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.
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.