Who Pushes Your Thinking?

Speaking in generalities and platitudes is easy. But living out the hard things in life is rare. Believe me, I’m guilty as the next person and am working on my own ignorance and faults.


An ever-growing passion of mine is to seek out people that I disagree with and yet can have productive conversations. Even if a conversation is not possible, at least reading/watching/listening to those ideas and beliefs can be fruitful. My premise is that the many of the people I see online would like to believe they are open-minded and yet are so easily offended that they rarely if ever seek opinions and ideas that would contradict their own. We know the echo chamber exists and it’s not always a bad thing, in fact, it’s important to surround yourself with those who support and encourage you. At the same time finding a few folks who will push you, challenge you and straight up disagree with you is the sign of a mature, healthy learner; the kind of learner that educators ought to ascribe to.


As I said, I’m sceptical. Easy to talk about being open to new ideas, harder to seek them out. As I scan my feed, I’m always intrigued when thoughtful disagreement occurs. It’s a rare find. One of my favourite examples of this is a long-standing podcast called: A Christian and an Atheist.  They’ve recorded over 100 podcasts over the past several years.

So who pushes your thinking? Sometimes it’s important to name names.

I asked this question recently and here are the results. As I suspected, I didn’t get many responses. While many thought this was a great question, I think when it comes down to it, it’s hard for many to come up with a list or even a name of those who challenge their thinking. I made it anonymous so no need to reveal your personal beliefs.

In the spirit of modelling and practising what I preach, I included one of mine on the list but thought I’d share a few other names as well.

Jordan Peterson I agree with his ideas about free speech. Not sure about his thoughts on privilege. He’s an odd mix of brashness and yet occasionally shows a humility about his own thinking.
Paul Bennet  Raises many issues in education that plenty of people are thinking but philosophically I think we differ greatly. Good to hear his perspectives.
Sam Harris Super smart guy. His worldview is vastly different than mine but insightful nonetheless on a broad range of topics.
Benjamin Doxtador  Benjamin is relentless in his criticism of education. In general, he advocates for conversations that are potentially lacking nuance or perspectives that don’t include racial or social injustices. I’ve personally been criticized and while I don’t totally agree, I feel he’s honest and respectful.

I think it takes some very distinct characteristics to allow yourself to appreciate, acknowledge and learn from people you don’t always agree with. Things like:

Self Esteem: It’s important to feel somewhat confident in ourselves. Those who feel somewhat fragile are less likely to engage in ideas that challenge them. In addition, without a healthy dose of esteem, it’s too easy to let a challenging idea become personal.

Time and space: I’ve mentioned often how Twitter and even Facebook are typically horrible places for any kind of civil discourse. Online, in general, is a real challenge for nuanced discussion. Taking these discussions offline might be the best thing we can do. However, finding the dissenting ideas online is highly useful.

Seek understanding, not victory: This is a tough one. If we do have a strong belief, it’s so tempting to want to try and convince others. Holding back and working to listen and understand is very difficult. By not stating your best case, you aren’t conceding victory. It may be that some will interpret your silence or lack of debate as such, but swallow your pride a bit, in the long run, understanding will serve you better. I want to give a shout out to Tim Childers. Tim is about the best I’ve seen at trying to engage in meaningful political discussions on Facebook. Always respectful, always thoughtful, always seeking to learn.

Dismiss personal attacks: This is a difficult one particularly if you feel you’re being attacked personally. However, with time and space, work to parse out the argument to seek its validity.  I recently had my students examine a few online discussions and highlight the comments that were of a personal and attacking nature and those that were actually legitimate arguments. I think that’s a skill we all need to develop.

Look for commonalities: In almost every heated conversation be it political, religious or educational, the focus is on the differences when in reality most times there is a fair bit if not a great deal of agreement. Certainly, the differences are what make for the discussion in the first place but perhaps listing and seeking what is agreed upon is important to develop a level of respect and even collegiality.  In fact, I don’t think it works if you find someone who is completely opposite. You have to have some common ground. I think it’s important to establish that up front whether you do that internally or collaboratively.

There are likely many characteristics than this but these some of my thoughts. Cognitive dissonance is not something we always enjoy but I believe it’s part of the human experience and one that in the end, makes us better.


What Do You Do With All Your Photos?


I’m always curious about what people do with their photos either personally or professionally.  Abundance doesn’t always translate to usefulness. Which is what prompted my question and specifically to go beyond posting to Twitter, which is great but had me wondering about other ideas.

I had a number of great responses. While folks could find them by searching my feed, I like being able to collect them and share them better. Storify used to be a great tool but it died. Twitter moments is a nice option but recently found out about Wakelet which does tweets but like Storify allows you to add content from other sources. At any rate, here are the ideas shared.


What’s the Deal with Your Pants?

Preamble: I need to write more. Sometimes I need a push so I asked for suggestions on Twitter.

Let’s talk about pants.

When I present I typically wear some kind of wacky coloured pants. It began when my wife got tired of me buying infinite pairs of khaki pants. So she bought me a pair of salmon/orange pants. (This specific colour of these has been the source of controversy as well as a “check-in” point) I figured I’d try them and it seemed to get some reaction, mostly in the form of good-natured ridicule.

And then things just progressed.

Today I have around 8 different pairs that pretty much span the colour wheel. In many of my presentations, I share this tweet

I’m not really trying to change the world but have decided if I’m going to talk about joy, I oughta look as joyful as I can. There’s not much more to it.

Thanks to Amy for the idea. A few more shared some ideas that I may use as fodder soon. Writing is good. This blog post may not be. That said, it’s a reminder, this is my space, my place and I need to remember that. I hold no expectations from readers but a place to muse in public can be a very good thing.

Finding and Developing the Willing

The idea of student empowerment over engagement is a growing conversation and trend in education. Rightly so. Many emerging ideas such as genius hour, project-based learning and others are designed to empower students. As we examine and reflect on any implementation of these ideas, we typically hear some reference to “motivated students”. If students are seen as motivated, any kind of independent learning is more likely to work. Conversely, people’s resistance to giving students more ownership and autonomy is often because they don’t feel their students are motivated.

I had a chance to visit Thames Valley School District this week in London, Ontario. I had been to the district before and seen some of the innovative work they are doing. They have a long-standing art program at one of their high schools that embodies so many of the principles of empowered learning. In addition, they recently have developed a “school within a school” concept. Essentially they are working with  grade 9 teachers who were asked one question: “What if there were no subjects?” From there the district outlined the “bumpers” (must still address curricular needs, no major additional funds, must work in teams) and now nearly 20 cohorts have been formed where students are indeed driving much of their learning in a non-traditional way. I talked to many students as they were working and sharing their passion projects and it was evident they owned it. Watching the teachers be true facilitators and support and see real agency being given to students is what learning and school should be. The district’s role was to create the conditions for this to happen.

I also had the chance to chat with several teachers at lunch. As they shared their successes and challenges, I asked them “What do students need to be successful in these programs?” They talked about willingness vs motivation. Motivation suggests they have a sense of what they want to learn and just need to be let loose. While there are students who definitely fit into this category, there are far more who might not be motivated but are willing.

When you look the chart above, the motivated are the ones benefiting from empowerment. While it many might say all students should be empowered, I’d argue many aren’t ready for that yet. They don’t know what they don’t know but they would like to get there. If students or teachers are willing, I think they’re close to being motivated. The disposition of a great learner is an admission of lack of knowledge and skills, but a desire to grow them.

The teachers at Thames Valley recognized that many students, they assumed were motivated, were simply willing. They may or may not know what they’re passions were and definitely lacked the knowledge and skills to pursue them. The teachers have been working to add these skills more intentionally to their experience. The degree to which reflection was embedded for both students and teachers is what will enable their success and sustainability. The teachers were articulate and thoughtful in describing their shortcomings, needs and next steps.

After this conversation, I began to think more about the idea of being willing. The reality is, many of these types of programs exist all over the world and generally are filled with motivated students and teachers. Creating the conditions for these folks to thrive isn’t always commonplace but it really is the easy part. But creating the conditions for learners to learn and create isn’t necessarily what’s going to work for the less willing. Creating willing students and teachers is the real challenge.

I think the diffusion of innovation model shows a fairly similar distribution between the willing and the motivated. I’ll argue that the innovators represent the motivated. They, in fact, don’t even need direction or support. Those early adopters represent the willing but perhaps need some support and direction to move forward with innovation. Those in the early and late majority need a lot of support, direction and perhaps even convincing. They’re waiting and watching the motivated to see if indeed things will work. When schools and districts refer to “pockets of innovation” they’re talking about the first two groups. They have teachers who are doing the right work in spite of the lack of support and those districts that have gotten somewhat intentional have found ways to support the early adopters. These are the easy folks to support. They don’t need much in terms of resources and money. But of course, most teachers and students lie on the right side of the graph.

This is really the greatest challenge we face. I think this is much more of a long-term grind and I’m not entirely sure how to get there. Engagement remains an important part of this process. Teachers sharing their passions and interests isn’t necessarily a bad thing and in fact, should be embedded into all student experiences. But digging deeper into what it takes to develop willing students and teachers is key. I think it’s a fairly complex question in part because it requires deeper relationships. Those relationships need to be founded on trust and the greatest challenge is building a culture of trust. A student may indeed develop a willingness to learn and take control of their learning with one teacher but unless their next teacher and experience allow them to continue that journey, they’re likely to revert. In the Thames Valley district, when teachers were given the opportunity to craft their own programs with no subjects and increased autonomy, one clear response was, “Don’t tease me”. In other words, these teachers, like millions of others had been burned by leaders who may have promised them an opportunity that sounded great but either was not what they thought it was or it didn’t last.

I’ve officially hit the rambling stage, fully aware I’m trying to take a very big issue in education and trying to make some sense of it. I suppose I’m simply asking these question:

Do you see a difference between willing and motivated?

What does it take to create and develop willing teachers and students?

2017 #Deanie Awards

At the same time, it’s my way of saying thank you to those that do little and sometimes big things to bring a smile to face throughout the year”

Like my video of the year I wasn’t planning to do my #deanie awards this year. Mostly because it’s so random I hate the thought of someone being upset about being left out. The key is not to take them too seriously. I don’t. At the same time, it’s my way of saying thank you to those that do little and sometimes big things to bring a smile to face throughout the year.

In case you missed it, here are all the winners:

Update: Because Storify is pooched and Alan Levine pesters me to own my own stuff, I abandoned the third party and share and host my own tweets: