Something akin to sensemaking

Like most of us out there, we are nearing the end of the year in my district, and with it comes the rush of exams, the spontaneous absence of students due to field trips and warm weather, and all of the various celebratory events that accompany June in New Jersey. However, this is the time of the year where taking stock of past events becomes essential to learning from what we’ve done.

Mark at Anecdote wrote recently about talking to a client of his about sensemaking as it relates to having perspective on situations that we need to understand in our life and work:

It provides an opportunity for an unhindered look at the experiences of
participants and the gaining of new and valuable insights into the
state of the system under examination; what is working and what isn’t,
and the implications moving forward.

A few days ago I had the wonderful opportunity to work with a group of first-year teachers in a two-hour workshop. When the idea was pitched to present to them, I immediately began thinking about what were essential concepts that I could present in two hours. To do this, I looked back at the past year of notes, big paper brainstorms, but most importantly, I looked at the conversations that I have had through this medium. It hit me when I was reading Eric Hoefler’s post called 60-30-10: I am not writing in isolation. The best way to fully experience this is look over previous posts and analyze personal change, notice patterns and assess growth.

This is the essence of sensemaking; we are looking for meaning and deciphering patterns in our own thought when we examine our posts, and even deeper so when we analyze conversations in comments.

In doing this, what did I see? What were those concepts? Considering the discussions and the tremendous amount that I have learned in the past few months regarding direction and philosophy of education, two hours looked like too small a window for me to fit what I considered essential. However, that thought in itself taught me everything that I needed: the information is what is important, not the technology. Jeff Utecht makes this analogy so well in Embedded Technology on his blog, where he promotes the idea, gleaned from discussion on a previous post, that it is far better to consider technology as an integral piece of the planning, rather than a bell and a whistle at the end. My take on the same piece as applied to these two hours was that rather than show them some bells and whistles, I would focus on individual productivity. My choices? Aggregating RSS feeds and social bookmarking.

Upon scrutiny of this past year in terms of my professional development, nothing has allowed me more access to information than my aggregator and my ability to use smarter people than me to search for me on del.icio.us. Two hours on those two aspects was more than enough time, so much so that I was also able to slip in connective writing and creating global classrooms.

In the next couple of days, provided the 8-week old steadily moves toward a more fixed schedule, I will continue to examine this past year by covering some topics that are truly meaningful to me as I prepare for next year, such as changing school philosophy and environment, building teams, and taking risks.

Sensemaking, to return to the original theme of this ramble, is the art of connecting yourself to the larger ideas that surround you. Stopping to take a look at them is the first step towards learning from what you have done.

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