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.

The conversation is happening

 

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Pixabay.com

Yesterday as I scrolled through my twitter feed one tweet led me to a blog post by Gino Bondi, “What Questions are You Asking?”  In this post he writes,”The real work, the elbows deep in learning stuff, is in leading the potentially difficult conversations around what learning should look like.”  This struck me as a truism I wanted to hold onto.  “Difficult conversations” is the piece that really resonated. Changing education ultimately is about each of us changing ourselves – our beliefs, our assumptions, our practices.  That is what makes the process so daunting, so slow, so dang hard. And yet, there’s hope. There’s action. There’s movement.

On the same evening, I began reading Pernille Ripp’s recent response to the huge reaction to her post suggesting that public behavior charts are not effective in the classroom and should be removed in favor of emphasizing strong relationship and community building.  If you follow her blog, you’ll know that she is a 5th grade classroom teacher who shares a whole spectrum of experiences – great, lousy, and in-between – of teaching, learning and being. Through her writing I have come to appreciate her as an honest, passionate and humble educator.  And brave.

With Pernille’s original post about getting rid of behavior charts she ignited a hefty debate and received some very emotionally charged responses to her suggestion. She included some of the negative responses in the more recent post. There are some strong feelings out there for sure which also demonstrate that the concrete stuff (i.e., behavior charts) often carries more weight in people’s minds than the abstractions of re-envisioning school (i.e., innovation).  In the comment section,  Angela Watson provides some excellent insights as to why some teachers may be reacting so fiercely.  She encourages those who can relate to some of the reasons she offers to read Pernille’s new book which explains the process behind the behavior chart suggestion and others.

The conversation is happening.  Thank you,  Pernille Ripp, for taking a stand and taking the heat after the fact.  I greatly admire your willingness to start and continue the conversation.  For those educators who felt offended and misunderstood, I appreciate the fact that 1) you are connected and reading views which do not mirror your own.  And 2) that you are  brave and engaged enough to let your dissenting opinion be known to a wider public.  Dissent is vitally important to doing this work of changing education and ourselves in the process.  Conflict is uncomfortable and difficult and often our feelings are at risk of getting hurt. And yet, when we are willing to listen, take others’ perspectives and look for the opportunity to learn – THAT is when the real change, the real transformation can begin.  It is when we bring our whole selves to the table – our beliefs, our assumptions, our practices – that we can make the changes within to bring about the needed changes in our classrooms, schools and systems.

Let’s have those conversations. We’ll all be better for it.

Call – Connection – Response

As often happens when a link catches my eye through a twitter referral, I “click” and am suddenly immersed in another’s thoughts while mingling them with my own.  Today I read two posts nearly back to back.  The first, written by a freshly retired English teacher (http://teacherbiz.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/guest-post-my-mom-a-retired-english-teacher-reflects-on-recent-changes-in-education/), lamented the significant human losses which seem tied to increasingly rigid reform efforts in education.  There was, on the one hand, the tremendous authenticity of Mrs. Jolley’s voice and on the other, the very sad truths she was relaying through poignant vignettes and clear-eyed observation.

Shortly following that I found myself caught in another lament, this time not directly related to education but to a wider social phenomenon: facebook (http://pernillesripp.com/2013/12/30/facebook-the-great-disconnector). Pernille Ripp takes a stark look at her facebook engagement to date and finds it lacking – in depth, texture and the nuance of more authentically sustained relationships.  She refrains from blaming the medium or true facebook fans and questions exactly what it is she is missing along the way. And from that reflection she resolves to renew important relationships with more face to face contact, letter writing and phoning.

What’s interesting here for me is the emotional impact of both posts on me.  In both cases I felt moved, touched and very grateful for the eloquence and bravery of those who are able to write honestly and passionately about what matters.  In short, I experienced resonance.  In both cases, there was a call to listen – hear the story, try on this perspective.  Both authors made this step both compelling and easy for me.  In reading, I gained a sense of connection.  I empathized, became curious, wished to learn and hear more from these teachers. And then, there was the response: first a feeling turned thought trajectory and now a blog post.  Call – connection – response: A process, a mental-emotional happening, an experience with legs.  As I continue my engagement with social media, this process will be a template I will want to bear in mind.

Many thanks to Pernille Ripp and Susan Jolley for the inspiration!