Year End, Part II

Yes, there is a Part II this time.  I’ve been thinking about some of the lists flying around, some of the reflections from the past year, and obviously the predictions people are making about the upcoming year.  Working in schools automatically puts me at an odd place when looking at chronology; our year begins in September and ends in June, so this midpoint that occurs in January is almost anti-climactic for us teacher-folk.  For those in the world that exists outside of education, it’s epochal and much is said about the before and after of December 31st.

I read this the other day from Gina Bianchini about how she judged her efforts in creating Ning with Marc Andreessen:

Before Ning started, Marc and I decided that we would judge our success
by the diversity of networks on the platform. Today we have more than
600,000 and counting. It seems as if there is one for every hobby,
school, language or interest you can think of. I’ve seen networks
for everything from raw-food enthusiasts to fans of Britney Spears.

and I thought about judging the value of what I do here.  In a conversation with my brother-in-law the other day, I noted how difficult it is now that I am out of the classroom to get feedback on what I do.  The results of my efforts are not so immediately visible as they were when standing among students.  But what can I take as feedback?  Last year at this time, I wrote about what I had done the year before that I was proud of.  Looking back at this year, it’s so different.  It’s much less tangible.  Looking at this quote from Bianchini, I am thinking that my validation criteria needs to change–I need new indicators.

Perhaps there is a bigger shift to look at, not just for me, but for all of us.  In surveying these end of year brain dumps, I caught Fred Wilson’s over at A VC in his “Bits of Destruction,” post.  This part jumped out at me:

I’m typing this on my blackberry in a hotel lobby in Berlin, I’ll hit
send, and it will be published and read by roughly 5,000 people today.
Compare that to what it takes to get the Tom Friedman column ‘Time To Reboot America
which is sitting in front of me in the International Herald Tribune
newspaper printed and delivered to me. Printing and distribution
infrastructure cannot compete with bits on a wire and we are going to
see that infrastructure end up in in bankruptcy a lot in the next 12
months.

then this line from a comment drove it home:

I have long said that the only way an independent bookstore can survive is to not be a bookstore.

What if I framed it out that way when looking at what it is I do?  The only way to make significant differences in student learning at the curriculum planning and implementation level is to not be in curriculum planning and implementation.  It’s more than that.  In my limited experience, what I most represent to people is change, and I’ve discussed the idea that change ruffles the feathers of competence and causes cognitive dissonance.  From the bookstore example, if I show up at an independent bookstore I am most likely not just showing up for the books, but rather the smells, the characters, the possibility of channeling some far off Bohemian writer and probably that crazy weird tea they have brewing somewhere in the cafe section.

I am not about to start trying to win people over by promising this or that, but rather trying to represent real opportunity within the creation of curriculum and the re-examining of classroom practices.  It doesn’t have to come from me.  Small booksellers have to do more than sell books, they have to conjure ideas and feelings.  I don’t have to bring change, but I do have to create opportunities that maximize student learning and engagement, derive from the passions of teachers, and save time.  To echo a quote used today by a respected colleague, Robin Ellis (quoting Laura Sipes):

we are all so busy, so (innovation)technology can’t be added to your life, but must take the place of something you already do.

Ideas and innovation must make what we do easier and more efficient, otherwise they don’t stick.  So when I look back at this time next year, I don’t expect to marvel at the lack of feedback, but instead see a trail of indicators like new course design, more systems to gather student and teacher feedback, flexible and on-demand professional development, and a developing culture of innovation.

Pass the tea and Kafka, please.

Image Credit: “Forced Reflection” from shareski’s photostream

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2 thoughts on “Year End, Part II

  1. Well said, Patrick. I experienced similar feelings last year as the instructional tech coordinator. This year, I am back in the classroom. And, yes, being in the classroom gives me the opportunity to do the hands-on work and see the results. It is gratifying. Yet, I have teachers tell me they miss my help, my suggestions, the time I was able to spend setting up projects and spaces for them to experiment. And it’s great to see what they are doing on their own this year. If/when I return to that position, I’ll keep your words in mind and remember that it is the trail of indicators that matters.

  2. Patrick, you are right, when you move out of the classroom the indicators do have to change, because how you judge what you do is much less visible. The time you spend with colleagues is in much smaller chunks, you deal with several content areas, some of those you collaborate with are receptive to new ideas, and some are not. Regardless, you have to move forward and hope some will take advantage of the opportunities you present and be willing to risk a changing something in their practice that will stretch them and in turn maximize student learning and engagement. Keep up the great work, what you have shared this year has been fantastic! I am sure next year at this time you will see the trail of indicators you refer to in this post.

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