Open-up to open-ended challenges.

“Of course the internet being the internet…there was a rapid outcry.” Scott McLeod

Snowballing happens when nothing gets in the damn way.  The honest reason that more teens aren’t using social media to change the world is because there are so many teachers in the way.

I’ve been that teacher.  We have all on occasion been more of a hurdle and less of an inrun.

8577295645_aaf98d957a_m Photo Credit: tomfkemp via Compfight cc

A huge shift in my teaching and learning happened seven years ago.

Thanks in part to NIST

I applied to be on a small team of educators who would shape the house program.  We coordinated a range of activities big and small, we brainstormed ways to inspire a culture of mentorship and community.  The key to that coordination was two part:

a) Empower student-driven activities

b) Provide open-ended opportunities

Coordinating our house program wasn’t about coordinating kids.  It was about fostering creativity and collaboration.  Navigating that challenge is only possible if you trust the students.

Want to see what happens when you get out of the way of students?

We need to shift the way we think about assessments. 

My former colleague Brian Jackson is a true trailblazer in this regard.  He knows that we need to give our students the opportunity to think for themselves in regards to the methodology in which they can demonstrate learning objectives.  Brian Jackson often constructs rubrics with the students.  This shift in collaboratively constructing units of inquiry is hugely needed.  The top-down approach no longer fits our flat context.

The reality is, students have publishing, programing, and production opportunities at their fingertips.  The options for demonstrating learning have quadrupled. 

As an MYP and DP teacher, I think of myself as a thinking-facilitator.  My primary purpose needs to be fostering globally-minded citizens.  That’s huge.  That’s why teachers get summer vacations.  If I am not asking my students to practice being thoughtful day after day after day, I have no hopes of achieving my primary purpose.

It is difficult to ask someone to be thoughtful and creative if you keep students out of the planning phase. 

Schools that don’t make time for this are short-changing the entire community.  I’ve long been an advocate for protecting ‘teacher-time.’  When I am short on time, my planning suffers.

“Nobody needs telling that meetings are a catastrophic waste of work time. But even so, it’s a little alarming to learn just how much time they can waste. In the Harvard Business Review, three consultants from Bain report the results of an exercise in which they analyzed the Outlook schedules of the employees of an unnamed “large company” – and concluded that one weekly executive meeting ate up a dizzying 300,000 hours a year. Which is impressive, given that each of us only has about 8,700 hours a year to begin with. Including sleep.” Taken from The Guardian’s “Meetings: even more of a soul-sucking waste of time than you thought.”

Most schools prioritize teachers meeting with other teachers and administrators.  Shouldn’t we place more emphasis on the time we each spend with students?

Teachers and administrators can also be hurdles.  What might happen if we hosted a ‘meeting-free month’?  What creativity might ensue from those pockets of time?

Much in the same way we need to challenge our students, schools also need to challenge their own practices.

Empowering learners is not only about empowering students.  How can we empower our colleagues?

Make room.
Make time.

Assume your community will use both wisely.


Photo Credit: .scribe via Compfight cc

Stop building fences.

Jerry Kane is spot on in his TED talk.  What we think we know about social media is already old news.  The world of social media is evolving.  You’ve heard that already.  So why are we having the same old conversations?  Why haven’t we evolved beyond the fence?

What’s the fence?

* Discouraging social media inside of ‘school time.’

* Thinking of our online selves as somehow different from our actual selves

* Focusing on the dangers of social media and ignoring the potential success to be had

*Dictating how social media ‘should be’ used and avoiding an open conversation about possibilities

*Teachers only talking to teachers and administrators about social media

How do we move forward?

“There is no such thing as social media,”- Jerry Kane

Kane’s point wants us to think of the entire world wide web as a social space.  He’s right.

The way we build, navigate, and understand information is a social process.  That has been my experience far prior to my first profile picture.

The myth that certain teachers cannot teach social media skills is bogus.  All teachers are believers of collaborative learning, otherwise they wouldn’t be a part of a social institution.

“Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”
Seth Godin

We need to change the way we think about ‘digital citizenship.’  Do you think you can offer your students something in terms of being more thoughtful towards other people?  Good, then offer it.

The technology, the gadgetry is always secondary.  The humanity is the priority.

If you teach your students to think of online behavior as secondary to behavior, they will buy that myth.

If you teach your students to be mindful regardless of the space, you will have a different mindset entirely.

Here’s more insight from Seth Godin:

“People don’t believe what you tell them.
They rarely believe what you show them.
They often believe what their friends tell them.
They always believe what they tell themselves.”
Seth Godin

Give students the space to reflect on what they are telling themselves about themselves online.  Who is reflected back to them through their online persona?  Chances are that is the exact same message they tell themselves first thing in the morning.

Have a conversation with your class about their ‘self-talk.’  How do we tell ourselves about who we think we are?

“If you are deliberately trying to create a future that feels safe, you will willfully ignore the future that is likely.”
Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

We build fences in our schools because we are fearful we will make mistakes.  Will we have missteps on and offline?  Of course we will.  Mistakes are not avoided because we construct blockades.  There is a limit to what Brene Brown describes above as armor. Brown mentions a huge empathy deficit in the world of 2015.  What if we asked our staff, students, and leadership to start to see social media as the means to do something about that deficit? What if we started to think about social media as part of the solution, and not only the source of the problem?

Photo Credit: ianqui via Compfight cc

Let’s be vulnerable enough to tell our students that we worry they will hurt themselves, that they might hurt someone else.  That is a much more sincere conversation starter than a policy. Rules are never as effective as authentic conversations are.  Talk first, policy drafts come second.  Assume students want to do the right thing.  Assume your staff can handle the occasional misstep.  Create more conversations.

One year ago, I asked the group of student council leaders at my former school to use social media to better communicate their mission.  I assumed they would rise to the challenge of open inquiry.  What do you think, did they meet that challenge?