cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by iliveisl
“The Law of the Few says that there are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them.” Malcolm Gladwell from the Tipping Point
Sitting down with a professor at a conference last spring in Calgary, we were talking about education reform. He told me he was in his late 60′s, and I thought to ask him, “How long have you been talking about this ‘reform’ for?”. He said he could not remember a time when he wasn’t having the conversation. That scared me.
Thinking about so many things that we know are right about practice (smart assessment practices that focus on each child, personalized education, connected learning, and so on), I thought “will these practices ever become the standard?” Soon after though, I thought about how many things we now see in many classrooms, must have become the standard at some point. I don’t know when, but they did. That actually gave me hope.
This is in no sense saying that I have all the answers. I don’t think anyone in education is saying that. I do however know that the more I connect to others, the clearer some answers are becoming. It is their expertise that I am tapping into and helping me improve my own practice.
As we have started the 2011-2012 school year here in Parkland, I have seen something hugely different from years prior. It is not that these things weren’t there, but I am now seeing people connect across the division to share and truly become teachers of our division, as opposed to only their school.
Here is a little snippet from the Parkland School Division website:
Serving over 58,000 residents in an area of over 3,995 square kilometers, our division operates 21 schools and several alternate sites.
No matter the unique planning that you could do for the division, it is near impossible for our entire staff in this area to meet face-to-face for any amount of time that would really push the envelope forward, but even more importantly, create solid relationships in such a large geographical area.
I really believe that the ability to bring people together begins with leadership. Our Superintendent, Tim Monds, started off our year by having a wonderful speech discussing the path that lies ahead while sharing how :
As we learn together in PSD, we will continue to focus on literacy and numeracy and prepare our children to be critical thinkers who are connected to one another more than we can imagine. We will model this for our students. I recently set up a blog for our Lead Team. It was new for me and I was not ready to go beyond the Lead Team at that time. I am now. I was learning and needed to feel comfortable with blogging. In July, our Future Planning Team attended a 21st Century Learning conference in Niagara Falls. At that conference I began tweeting. Me – tweeting? I’m a busy guy. Who has time for that? However, I have been following a few people and looking up recommended articles and I am realizing the connections are making me a better educator.
His words set the tone for our division to not only learn openly, but connect with one another. I watched as people shared their renewed excitement for teaching, blogged about listening to their students, and shared their exuberance for their first days as a new teacher. Our Deputy Superintendent, one of the people that I have been lucky to connect with so often, blogged for the first time. Her work has always impacted me and now it can go to a much wider audience:
It’s a wonderful feeling for parents to walk away from our schools trusting that their children are in good hands – that they will be cared for, well beyond their academic needs. Every interaction, every day with every child needs to reinforce the value that we place on students. Many times it is the little things that make the biggest difference.
No one is talking about technology, but they are all using it to connect their learning. Pretty powerful stuff.
Recently reading “The Power of Pull”, John Seely Brown talks about the “spike”, and how people go to the places where they are most likely to be successful in their career paths (go to Hollywood if you want to be an actor, Nashville if you want to be a country singer, etc.). He talks about the impact on individuals when they find this “spike”:
In a world of intensifying competition, people seem to be seeking out environments where they can get better faster. These geographic spikes offer a wealth of employment options where ambitious and passionate employees can quickly change jobs and find employers more willing than the previous one to develop their talent. These cities also become geographic gathering spots for specialized service providers and other resources that can help talented people become even more successful.
Our (educator) spike is not in any one city or area. In fact, with a profession so traditionally isolating, it would be incredibly hard to create this. Our spike however can now be easily created through the means of social media. This is not only talking about educators connecting throughout the entire world, but within our school division. The really powerful thing is that we are not limiting the conversation to only our educators. We are open to the world to help us along this journey, along with parents, and most importantly, our kids. As mentioned earlier, Jesse McLean talked about getting students involved in the conversation, but when we use “closed” portals, are we really giving them that chance? Yes, schools do surveys and ask kids for their feedback, but do we really create opportunities for our kids to be in on the conversation? By openly communicating, sharing, and getting more people in on the conversation, how could we not improve our practice while making the world of education smaller and less isolated?
I am feeling we are on the edge of something big and I know if we can continue this momentum and make this sharing practice a habit, best practices can become standard. Some are stuck on the idea that this is only about tweeting, blogging, and google apps. If they are willing to look, there is so much more. This is about connecting, sharing, and learning together in a meaningful way. It is about bringing people together behind a vision and helping them find purpose, their why, as we move forward. It is about sharing the expertise of people and getting better because of it.
We need to take advantage.