Feb 05

Be Your Own Awesome – We Need More Awesome

I’ve noticed something lately.

There seem to be a lot of people in the education social media space who are defining what they are doing as being better than what other people are doing. Without naming names, I’ve seen too many instances lately of saying, “We’re great, and other people are less great than us.” And it hasn’t been framed in the space of “let’s discuss the relative merits of different educational ideas,” which is a conversation we still need to be having, but rather, as a way to elevate one’s own work at the expense of others.

And that is really too bad, because awesome is not a finite resource. In fact, the best of what all these amazing tools can mean is that we can share. We can make each other better by learning from what we do and building on each other’s work. But the spirit of collaboration and sharing necessary to do that kind of work is very difficult to do when others are treating the amount of awesome in the world as a zero-sum game.

If social media is a metaphor for our classroom, think about the kind of classroom we want… do we want the kind of classroom where students don’t share with one another because no one wants to give another classmate an advantage? Do we want the kind of classroom where, when grades are distributed, kids are saying, “I got a 93…” “Oh yeah, well I got a 94!!!” I don’t think we do. Those kinds of classes were toxic for too many kids, and the students who felt insecure about their abilities were made to feel worse.

Let’s have the humility necessary to celebrate our own successes without needing to tear down others when we do.

Because it’s my hope that we remember that we still need so much more awesome in the world of education than we currently have. And that every single school, teacher, student, district, conference, etc… that is able to do really amazing things is increasing the amount of awesome in the edu-space which is great. Every time someone shares something with an honest desire to share and learn, we all get a chance to learn and apply those lessons in our own spaces.

Let’s share with an open heart and an open mind. Let’s remember that there’s plenty of work to go around. Let’s remember that if the only way we can elevate ourselves is by belittling the work of others, any gains we may have made are illusory and fragile at best.

Let’s keep working to learn from each other and be as awesome as we can for the kids in all of our spaces. And let’s celebrate the awesome that others are doing, both where we live and all over the world.

We need more awesome.


Jan 07

Take the Work Seriously, But Don’t Take Yourself Seriously.

When I was sixteen years old, my three best friends and I decided to see how many tissues we could shove in our mouths. There was no reason. It was after school one day, and it was something we could compete over. I was “winning” this contest when the gag reflex kicked in and I came closer to choking to death than I’d like to admit.

I tell this story to say this — no matter what I do in my life, I am still the same moron who nearly died in a tissue-mouth-shoving contest. That’s important.

Think of the most ridiculous thing you did in high school. You are still that person. You will always be that person. It doesn’t matter how much wisdom you have accumulated in the intervening years, you are still that person.

And that’s a good thing for so many reasons.

A career in education is a powerful way to spend your life. The work we do is important, meaningful, and incredibly challenging. We should take the work of helping children learn incredibly seriously. But we should remember to never take ourselves all that seriously. Because, to quote the kids, “It’s just not that deep.”

When we have the humility to remember all the twists and turns in the path that got us to where we are today, we are more likely to be understanding of the twists and turns in the paths our students take.

When we don’t fall in love with our own ideas, we remain open to change and grow. We are more likely to allow our ideas to be influenced and made better by our students and our colleagues.

When we remember to laugh at ourselves, we display an openness to students that is so important to model.

When we have enough sense of the long view of our lives, we laugh more easily, smile more broadly and are more likely to share a sense of joy with the people around us.

When we are not overly invested in our own seriousness of purpose, we remember that we are the lucky ones – we get to spend our working lives teaching and learning with our students, and really, that’s a pretty awesome way to spend our time.

When we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we remember that the work isn’t about us. It’s about the kids.

So let’s find a reason to laugh with the kids and our colleagues every day. Pick up the guitar and play with the kids, even if we sing off-key. Play basketball with our students – even if they cream us. Let’s let them see us as whole people, so that they might let us see them the same way.

And, then when we can really all talk to one another without the view of each other’s egos in the way, we can ask them what they think about our schools, and we can listen deeply to their answers and let their ideas change our own.

Dec 26

Humility Matters

The death of any great idea is when its inventor falls in love with it.

The death of any great student is when they decide they are smarter than all their classmates and therefore have nothing to learn from them.

The death of any great teacher is when they fall in love with the sound of their own voice and stop hearing the voices of the students who would do more than parrot the teacher’s voice back at them.

The death of any great principal is when they think they are the only one who can move the school forward and stops listening to the students, teachers and parents s/he serves.

Humility matters.

The work of teaching and learning is hard. It requires courage on the part of everyone involved to take the kind of risks necessary for real learning to happen. That kind of courage can also create surety that is dangerous. We have to understand it, because it is rampant in schools of all kinds, but we also have to work to combat it when we see it in others and in ourselves.

Real strength, the kind that doesn’t come because one has a title that says “Principal” or “Teacher” or “Honor Roll Student” or even (or perhaps especially) “Education Reformer” requires an almost zen-like state where we move from centered core that is confident enough to listen to dissent and difference.

But humility isn’t just about listening to dissent. It’s about giving up control. It’s about stepping back and letting others do for themselves. It is about letting people own their ideas and create things you would never have thought of. It means knowing enough not to presume that you know every outcome. And it even means, sometimes, giving up things we love doing so that others can do them too.

Sometimes we have to learn those moments the hard way. When I was a young English teacher, I tried to give extensive feedback on every draft of every paper my students wrote. They needed me to do that for them. I was the teacher, and I understood better than anyone else in that classroom what good writing looked like.

Except I wasn’t sleeping, trying to keep up with the paper load.

So I tried peer editing, remembering it from a graduate school class. And then I noticed something – the comments kids made were different than mine, perhaps, but they weren’t worse. In fact, in many cases, the students had insight into each other’s work that I didn’t have. And the kids realized that they could help each other, and that might have been more important than any comma splice that I would have caught. But suddenly, I had to admit that I wasn’t the only expert voice in the room. I couldn’t be that “hero teacher” who would single-handedly teach all the kids to write.

What a wonderful myth to have to give up.

And that taught me another profound lesson about humility. True humility means understanding that one’s personal empowerment can never come at the expense of the empowerment of someone else’s. There’s enough to go around.