Knowing What Resonates

Although I have always been an enthusiastic reader, the variety, pace and range of reading that I do now astounds me. After one year of full intellectual contact with online media, I see distinct patterns emerging that determine which content will likely earn a favorite star or be retweeted to my co-learners/explorers.  Five distinct characteristics stand out:

1. I value authors who show their humanity in a palatable and potentially endearing way. No strip tease or outrageous confessions, just individuals who can describe their struggles and victories with a degree of humility, grace and often humor. Pernille Ripp does this extremely well whether she’s writing about her classroom or her living room, it’s all very real and reflective without being creepy. John Spencer (@edrethink) also has knack for thoughtful sharing that is personal and often professionally relevant.

2. System skeptics will inherit the earth even though it’s not really what they wanted in the first place. My heart beats for these perpetual disrupters; the folks who shake their heads, fists or both at the prevailing order and write, write, write, making others uncomfortable with their unforgiving questioning.  Divergent thinking, floating alternatives, and leaving nothing sacred are the hallmarks of this unquiet riot. One of my favorite education system skeptics is Terry Heick. His posts at TeachThought often require 2 or 3 read-throughs in order for me to take in the full depth of his arguments. Raising questions like “What is quality?” or “What’s Best for Kids?” demands a capacity for big picture thinking coupled with an appreciation for the supporting details that make it all go. Grant Lichtman is another agitator for change who has mapped out some very real options for alternative routes in his book, EdJourney.

3. The polemicists.  These authors take debatable positions and in doing so invite discussion with and among readers.  Although I am not a fan of formal debate, when I read an article or blog post that touches a nerve, then I also read a number of comments to get a sense of how others have responded. This practice has truly invigorated my reading in unexpected ways. Having a window into other people’s thinking about the same text has touched off some tremendous learning on my part. And it has allowed me to discover my own comment voice. Tom Whitby of edu fame tends to take strong positions especially with regard to educators and their need to get connected in order to remain relevant.  I agree with him on many points and  I have also disagreed with an idea or two. What is new is that I now take the liberty of speaking up, either in the comment section or even in a separate blog post.  And that experience of daring to hold and also publicly share a dissenting opinion has been both liberating and empowering. Learning to disagree without becoming disagreeable has broadened and sharpened my thinking.  Also check out Jose Vilson for his powerful arguments and the way he addresses opposing views; business and art in the same post.

4. Clarity of purpose and encouragement as a professional mission will get me every time. Two experts who emulate this  are Elena Aguilar and Angela Watson. Both are authors in the educational realm and  each offers unique means to help educators find their inner resources to sustain and grow their practice.  Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd) also does an amazing job of appreciating and acknowledging his school community even as he spreads that positive
impact around the world. He is clear about his purpose and it shows. I think he must have one of the highest good news quotients on twitter. Worth following.  And sometimes I just stop by cult of pedagogy because Jennifer Gonzales is so remarkably  gracious and personable in all her communications even as she offers tons of resources to make the teaching life better and better.

5. Beauty
When I catch beautiful writing in its tracks, I try to admire it for longer but it always slips away. That’s why it’s such an intense encounter when it happens, like a sudden kiss. Beauty can be funny, come-as-you-are, full of surprise, wearing a hint of mystery – the point is, I never know where beauty will appear – in which post, on which platform, from which author. A short story like this can change my day with the laughter it unleashes.  Sometimes, it’s a picture or a short video, just something that reminds me how amazing this whole “inhabiting the planet earth” narrative is day after day, hour by hour.

Why It Is Unlikely That I Will Ever Become a Curriculum Guru

pixabay.com
pixabay.com

Most of the 20+ years that I have taught have been dedicated to elementary Physical Education.  When I am in the gym, scrambling to shift and adjust equipment between classes, playing my eclectic mix of 70’s –  90’s pop, and doing a cartwheel on my way to pick up the next class, then I am in my element.  Once the kids arrive and I’m responding to a series of requests and questions all within the first 30 seconds while I try to get everyone moving as soon as possible, then I reconnect with the gritty reality of how many decisions in a single class period? and remind myself, this is a choice.  Teaching is so familiar to me. I have earned my 10,000 hours of practice and while there’s still so much to learn and certainly to improve, I feel at home in my methods, my philosophy, and in my commitment to doing right by kids.

Down the road and to the left of my day-to-day teaching are those conceptual edifices: curriculum and standards, scope and sequences, benchmarks, exit criteria; essential questions and enduring understandings, and so on. They hold their ground and need constant refurbishing.  Where they stand in relationship to me and my teaching and student learning can confuse me on occasion.  Of course, there need to be  structures for determining what we are teaching, why we are teaching it at all, and how it should be taught.  This makes sense to me. There needs to be *a plan based on students’ needs; a way of deciding how those multiple and varied needs will be met in achieving the desired learning outcomes.  Accepted.

As one would expect, my colleague and I create a road plan of what topics we intend to cover with each grade level every year. We have objectives, a clear time frame in which to fulfill those objectives, and we have a wealth of lesson plans and activities to get us where we believe (and our curriculum says)  our students need to go. Great.

And yet, whenever we sit down and are presented again with fresh standards and their intended outcomes – pages and pages of color-coded charts, loaded with text and cleverly notated with abbreviations like: S1E7 24, well then, I have to admit, my eyes glaze over and I wish I could be doing something, anything else, but this.  Although the conversations my colleagues and I  get into over the categorization and terminology  of our craft are stimulating  and often charged, most of us also struggle with the process of documenting and (ultimately justifying) our inventory.

What’s funny about this situation is that I’m a language lover.  I can formulate and reformulate until the cows come home. Wordsmithing is second nature.  When it comes to curriculum writing and mapping, however,  I would be your girl, if only it excited me enough. And sadly, curriculum design and standards alignment, just do not do it for me. Yet. Participating in the conversations, having the need for the “refurbishing” process explained to me once again, and engaging with the material – these all have value.  Even so, I feel like a very impatient middle-schooler while sitting in that room, folding and unfolding my arms while I try my best to appear focused in front of my peers.

Becoming a connected educator has helped me to appreciate that although this post feels embarrassingly confessional, like I’m telling a dirty little secret, there are probably at least a few folks out there who can empathize. I am connected and therefore not alone. And there may be someone out there who will say, “Hey, I hear you and I can help!”  Perhaps there’s someone out there who can say: “here’s how I learned to make that process work for me.” Because I don’t want to shut out the possibility.  I never used to eat cheese and now I enjoy mozzarella.  I know that I can learn and change.

While it does seem highly unlikely that I will ever become a curriculum guru, I do intend to continue becoming a better teacher.  Being and staying connected with my diverse and highly engaged Personal Learning Network (PLN) means that I have every opportunity to keep working at just that.

 

 

*”a plan, based on children’s needs” – maybe that’s where my disconnect originates – I’m not always sure that standards and curriculum are truly developed with kids’ diverse needs in mind. That’s a conversation for another post.

The Disconnect amid so much Connection

Just recently I willingly labeled myself a “lurker” in order to describe my social media engagement as an educator.  A lurker is someone who reads, follows, observes online conversations and postings and chooses not to publicly engage by producing output.  I adopted the term because I felt that it best captured my own approach to this (for me) relatively new realm of professional and personal learning. https://edifiedlistener.wordpress.com/2013/10/05/lurking-listening-and-proud-of-it/

Here’s the thing: As I read more and more posts concerning how to get more educators connected, the best way to initiate the uninitiated and essentially how to get more folks to jump on said bandwagon, I’m getting a little frustrated.  I think it’s the labeling we are using to frame the dialogue: connected vs. unconnected or semi-connected, initiated vs. uninitiated.  After reading these terms I have essentially asked myself: What’s the price of admission?  At what level of output do I get to call myself “connected”?  How many tweets until I become “a really useful educator”?  It seems to me that the purpose embedded in so many labels serves to determine exactly this.  If I make enough of my learning public through particular online forums (of which there are many, many), then I get to officially board the bandwagon and become its latest new ambassador.

While thinking (and getting all worked up) about this topic, I realized how much I long for a different tack in the conversation. As educators our most significant connection is, and remains, to our students. We connect through the care, concern, and respect we show each of our students every day.  We connect when we reach out to parents and communicate our hopes, expectations and desire for partnership in developing our young people.  We connect in the way we share and collaborate with our colleagues across the hall, upstairs, in the next grade level, or even on the other side of town.  We connect with our craft whenever we experiment with new ideas, take risks in our approaches and recognize our weak points.  When we co-opt a term as broad as “connected” to define a fairly narrow range of activities and behaviors, we do ourselves and our colleagues a disservice.  We create the “us and them” divide before we even can begin the conversation.

Tom Whitby argues in his latest post that

Connected educators may be the worst advocates for getting other educators to connect. Too often they are so enthusiastic at how, as well as how much they are learning through being connected, that they tend to overwhelm the uninitiated, inexperienced, and unconnected educator with a deluge of information that both intimidates and literally scares them to death. http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/patience-for-the-unconnected/

He may well be right. I appreciate his recognition that educators new to social media may be hard pressed to comprehend the fervor of some, yet I can’t help but chafe at the insinuation (in this post and others) that the “unconnected” among us represent so much lack in our whole education system. That may not be the intent yet I feel that sentiment come through again and again.

Come on, educators! We can do better than this! We can be enthusiastic about our turbo learning and wear our merit badges of connection and still remember that every time we divide ourselves, we lose more than we gain. Our “unconnected” colleague down the hall is still, first and foremost, our colleague with whom we share kids and a school community.  We need to always be in the business of supporting each other in striving to serve kids and doing our best with what we have. Let’s stay connected and let’s address the core of the topic: how do we help each other achieve our professional best?  Whether in person, on the phone, by e-mail, or online, let our connection, above all, be human, compassionate and genuine.

 

 

Lurking, listening and proud of it

This post is a shout out to a fellow educator whose thoughtful insights on what it means to be “connected” helped me put my own professional/personal online activities into context.  I first encountered an article by Rafranz Davis in the following way:

A twitter link posted by Tom Whitby on Oct. 2nd led me to a blog post celebrating CEM (Connected Educator Month)  by Stephanie Sandifer which lists a number of articles written by prominent and perhaps not so prominent connected educators (http://ed421.com/?p=3068).  That’s where I found Rafranz’s article on edSurge: “Connected, Lurking, and Listening” https://www.edsurge.com/n/2013-09-24-connected-lurking-and-listening

In this eloquent article she describes those educators who read, follow,  take in and experiement with what social media forums such as twitter and the many related chat groups offer but who do not yet actively contribute. These folks are termed: “lurkers.”  Her point is that educators who are not out there tweeting and blogging to beat the band can and do benefit from the myriad possibilities to seek out new perspectives, special expertise and the comfort of shared stories, even if they themselves are not yet joining the conversation or creating output.  And here the emphasis is on “yet.”  Rafranz offers readers insight into her own path to full connectedness and also illustrates how many of her colleagues discovered their own paths in learning to make use of their online learning for the benefit of students.

This post spoke to me so directly because it captures where I see myself: I am a social media lurker when it come to topics educational. My twitter feed has become a genuine fountain of ideas and worthy perspectives which I enjoy sharing per e-mail with colleagues and friends as the situation fits.  Occasionally I will retweet something out to my 4 (!) followers but that doesn’t have the same priority.  My own blog posts show up in my twitter feed but if anyone arrives there I think it is largely by accident.  And all of that is completely OK.  I didn’t enter the twitter stream to become a big fish.  I wanted to find out what all the positive fuss was about.  Now at least I have a good inkling and I look forward to making the most of my lurker/listener existence.  Am I a connected educator? Sure.  And I am happy to say for the time being I feel connected enough.

I also want to add that the notion of being connected enough is one I have been wrestling with based on some of the more prominent voices in the educational twitterverse.  In some cases I felt discouraged because I wasn’t tweeting up a storm and widening my online reach, although that aspect of online presence still does not interest me.  This is yet another reason that Rafranz’s voice arrived at just the right time to remind us all that there are many roads to learning and expanding our professional repertoire.  And good, deep listening is a piece of the communication puzzle that is so often left to chance and allowed to founder.  Lurker/listeners have a significant role to play in the educational commons were create daily.  I am proud to be among them.

Thank you, Rafranz, for the words of encouragement and boost of confidence.