Last Thursday, my colleague, John, wanted to take an hour to just chat all things education. Like the quick talk from Derek Slvers above, John has a flexible mindset. More schools need more educators who are willing to slinky their way out of their comfort zone.
I think the slinky metaphor works, because as any enthusiast of the toy will recall–a slinky doesn’t necessarily always have to move in one direction. I’ve been thinking a lot about flexible leadership due to a fantastic read:
The book walks the reader through myths surrounding effective leadership with pitch perfect examples. Here are a few of my favorite ‘a-ha’ moments from the text:
“Sometimes the greatest acts of integrity involve being inconsistent—especially when circumstances change, new information comes to light, or mistakes have been made. And because the world is changing fast, now more than ever, leaders need to be big enough to embrace inconsistency when required.”
“Are you committed to growth, or are you committed to extraordinary growth? If you’re committed to extraordinary growth, then you should be killing your darlings. Go out of your way and try to disprove your own favored belief. If you succeed, then you know that you can discard the belief. If you fail, then you can be more confident that your belief is the right one.”
“Civility is overrated. Discourse doesn’t ultimately fail because of a lack of etiquette. It’s because the parties fail to possess a genuine willingness to change their minds. If you have to choose between being polite or being persuadable, choose the latter. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose.”
More schools need to acknowledge how easy it is for echo chambers to drown out dissenting opinions.
Nothing is easier than holding onto long standing view points. This is why dust seems to just happen. You have to be proactive in diversifying your perspective. A great exploration of that notion comes in audible edible media via Hidden Brain, in the episode called “Tribes and Traitors.”
So, how can we bust dust in our own minds?
Let go of the traditional idea of the staff room.
So many schools have adopted Virtual Learning Environments, intending to connect educators with their community, and of course that has many benefits. But in 2016, we need to be better than that, we need to let go of walled gardens. We don’t live, teach, or learn in walled gardens anymore. If we say we want to foster global citizenship, and we believe that more global citizens can and will help society, we need to model that as frequently as possible.
Let learning beget more learning fractals.
Twitter, Blogging, Goodreads, Pinterest–they are all about that ripple effect. Every ‘a-ha’ moment of my journey as an educator has been the result of someone else being charitable with their ideas, and unknowingly starting a ripple that finally influenced my pond. The wonderful thing about being an International Educator is that I’ve had the luxury of swimming in many different ponds. I realize that this luxury isn’t common. The good news is you can mix up your pond even if you teach in the same school for an entire career. Actually, I think you have a responsibility, now that you teach in a globalized world to make sure you swim with as many different idea-fish as possible. If you teach in a walled garden VLE, take the arm floaties off.
What the heck does that mean?
Mix and mingle with teachers from different schools, countries, and continents. Why does that matter? It makes you rethink any confirmation biases you have about education, and it asks you rethink what your own school’s values really are. Whenever you travel to a new place, you return to your home with a better understanding of what makes your own culture tick. If all great writing is rewriting, maybe all great thinking is rethinking.
The distance from can to will keeps getting larger.
You can connect, lead, see, speak, create, encourage, challenge and contribute.
The confusion kicks in when we become overwhelmed by all the things we can do, but can’t find the time or the courage to actually commit and follow through.
In the face of all that choice, we often confuse can’t and won’t. One lets us off the hook, the other is a vivid reminder of our power to say yes if we choose.
From Seth Godin’s blogpost “Going The Distance”
Make room to debunk myths about your own teaching and learning.
Last week, when John and I met to talk, it reminded me again of how our teaching is always public. Though John and I don’t talk that frequently, it was surprising how much we did understand about the things we value, and the things we want to improve. John frequently refers to himself as someone who fell into teaching, and doesn’t see himself as an expert. What I should have told him in that hour, is that the truth is, teachers who take on this Charlie Chaplin idea:
“That´s what all we are. Amateurs. We don´t live long enough to be anything else,”
are setting themselves up for success. When we eat a slice of humble pie, and take the pressure off, when we remember to heed the advice of Austin Kleon:
“Forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you,”
we remember to open ourselves up to the advice of anyone and everyone who has something to offer. That’s why I love Twitter. I’ve learned from people I’ve never met. I’ve learned from former students. I’ve learned from best-selling authors, and I’ve learned from parody accounts too:
You may make mistakes but at least you’re not one of the twelve publishers that rejected Harry Potter.
— The Dark Lord (@Lord_Voldemort7) May 26, 2015
The best leaders I’ve worked with have valued the opinions of everyone on their team. They’ve taught me, through modeling, to treat everyone like a trusted advisor. This is why I am so incredibly excited to work on the same campus as Karen O’Connell again next year. She has bucket-loads more experience than me. Karen is one of the brightest leaders on the circuit, and she has worn more hats than my closet has room for. But she always made me feel like my opinion mattered. Karen always made time to talk with me, and to make note of what I was doing in my classroom. I know she did this when she had a ‘todo list,’ long enough to rival a boa, but she did it anyway.
That’s why I take on the reading suggestions of my students. That’s why I prompt my students to talk to one another, and to consult with each other more than they consult with me. That’s why we use the Harkness Table Talk method, and why I try to listen to them way more than they need to listen to me. The ‘Karen-effect’ is all about making sure that power is not the primary objective of the learning environment.
How does ‘the karen-effect’ apply to schools at large?
No matter the size of your school, it is important to remember that all schools can learn from joining the open-staff-room platform of Twitter. The ICT Evangelist recently posted on how to get started as a tweeting school, full text available here. It isn’t just about learning from other schools, it is also learning about your own school:
I am a firm believer in sharing the great things that happen within a school. There are times when schools need to share time-sensitive or pertinent information with parents. This could be done via the school website, but as busy people, how often does your parent community check the site? In these social media times, schools should be putting themselves where their community are, and not just on Twitter. Parents also use Facebook, Google+ and Instagram and some will just prefer good old-fashioned email. Schools should be capitalising upon this and not just leaving it to chance that parents might see an update to the school website.
There are a number of schools doing this, and doing it very, very well:
Check out #SISrocks from Shekou International School:
— Liz Cho (@cho_liz) April 22, 2016
Check out #NISTmakerspace from the New International School of Thailand
— Glenn Davies (@GCD28) March 18, 2016
Check out #uwclearn from United World College of South East Asia
— Janine Slaga (@SenzaSordina) April 13, 2016
(Hash)Tag, are you it?
For the past year and a half, a few in my department have been using #eagleenglish as a subject-wide #, but we’ve been missing out on the magic that happens when you open up a # to the entire community. Our school crosses over three campuses, and could really benefit from more collaborative discussions. High school teachers have much to learn from their primary school counterparts.
Digital Citizenship has much to gain from an authentic playing field. The student council Twitter account from my previous school did so much to get #mightmacans thriving. The former StuCo president has been on Twitter since 2009, and now at university, she still blogs, she’s still ever the beacon for fellow students (#lifelonglearner), oh, and she’s about to read her 600th book on Goodreads. Connected learners make connections long after they leave your campus.
So here’s my pitch. I’ll publish this post in just a few minutes, then I’ll be sure to share it, and I’ll intentionally share it with current colleagues. Our school mascot is the eagle. I googled what a group of eagles is called, and I’m chuffed to find out it is called a convocation. What radder title for a school-wide, all stakeholders welcomed hashtag? Maybe #wingspand is better? I’ll leave it to them. Yes, let’s keep the VLE, it is a great launch pad. For those excited about broader connections, perhaps those already experimenting, or someone who has read the Edutopia article linked below, we need to make sure we are extending as well as supporting. Do we need a new #? The current one is underused—or do we just need to reboot and throw a little kindling on the current one? How can we use Twitter to spark broader conversations about our school-wide goal this year? Could we use it as a way to crowd-source for resources and best practice?
Our schools and districts don’t have all the answers. Connecting with others doing the same work for kids can help us develop a strong PLN, strengthen the skills of any administrative team, stay current with the latest research and publications, and keep the conversation going from conferences, in-services and informal dialogue. For example, a colleague recently wondered how principals in Finland evaluated teachers. The answer and multiple resources came moments after this person tweeted a question with the #finnedchat hashtag attached.
Schools in 2016 need those casual hour long in person chats every bit as much as they need the interaction with ‘outsiders,’ because as far as learning goes, we need to be as inclusive as we possibly can. If we truly believe we have the potential to deal with global issues, we need to start by hearing what the world has to say. ‘Tis the season of Spring Cleaning, ready to do some mental dusting?
FLICKR + CREATIVE COMMONS= Better Blogging for the world. Thank you for making the following images available in this post.
Lucho Molina Slinky
Kathryn Hile Brooms
michaelangelo francis ripples
Mathieu Jarry equality
Nicole Beaulac Bald Eagle