Leading Through Choice #edcampldr #semicolonEDU

And it turns out that tribes (not money, not factories) can change our world, can change politics, that can align large numbers of people. Not because you force them to do something against their will. But because they wanted to connect. – Seth Godin from Tribes

When you think about schools, do you think about Tribes? Do you think about small groups of people, passionate about an idea, cause, or subject working together to move forward and make radical changes? Do you think about fast-paced decisions made towards a solution, and quickly re-grouping when failures happen? Do you see a vision of self-starters connecting with first followers to organize around a movement?

I’ll tell you what, when I first got into education as a teacher, this was the exact opposite of how I viewed schools. I saw them as the “established” and “methodical” institutions that relied heavily on past practices (not that there is anything inherently wrong with that).

About four years into my career as a teacher, something happened. It started small. I got on Twitter. I began reading blogs and articles from teachers and leaders. I started blogging about my experience in the classroom. I met colleagues from around the country and world. I began attending conferences, sessions, and partaking in conversations.

Once I got out of my bubble, I realized two things:

First, there are so many teachers and leaders who want to be the change they wish to see in education.

Second, many of these people are banding together to start a movement.

As a teacher, I didn’t necessarily think about being a “leader” in my work. I wasn’t the department chair. Heck, I floated from classroom to classroom my first two years teaching high school. But once I was able to connect with other teachers online, there seemed a number of ways to lead through learning.

  • I banded together with a group of 20% Time and Genius Hour teachers to push the idea of inquiry-based and passion-driven learning experiences for all children.
  • I was part of a group blog experiment called Education Is My Life.
  • I got started in small things like “The Summer of Twitter” and the “20% Time in Education MOOC” and global projects with the Flat Classroom Project.

Each of these experiences showed me that leadership – in its wide variety of forms – is driven by choice.

Leading Through Choice

This week I was blown away by two specific movements in education. Edcamp Leadership (@EdCampLdr #edcampldr) happened this Monday and I was able to be at the Philadelphia site. But it didn’t matter where you were physically for Edcamp Leadership, what mattered was that you could participate from anywhere.

The 15+ locations across the world had leaders from all areas of education, talking, collaborating and pushing each other to think differently about teaching and learning. As Joe Mazza, one of the leaders of Edcamp Leadership said to our group of 150+, “Today is about sharing around the world with each other, not just in these rooms.” The hashtag #edcampldr grew to the #6 ranked trend in the US and #notatedcampldr had people who were not at the Edcamps sharing throughout the day.

This movement was created by leaders who choose to do something. They were not forced into creating this experience and helping it get off the ground, instead it was their choice.

The next day, Tuesday of this week, #semicolonEDU took off. Again Joe Mazza and Nick Provenzano, lead the way by sharing their personal stories of depression, and asking educators to support the movement. Here’s what Nick said on his blog prior to Tuesday:

A few weeks ago, I came across Project Semicolon. According to their website, “Project Semicolon (The Semicolon Project) is a faith-based non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire.” This really caught my attention, but this quote really struck the Nerdy English Teacher in me. “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

I’ve never had thoughts of self harm or suicide, but I have had friends take their life. I’ve known students who have taken their life. It has always been painful to see these special people make these decisions. I will always feel like I could have done something. What if I shared my story earlier? What if they knew I battled the same demons they did? Ever since I came out about my battle with depression, I’ve committed myself to being more vocal in support of mental health issues. I’ve connected with so many people who have reached out to share their story it has helped me in my battle.

I’ve been so happy to see people start to speak up regarding Mental Health. Joe Mazza shared his battle with depression during a great a TEDx talk at TEDxYouth@BHS and has written a beautiful post on it as well. An amazing young lady named Bryn also shared her story. Sharing the story is important. More people need to hear these stories to help spread a better understanding of what dealing with depression and anxiety is like.

That choice is hard. It is difficult to open up and share your own story, but it is also so empowering for others. I know we’ve all been impacted in some way (even if it isn’t you personally) with family or friends that have battled depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Look through this Storify to see the amazing pictures, words, and blog posts teachers and educators have been sharing on this topic: #semicolonEDU Relections.

What Choice Will You Make

I’ve written a lot about how we need to give our students choice and ownership in their learning experience. I believe for many of us as educators we can decide whether or not we want to lead. It is a choice.

Will you make the choice to get connected to other educators and get outside your bubble? Will you make the choice to write and share about your experiences? Will you make the choice to open up and lead, even if it is uncomfortable?

I know for me, I often struggle to write about personal topics. I tend to shy away from going too deep into my own life or story. I tend to stay overly positive (which is often my personality). But what I don’t want to do is hide those important stories and moments that deserved to be shared and explored. I have to make the choice to do that this year, and this week has shown me that wonderful things can happen when we open up and lead.

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  • My ; came at the final year of university when anxiety over ‘succeeding’ and ‘reaching my potential’ shattered me every day. At the smallest obstacle I’d burst into tears. Ashamed, I tried to hide it. Eventually someone asked “have you thought about getting help” so I went to the university counselling clinic. That’s when she said “See a Doctor for anxiety pills” which would make me normal enough for the final weeks of education. That was my wake-up call. I didn’t need pills -some people do and that’s fine, but in my heart I knew I did not. Instead of drugs I took my firsts and prizes from the top university and turned my back on any further formal education. What I’ve learnt since has blown my mind. I’m thinking now like never before in all my high-flying hard-working student days. Following blogs like AJ’s, talking with writers and contributing to a real field is all I ever needed. Now I’ll support any educator who’s trying Genius Hour. How I wish we’d had that space and freedom at school!

  • The choice to open up about your life or struggles is fraught with fear, anxiety, and embarrassment. The fact is that no one really cares about the private things you share. Readers are thinking about themselves and finding ways to connect with what you write. Making the choice to share yourself lowers the barrier to connecting and forming Tribes. As Joe and Nick are demonstrating with #semicolonEDU, shame is an obstacle that we desperately need to get past to make progress in education and life. Blogging and writing, sometimes about my life, has been rewarding and scary at times. But the benefit of connecting with my tribe is priceless. I wouldn’t trade it.

  • […] few weeks ago I wrote about “Leadership as a choice” we make. When we choose to share our opinions, experiences, and insight we thrust ourselves […]

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