A TED Talk Comes to Life

I can’t imagine anyone reading this who is even vaguely aware of who I am wouldn’t know how much I love golf. As my primary hobby/interest/passion, I spend a lot of time not only invested in playing the game but thinking about it, not simply from a technical and physical pursuit but also the many ways in which it is both a metaphor for life but all the amazing lessons I’ve learned because of playing this game.

Part of being a golfer means going on golf trips with your buddies. I recall the first trips I took as a teenager, tagging along with my Dad and his buddies. This is where I learned a bunch of added games like “Bingo, Bango, Bongo”, “Wolf”, “Nassau”, “Sixes”, and more. For the past number of years, I organized most of the trips and they’ve usually involved 4 of us and quite often just myself and another buddy. As the organizer, I typically choose the courses, tee times and even the evening activities which were usually limited simply because we almost always played 36 holes a day, playing from sunrise till sunset.

This year, I was invited to join a trip that involved 8 of us of which 4 members I’d either never met or only knew peripherally. Choosing to spend 4 days from sunup to sundown with people you don’t know well, is a bit risky. It turned out to be a wonderful trip. I got to visit and make connections with these men at various levels.  None of us are particularly good golfers but playing in the mountains and being in nature was soul-filling. We laughed a lot and enjoyed some friendly competition. Golf doesn’t develop character, it reveals it. You can learn a great deal from someone after a round of golf. Add to that a couple of meals and maybe a card game, you can probably assess someone very accurately.

One of our members was a doctor from a rural town outside of Moose Jaw. I’d never met him before and after one round of golf, I could tell he was a kind, caring and thoughtful man. The more time we spent together, this assessment was affirmed. One evening some of us wanted to get some Texas hold ‘em lessons. My new doctor friend had never played but was focused on the concept of bluffing. While he was told it’s only one strategy, he became fixated on it and after a few dummy hands we played and of course he was out quickly after a few too many of his bluffs were called. We couldn’t help but laugh and tease him and he took it all in stride. It didn’t bother him at all.

One evening we attended a concert featuring a jazz band from New Orleans. It was a tight space not designed for concerts, but everyone was enjoying the music. We came late and were at the very back of the room.  Because he loves music and dancing, my new doctor friend, began dancing. I don’t dance. I didn’t learn to dance, and it’s just never been part of my life. In fact, if I’m being honest, I’d rather make fun of people dancing. Probably because of my own deficiencies, dancing always looks awkward to me. But there’s a vulnerability there that is admirable.

As he started dancing, a few older women joined him. Three of them at the very back of the room, in their own world, having a great time. The other members of my group were smiling and giggling as our friend stood out in the crowd moving his body to the music and not caring a wit what anyone else thought of him, let alone his golf buddies. A number of us took out our cameras and filmed him to share in our group chat. As the band played their last song, our doctor friend started dancing and moved right up to the band along with his 2 female followers. As I filmed him, I witnessed a real-life enactment of this very famous TED talk.

The Derek Sivers “How to Start a Movement“ talk provides a wonderful example of what leadership can look like.

I realize Siver’s focus is not on the lone nut but the first follower which is certainly an underrated aspect of movements but with my friend, our own “lone nut”, it’s worth exploring what leadership looks like. As I’ve learned over the years, the characteristics of good leaders aren’t particularly helpful in figuring out leadership. The characteristics you might list are preferences of leaders you like but the only true measurement of leadership is followers.

I talked to him after and asked him about his motivation. He said, “I just love music and love to dance.” He said he also wanted others to feel free to dance too and felt maybe if I do it, others might join. Clearly, there were many just itching to dance but maybe because of people like me, felt awkward and didn’t want to be a spectacle but just wanted to enjoy themselves and do what their body is begging them to do. My friend gave people permission to have fun. What I witnessed was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. After the concert ended, he had stranger after stranger thank him and our group had to wait outside until he had finished acknowledging his new fans. I think he had more people talking to him than the band, and the band was very good. As we waited, we all were smiling and proud of what our golf buddy had done. It was clear, our friend was a leader. There are so many great memories from this trip but watching my new friend start a movement will likely be the longest lasting one.

Name Dropping

Besides my ability to nap, my grandkids and my airport moves I don’t brag about much. But in addition to those things I often brag about my network. Part curiosity, part luck, I’ve amassed a network of people in my life that is truly stellar. People in the world of education who are bright thinkers and caring individuals who selfishly make me better as an educator and human. I once stated I’m a giant derivative.

Part of the luck of building this network has been my privilege to travel and spend time with these people. Like everyone else over the past few years, I’ve been more confined to my screen to maintain this network. But after a week of travelling from Vancouver to Toronto and back home, my drive home from the airport allowed me time to reflect and I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude and felt compelled to write about, brag and name-drop the wonderful folks I was able to interact with over 3 days. Here we go.

Chris Kennedy. Chris has been a long-time friend. Truly one of my first Canadian connections. He and I were among the first and still-standing bloggers in Canadian education. There are many things I admire about him but specifically, he’s been a wonderful sounding board in better understanding the current state of schools. He’s not afraid to challenge ideas and live in uncertainty. His curiosity is always present and I know he is highly respected among his peers. Truly one of the best leaders I know. Fun fact: He will never serve sandwiches for lunch meetings. 

Julie Foss. Julie is new to my network but is now a work colleague. She is as thoughtful as they come. This week Julie and I facilitated 100 high school leaders in the MetroVan area and I marvelled at her skill and ability to provide equal parts structure and autonomy for participants. She’s a great listener and I know she’ll always come up with a better way and idea moving forward. 

George Kozlovic, Ian Kennedy, Brooke Moore. These three leaders from three different school districts in Metro Vancouver reflect high-quality expertise and leadership in this region. But beyond that, their desire to collaborate and share sets them apart. The work they’ve led around assessment, Indigenous learning and high school transformation, in general, is exemplary. They are so generous with their time and their willingness to be vulnerable is inspiring. 

Gino Bondi. Gino and I have a special connection with obscure Canadian TV references. Beyond that, Gino is a no-nonsense leader who works tirelessly to make school better for students. He is emphatic towards all learners and pursues authentic and meaningful learning to be the staple of public education. 

After a late evening flight to Toronto, I spent the next day attending the Dell Innovative Roadshow. Katina Papulkas organized an outstanding event. Katina is indeed a mover and shaker. She and I work closely together as ALP is Dell’s Professional Learning provider. Her role as Education Strategist is about exploring innovative ways for students and organizations to leverage technology. She is the mastermind behind such initiatives as Girls Who Game and Soar with Mentor. Katina is featured in my CanadianED Leadership Show 

Robert Martellaci. Robert is the founder of MindShare Learning. Robert’s network is truly impressive. There are not many who are as committed to promoting innovation in learning across Canada as much as Robert. Robert has been very supportive of my work throughout the years and he’s done the same for many others as well. Robert is also featured on an episode of my podcast.

Jason Bucherri. Jason and I spend many years on the road together during our days at Discovery Education. Jason’s background in education and business makes gives him a special insight into the educational landscape. Beyond that, his love of philosophy and exploring ideas makes him a great find at any networking event. He and I also spend hours talking sports. Given I’ve helped turn him into a golfer, makes me proud. 

Alec Couros. Alec was the keynote speaker for the event. Alec and I go back over 20 years. We’ve keynoted and presented together and attended many conferences over the years. Apparently I’m his third brother.

Alec is a world leader in digital and information literacy. I’ll always be grateful for giving me the opportunity to teach undergrads and grad students. He’s always been generous with his time and expertise with me and with others. I’m proud to call him a friend. 

I’d say that’s a pretty good week and a pretty impressive group of people that have contributed immensely to my life both professionally and personally. Not to brag. Well, actually to brag. 

Stay in Your Lane

Absolutes rarely work for me. I’m the kind of person who looks for the holes in any argument or statement, even my own. Ambivalence and uncertainty is both character flaw but also at times a strength. Yet I know many people, dare I say most people, spend a great deal of time and energy to clearly define their beliefs and place in their worlds. It’s not that I don’t seek this as well, but I’ve always had a hard time staying in my lane.

No matter the place I work, the team I played on, or the organization I belonged to, I always am curious about how and why decisions are made. Depending on how far I was from the top level of that institution, I would find ways to insert myself into the decisions that would impact the whole. And yet I never felt the need to be in charge. Even in sports, I was more comfortable making an assist than I was scoring a goal. A revisiting of strengths finder revealed my top strength was Maximizer.

I wrestle with the apparent dichotomy that often suggests people “stay in their lanes” versus a belief that “we’re all in this together”. Perhaps it’s not a dichotomy but you can see how it might appear that way. The New England Patriots coach Bill Belichek, known for his genius and brevity when it comes to discussing strategy, has famously coined the phrase “do your job” which his players took to heart meaning if you do your job, the team has a chance to succeed. While that’s not exactly the same as “stay in your lane” you can see an overlap. Sometimes “stay in your lane” translates as “mind your own business”. That often comes across as an admonishment but it also can be a call to clarity.

When I began working in the corporate world, I became fascinated with workplace culture. In many ways, this exposure to something beyond schools and school districts brought additional perspective and led to me writing my book. One conversation I had with a colleague who had worked for multiple companies was how she described two different workplaces. The company which she came from was a major tech company that shall remain nameless but it is also the name of a popular fruit. With no judgment, she referred to that company’s culture as very transactional. As she elaborated she said, everyone “stayed in their lane”. This company and its products are known for their elegance and simplicity and I wonder to what degree this culture contributes to that end. Conversely, the company I worked for had more of an entrepreneurial culture where job descriptions were more blurred. Personally, that was what I preferred. I was fortunate to be part of many teams and projects and worked with a variety of people whose main jobs were much different than mine but I believed it helped me better understand my mission and purpose and made the work more meaningful. The downside of this approach of course is there are times when we can spend energy and effort on things that perhaps we shouldn’t or don’t need to. It can easily lack efficiency. That other company has been around for a long time and my guess is they have evolved into a well-oiled machine where roles are clearly defined and if everyone does their job, they should be successful. There are many who prefer this model because of its potential to reduce stress and uncertainty. Going to work every day knowing exactly what you need to do and focus on can be very comforting and for some people, it is necessary to function.

In my current role at ALP as Senior Partnership Consultant, we are working towards greater efficiencies and clearly defining our roles. We are a small enough group that it’s impossible to completely stay in our lanes. It’s both a function of our size but also our collective desire to see us all grow and get better and the degree to which one person’s efforts impact us all.

All this rambling is my way of processing and working to understand how workplace cultures can thrive. It’s a multifaceted endeavor, especially when considering the various challenges that employees may face, such as experiencing mockery during a performance review. By acknowledging and addressing such issues, organizations can cultivate environments where all individuals feel respected and valued. I also am considering what this means for schools and educators. I know schools have shifted from the idea of “my students” to “our students” in an attempt to view all children as a collective responsibility. This is something, that schools can get right, makes a huge difference. Many schools intentionally work to ensure every student has at least one adult that knows and connects with them on a personal level and that need not be their or any classroom teacher. This should take pressure off a teacher who may not be able to adequately relate or connect with their homeroom students. At the same time, I imagine that for many teachers, their load is already maximized and the thought of additional responsibilities might be just too much to handle.

As I’ve written before, I get that this isn’t necessarily a binary question or option but it does matter what you lead with and over time, you might see that a particular bias will emerge.

So I’ll end my post by inviting you to share some thoughts on this idea of staying in your lane. Specifically here are my questions:

-Do you prefer a work environment that leans more towards a collective responsibility or one that defines roles more specifically?

-What examples come to mind as you read this post?

-Have you seen successes or failures as a result of a purposeful choice around this cultural phenomenon?

Would love your thoughts.

Is it Possible to Focus Too Much On Learning?

It’s pretty hard to argue that there has never been a better time in history to be a learner. Whatever topic you’re interested in, there’s a book, podcast, video series, Instagram account and Facebook group you can join. It’s truly amazing.

As educators, learning is what we live and breathe. We’ve also seen teachers, in particular, begin to identify as learners first, teachers second. The information age is also becoming a learning age.

But recently I’ve come to have some concerns about this, specifically around our own professional learning. Great educators are highly self-aware and recognize that they always could do better. I fall into that category. While I don’t read many educational books, I do consume a great deal of content that I hope makes me a better educator and person. But I think we can easily reach a point when it’s too much and not only too much, might be potentially unhealthy.

Unhealthy? That can’t be right. Learning and trying to be better at what you do and who you seem like how we should be spending our time. This is true but I’ve noticed that for me it can become a very selfish pursuit. I’ve also noticed that by learning about all the things I should be doing but aren’t I often linger on my deficiencies and soon realize how flawed I am. Again, that’s not necessarily bad and obviously we should all think about how we might do better but I wonder when it’s too much. I suppose what I’m learning is that it’s not always about me. I think this might be particularly true for those of us who either by choice or necessity are fully immersed in our work.

During my current hiatus, I’ve been reading and reflecting a lot. That’s all about me. At the same time, I’ve been spending time with my grandkids. That’s all about them. When you’re with a newborn and a 2-year-old, it’s hard not to be present and focused. When you’re watching them and loving them, you realize that your self-improvement and learning will never take priority or be seen as a better use of your time and thoughts. Not that it’s a zero-sum game but a wonderful reminder.

My daughter shared something with me that reiterates this point in a different way. She recently started a new job and had been carpooling with 2 others. She is somewhat of an introvert but found herself having some unique conversations with her 2 travel mates during the 45-minute drive to work and home. She came home feeling energized. She described the conversations as nothing special, just normal interactions with other humans. For a variety of reasons, she has been commuting on her own. During her commute, she listens to her podcasts and spends time thinking and reflecting on her day. She comes home feeling tired and just wants to sit in front of the television. In her words, the reflection and listening to various self-help podcasts, she was living inside herself way too much. Being challenged to focus on others shifted her focus and benefitted from the energy and company of others.

If you read this and conclude I’m saying we should be learning or trying to make ourselves better, you’ve misread this. What I’m wondering and exploring is if there is indeed a limit to how much we focus on our own learning? Do we need to intentionally get the focus off ourselves on onto others? I’m sure those of you with young children probably don’t have this problem as you can’t help but be fully engaged in caring for others. Certainly, teachers and principals spend their days focusing on others. So maybe this problem is not yours either. Or maybe you leave your work only to immerse yourself in reading or Twitter chats designed to push you to reflection, reflection about you.

I’ve always been a huge advocate for reflection and self-awareness so this post might be seen as contradictory. I hope not, I think it’s more about exploring the nuance and finding the balance. I love to learn but life isn’t just about learning, it’s mostly about living.

Let me know if this makes any sense.

Sharing, Bragging, Selling and Self Promoting

When I published my first blog post over ten years ago, it was clear to me that the possibility to share and share online, had the potential for something special. This new-found ability to share at a global level has provided teachers access to content and ideas never before available and connected teachers to people who have helped to transform classrooms around the world.

I created this video five years ago that remains an important part of my philosophy and message.

Ever since I began teaching over 25 years ago, I’ve had many conversations with teachers about their reluctantly to share for fear they might be seen as braggarts. One of the benefits of sharing online was it allowed teachers working in toxic or distrustful environments to share and not worry what the colleague across the hall might think. In many ways, it was and remains a revolution that has reinvigorated many careers. Even teachers in good environments found a way to expand their networks and discover new ideas to improve learning. Online spaces like blogs and social media have been platforms for people to post ideas, lessons, tutorials and other successes.

So what’s the problem?

Maybe there isn’t one but what is emerging of late is the hidden and sometimes not so hidden nature of sharing. When I posted that video, all the examples and all my experiences had been with people just saying, “here’s what I’ve/we’ve done, maybe you find some of this useful.”  For most of us, the biggest joy we get from sharing is knowing that someone else found it valuable. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for some acknowledgement. That’s what makes the sharing economy work. Thank yous and reciprocity are essential if we want sharing to remain part of the culture. That said, as advised by ライブカジノ ブラックジャック, the unwritten rule is you never ask or expect it. When you share to be acknowledged or praised or get something in return it makes sharing something ugly.

The idea of self-promoting is fairly easy to recognize. Does the person share solely about their accomplishments or do they share about student success or ideas from which they’ve benefited? That’s not to say one can never talk about their own achievements, but the tone shouldn’t be “look what I’ve done” but “I’m learning, here’s how I learned it, here’s how you can learn it too.” Sharing in online spaces lack the context for many to break down. However, over time, you can tell whether someone is self-promoting or sharing. Even then, it’s a blurred line that often is a matter of interpretation.

The tension between those in public education and those in some type of for-profit education entity, has always been challenging. Educators generally see themselves in a more philanthropic light, and rightfully so when it comes to sharing what they’re doing. They aren’t seeking remuneration. But right along side those educators are others who now rely on selling their ideas because it’s their livelihood. They are sharing for very different reasons. In between are those that are looking to advance their careers or supplement their income with educational products and services. What’s sometimes confusing or frustrating is trying to decide the motives and purposes of these different purposes as it relates to sharing. What’s the difference between the teacher sharing because they’re excited about a success and wants you to read their blog and the author that wants you to buy her book? Does it matter if they repeatedly share the same content with tweets and facebook posts? It seems at that point they aren’t just sharing but they want something from you. Maybe that’s obvious and maybe that’s okay.

Sharing in its purest form is a moral imperative. It’s my belief that since others have shared with you, it’s your obligation to share with others. That sharing needs to remain essentially free. Sharing needs to be acknowledged but that shouldn’t determine whether or not you share.

Selling of ideas is also an important idea. No one teaches for free and those who have chosen to earn a living in education outside of public service still have a place. My question is how do these two notions, sharing and selling co-exist? Right now they exist in the same space and context.

I’m someone who currently works for a private corporation. I also occasionally speak and get paid. I wrote a book. Those are things that people pay for. I’m not sure those are the things that are part of the purest form of sharing and yet I don’t apologize for them. That said, I rarely use a space like twitter to promote that side of my work.  To do so, in my opinion, would be selling. Selling isn’t bad, I just don’t want to confuse people more than they already are. For me, it feels like a salesman in a bar who sits down under the pretense of a social conversation and then starts asking you if you have term or whole life insurance.

Maybe the question to ask would be “Why am I sharing this?”

If the answer is: to get retweets, likes, acknowledgment, praise or money, perhaps you’re not sharing. Maybe you’re just bragging or self-promoting or just selling. I’ve always taken issue with those who retweet a compliment. I’m not talking about the occassional retweet because you’re proud someone recognized your work, I’m talking about a habitual trend. When I look at someone’s twitter feed and it’s full of retweets of compliments about their writing or presentation, that’s selling. Again, not that those are always bad, but I’m not sure that’s what sharing online should be. Like every blog I write, I could be wrong and welcome those who can push my thinking, clarify my thoughts or better yet, add their own.

Like every blog I write, I could be wrong and welcome those who can push my thinking, clarify my thoughts or better yet, add their own.