Al Ibrahim Listen

Al Ibrahim


I recently watched CeleSTE Headlee’s phenomenal TED talk on better ways to talk to people:

I’m hoping you took the twelve minutes to enjoy it as well.  In a world that gets busier and busier, I find we constantly need to relearn the fine art of tuning in. Schools are noisy.  They should be, we should be teaching our students how to make a splash, create a ripple, and have passionate discussions.  But we also need to take the time to engage with one another, to champion learning cohorts within our faculty.

As cathedrals of learning go, they can’t do very much without discourse.

How many conversations have you had with colleagues this week? How many times did you go past pleasantries, and really dig into a dialogue with any fraction of provocation?

brighter than sunshine conversation

brighter than sunshine


What does your school do to promote conversation? Do your meetings look and feel like a checklist, or do they engage with a variety of perspectives?

Two weeks ago, while attending Europe’s first ever #Learning2 conference in Milan as a Learning2 Leader I was reminded of the power of cultivating conversations.

Today, according to amazing lead learners like Carrie Zimmer, I’m well aware that this idea resonates with others from the L2 crew:

What we do with our time signifies who we are as a learning community. 

If we don’t have time for story sharing, questioning, and idea exchanges, we need to pivot with our time management. James Dalziel shared a fantastic post on just this idea, in his review of Teacher Self-Supervision: Why Teacher Evaluation Has Failed and What We Can Do about It 
by William PowellOchan Kasuma Powell

The authors argue that there needs to be a dramatic shift away from the traditional view that teaching is an isolated and individual activity toward a new culture where teachers have the need to meaningfully interact regarding their pedagogical practices and student learning. Having another professional presence in my learning environment should not be the cause of stress, tension, and anxiety but instead must become the natural interactive and collegial default by which we share our practice, express our vulnerabilities, and ultimately develop our professionalism.



The #Learning2 conference is designed to spark conversations.  This happens not only in the cohort gatherings and extended sessions, but it also happens in the days leading up to the conference.  As a L2 Leader I had the honor of getting time with fellow L2 Leaders: Warren, Sheldon, Carrie, Steven, Paula, Jeff, Simon, and Marcello.

We talked.

And talked.

And talked.

It was a buffet of ideation and so much more.  #Learning2 creates that space: an arena for meditative musing.

How do you create a culture where dialogue dominates?

Andy Matthews Wires

Andy Matthews


Step one:  Roll out the dough

Sure, every group has at least one person with a little more power than the rest–but when that conversation kicks off, the power dynamic needs to flatten out.  Jeff Utecht is one of the founders of Learning 2, and he has a good 15,000 more followers than the rest of his L2 Leaders, but he let the conversation lead–he didn’t see the dialogue as an opportunity to gain status.  There’s a big lesson there: real leadership is comfortable in the backseat as well as at the steering wheel. When you value the community, when you truly treasure the connections within the community, that level of leveled leadership is easy to do.

Step Two: Invite dissenting opinions

When the L2 Leaders sat down to pitch ideas and practice their Learning 2 talks (see them all here) the aim wasn’t to pat ourselves on the back.  The aim was to make our ideas better.  Ideas only improve by taking on criticism.  Criticism works best when we welcome it.  Be more vulnerable.  This is easy to do when you see your mentors taking it on.  Sheldon Bradshaw has been my mentor since I had the luxury of working with him in Indonesia.  Sheldon was my IT Director.  He took (and continues to take) risks.  When you see leadership modeling vulnerability, it puts the welcome mat down for others. Sheldon frequently asked for my opinion.  When a leader asks you to throw your two cents in, it matters.  When a star guitarist shares their amplifier with you, you feel like a rock star.  If you haven’t seen Sheldon’s talk, stop reading and enjoy:

Step Three: show public displays of affection

Maria Ly redpointing The King, V7 in Yosemite

Maria Ly
redpointing The King, V7 in Yosemite

Put your passion out there.  Learn in the great wide open.  When you know what your colleagues care about, you have a foothold to push forward from.


Some schools are better than others about purposefully linking passions.  Shekou International School seems to be quite good at it, check out their AMPed program:

Don’t wait for passion to push through the chaos on its own.  Intentionally create an environment for it to flourish.  Learning2 is an extremely connected conference.  The conference lives on through social media.  The passion inherent in that learning experience is documented and curated.

Step 3.5: Be beyond the learning

Many mission statements target learning, and reference developing academic excellence. Push past that.  Schools aren’t just about developing students, they should be about developing societies. Learning2 isn’t about technology.  It isn’t about curriculum.  Learning2 is about facilitating a better realm of education not just for teachers and students, but for human beings everywhere.

The thing is, we can only hold schools accountable at that societal level when we are holding ourselves responsible for our own well being first.  The healthiest schools don’t teach well-being, they model and prioritize it above all else.

So, working my way backwards, to recap:

If we authentically care about ourselves, we can truly care for others.  When we care for others we share our passions.  Where our passions meet, diversified opinions are championed. In those exchanges, we are led by our conversations and values, and not by the simple authority of one.

Thank you to the entire #Learning2 team, you’ve taught me to level up on my listening game, and to trust that the conversations you’ve curated will inspire me as I continue on my journey as an educator.

Shout out to Flickr for providing bloggers with stunning Creative Commons images

Al Ibrahim  Listen
brighter than sunshine conversation

Andy Matthews Wires

Maria Ly redpointing The King, V7 in Yosemite