Whether you look at this quote from the perspective of an individual, or an organization, it is important to understand that if we are to grow in any area, the willingness to learn is crucial. Not only is it important to learn, but to apply that learning, and be willing to be focused and persistent in application.
Yet it is easy to want shortcuts that we believe will lead to success, or to hope that we can jump simply upon the success of others. When I first started on Twitter, I remember constantly nagging my brother who already had developed a network to tweet out my posts, and the first couple of times he did, but then he sent me a message. He told me that if he simply shared what I wrote with what he had established, that people would know that I didn’t earn what I had received. Was my focus on getting my work seen, or to do good work?
What I believe is that if you do quality work, consistently, people will see it, and opportunities will arise. But there are two keys here; quality and consistency. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have bad days, or things will be “less than” at some points, but it is persistence at a high quality, that will start to open doors. We should not only look at the success of others, but try to learn what were the things they did that made them successful in the first place. I can look at people that are in great shape, but wanting to be in great shape doesn’t make it so; I have to learn and apply on a consistent basis what they did to get to that point. It might be harder for me, it might take longer than what I would hope, but without learning and applying, it won’t happen.
…he told the story of how one summer his dad tore down a brick wall in front of their family business and then told 12 year old Will and his 9 year old brother to rebuild it. They told their dad that it was impossible. He told them to do it. It took them a year and a half, but they did it. Upon completion Will’s dad said to his sons, “Now don’t you ever tell me there’s something that you can’t do.” In the interview Will said these words, “You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’ You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.”
At the organizational level, this same level of thinking applies. Although it is important to understand new opportunities that exist for our students, we have to learn to narrow our focus, and have the patience to focus on depth, not just embrace the next “new thing” as it comes along.
Simply put, the one quality that all successful people have, whatever the endeavour is that they aim to be successful in, is the patience and willingness to learn while applying that learning on a consistent basis. Do that with a focused persistence, and sooner than you think, you will start achieving the progress you seek.
Katie Martin and I have become very good friends over the past few years. We seem to be passionate about many of the same things, yet we both push and support one another. You need those type of people in your life; people who know when to be a “cheerleader”, but also a critical friend. Katie is one of those people to me, and I try to return the favour to her. People like this in your life push you to become better.
In her recent post, “What Are We Really Measuring“, she takes on the complex topic of standardized testing in schools. At the end of her post, she makes a compelling case on why we need to rethink standardized testing:
The Future of Jobs Report describes the urgency to to prepare future workers for the not so distant future. “The talent to manage, shape and lead the changes underway will be in short supply unless we take action today to develop it. For a talent revolution to take place, governments and businesses will need to profoundly change their approach to education, skills and employment, and their approach to working with each other.”
According to the report, the skills that will be in high demand by 2020 are:
Complex Problem Solving
Coordinating with Others
Judgement and Decision Making
The world of work demands individuals embody these skills but our actions in schools still rely on antiquated (and inaccurate) testing practices, which have prevented us from aligning a vision that creates the desired culture and experiences. It’s critical that we rethink why, what, and how we learn in schools for students to thrive in the information economy of today and tomorrow, not yesterday.
Brilliant stuff and makes you really think about not only why we use standardized tests, but what will this lead to for our future students?
But this was not the part that caught my attention. It was the comment right at the beginning:
But it also made me want to read further. This is key.
I remember early on in my career listening to a speaker who is brilliant. They were showing us the latest in technology and the amazing things that were possible in our world today. The speaker was talking in certain formulas, code, etc., and I remember thinking, “That was brilliant but I could never do that.” I did not see myself in that picture.
When I talked to Katie about her post, it was gnawing me why it resonated so much. Simply put, it was “smart and relatable”. I felt a connection to a human reading it, and wanted to read more. The comment about “calling the teacher” made me think, “I used to wonder the same thing!”
Whether you are writing, speaking, teaching, or leading a building, being “relatable” is crucial. If people can’t see themselves in what you are sharing, it doesn’t matter how brilliant the idea is. That personal connection is vital and is the most crucial element in helping others move forward.
I often get the opportunity to work with students and speak to them in large gatherings, which can be tough. Some of the educators that I speak to might know me from my book, blog, or Twitter, but it is rare that students have any clue who I am. Online connections help to build rapport with a lot of people before I speak, but with most students, I am starting at zero. I always try to focus on building rapport with an audience, but large groups of students can be tough, especially when they hear about “social media” from an adult coming to a school. Many students have too often heard the “don’t cyberbully talk”, and from what many of them tell me, they are sick of it. My focus is to help them see what they can do, not on what they shouldn’t do. Schools should not live in a “culture of don’t”, but focus on what’s possible.
That being said, it is not that I ignore cyberbullying completely. What I try to focus on with students is that we never know what is going on the other side of a screen, and what might seem like a meaningless or comment to you, can have a tremendous impact on someone else, either positive or negative. I have felt it and I am not alone. Sometimes I am having a bad day, and a rude comment will come out of nowhere, and it seems like it is piling on. Sometimes I am having a great day, and a rude comment will come out of nowhere, and it seemingly wrecks the rest of the day. Either way it sucks. I do my best to deal with it, but only a select few are impervious to some of these comments they receive. What I tell students whenever I can, is always err on the side of positive. Any person can have an impact, so your best bet is to try and make it a positive one.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t challenge ideas. We should. Yet rapport is important. I have found that when I do not agree with someone, the best way to have a conversation is by asking questions, not making statements. Seek first to understand.
Yet after my latest talk with students, one young woman hung around after. She came up to me to say thank you for my talk, and then revealed that she had been (and still was) being cyberbullied. What started off as a smile, turned into tears on her face, and I did my best to just let her share her story. My heart broke for her, because what seemed meaningless to others, was hurting her so deeply. I gave her some advice, but I asked her if it was okay to give her a hug, to which she replied yes. She cried a little harder, then stopped, thanked me, and went on to class. Her principal watched and checked with me right away to see what happened, and he immediately followed up with her. I realized that part of the reason she felt comfortable telling me in that situation is because I was a stranger to her. It is sometimes easier to be vulnerable to those you may never see again, than those who you see every day and, in your mind, perceive you to be strong.
In my mind, I can’t stop seeing the tears rolling down her face as she told me her story. Is what I saw, what others knew? Now, I know there is always two sides to a story, and I only caught a brief moment of this student, but it was just a reminder to me about how important this work is for ourselves and our students.
A reminder to myself…Always err on the side of positive. We rarely see what is on the other side of the screen, so let’s just do our best to be kind to one another, and work with our kids to do the same. The message of “don’t cyberbully” is not enough; we need to do our best to go out of our way to make a positive impact on the lives of others.
In my opinion, Bruno Mars was one of the most memorable Super Bowl half time shows I have ever seen. I have seen him in concert, and he is an amazing entertainer. When I recently saw this video being shared on Facebook, I had to share it myself.
A couple of things that stuck out to me.
First of all, not only remembering where you come from, but also celebrating it. Listening to Bruno Mars talk about his humble upbringing was quite powerful, especially in how he talked about how important it was that they (his family) had “each other”. It really was a powerful statement.
The second part that stuck out to me was his drive. As someone who is extremely talented, he knows that this talent is developed, and that he can still grow. This insatiable drive to become better is something that I have noticed the most successful people have. Success is measured in many different ways, but the qualities to become successful in any endeavour, are very similar.
This poem (Blessed Unrest) was shared with me recently, and this part stuck out to me:
To become better, we have to have an insatiable drive to so, and the work ethic to match.
We talk often about the importance of “collaboration”, but talking about the impact of an individual is often taboo. Effective collaboration is made up of bringing unique talents of individuals to move a group ahead. It is not about all thinking the same thing, but the strengths of individuals coming together. Collaboration is talked about all of the time, but we forget the importance of the strengths of individuals.
In a conversation I was having with an administrator, they talked about (and not in a condescending way), that many of the positions in education can be replaced. For example, when a second grade teacher leaves, we will need someone to take their place. That being said, I want to try be someone that when I leave a place, there is a void. This doesn’t mean the next person can’t do my job, but they will bring their own unique talents and strengths to the table as well.
There are so many ways this can be done. It does not always mean being the “best teacher”; it can be in how your bring a smile to the faces of people in your organization. It can be some of the conversations that you have with students, that will be sorely missed. True collaboration in organizations brings out and fosters our uniqueness, as well as our similarities. These individual strengths make a stronger whole.
I have been thinking about what being “irreplaceable” means. When you leave, be a void that is felt, not simply filled.
I am an innovative educator and I will continue to ask: “What is best for learners?” With this empathetic approach, I will create and design learning experiences with that question as a starting point.
I believe that my abilities, intelligence, and talents can be developed, leading to the creation of new and better ideas.
I recognize that there are obstacles in education, but as an innovator, I will focus on what is possible today and where I can push to lead towards tomorrow.
I will utilize the tools that are available to me today and I will continue to search for new and better ways to continuously grow, develop and share my thinking, while creating and connecting my learning.
I focus not only on where I can improve, but where I am already strong, and I look to develop those strengths in myself and in others.
I build upon what I already know, but I do not limit myself. I’m open to and willing to embrace new learning, while continuously asking questions that help me move forward.
I question thinking, challenge ideas, and do not accept “this is the way we have always done it” as an acceptable answer for our students or myself.
I model the learning and leadership I seek in others. I take risks and try new things to develop and explore new opportunities. I ask others to take risks in their learning, and I openly model that I’m willing to do the same.
I believe that isolation is the enemy of innovation, and I will learn from others to create better learning opportunities for others and myself.
I connect with others both locally and globally to tap into ideas from all people and spaces. I will use those ideas along with my professional judgement, to adapt the ideas to meet the needs of the learners in my community.
I believe in my voice and experiences, as well as the voice and experiences of others, as they are important for moving education forward.
I share because the learning I create and the experiences I have help others. I share to push my own thinking, and to make an impact on learners, both young and old, all over the world.
I listen and learn from different perspectives, because I know we are much better together than we could ever be alone. I can learn from anyone and any situation.
I actively reflect on my learning, as I know looking back is crucial to moving forward.
Recently, Medford School District in Oregon, shared their take on the “mantra”, by having students and staff, share their own creation. Check it out below:
As I wrote in the book, “If we all embrace this mindset, imagine what education could become.” Although I believe it will take time, as long as we are willing to move forward, and focusing not only embracing change, but creating it, the opportunities are endless.
Thank you Medford School District for putting this video together. It was powerful to see your students and staff sharing together.
John Spencer, a great friend and amazing thinker, has a course on “Design Thinking for Teachers”, that is happening now. I know John is very thoughtful about his work, and has helped many educators embrace “Design Thinking” in their classrooms, in a way that is easy to connect with, yet powerful for students. If you are interested in signing up for the course, please click the following link:
To get a discount for this course, please use the discount code “spencer“, when purchasing.
To learn more about John and his thoughts on innovation in education, empowering students, and how Design Thinking can unleash these things in your students and your classrooms, check out his post below, that was originally posted on his blog.
In a recent post, I wrote about why I want to see students become innovators:
Unfortunately, the system isn’t designed for innovation. For years, schools have been stuck in a one-size-fits-all factory model, where students passively consume content. Some people will point out that this model is outdated. However, I would argue that factory education was a bad idea from the start. Because here’s the thing: kids aren’t widgets.
While one-size-fits-all works great for socks, it’s not ideal for minds. Kids need to dream and wonder and imagine. They need to design and build and tinker. This is why I love design thinking. It’s a flexible framework that guides students through specific phases in the creative process.
What happens when kids become design thinkers?
The following are some of the benefits I have noticed when kids engage in design thinking.
They move from engaged to empowered. Design thinking honors student agency, because they are the ones asking the questions, doing the research, generating ideas, and creating the final product. When they own the creative process, they own their learning.
They become problem-solvers. Real problem-solvers. The kind of problem-solvers who actually create the solutions. It’s not always easy. It can take time. Sometimes they get frustrated by all the mistakes. But by the end, they view themselves as problem-solvers — and this is the kind of self-concept that continues outside of school.
They grow more empathetic. Design thinking begins with a place of humility. You aren’t just making something. You are making something that serves an audience. This requires deep empathy. It might be a service project or a product or something you are publishing. Each approach requires a different kind of empathy. If this happens in a culturally responsive way, students can also learn cultural humility.
They remain curious. Design thinking begins with this sense of wonder and curiosity. It honors this natural desire to explore and to ask tons of questions. Too often, students internalize the idea that learning is all about answering questions. However, design thinking reminds us that learning begins with inquiry.
They learn how to work collaboratively. Traditional school work requires students to be dependent on their teacher as the source of all information. Individualized learning shifts to independence. But design thinking teaches students to work interdependently, balancing the needs of the group with the need for personal expression.
They view themselves as makers. By sharing their product with the world, they participate in a global community of creativity. They can also share their creative journey in what Austin Kleon describes as “showing your work.” In the process, they are more likely to appreciate the creativity around them.
They value the diversity of creative mindsets. Here students experience a bigger definition of creativity.In design thinking, students might be hacking a system, solving a problem, engineering a solution, tinkering, tweaking a process, testing ideas, gathering data or dreaming up new ideas. In the process, they learn to value the creative mindsets of everyone around them.
They learn the power of creative constraint. For all the talk of “thinking outside the box,” this is a chance for students to learn how to “think inside the box,” working with specific limitations as they prototype. Here, they learn that limitations are often the very design features for their finished work.
They see the value of iterations. Too often, students are punished for getting the wrong answer. They are stuck in grading systems where they get an average on their scores. With design thinking, they have an entire phase devoted to refining their work. This doesn’t mean they don’t need to have any deadlines, but it does mean they have the time and the permission to keep working on a product until they are ready to send it to an authentic audience.
They become creative risk-takers. Design thinking encourages students to engage in creative risk-taking at every stage. In the research phase, students can engage in divergent thinking, learning that every question matters. In the ideation phase, they get over the fear that their ideas might be “dumb” as they generate and combine ideas. In the creating and revising phases, they realize that the only true failure is giving in to fear of failure.
In other words, when students embrace design thinking, they develop a maker mindset. They define themselves as problem-solvers.
My Journey with Design Thinking
When I first began teaching, I knew that students would thrive in a creative environment. I wanted them to embrace the maker mindset. However, I felt crippled by fear. I was afraid that I didn’t have enough resources. I was scared that their success in a creative project wouldn’t translate into higher test scores. I was concerned about classroom management issues (I had mistaken being busy with being engaged).
That’s why I needed a framework. This is ultimately why I embraced design thinking. My students needed a different way to think about creative work. They needed something that would provide structure but also respect student agency and choice.
It’s a bit of a debate where design thinking originated. Some claim that it started in the sixties with The Sciences of the Artificial. Others point to Design Thinking, which focused more on urban planning and architecture. Still others point to Robert McKim’s work in Experiences in Visual Thinking. Like all great ideas, it has been an evolution, influenced by thousands of people. My work around Design Thinking has been influenced by people like Tom and David Kelley, Tim Brown, John Maeda, Peter Rowe (as well as organizations like Stanford d.school and IDEO).
But ultimately, I found that there were tweaks and iterations I needed to make to the existing design thinking frameworks. This is ultimately why I worked with AJ Juliani on the LAUNCH Cycle, a student-friendly design thinking framework for K-12 classrooms. We added a few key elements, including a broader starting point, an explicit stage of inquiry, a media literacy component and a final phase where they launch their work to an authentic audience.
Design thinking prepares students for a creative life — whether that is in business, in the social or civic spaces, in the arts, or in engineering. But it does this by allowing them create things that matter to them right now. It’s not some far off “grown up” thing. It’s something they can engage in right now as they create things that matter to them.
So, while it’s easy to complain about standardized education, we can offer strategies like design thinking and project-based learning as alternatives that empower students to be the creative thinkers we know they can be.
You can’t change anyone but yourself, but you can create the conditions where change is more likely to happen for others. As I work with many educators in leadership positions, I try to focus on going beyond the content of a message, and looking at the delivery of the message.
Yet there are things that I watch that hold people back from helping others moving forward, and I have been guilty of them myself. There is a fine line between being confident and arrogant, and our personalities can hold others back. Below are four things that I try to focus on personally in my own work that I try notto do, and I hope are helpful to others.
Be condescending. – It is important that people know their areas of expertise, but it is crucial that with one’s knowledge, we do not make others feel insignificant. You might be the smartest person in the room, but if you make everyone else feel dumb around you, no one is moving forward.
Be dismissive. – Sometimes people have concerns or are struggling with things that you share, whereas you feel total comfort. Ignoring people’s struggles and not addressing them directly, helps shift the focus off of what you are learning, and onto personalities. This is not just the person you are interacting with, but the others watching. You do not have to agree with everyone, but it is imperative that we address what others are feeling.
Act like the only expert in the room. – It is essential that when people struggle, and others want to be in on the conversation, that you defer often. Tapping into the “room”, is not only beneficial to the “room”, it is beneficial to your own learning. I have learned a ton from people in the workshops that I have delivered by just listening and absorbing their perspectives and ideas.
Pretend things are black and white. – Learning is a process, and is often not linear, yet sometimes are tones are simply black and white. We have to be comfortable around muddling in the “grey”. One thing that I have been focusing on is when I feel someone disagrees with something I say, is to find our common beliefs and work backwards from there. It is essential that we try to create spaces where people move closer together, not further apart.
Leadership can be a tricky endeavour, yet it is something that we need to constantly reexamine for our own growth, and the forward motion of the others that we serve. Let’s try to ensure that we are helping people move forward by focusing on how our own actions can sometimes hold them back, and the continued pursuits of our own growth.
Years ago, interviewing for a grade 2 position at my school, I asked the candidate, “How would they integrate technology with grade 2 students?” Their response was along the lines of, “I don’t think students should be using technology in grade 2.” When I asked her why, she said things like “it takes much time for kids to login”, or “kids shouldn’t be on computers at that age.” (P.S….She should have googled me before the interview.)
When I asked her what grade level kids should start using technology, her answer was “grade 3”. So either all of these things that they couldn’t do in grade 2, they would magically be able to do in grade 3, OR, this was not their problem. In this situation, my guess is the latter.
Yet this is not unique. Talk to many high school teachers trying to have students learn in different and more compelling ways, shifting away from a traditional classroom. Many of those students struggle with it because they just want the rubrics or marking scheme so they can get their grade and move on. School has become a “checklist” to many of our students. I will do what you say, and then you allow me to go to the next level.
Let’s understand something…Kids never walked into schools wanting grades. Feedback, yes. Grades, not a chance. We conditioned them to that.
This is why I have been really re-emphasizing the notion of the “school teacher vs. classroom teacher” lately. The kids in the school are all of our kids; not just the ones we teach this year. Yet the ones that we teach this year, we are conditioning them and teaching them some things that could be easy for us now, but harder for others later. What matters is not whether things are easier or not, as much as will it lead to something better. When we condition kids at a young age to get a reward for learning, they become accustomed to this, but the sticker they got in grade 1, is not going to cut it in grade 9. Do we create experiences where kids see the learning as the benefit, or learning is something they need to be externally rewarded for?
In my book, “The Innovator’s Mindset”, I wrote, “Isolation is now a choice educators make.” This is no longer acceptable.
We need to not only work together, but we need to understand that we all serve these kids and there is often a bigger picture than we can see beyond our time with any group. We have to look at education as a continuous journey, not in one year (or semester) chunks. What we do now, will make an impact later. What impact do we want to have on our students? What impact, in turn, will they have on us?
Some change sucks and it is why a lot of educators hate it.
Many educators see change as being done for the sake of change, and to be honest, in many cases they are right. There are way too many initiatives that happen in education that we quickly abandon because they are not seen as useful. Time is the most precious commodity we have, and once you give it up, you can’t get it back.
In a conversation I had at a conference, one of the participants said, “People aren’t afraid of change; they are afraid of doing something that is worse. Every moment we have is crucial.”
They do not see it as meaningful to what they are doing or helpful to their students. Meaningful change goes beyond the notion of “change for the sake of change”, but “meaningful change” is a way of moving to something better”.
The notion of “meaningful change” is crucial; it promotes us to understand if the change is better than what we were doing before. It makes us dig deep and think critically about what we are doing, and what is important. If we embraced every change that came our way, we would all be riding segways (that never happened).
Just be thoughtful of when you talk about others and yourself embracing “change”; if it is not meaningful and leading something to better, it will be simply seen as a waste of time. When we look at change, we have to ask and understand, will it lead to something better? If you can’t figure that out, it might not be worth implementing in the first place.