In my Learning2 Talk this April, one idea I wanted to share was the notion of seeing the school year as a campfire. In keeping with this vision, I wanted teachers to see themselves as kindling bearers rather than feeling perpetually pressured to be torch bearers. Often schools have ideas needing just a bit more fuel, sometimes our fire needs a touch more tinder.
It is easy to get lost in our own goals year after year. It is important for the culture of our schools to look out for dimming flames. We should seek opportunities to be the spark that other ideas need. I recently found the phenomenal blog of Katie Martin. In her post “Culture is Everything,” she drives this idea home. If you’ve been lucky to have worked at a school where the culture is a motivating force, you’ll quickly agree with what Martin has to say about the efforts we need to take in grooming the culture of our shared campus.
We know that kids (and adults) learn better when learning has an authentic purpose, subjects are integrated, and the learner has agency and choice in the process. Because of this, project-based learning is BIG right now and rightly so. You might wonder–Is there professional learning to support PBL? Are there programs that provide resources? Are there models that teachers can see and use? The answer to all of these questions is yes. Yes, you can provide all of these things and support teachers in the process to develop great projects, and you should, but it’s not enough.
I have seen some amazing examples of how project-based learning changes how kids learn in school when educators embrace integrated, authentic ways of learning in school but I have also seen these ideal methods added on to traditional schooling that rarely changes how kids learn. If the culture doesn’t foster creativity, risk-taking and innovation, project-based learning (or any transformative initiative) can easily become another thing added on a teacher’s plate. In education we tend to focus on the programs, procedures and policies. When, in reality, the culture is what will truly empower teachers to make a meaningful impact on student outcomes.
What if you saw every week as yet another opportunity to shape the culture at your school?
What would you do? With whom would you want to sculpt?
Whether you see it that way or not, the reality is, week after week we are all doing something to define the culture we work and live in.
Last week, one of my colleagues, Valerie, took action. Today, I am so incredibly thrilled to be hosting a second chat via #TeacherBookClub. Our esteemed guest, George Couros, is going to join us on Twitter to share some of the wisdom behind his incredible book. Valerie (a budding innovator herself), really took to what Couros has to say in his text. So much so, that she created a beautiful visual notes poster capturing some of her favorite key ideas:
Innovator’s Mindset in #postitnotes. Ready for #teacherbookclub. @FriedEnglish101 @gcouros #EagleEd pic.twitter.com/ItPKePOpEY
— Valerie Koch (@valerie_koch) May 25, 2016
At our Friday staff meeting, Valerie stood up, referenced her poster and advocated for attending the Twitter chat. But that’s not the most amazing thing she did. The action she took which was a ‘cultural shift’ a-ha moment happened next. Valerie said, “If you want to learn about Twitter you can ask…” and she pointed to a lovely sampling of colleagues around the room. She advocated for advocates.
“Leaders don’t create more followers, they create more leaders.” – Tom Peters
When we take the time to connect educators with other educators, when we show that a shared vision is coming into focus through our collective lenses, we are making our culture palpable.
What Valerie did in that #kindling moment was rev the engine Seth Godin describes in his post: The possibility of optimism (the optimism of possibility)
As soon as we realize that there is a difference between right now and what might happen next, we can move ourselves to the posture of possibility, to the self-fulfilling engine of optimism.
Nothing but gratitude and more gratitude. The kindness that abounds is palpable and is the kindling for this campfire you’ve started. (That’s about as flowery as I get.)
Every day feels like possibility. I don’t even know what to do with all the thoughts pulsing through my brain. I’ve been sitting on your comment to my blog post and your post from yesterday, slowing trying to figure out how to respond to it all, but really I’m just amazed, grateful, and young again.
I’ve implemented some of “this” into my teaching, specifically working on praise, and can feel the change in my classroom culture already.
Thanks for your honesty and your kindness. You may be leaving us, but your legacy is going to stick around.