I spent the last week of June in San Antonio at the 2013 conference of the International Society for Technology in Education. It was a time of deep learning for me on so many levels (as it was for many of the 15,000 attendees from across the globe). I gained both knowledge and information. I also discovered that when learning is both challenging and situated in the socially rich and connected learning environment ISTE prepared for us, the result can be akin to personal revelation.
Being stretched as a learner – it doesn’t get much better than that. I flew home more convinced than ever that educators need the kind of messy learning experiences that break us out of our routine mindsets and push us to think deep. Diving into ISTE for the best part of a week â€” immersing ourselves in the tidal wave of dissonant ideas and sharp insights â€” provokes serial “ah-ha” moments and forces us to operate as true learners and grow. All educators need professional learning experiences that consume us, not only in knowledge acquisition but in the personal construction of meaning as we apply what we are learning to our own local contexts and settings.
Curious about my own most significant “ah-ha” moment, as I listened, debated, internalized and applied all I was learning? It was this: To go higher and become better at what we do, you have to break down, rebuild, and start fresh. While we may never fully arrive, maintaining the status quo drains us of our creative urge and leaves us stagnant.
Think about that which makes you most angry about education. Is it testing, outdated curriculum or methods, lack of resources or equipment, overcrowded classrooms, equity issues? What makes you most angry? What’s standing between you and your peak performance?
Guess what? That isn’t the problem.
The problem comes when we get stuck in the anger and frustration about what is wrong with education. Staying in the negativeâ€”churning in constant strifeâ€”is what handicaps us as a profession. At ISTE, I realized as I listened to so many wonderful ideas, examples, and stories â€” and as I collaborated with folks I didn’t know to negotiate meaning and innovation â€” that external problems and “the need for reform” aren’t holding us back. What’s retarding our progress is our narrow focus and the deficit model we use to frame the world.
Too often we’ve let the pain dictate the outcome. We’ve let circumstance define who we are and draw boundaries for us that are unnecessary. The means to bring about real shift — to resolve the issues that stand in the way of powerful learning and powerful practice — are found within the collective, collaborative mindset we have inside us.
When we live in the anger and resentment about the state of affairs impacting children, the educational environment, or our current role, we manifest the problem all the more. Staying in the pain mindset forces us to constantly regenerate the pain as we rehearse it over and over in our conversations, our blogs, our tweets, and our professional lives. Even when we just go over the frustration repeatedly in our own minds, we recreate it. The more time we spend sowing the negative, the more unwanted results we’ll reap.
Taking the posture of a learner first, educator second requires us to understand that we will never arrive at the place of “super educator.” The truth is that even if we solve the problems facing us as a profession, the solutions will only give way to new problems. Now more than ever we need to become the learners we have always wanted our students to be. We do not need information about teaching and learning. We need revelation.
Focus on what you can do
My personal revelation reminded me that it is time to let go of the anger and pain. It is time to focus on what I can do. It is time to reclaim the wasted hours spent whining and being frustrated over testing, prescribed curriculum or lack of ____ (you fill in the blank). It’s time to invest those precious hours in collaboratively constructing solutions, fertilizing innovations, and transparently sharing what works (and what needs more work).
We are so fortunate to live in an era that gives us the tools to help enable global, collective intelligence building with a few clicks of a button. This is where we should be spending our time and energy: building our intentional networks around our collective passions. Making commitments to one another to share our best thinking and work toward solving the challenges of educating in a connected world.
Publish your best problem-solving ideas on your blogs. Make it easy for the rest of us to find your best pedagogy and examples of excellence in your work with kids online. Intentionally connect and share with others who are passionate about what you are passionate about. Let go of the anger. Let go of the complaining. Let go of the arrogance. Who looks good in a superhero’s cape?
Let’s choose to be powerful, connected collaborators — makers of the future we want in education — not pitiful victims of the current system. Want to know the best way to predict the future of education? Invent it.
Latest posts by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach (see all)
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Sheryl – This is a timely and empowering post. I’m glad ISTE was such a powerful time of learning for you! You deserve those blissfully “immersive” experiences, since you spend most of your time providing them for others!
Not only does this push me to continue thinking about what I CAN do to keep improving what I do for students every day, but it also reminds me to SHARE those ideas with others and get feedback that will push me even further. Last night’s PLP Twitter chat was a great collaborative effort, filled with wonderful questions and the sharing of ideas that work. 🙂
There was only one statement in your post I wanted to address – “To go higher and become better at what we do, you have to break down, rebuild, and start fresh.” In many ways I agree with this – I had some serious “unlearning” to do myself – I still do – but I also know that teachers may read “start fresh” and think this means they need to completely “start over” after years of successful service. This makes the learning curve seem insurmountable, and makes the first step difficult to take.
Having started my PLP journey almost 3 years ago, and approaching the ripe “old” age of 50 this fall, I want folks to know that ANY step forward is just that – a step forward! Even the smallest baby step pulls you out of that stagnation and reminds you what it means and how it feels to be a learner…
Thanks for making me smile this morning – Your energy and passion never cease to inspire…
Thanks for your kind words.
In response to this statement… “To go higher and become better at what we do, you have to break down, rebuild, and start fresh.”
I meant it more around challenging the status quo in our lives. The comfortable places. The places where we have a system and hit the easy button. I think taking our selves out of our comfort zone regularly is the best way to up our game and grow. Hope that resonates.
Sheryl, like you, I found the numerous interactions at ISTE both challenging and enlightening. Many of the teachers I chatted with were excited to learn a variety of ways to handle challenges they perceived may lay ahead. To a person, the thought seemed to be that administration will slow or stop the changes. The frustration that I am not able to set aside is that techniques, changes and especially implementations, of what is know to be needed to actually impact student learning, are seen as “Ivory Tower.” What I experienced was teachers happily preparing themselves for change while not expecting to need to do so.
You said, “The frustration that I am not able to set aside is that techniques, changes and especially implementations, of what is know to be needed to actually impact student learning, are seen as “Ivory Tower.” What I experienced was teachers happily preparing themselves for change while not expecting to need to do so.”
I think you are spot on here. It as if change is safe and fun because it really will not be expected of us right? Not in a system that changes in small increments.
Maybe the change needs to start inside us with our own sacred cows. What if we focused on personal change for personal growth? What if we just stopped whining and complaining and spent a week at a time with focusing on and saying what it good or right with us, others, and the profession?
I always feel energized when I read your articles! Thanks for being my burst of positive energy! Life is too short to focus on the negative (it’s like a cancer), stay positive and enjoy every moment!
Thanks Stephanie… here is to both of us holding each other accountable to be positive and to focusing on what is right in our spheres of influence. What is right with the kids we touch and celebrating what they can do and letting the learning begin from a place of strength rather than weakness.
Thanks for your comment.
Thank you so much, Sheryl, for articulating the bubbling pot of ideas and impressions I brought back with me. I’ve been thinking about Jane McGonigal and about how so much of the sense of fun, adventure, and comradeship (both among teachers and between teachers and students) has been missing. My trigger word for ISTE 2013 is “palpable.” Upon seeing it on the banner outside the convention center, I burst out in delighted laughter. THAT’S the kind of “assessments” we need — when something invisible (like learning) becomes so intense that it has substance, substance so recognizable that it doesn’t need a number to validate it.
As always, it was wonderful to see you again. Looking forward to ISTE 2014 and a chat about the success of “starting fresh.”
I am with you.. palpable. That is what I want to be. Open to change. Open to being wrong. Open to new ideas. Open to once again believing in myself, my profession and each other. Launching new ideas from a place of strength and joy.
I agree with your approach to education. Too many focus on what’s wrong and not on what is already being done in classrooms.
Thanks Arnold. So you and me… let’s start with us and celebrate what is working by sharing it out. Let’s make a point to let others know what we and what they do well. Concrete models of success found in each other and then shared with the world.
Thank you! Thank you! Your blog was spot on…….it’s time to invent!
Thanks! Let’s do it.
In reading your post a few things came to mind…
1. Immediately thought of a saying that my friend and colleague, Lisa Arnold often says to nay sayers, “Can’t never could do anything.” So true. Being stuck in a negative place yields negative results.
2. Possibility…your post challenges me to think of possibilities and not only “it would be nice if…” but “how can I…”
3. I will take you up on your challenge to share what I learn and what I understand. Last year, because of my work with PLP, I began to blog. It’s been liberating, being able to share learning, be transparent (even with my blunders), and gain insight and feedback from others has been rejuvenating.
I am grateful for your insight and passion. You and your organization have done more for me professionally than I could ever have imagined.
Thanks Amy. You too are an inspiration. Please continue to selflessly share what works in your classroom and life. You deserve to be celebrated. And other children deserve a taste of what you give yours.
Thank you for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I look forward to sharing it with others and generating more discussion and hopefully action. We need reminders and inspiration to take charge, stop complaining, and make things happen. I feel fortunate to have connected with you at ISTE and beyond.
You said, “We need reminders and inspiration to take charge, stop complaining, and make things happen.”
I am here by appointing you head of the committee to hold me accountable when I lapse back into griping and complaining rather than remembering what I can do to evoke positive change. Thanks for being my friend.
Hi Sheryl, as usual an important comment. Complaining, without a plan to attempt to change the situation is dangerously close to the dreaded “victim mentality”. I am in agreement with your thinking that educators need to jump in and maintain focus on their innate commitment to teaching excellence and continually improving student learning. I wonder though if there should also be a move beyond personal passion for excellence to a collective, political passion to improving some of the more agreed upon problems in education in general and in the educational system that they find themselves in. There seem to be so many public assaults of the educational system and its failures that it is very tempting for a teacher to keep their head down politically and vow to make a difference where they can – with their students. This then can easily become the opposite of the desired collective/collaborative approaches to teaching and learning that we know can make a difference. Aside from working harder and then quietly (or not so quietly) complaining, should teachers be more outraged by the circumstances that they find themselves in? Where are the marches by educators that go beyond collective bargaining for pay equity and really demand more authentic change from the system itself? There are plenty of popular TED talks such as Bill Gates speaking about the need for better teacher feedback or Ken Robinson’s comments about an “escape from the Death Valley of Education”; I prefer the motivating anger in the talk by Geoffrey Canada which says Enough is Enough! http://www.ted.com/talks/geoffrey_canada_our_failing_schools_enough_is_enough.html Is it time for teachers to collectively say enough is enough, get outraged and get political?
I understand your point, Rose Di, but the TED talks you reference are high-profile persons repeating what some teachers and parents have been saying and fighting for for decades in some parts of this country.
Sheryl, I’ve got very mixed reaction to your post. On the one hand, I absolutely want to put most of my energies and time into teaching and my own learning. I know the power of networks, and am learning more and more about the power of connected learning–thanks in large part to your work. I see too many discouraged, and even unconcerned teachers, who just throw up their hands, bury their heads, and plod through the school year.
However, I have a hard time separating that desire from the political and economic reality of teaching. For me, and many other teachers there are very intentional blocks to doing what we know is best for students—no matter how effective it is or how passionate we are. For those who choose to stay rather than leave schools like the ones around me here in the Delta, it’s impossible not to get angry at the deliberate, systemic, and sustained inequality forced on these children, and on us, their teachers. What we can’t do is continue to suffer in silence, only complaining or whining among ourselves.
Isn’t there a need for both the positive energy and some righteous anger?
I am not suggesting we take a “let them eat cake” mentality. Especially when it comes to issues of social injustice. I am suggesting this “The problem comes when we get stuck in the anger and frustration about what is wrong with education. Staying in the negativeâ€”churning in constant strifeâ€”is what handicaps us as a profession. ”
I feel like the more people complain about what is wrong (especially in politics) and do nothing more than yell at the TV or whine in the halls of the school about the circumstance- that they are simply reinforcing the negative. Instead of focusing on what we can’t do because of culture, poverty, and circumstance- let’s help kids and educators focus on the positive– what we CAN do to climb out or change what is working against us.
If you reread I do not think anywhere I was suggesting suffering in silence. I am talking about proactive, positive change focused on what can be done as individuals and even more, what can be done collectively.
Appreciate the clarification (and another reading of your post was helpful). I’m actually hopeful that the growing trends toward collaboration among teachers both within and outside of our own buildings will in fact be a great impetus for changing education in a fundamental way. Thanks for the encouragement.
Do not mistake positive action for suffering in silence. My suggestion is to take the hours and hours of ranting to each other about what doesn’t work and what is missing and put it into proactive, positive solutions.
Thanks for your comment- I appreciate you weighing in.
Thank you, Sheryl, for some passionate, positive, forward-thinking advice to start my day. We all need to do what we can wherever we are–I love imagining a school where everyone has that attitude! I know what a classroom can be like because I’ve been blessed to be in some and wish I had the power to replicate that in every room in the building. Time to stop wishing and work on making it happen in my own space and start sharing more regularly with my PLN. You’re right; focusing on what we can’t do is defeatist; focusing on what we can do is synergistic! Thanks for some great reminders about what matters!
I believe it is a great way to model problem solving and how to greet life for our students too. Thanks for being part of this conversation.
As you know, I’m a ‘glass full’ kinda gal by nature but your post makes me more convicted to celebrate the good!
I just finished a week of writing with colleagues as part of our Ministry of Ed initiative around Adolescent Literacy (my part related to technology). We are so fortunate in Ontario that teacher voice is important to our MOE! Lots to celebrate there!
I love reading Deb Meier’s small schools work and find she has the courage to change things that have always been – a simple example is taking away bells at school. No monetary cost to that change – just changes in thinking.
In starting fresh this year, I’d like to think about cheering folks on and celebrating more of my f2f examples of excellence through my blog and network
Thanks or the reminder of the importance of that sharing and celebrating!
You are so smart, so creative and have such a fresh look at status quo issues that you not sharing is a travesty. I do want to encourage, nudge, push you toward sharing transparently and being willing to give your creative, fresh perspective to my ideas and others. You should be, could be, must be a strong female voice toward positive educational change. Go for it.
This was an interesting paragraph.
“Think about that which makes you most angry about education. Is it testing, outdated curriculum or methods, lack of resources or equipment, overcrowded classrooms, equity issues? What makes you most angry? What’s standing between you and your peak performance?”
At first I answered the question by thinking that there was nothing about education that makes me angry, but then my mind started to think that there must be something I am angry about so I started to visualize some issues.
So my dilemma is, How do you stop your self from joining in the ‘pity party’ when colleagues start to wine or think negatively? I feel that focusing on the positives and seeing the glass half full does help, as does being in the company of people who always look on the bright side of life. Meditation is also another powerful way of strengthening the intellect.
Thanks for starting the discussion.
I so agree. If you want to play basketball- hang with basketball players (not hockey). If you want to be part of proactive, creative change– then do not hang with those who just whine and complain. Hang with those who are doing something– who are as Seth Godin says– willing to ship and take risks.
As to your question about “How do you stop your self from joining in the ‘pity party’ when colleagues start to wine or think negatively?” I deal with it this way.
1. I keep silent for a few comments and then if no one asks what I think– I walk away. People notice I was silent and will usually mention it later 1-1 where I explain I want to focus on what I can do and proactive change and then direct the conversation there..
2. I counter every negative statement said in the group with something positive. Which inevitably someone will find annoying and I can then make my case.
3. When someone goes into a diatribe or rant I usually ask — So what? They will rant a bit more and I will say– but so what? What is your “griping” going to change? Nothing. It is only hurting you and robbing your peace. Why not focus that energy in a direction that can result in something shifted or changed? Talk less. Listen more. Act most.
I’m sorry, but I can’t get past the title: break down, rebuild, start fresh. Isn’t that a brainwashing technique?? Are we educators or reeducators?
Brainwashing? No, I do not think so. I see the learning process itself as breaking it down, rebuilding and starting fresh. Schematic development – straight Piaget.