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.

ISTE 2013

Some fun moments from the ISTE 2013 conference

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 — immersing ourselves in the tidal wave of dissonant ideas and sharp insights — 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 Is it testing, outdated curriculum or methods, lack of resources or equipment, overcrowded classrooms, equity issues?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 negative—churning in constant strife—is what handicaps us as a profession. At ISTE, I realized as I listened to so many wonderful ideas, examples, and stories — and as I collaborated with folks I didn’t know to negotiate meaning and innovation — 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.

System Failure 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

Be powerfulMy 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.

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During a 25-year education career, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach has been a classroom teacher, technology coach, charter school principal, district administrator, university instructor and digital learning consultant. Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice, where she works with schools and districts from around the world to re-envision their learning cultures and communities through the Connected Learner Experience and other e-learning opportunities. She is the author (with Lani Ritter Hall) of The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age (Solution Tree, 2012) and serves on the ISTE Board of Directors.
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