In light of the passing of Steve Jobs, it’s apropos that we include this here.
Being the first giant conference I have ever been to, and being the first non-tech-centered one as well, ASCD was fascinating on a few levels. The oddest thing about it was the fact that I chose not be connected via internet (god bless the iPhone and Twitter) for most of the conference. It might be a silent protest, but paying for wireless internet in hotels doesn’t sit well with me, especially when I am fronting the money. We listen often to people talk about the ubiquity of free Internet we will see in the future, but I feel it’s a long way off. More and more businesses are choosing to put proprietary restraints on the use of their wireless networks. Let’s use the Google model here: give it away and we will stay and use your product. Or at least we will give the perception to passersby that we are enjoying your business. I’ll end that rant there.
Bigger issues seem to dominate my thinking lately, issues such as school change and culture change within our society. My reading and writing tends to focus on the areas of motivating people to want something better, and giving them the means to create it for themselves. I am not going to be dishonest, I have goals and ideas that I would like to see put in place not only in schools, but in the larger picture as well (stay tuned for the world domination post to come shortly); however, I am wise enough, I think, to know that what I want matters little if the people I work with don’t see the value in it.
On the way down here, I sat next to a gentleman named Simon Sinek, of Sinek Partners. A while back, in my days as an expatriate in Greece, I worked for man who taught me that airline flights were the best places to go to school. “Interesting people fly and travel,” he said. Talk to the people around you on the plane.” So I took Fouad’s advice and struck up a conversation with this gentleman to my left. It turns out that Simon had an idea that he was trying to spread that involved asking corporations, individuals, government, or whoever would listen to articulate to themselves and others why they do the things they do. Without knowledge of and presentation of the “why” no one will be able to understand you, or better still, buy into what you are doing.
Often, he said, we confuse the “what” with the “why.” In business, people rarely buy the “what,” but more likely buy the “why.” I use Apple computers, and if you asked me why, I would probably rattle off that their design is intuitive, they are less buggy, I like the interface, etc. But what I would leave out would be the essential part of why I use them: I subconsciously buy into Steve Jobs ideal of irreverence and individuality. We might say the “what’s,” but only because we can’t articulate the “why.” I’ll admit it, I bought into “Think Different,” and why wouldn’t I? It’s a fantastic ideal.
Translating all of that into my practice, we ask our schools to change, and we say we need to change so that we “promote lifelong learning,” “create students capable of excelling in the 21st Century,” or any one of the mission statement buzzwords we might put there. But do we articulate why we do the things we do? What if I told my teachers that I wanted to inspire them to be innovative? Leave the kids out of it for a moment, and focus on the teachers. Inspire and innovate. I don’t have to tell them what that looks like, I have to model it in my own practice. Innovation comes from the fringes. Ric Murry and I had a banter back and forth about this via twitter the other day, but I think we can understand that teaching is not a “fringe,” but the model still works; it’s just semantics. Our teachers should be the ones leading the change and innovating. My role in all of this is to help provide the “why”. Steve Jobs didn’t make the iPod, he made the idea of an iPod possible. Teachers should be sharing their “innovations” with one another regularly, and I should be connecting them to one another to help spread that innovation.
Comparing what I do to what Steve Jobs does makes me feel way too self-important, but I think it’s an easy way to see the relationship between what we sometimes lack in schools and where we need to go.We don’t need mission statements, but rather leaders that inspire through action and empathy. Ginsberg’s session on Friday gave me a great insight into how to create a community of teachers that cares not only about one another, but about the level of teaching in the building: observations should be done with a group of teachers, as well as an administrator. Group observations and group debriefings, all with a common language and goals will become commonplace.
My thinking is shifting once again, and this time it’s shifting toward inclusion. Get on board, and grab an oar.