ASCD Reflection

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.


9 thoughts on “ASCD Reflection

  1. You are a better person than me for not ranting about the wireless access – I think that should be goal #1 in choosing location of these conferences!

    I love what you said about looking at the “what” vs. the “why”. I think sometimes as an educator I get really excited about a project or idea and then my plate gets too “full” of things to do. When I look at the “why” I am able to easily decide the what and prioritize. Not that all ideas aren’t good and have their purpose, but as teachers with such a limited amount of time with these children we need to remember to do things that give the most power to achieving our goals.

  2. Well said, Melanie. Just as our time is limited with students, our focus on the essential understandings of ourselves and our schools is too. We cannot always spend handle “multitasking” when it comes to what we offer our students. That you are able to focus and crystallize what is essential for your students is a high-level skill that I am sure your students are thankful for.

  3. I really love where your posts are going. You have easily become one of the blogs I look forward to reading. Distinguishing between the what and the why really has me looking differently and thinking differently. What better way to open up new experiences for ourselves and for the students! I am paddling with you and hoping to make some ripples along the way!

  4. Louise,

    It’s funny when things like that happen; all of a sudden someone writes something and you immediately gravitate toward what they are saying. For me, right now that’s happening with Ben Wilkoff. It seems like everything he writes, I wanted to express also.

    The conversation I had on the plane with Simon Sinek is turning out to be one of the most important ones I have had in a while. While brief, it let me in on a different way to see my relationship to the people I work with and serve.

    Let’s hope this is something to build on.

  5. Patrick,

    Having been to a few of these conferences, I always like you find my brain racing, especially when I hear perspectives I hadn’t considered.

    Which do you find more useful– some one who speaks to theory and concepts without the groundings in practicality (“telling it like it could or should be”) OR someone who gives practical and realistic solutions and “tells it like it is”.?


  6. Patrick,

    I like the question you are getting at–why can’t we just want teachers to innovate and share their innovations?

    Who wouldn’t want to be like Steve Jobs–if you are a teacher–why wouldn’t you want to attract students, make them feel like individuals, make them feel like what they were doing was “cool” and unique, and make them feel innovative and cutting edge? I mean, it’s kind of an interesting analogy you are drawing and I’m running with that idea, but my question would also be “why WOULDN’t we innovate?”

    How much value is there in doing anything the way it’s always been done? How responsive does that appear to be to the world our students live in?

    I think you are circling around some very important questions and issues here. Thanks for the thought stimulating post. (And I agree about talking to people on airplanes!)

  7. Barry,

    My experience with teachers at any level has always been that the authentic teacher, that is practicing what they preach as best they can, always has a lasting impact on me. Those teachers I have had who “tell me what it could be like” without providing me the opportunity to live it or experience it had much less affect on my learning.

    As I write that, I wonder how applicable that can be in our field. Is it practical to ask you biology teachers to be practicing biologists? Your chemistry teachers to mix chemicals in their spare time? Probably not, but they can talk about the processes they use to learn and solve problems.

  8. Carolyn,

    Those are some thorny words you speak there when you say “how much value is there in doing things the way we’ve always done?” I can see feathers ruffling all over the landscape of American public education, which at times has been predicated on TTWWADI (that’s the way we’ve always done it!).

    However, let’s look at what innovation really is and see who’s doing it on a near daily basis. I bet it’s that group of teachers whose electives are always full of students. When given a choice, students choose to be engaged by what these teachers are doing. I need to find these teachers and clone them, or at least hold them up higher for more people to see and learn from. One of the clearest things I am learning, and also one of the most difficult things about being in administration, is that I cannot be in the classroom to affect the change. However, I can help people get to the level they want to get to by giving them the opportunity to learn and grow. Finding innovation and celebrating it is my best bet right now.

  9. Hello Patrick,
    Simon is very grateful that you blogged about his cause to help spread the message of Why.
    If you could please send me your mailing address, Simon would like to send you a token of appreciation.

    Stay inspired and inspire others.


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