We’re All Doing Something…But What are We All Doing Together?

It seems everywhere I turn change is happening in schools. I read articles about technology initiatives, new standards, education reform, no tests, more tests, opt out, opt in, no homework, more homework, longer school days, shorter school days, LMS, MOOCs, blended learning, new apps, Google Apps, big data, social media, PLNs, education conferences (there is a lot), and the list goes on and on.

Now, more than ever before, there seems to be a groundswell of individuals, organizations, and institutions that are pushing education forward.

This is a good thing.

I’ve been one of those individuals advocating for student choice, inquiry-based learning, 20% time, Genius Hour, brain-friendly learning spaces, technology integration, 1:1 programs, gamified professional development, and so on. I believe in everything that I’ve advocated for…and I’ve done it, written about it, and shared.

This is also a good thing.

Now, in a new role as an administrator, I’m trying to see the forest from the trees. I’m trying to be in the “echo-chamber” and also on the fringe hearing what others have to say.

I’ve done this at other times in my life, but really taken some time to think about the big picture of education, and where we are headed vs. where we think we are headed.

All of the pushing and little changes matter. It seems we are all doing something…

My question is: What are we all doing together?

The “why” may differ slightly, but usually it comes back to “make a better learning experience for our students” (at least I hope it comes back to that reason).

But the “what we are doing” is fragmented. It’s scattered. I’m afraid that we’ll tread water, instead of pushing up stream, if we don’t swim together.

Is the role of K-12 education to prepare our kids for college? For careers? For life?

Or is the role of K-12 education to give our students as many opportunities and choices in their learning path once they leave our schools?

I want to look back and know that this current generation of teachers and leaders fought to make a better learning experience for our students. I want to look back and see how many doors have been opened for so many students because of the risks we all took and changes we pushed for…

When we come together, powerful things happen. Look at how Twitter has transformed connecting and collaborating between educators around the world. Look at how EdCamp has disrupted and improved professional development from the ground up. Look at how blogging has redefined the sharing of best and next practices.

Each of these changes started small. Then gained the support of hundreds and thousands of educators.

So, what’s next?

We’ve changed connecting and collaborating forever. We’ve changed professional development forever. We’ve changed sharing best practices forever.

I know myself. I’m a starter. I tend to start more projects that I can manage. I tend to have more ideas than I have time to think about them.

But sometimes, I need to be a first follower instead of a starter. My challenge to you is simple: What movement can we join to make real change like the examples I’ve used above?

 

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  • Kimberly Goh says:

    That is a thought-provoking question, AJ. I think of how Angela Maiers keeps on reminding us that the “genius IS the room.” But there are still a large percentage of educators in America who aren’t even part of the conversation – perhaps because it mainly takes place on Twitter. I imagine these “not-yet-connected” teachers and administrators feel intimidated because they don’t understand how to read and write our “language.” To the novice, Twitter looks almost like computer code, and there is no easily accessible translator.

    I hope to see more people who are fluent in Twitter remember what it feels like to be a beginner, and to find new ways to reach across the digital divide. If we can help that missing part of the room become a part of the conversation, change will happen more smoothly, and they may provide some critical missing pieces to the puzzle. The Connected Educator books, the TweechMe App, and #nt2t are all great examples of the “experts” reaching out. But often we get frustrated when unconnected educators resist using Twitter. We might think they are being stubborn and technophobic, but I suspect the problem might be a lack of “language scaffolding” and bias on both our parts. To borrow some concepts from the change management book “Switch,” maybe we need to shrink the change and shape the path.

    I wonder if this might be another instance where educators could learn from what happening in business. In the business world there is a renewed interest in Facebook because the fastest growing demographic on that platform are women ages 55 and up. These are people who may have previously resisted social media, but now view it as a good way to reconnect with friends. In my observation, most teachers and administrators are active on Facebook these days, even if they not on Twitter. So I wondered, could we meet them where they are already comfortable, and use Facebook as scaffolding to help them learn to engage in the broader conversation?

    This thought first came to me as I watched Scott Bedley lead an Ed Camp Home discussion over the summer. The topic was how schools could better connect with families when there was a cultural / economic divide. He observed that many of these parents had bad experiences with school themselves as children, so they were uncomfortable coming on campus to meet the teachers. His solution? He and his staff went out into those neighborhoods and homes to “meet the parents where they already are.”

    I’ve noticed that many educators who use Twitter for PD seem to dismiss Facebook as a beginner’s tool, a purely social network, almost as a gossip column. Or perhaps because digital leaders live their lives so publicly on Twitter, blogs and Google+, they want to reserve Facebook for their private lives, their real friends that they actually know in person. That is very understandable, because there is very little private space online these days. But it seemed to me we may be missing an opportunity to use Facebook to reach the not-yet-connected. So I started looking for experts who were using Facebook in a different way.

    What I saw was very mixed. Many digital leaders have their Tweets show up on their Facebook page, but that doesn’t solve the translation problem for the novice. Facebook posts are by nature expected to be more like English, because they aren’t limited to 140 characters – so automatically generated, untranslated Tweets don’t seem very friendly. Angela Maiers, Kevin Honeycutt and Vicki Davis all seem to use Facebook very effectively and have intentionally made themselves visible and accessible to the public on that platform. They make many of their posts “public”, write the posts specifically for a facebook audience, and/or they have set up publicly viewable pages. Todd Nesloney is very active on Facebook, as he is using it to connect to his new staff and community at Navasota, but a person who doesn’t personally know him has to work up the courage to send him a friend request in order to see what he posts because his posts aren’t public.

    I recently started an experiment. My Stretch Education facebook page is completely open to the public, and I’m gathering short videos, nuggets of information and blog posts from the experts that I think might be appealing and helpful to educators who are just starting out their digital leadership journey. I don’t want to overwhelm them with too many options or techno-speak, because sometimes too much information or choice can be intimidating. It is easiest for me to find and share information from experts who are using facebook to provide PD (so of course, I’d like to know if you might be open tailoring some of your material for facebook too).

    I’ve had some engagement from the public, but it is slow going because I am fairly unknown. My hope is that at some point, connected principals and technology leaders might perceive Stretch Education as a launching point for their teachers to learn about Twitter and other digital tools, and encourage them to give it a try. Or that by being a part of the conversation, I might help someone else come up with a better solution to bring the rest of the room on board. There is so much knowledge being generated and shared on Twitter, that to the novice it is like drinking from a fire hose. You have done some very innovative work by using the blogging model to give away information for free via email, but what we’re observing in the business world is that some people are beginning to feel inundated with email and are turning to facebook and other platforms as an alternate way of consuming information.

    I’m not quite sure why I have been been put into a position to even be writing this message to you. I will be the first to say I am not a technology expert. My background is more in organizational design, change management and business trends (I read books like “Switch”,”Good to Great”, “The Multiplier Effect” and “Drive” for fun). But I do care very deeply about education, and I have great respect for what today’s digital leaders are trying to do. I hope to be able to help this process along, amplify important messages, and help bring more novices in contact with the experts. You have been one of those experts that I’ve learned from as I’ve observed you in action and read your words – so I thought I’d reach out to you and say I think you’re right: we do need to swim together, but we also need to get the not-yet-connected folks into the pool.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Thanks for this comment, it is an awesome analysis! I’ve got to get on Facebook more, but I think there are other ways to get them in the pool just like you said!

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