stretched

Sigh. I pursue my next pedagogical iteration with gusto, every day.

Modern Learning? I’m in! Connected with a Twitter PLN? Fershur. Teacher Blog? TEDEd…bring it on! EdTech presentation? Build a digital PLN? Here you go! U betcha! There is something thrilling in seeking out new edtech convos, strategies, and mentors. Finding a new way to play at work has always been a motivator for me. And over the last ten years, I have noticed the shift in education where it finally seems like this approach has become acceptable. The ‘play’ is couched in ‘Co’ pronouns like co-plan and co-learn, but the essence to explore collectively is a breath of fresh air.

The thought of pursuing learning solely from my own stomping grounds kinda brings me down.

Historically, I frequently travel beyond my region, landing south of the border, schooling myself on the abundance of connected educators I find there. Google is repped by Alice Keeler,  Global Citizenship, you gotta visit Paul Solarz. You want to escape textbook drudgery, check out Matt Miller. The open offer from each of their classrooms and contexts has changed me, permanently. Carol Salva in her conversation with Rolland Chidiac on Rolland Chidiac Connects mentioned that she felt bad for people who have never experienced a digital PLN, specifically on Twitter. She went on to declare that she could never go back to her former, non-connected self. And I thought, me too!

…but am I creating at the same rate that I consume?

Then I got to thinking about the weight of my edu-collectables. The truth with all digital media is that the ease of storage belies a metric of time to acquire and energy to organize. And when I engage in some self-reflective and minimalistic analysis I inevitably come to the conclusion that I am overconsuming at the digi-buffet. And, ironically, looking forward to the next thing might be keeping me from developing what is in front of me.

Does more data help, ACTUALLY?

I try to pay attention to everything that my job throws at me. And when I go to autopilot on my drive for knowledge I tend to assume that all of it is crucial. I am the guy who sits in the front row, takes notes, backchannels, side channels, reviews, posts/reposts, asks questions, and remembers. This, I have come to accept, is curation and not a creation at all.  In the end, with my time spent, I often have not tested the information, created a thing, or returned to the convo with a new thought. But I have done a heck of a lot of thinking about thinking. I guess my gut check is now telling me to keep my aware of both my reach and grasp.

If I narrow my bandwidth, focus my attention, and reduce the number of digi-iniatives … am I still doing my job?

When learning does not result in doing, something is out of balance. And when the synergy between learning and doing starts to break down, learning communities close doors to creativity.  For now, I am making sure that in each moment where I am pursuing a new frontier, I ask myself five questions:

  1. Is there something else that needs my attention?
  2. Is this making me happy?
  3. Is this improving my communication?
  4. Am I creating deeper connectivity?
  5. Am I saving time?

Right now..?

  • Is all of your learning resulting in some type of doing? Are you also iterating and testing, often?
  • When engaged in creating are you doing so in a community? Are the participants dissonant enough to provide essential feedback?
  • Does the feedback create reflective loops and opportunities for scalability? Teacher learning should contribute to student learning and vice versa.

finding flow part two

Flow means a lot to me, and I am growing more and more bound to it every day. As an educator in a large school board, events occur all the time that challenge my perception of my job, and what is assumed of me. This, for the most part, is a good thing; I do crave change. And when things change, I like to ask a lot of questions. Heck, when things don’t change or haven’t changed, I get in on that too. With more questions than answers, it can often look like I disbelieve much. But if I am not asking questions, then I am not learning. And if I am not learning, then what I am modeling for my students?

Sometimes my flow drive puts me at odds with conventional practices. I am not the type to be dissuaded by hitting a dead end in my inquiry, and I definitely do not shy away from having hard conversations. I am patient and strategic and inexhaustibly curious. Also, I know that the right question posed to the right person will reveal the loot bag I am looking for. And, notwithstanding my stubborn stance, the system could never know that it is massive and unaware and that I constantly feel its gravity on me; unless I squeak a bit.

I am okay with this. I am more than okay; I think that I am flourishing. In my current program, I benefit from the optimal balance of board support structures and individual agency and that is a real sweet spot for my brain, my creativity, and my pedagogy. The students that  I am privileged to teach are a part of a program that flourishes because my colleague and I ask critical questions and seek new creative answers. We design unique and individualized opportunities for learning; both curricular and of self; making sure that when our program needs something, we ask. And it seems like we are always asking. Funny thing about asking a valid question, how the question is answered can be more revealing than the response itself.

I read a story, from a keynote, given by the late Joe Bower. In the story, two young goldfish swim under a senior goldfish, and the older goldfish asks the youngsters, ‘How’s the water down there boys?’ The fish swim on, several minutes later, one of the young fish asks his buddy, ‘What’s water?’ Moments later the fish pass each other. The old fish asks, again. ‘How’s the water down there boys?’  This story not only highlights the irony of ignorance but also that the fishbowl, the invisible yet absolute barrier, wins.

If I place myself in the goldfish story almost every element has a connection that can be found in my teaching life. And, in my defense, my pursuit of what’s best for my students entails rocking the fishbowl metaphor a bit. Each time the bowl shifts, not only do I get a priceless view of life outside, but I also get a small chance to jump from the bowl. In certainty, this strategy will continue to create tensions in my day since most of my current questions focus attention on the fishbowl itself.  And to be honest, the fishbowl is a new discovery to some. Teaching is not my first career, my work instincts were honed primarily in kitchens and dining rooms. My views inevitably have some exotic shape and flavour initially; not radical, but definitely sourced outside-the-bowl.

For now, I am starting a conversation with the system; a debate about numbers that are rooted in the deepest elements of our education system. Equipped with the ‘What ifs..?’ that many of my students ask I go to a table with many different constituents and I try to understand the history of board decisions out of context. And like the fish in the bowl, it will take some effort to get to a new point of view. Making connections with and between the offerings of the system and the reality of my students is at the heart of my pedagogy; connections that I cannot always make as clear as I want to, but I am on the verge of mudskipping.

finding flow part one

Flow means a lot to me.

I can admit that my mono-tasking, hyper focus on it, drives me to distraction at times.

At nearly every turn I am aware of my movement in space, my thoughts in my mind, the distances and connections between tasks- as I move around my class, as type on my keyboard, as I colour or draw or write or talk or walk.

All of these elements track subconsciously, and when I bring them to attention I instinctively want to make their edges smoother, the transition between them seamless, the barriers invisible. This is more than a poetic approach for me. This is me in life as well. As I move through spaces, I cannot help but calculate the most efficient path.

I have had ridiculous debates with my 8 and 6-year-olds regarding efficient workflow. I ask them why they did not bring their dishes to the sink as they walked past me mid diswashing, or put their clothes on the floor instead of in hamper, or even replace the toilet paper roll with the roll that was sitting right on the shelf. I know that they do not have answers, and I know they are learning, but something in me does not cave to these thoughts. Something in me wants them to ‘flow’ too.

This is not a teacher thing, this is me. And I can admit that even ‘teacher-me’ has difficulty keeping it real with the ‘non-teacher-me.’ But when these two sides groove and the educator in me harnesses the obsessive flow rider energy, exciting things happen.

At the heart of my feng shui mindset lives the belief that if people know better, they can act better. Now I get the fact that it is not my sole domain to make the world click with IKEA efficiency, but I have met enough people that simply did not consider, never knew, or thought it was impossible to exist in this type of space, to pursue this. And the majority of these conversations occur in my ‘teacher-me’ life.

I have sat at many round-table discussions on the topic of student success and achievement, where the systems that be, gave the dogmatic impression that they knew what was best for the child and family in question. Often the language is codified in eduwash and held at a distance with just enough sparkle to seem real. The reality is that many times the solution based success story is likely to succeed, but it is a thin offering in truth.

What’s possible in education is not set. Despite the hard truth of budgets, and expectations, and staffing, and engagement and a whole lot of other perceptual barriers, genuinely creative options for students’ success do exist.

What if..? What else..? And what now..? These three questions have become my dark arts defense against the narrow, the rushed, the vague, and the short offerings that sometimes get tabled in these discussions. Staying in the moment long enough to reveal other possibilities can be a little ‘white knuck-ly’ especially when everyone else starts posturing from an ‘As-If’ viewpoint.

But I assure you, really cool things happen in that space just beyond the textbook, in the ambiguous after moment of what if, what else, and what now?

I will get into that in part two of this post.