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 1st Annual “What if” Summit

If I have learned anything from my online engagement up to now, it is this: Dare to think and dream BIG. Here’s my most recent BIG dream project: a “what if” summit of education thinkers and doers.  In my mind’s eye I have collected some outstanding thinkers in education around the table and asked them to spend a day together in dialogue. (There is also top-notch catering, a wonderfully comfortable and inviting meeting space and everyone has time, energy and enthusiasm to make it happen.)

Here’s my guest list:

Aleta Margolis and the Center for Inspired Teaching

The original “Instigator of Thought,” Aleta heads up the Center for Inspired Teaching which trains and certifies teachers to work in DC public and charter schools. Teaching fellows sign on for a 5 year commitment to not only teach using inquiry based methods but also to become change makers wherever they are active.

Terry Heick and the TeachThought staff is my favorite go-to space for wise and nuanced expression of ideas and trends in and around current and future education. Director Terry Heick regularly stretches my thinking through his insightful and sometimes counterintuitive blog posts.

Elena Aguilar and her Art of Coaching practice

Elena Aguilar is a tireless visionary and champion of school transformation which features equity, community, authenticity at every level and stage of education’s complex mosaic.

Grant Lichtman and the expanse of his tremendous Learning Pond:

Grant Lichtman spends months on the road visiting schools around the country and engaging each unique community in dialogue around what truly matters in education: what is best for kids when, how, where, why. Posing the right and most meaningful questions to all stakeholders including students (!) features strongly in his work.

As hostess, I, Sherri Spelic, get to moderate and be the “Chief Listener.” And because this is my dream and it’s so big, everyone is invited to hold this chat in Vienna, Austria (my home base) and spend the rest of the week enjoying the city and/or other spots of interest in the vicinity, all expenses paid. (Hard to say no to that!)

Here are some of the questions I would love to hear the group explore:

  • What are the big thoughts that are foremost in your mind right now regarding education?
  • What are you working on right now?
  • Each of you has demonstrated a willingness to engage in “What if…” thinking in your practice and writing.  What are the benefits of this approach in our conversations around education and its future?
  • Where have you seen and experienced successful models of student and teacher learning and engagement?
  • What were some common characteristics of those experiences?
  • What are you learning from each other today?
  • Who else would you appreciate having here to participate in this dialogue?
  • What other questions should we be exploring and investigating?
  • What’s next?

What if I could get these remarkable voices In the same room and we could listen to the dialogue and join in at turns?  What kinds of learning could take place?  What new networks might emerge?  What surprises might we encounter?   I recently tweeted: “meaningful conversation fuels the soul.” This dream meeting of the minds has that aspiration, too: to fuel the souls of all those who choose to engage in this significant work.

What if..?