March 5, 2016

Am I Successful?

A few years ago I got a call from Elisa Carlson. She was inquiring about having me come speak in Surrey for their Digital Learner Series. I didn’t know Elisa and she really didn’t know me. As she asked about what I would speak about, she said, “I don’t even know if you’re any good.” Since then Elisa has become one of my dearest colleagues and I often point to her as an example of great leadership. But that initial question is actually a pretty good one.

I’ve had my struggles in measuring success. I first encountered my mild disdain for the notion when I was introduced to SMART goals. Every time I tried to create a goal I was excited about, I was immediately confused and challenged by my inability to identify measurable goals. Some told me my goals weren’t written correctly. They were probably right. I also struggle with such a strong focus on goals in general. Many will tell you that unless you write down your goals you’ll never achieve them. Maybe. Maybe not.

As a teacher, I knew my efforts to help students be successful went way beyond grades and scores, yet that remains the simplest way to measure things. When began working at the district level, things started to get complicated. Every year I completed a growth plan and was asked to identify my plans/goals and measures of success. I would typical try and include quantitative goals such as numbers of workshops offered, participation, etc. Like grades, these are fairly trivial measures of success but because they are easy, I defaulted to this.

I’m grateful that as I now work for Discovery Education, I have a great deal of say about my goals. We work in conjunction with others to try and make them as meaningful as possible, they still are a challenge.

My goal in very general terms is to build community. We do things in a variety of ways. Speaking and presenting represent a big part of how I do this. Events we host is also a big part as well as smaller interactions and opportunities for educators to participate and connect to Discovery and each other.

I’ve been presenting and speaking fairly regularly now for about a decade. While I’m not the best speaker or presenter in the world, I’m happy with what I do. I reflect and ask advice and seek to improve but it remains a difficult thing to measure. Random feedback on twitter and in person is typically very positive and kind and formal evaluations echo that. Still, those aren’t very accurate measures.

I help put on events like Ignite Your Passion for Discovery. Are these successful? I want to say yes but I’m not certain. My hope is that participants feel a sense of community, connected to each other and to Discovery. I hope they leave understanding better how we support them. I hope we elevate the voices of area educators and districts. Attaching a numeric value to any of these seems forced at best.

I’m fortunate that as a company, Discovery Education is in business to both make a profit and make a difference. We never want to separate these two. Those that work directly to make the profit have a much easier time measuring their success. My time is spent largely on making a difference and like most educators, measuring our success is tough.

As part of a team, I rely heavily on my teammates to determine the effectiveness and impact of my work. I also depend on my own reflections and conversations to assess my efforts.  Whenever I’m asked, how I’m doing,  A message I’ve shared with many of late around assessment is that we need to face the truth that assessing learning is at best messy and difficult and fairly imprecise.

In a world obsessed with data, I often get sucked into seeking false affirmations of my success. The question I keep asking myself is, “How do I know I’m successful?” I don’t know if I can answer that very easily and I’m not even sure it’s the right question. I do believe I am successful so I’m not looking for confirmation but I am interested in how you resolve this in your own world.