Is It Because I Don’t Own It?” that begins to reflect on the nature of sharing in this profession. I used the excuse that “I didn’t own the class” when I first talked about sharing, but now, with more afterthought and more reflection on all the things I did in class, I recognize that I’ve got to share more. I believe there are things every class should be doing, those things that worked and are easy, but if I don’t share them with the people in my building they are dead already. I don’t know what this will look like, but it needs to be done.
- Feedback: I’m still not there. I’ve written about the feedback loop that I’m trying to create but it is not complete. It needs more tweaking. How do I provide rich, constructive, learning feedback, while making it manageable? How do I provide that as instantly as possible while teaching upwards of 90 students a day? How do I more concretely connect the required number (grade on the report card) with the intangible (observations)?
- The Game: I’m not one to mind my ‘p’s’ and ‘q’s’. I say what’s on my mind and often live with the consequences. Professionally speaking, I’m not one to play the game. I just run at my own speed. This tactic (though it really is the lack of tactics) has left me isolated at times. On its own, I’m not too worried. However, if my actions are going to work against a student’s needs in the future (with a colleague, parent or administrator), then I haven’t served them. The game is not for me, it is to serve my students in the best way. I need to find a middle ground, maybe?
Things I Learned About Learning:
- I love to learn. Adding the Twittersphere to my daily professional development was wonderful.
- Learning happens with community. The idea that learning can happen on your own is baloney. You need other people. We need to constantly be honing our ability to create community in our classrooms. But not just any community, learning community. There is a difference, a big one.
- Learning is a dog fight. Grip it and rip it. Learning is not for the faint of heart. It is tough and messy and rarely pretty. Recognizing this made me much more willing to take risks and not shy away when the going got tough, which it does inevitably, every time.
- It can’t happen in a bubble. Allow for distractions. Maintaining direct focus is unsustainable for most learners. Most of us need time and space to breathe.
- I’m not the best learner in the room. I’m really only good at learning for me. Let people/students learn with whatever methods work for them.
- Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up. I like to jump in with testing the water. I do this with learning new things too. I learned that for some things, that isn’t the best strategy. Now, this isn’t to say i’m not going to be jumping in, but maybe, just maybe, I won’t be doing a cannonball.
Things I Need To Learn More About:
- Google Apps
- Integrating autonomy more effectively into every class. FedEx Days? What would they look like?
- Building more authentic, project-based learning opportunities.
- Establishing richer community with people on Twitter. I’m not using this tool to its full potential.
- How to be a better collaborator.
- Access to funding opportunities to enrich the learning in the room.
We are running a deficit, every day I am witness and party to this need that our competence does not have enough.
We are running a communication deficit. A loss of understanding and ability to openly and authentically communicate with each other.
We no longer know how to communicate in authentic conversations. The increase of passive aggressive means of communication (Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, etc) is allowing people to hide from communicating openly and face to face.
Our collective interpersonal competence is weakened. It goes hand in hand with the sound bite news cycle and the Twitter-length quip. By being sarcastic, sharp and witty, we can avoid those uncomfortable conversations that we need to have real, authentic relationships.
And I’m not sure what we are afraid of.
We risk being called out. Being scrutinized. Being recognized. We risk honesty and sincerity.
I am as guilty for it as anyone. I am quick to the “chirp” of someone else’s misfortune to build a fragile sense of community. My sarcasm and one-liners are often used as a barrier to authentic connection and a way to the easy answer. Despite my attempt to be open, I sometimes avoid these conversations for fear I will be isolated or insulated.
But I must change.
We are building a community of teens that rip on each other as friends. They no longer know how to take authentic conversations where they must reveal vulnerability. They question the need. They walk with their arms in front of their face blocking themselves from that which they fear, rather than walking with arms open ready to receive.
We are running a deficit. And I am afraid of who will eventually have to pay.
Today’s Challenge: Have an uncomfortable, authentic conversation with someone whom you don’t usually talk.
On May 4 and 5th, I was lucky enough to attend the Helping Canadian Kids Thrive conference in Regina, SK. It was an excellent, thought-provoking conference experience.
I was lucky enough for three distinct exceptional experiences.
This little outfit, pairing children with intellectually disabilities and intellectually able buddies, rocked the house. There was not one person in the crowd of nearly 300 that wasn’t smiling as the unparalleled joy was permeated from the stage. It showed that the academics of school are rarely as important as we think in developing a society that works with and respects all of its members. Easily the highlight of the conference and it had nothing to do with what I learned and had everything to do with what I was reminded. Life is to be enjoyed, so live in the moments of joy.
2. Ryan Hreljac’s Presentation
Ryan Hreljac was the Friday afternoon keynote speaker. Ryan is known around the world for his Ryan’s Well Foundation where he has actively engaged in fundraising for various waterpoints around the world. He is also known as an advocate of clean drinking water for all. His presentation on Friday afternoon was understated and powerful.
Now, as a 19 year old, he stressed a message that he’s “not anything special, in fact, I was not one of those kids. But I found my thing. My puzzle piece.” He implored the crowd to find their own puzzle piece. You can’t be Mother Theresa and that’s okay, instead be the best version of you.
He reminded me to find humility amidst praise, recognize that change is slow at times, fast at times (like when you are on Oprah –twice) and that whatever speed it is at is the speed it’s meant to be.
He spoke of the growing consumption of clean water in North America and the drastic effects that a non-conservation social attitude will have.
The difference between him and Craig Kielburger struck me as impressively profound. Rather than being a guy who has a million dollar marketing campaign, Ryan is a regular guy who goes about his passion. Craig is to Don Cherry, what Ryan is to Ron Maclean. At the end of the day, I’d rather sit and talk and listen to Ron Maclean as what is hidden is most impressive.
3. Reframing Leadership: Building Capacity in Unlikely Leaders
On Friday morning, a colleague and I had an opportunity to present on an explicit practice we have tried to implement and encourage within our school. Our “framework”, as we’ve dubbed it, includes many tried and true leadership theories blended together working towards adding an element where we find, invite, help and support our at-risk students with leadership opportunities.
Our framework is simple.
- Unlearn and Rethink Leadership — It is our nature to provide leadership opportunities for our high flyers. They naturally find these opportunities, however, when we re-frame what leader looks like, and how leadership functions, we also rethink which students can fill these opportunities.
- Discover the Point of Entry — Students who don’t see themselves as leaders or who lack the ‘leader attitude’ are most often going to avoid stepping up. We, as the adults in the building, need to find the hidden leader within but then also recognize that an action, specific task or specific issue might be the point of entry for that student. Being recognized as a leader is sometimes the first step is recognizing yourself as a leader.
- Build a Culture of Support — Having a school culture that cultivates unlikely leaders is essential. It can’t be one person trying to work with them all, we need to establish an ethic of where leaders (likely and unlikely) have strong support to try something and fail. Allowing for failure and building from failure in a safe and positive way is key to transitioning an unlikely leaders attitude and vision of herself.
- Teach the Skills — Most unlikely leaders lack specific leadership skills and it is very important that we teach in the moment the skills that are necessary. Never take for granted the skill deficits that these leaders may have and the great opportunities that will arise for these students to learn them.
- Identify and Overcome Barriers — One of the biggest things we can do to make unlikely leaders, ultimately successful, is to help them identify what the barriers are that they face and help them brainstorm the solutions. It is imperative that we don’t provide the solutions or steer them away from barriers, rather it is important that these unlikely leaders face the barriers head on and build the capacity to problem-solve and overcome barriers in their future.
There was a bunch more in our presentation including balloons (a metaphor for building a culture of support), house of cards (a challenge in need of leadership) and some great videos (specifically Derek Sivers’ “First Follower” video.) The slide deck will is below.
Just read a thought-provoking blog post about leadership in education today. His blog post at Avoiding Cookie Cutter Syndrome really got me thinking about the nature of leadership in general.
It is perceived that leadership is connected with title.
It is perceived that “to make a real difference” you need to “move up”.
But what of the leaders who don’t have the fancy titles?
Derek Sivers, in his famous TED Talk, isolates the nature of leadership and talks about the nature that it is often over-glorified. Also, it is often the first follower who truly makes the difference, taking “the one lone nut and making him a leader.”
As Mr. Ballantyne suggests, the qualities that make someone a leader are not exclusive to those in positions of added responsibility, but I would suggest more often they are the silent risk-takers; only sometimes willing to open the door to their classroom knowing what they are doing is worth sharing.
I’d like to suggest that leaders are not always the gutsy ones. They are not always the loud and proud ones.
These are the educators that we need to nurture and we need to be their first followers.
These are the educators that will keep pushing the edububble, maybe even popping it.
I reflect often on the role I play in the education revolution. Am I doing enough? Am I rattling enough chains? But maybe that isn’t the right tactic. Maybe the right tactic of helping lead the change is through silent, patient change?
What’s my role in the leadership of the revolution? Maybe it is in the education revolution where we redefine what it is to be a leader, maybe we start looking to those “lone nuts” more often, maybe we follow, rather than lead?
Many question, few answers. Thanks Mr. Ballantyne for getting the questioning juices flowing…
They don’t work for me. They don’t make sense, especially in English. That’s my philosophy.
The general consensus is, “Well, they need to learn how to write them if they go to college or university.” That doesn’t quell my concerns. I think it perpetuates the myth of school.
I spend an entire semester teaching writing with a process. “Take you time.” “Make sure you give yourself time to proofread.” “Editing is essential.” And then at the end of the year, “Write. Quickly. You only have an hour.” Ridiculous.
Despite my rationale, passion and focus on the students, I will be passing out exams at the end of the semester. I’m going to be perpetuating the myth that school and learning is about proving it, in an inauthentic setting. One hour, pressure filled.
I now have two months to think of an exam that will stay true to the ideas of putting learning first. Ideas?
This post has been edited. I do not think that this myth is the result of one person but rather a system that has not figured it out and discourages fluctuation from the norm.
I guess it’s my job.
Not formally, of course, but by nature of my engagement.
When all signs point to the revolution hitting a tipping point, it is imperative that we don’t just talk to the already converted. We need to push the thinking of some of the most ardent old-schoolers. We need to challenge them.
The edublog community is rich and diverse. Yet, the nature of our presence online and our connection means we are already on the path to revolution. It needs to be our imperative to build our capacity.
We need to include more, market to the unconverted, offer them educational salvation.
We need to push the thinking, all the thinking, of all educators.
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