How do I change? Where do I start?

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Change by Gilad Benari

I have been transitioning to a new rhythm and perspective (I moved from being a classroom teacher to working on our district’s Instructional Leadership team). While I am in no way 100% adjusted, I am beginning to get the lay of the land, so to speak. One aspect of my job that has provided significant insights is the opportunity to have and to listen to conversations of both teachers and administrators across the K to 12 spectrum.

One theme I have heard in a variety of words and ways is the sentiment:

How do I change?

and

Where do we start our change process?

One teacher came right out and said “How do I get myself to change!!” It hit me: “Ah, it’s about the change process rather than the specifics or details of the change.”

This prompted me to reflect on what has afforded change in my process:

  • Have an honest talk to self: When I first decided I needed to change my practice I had a very frank, heart to heart conversation with myself. I had to admit: “Yup girl, you are in a rut!” It took several tries for this conversation to manifest. Admitting to myself that I need to change was my first and biggest step. I did not want to admit that I HAD to change.
  • Get into deep end as quickly as possible but don’t expect traction right away: I know…lots of people say, go slowly, do one thing at a time. For me going all in was what pushed me to wake up and see things anew. I don’t think the aha’s would have been the same if I had inched along. Think skydiving; you have to jump, if you want to do it!
  • Build a community of reminders: For me this community of reminders is Twitter. Every day I get an infusion of positive, upbeat, and concrete reminders of who I want to be and where I want to go. Twitter affords me the conditions I need to remember: “Right, that’s what I want to do, that’s who I want to be!” As a bat uses echolocation to move towards the goal, Twitter provides feedback to feedforward on a continual basis.
  • Establish a reflection routine: Whether to your friend on Friday after school, to your work partner first thing in the AM via Twitter or thought regular blogging, reflection has been my number one way towards actualized change. Blogging allowed me to track and understand myself and my course of change.
  • Accept you will have to ask for help: I am not a tech wizard…but I realized I wanted to learn how to use tech more than I wanted to appear as an expert. I had to ask for help, BUT I did not become dependent. Most of my tech learning has been facilitated via You Tube (and the great screencasts of other change agents).
  • Let outdated routines go: I am a big visualizer and I imagined my old habits as a ball and chain I had to cut off. Some of the habits I had to let go of were marking every piece of student work, micromanaging student’s time and over planning.
  • Put in the time: If I said change did not take time, I would be lying. Time and elbow grease may provide significant returns, however, time spent is not THE determining factor (I had spent tons of time before AND not experienced significant change).
  • Let go of ego: I will admit it…though hard even now. One of my biggest hurdles was my own ego; I was the expert teacher! I had worked hard and figured it out! Yup, had to let that go.
  • Compromise: My way or the highway, I was the expert and as a perfectionist, I did not know how to compromise. Another hate to admit it to the world, but in compromise I have realized that every project, idea, and goal is always #bettertogether.

What has afforded you change in your life, your teaching practice or in your school?

I and many others would love to hear!

#flipclass as adjacent possible

Strategic change management often means encouraging gradual evolution – allowing the company to move from one adjacent possible to another. One idea – collaboration, for example – can lead to another, such as removing fixed desks and landlines and encouraging what we call the ‘bump factor’. These changes, in turn, can lead to further improvements in the way that people, places and technology work together.

Dave Coplin

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If you think about educational change, you can’t (all other variables kept static) change from a traditional “stand and delivery” teacher and POOF overnight become an inquiry based one. Similarly, moving from a teacher directed classroom to a student centered one, requires a gradual evolution for both teacher and students. Too radical a change might in fact cause the extinction of the very change you are trying to implement. Systems survive by maintain homeostasis of the system, not by being disrupted, regardless of how worthy or valuable the disruption. Moreover, the change might not even be imaginable or seem possible from the starting perspective.

How about on our way towards the desired change we move to the adjacent possible? First.
How about instead of telling teachers the changes they “should” make, how about providing them with a way to change?

Many #flipclass practitioners have spent considerable time and energy defining, explaining and clarifying what exactly #flipclass is and what it is not. Throughout I felt a key component of my explanation was missing but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it; #flipclass was close enough to what I already did but AT THE SAME TIME it opened up new opportunities for changes previously unattainable and unseen. This dynamic was for me the secret sauce of #flipclass as a vehicle for change. It was not whether #flipclass was “bad or good” (we could debate this forever) or the same as traditional practice…

Instead. What mattered? #Flipclass was possible AND created new possibilities for further change. Critics have been quick to pounce and this observation against #flipclass; “Look teachers who use #flipclass move beyond it”. Exactly!

How about instead we consider #flipclass as adjacent possible? As Steven Johnson describes, adjacent possible:

captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation. In the case of prebiotic chemistry, the adjacent possible defines all those molecular reactions that were directly achievable in the primordial soup. Sunflowers and mosquitoes and brains exist outside that circle of possibility. The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.

The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven’t visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.

Change occurs within a complex interconnected system. You might in fact, have the best new idea, but that does not mean it will survive within the system. If you see #flipclass simply as “old wine in new bottles” consider #flipclass as the process of change rather than as the change.

Johnson compares ideas to a number of interconnected rooms down a hallway: you can’t reach the final room without travelling through the others. When I was in my “traditional teaching room” I could not see all the way down the hall to inquiry. As I moved into the adjacent possible of #flipclass, I gained new perspectives that I could not have in the original space. Being in this new space, a new adjacent possible became possible.

What is your adjacent possible?

Navigating Uncertainty.

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Image shared on Flickr by Matt Curry

Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new. Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lies.
Margaret Wheatley

Blame it on the rain (now sun). Blame it on #blc13. Blame it on David Weinberger’s book Too Big to Know.

But it is official: I feel uncertain about the future of education.

 Is Uncertainty the New Certainty?

I am uncertain about mark generation and our use of letter grades and percentages.
I am uncertain about top down prescribed siloed curricula.
I am uncertain of our report cards as representative of student learning.
I am uncertain of exactly what skills will best equip our students for their futures.
I am uncertain of our systems ability to adapt and evolve in a timely manner.
I am uncertain of our systems ability to provide a relevant and meaningful education to our students.

Yet. As a system, we continue to devote our limited energy towards maintaining a status quo of certainty
To evolve as a system do we have to embrace our collective uncertainties before we can experience meaningful systemic change?
For change to ripple throughout the system, do we need to let go of our facade of certainty to create a new status quo that embraces uncertainty?

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Image Shared on Flickr by Dean Shareski

Meanwhile

Our system’s exoskeleton sits propped up like a circus tent; the exterior imposingly large but inside vacuous and lacking life, sucked clean by how and where students are really learning. Our obsessive data collection (aka certainty) our primary propping mechanism. This mandated propping keeps us inside anchored and frozen in place. If we let go the tent will collapse, we inside trapped. In our pursuit to justify to ourselves and society that learning is in fact going on, we have inadvertently crushed, like insects, the potential for connected learning to occur.
Just, look at these grad rates–up! Look at these failures rates–less than one percent!
We are certain…so certain.
So certain in fact that we keep all our feedback loops dialed in on this status quo of certainty. Any new behaviors patterns squelched as they disrupt the system’s ability to maintain homeostasis; life of the system superseding innovation of the system.

Meanwhile

Here we stand. Education. Standing stubbornly on our hierarchical particle based shores; siloed groupings guarding their piles of sand even as the grains wash out to sea. Adamant and petulant in the certainty of ourselves.
Stand here! We will not venture into these unknown waters! We are right! Foot stomp. Arms crossed. We are!

Meanwhile.

Uncertainty grows and like the fog rolls in. We on the shore, trapped in “analysis paralysis”, growing ever more hesitant and fearful to launch into the uncharted dark waters.
BUT we can’t launch…now. We need more…more…data, more certainty. Produce it and THEN we will launch.

Meanwhile.

Classrooms remain centered around asking, teaching, memorizing Googlable factoids. The primary focus to provide “bits” of just in case certainty to students, who remain decidedly uncertain about the relevance. The message unspoken but loud:

You will get something interesting later on (when and if you deserve it) but first jump through these hoops. This is training for what REALLY matters (life, job, university)!  Later you will see why and how it matters; we are doing you a favour!  We are here to indoctrinate you into certainty. We are certain that all the facts in this book matter and all are relevant. Don’t venture beyond this book and you will be successful! Yes, we are certain this will be on the test. Yes, we are certain that if you miss class it will lower your mark. Yes the answer is B, look it up in the text-book! We are certain that if you fail here, you will also fail in life. 

Meanwhile

Students are holding massive garage sales, piling and reallocating the treasured chachkas of our siloed disciplines, only to have them sold off again for far less than we want to think possible (What do you mean you copied this!; What do you mean you want to use Google on the test?; What do you mean you didn’t do the 125 mark worksheet for homework?) Like trinkets we lug home from Mexico to proudly show to family and they awkwardly wonder to themselves: “Why the heck did you buy that?”  Our students are wondering the same: “Why the heck am I learning this, it’s worthless!?” In Mexico the trinkets WERE treasures, in context the knowledge was and is relevant.

Do our students have the context? Or any context for that matter?

engagement

Source: The Gallup Blog 

If disengagement is not measure enough, Eric Mazur (Dean of Applied Physics at Harvard) points to MIT research on nervous system activity during lectures as being the same as watching TV. In fact there is more activity during sleep! As Dewey pointed out in 1938:

There is, I think, no point in the philosophy of progressive education which is sounder than its emphasis upon the importance of the participation of the learner in the formation of the purposes which direct his activities in the learning process, just as there is no defect in traditional education greater than its failure to secure the active cooperation of the pupil in construction of the purposes involved in his studying.

Despite growing uncertainty about some things, I have gained certainty about others:

I am certain the students want to learn and have many topics they are deeply interested in.
I am certain that students are creative and need to create to understand who they are.
I am certain students want to have a voice about their learning.
I am certain students want to have a positive impact in their communities and their world
I am certain that many students with high grades have low or very little deeper understanding or love of the topic.
I am certain students with lower grades often times have a deeper understanding but are crushed by the triviality of factoid acquisition.
I am certain students want to be challenged.
I am certain students want to be mentored by people who care about them deeply as human beings
I am certain students want to be seen as individuals.
I am certain students want to feel connected; to their learning, to each other, to the world.
I am certain students want time, space and trust to make decisions about their learning for themselves.
I am certain students are capable with support and love of taking responsibility for their learning.

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As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally — our willingness to be disturbed. Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think. No one person or perspective can give us the answers we need to the problems of today. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don’t know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time.
Margaret Wheatley

What matters as I close the door

So last weekend I packed up my classroom. To be able to put 22 years into boxes just seems wrong. My classroom space is a place I love deeply; love being in, love puttering around, love sharing with my kids.

And I guess this has been “my problem’ this past week. I carted the boxes home and piled them up in our den. But there they sat all week. What do I do with them? Does the stuff (as hubby pointed out to me several times) have any purpose? Will I ever even use any of it?

But that is not the point. The point is. That’s all I’ve got to take with me.

As I step away and shut the door. It is not the binders; I did or did not get perfectly organized. Nor is it the review packs for the exam that I did or did not finally format perfectly. Nor even is the biology that I did or did not teach.

No, none of that rushes through my mind. Instead what I see, hear and feel are the moments with my kids.

I see Tina, my fearless paddling partner sea kayaking in Belize.

I see Kelly and Kenny getting “lost” out paddling the Broken Islands.

I hear Lori’s letter to me.

I hear Lindsay’s heartfelt speech about her outdoor Ed experience for the Miss Tail competition.

I feel hugging Emily at her grad party.

I hear Freya’s laughing fit as we try to record our video.

I hear Peter’s sea-gull impression in the middle of the night Kokanee Glacier cabin.

I feel the heartbreaking goodbyes and python like hugs.

I hear my class singing together, while we hold hands, at the end of our time together.

I see the rain forest habitat we built as a class.

I hear the conversation with Jeff outside in the cold about his mother.

I see April’s quilt she assembled from each of our self-constructed patches.

There are many, many moments.

And these moments are what I try to gather up with me as I go.

None of it, none of it…has one bit to do with curriculum, tests, or marks.

Each cherished second is about connections. Yes teaching is a hard job. But what is so hard is not the work, it is the letting go of these children you love and the tiny little holes they leave in your heart. Holes in my heart, that get filled again the following year but never exactly in the same way.

As I go to my new place and I lay out my wooden bowl from Ricky, my clay pot from Jen, my treasured wooden dolphin from my sea kayakers, I feel a sharp pang of pain; I don’t know if this is right, I don’t know if this is my place. It is hard to let go. So very hard and I have kept them, the moments, at bay. The boxes siting all week, untouched, unpacked and ignored.

This morning I got up to finally face them, forced by the arrival of house guests, I see them all. All my kids and our moments together, most laughing, but shared tears, stories, gossip sessions, shared dreams and yes even fights. My boxes so unequal to them. My boxes not representing any of it.

I am ready for change, I am. I am full of excitement for what lies ahead.

I just need to take stock of my gifts, see them again, and savour them again.

I close the door for the last time. Lights out.

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In August I begin work with our District’s Instructional Leadership Team (see I am moving!)

 

 

These are real people.

Last week I had the opportunity to meet f2f some amazing people who preciously I had only meet virtually.

A mere virtual community…

 

canflip crewThese are real people!

And if you are reading this you probably know, it is not either or. It is not a virtual network OR a real one. It is both. My so called virtual network is also a very real one. People that I have been collaborating with online for over 2 years are people who show up in “real life”, our paths cross and connections are strengthened. We share stories, ideas and family photos. And maybe it sounds “cheesy” but I do love the cheese…but we are a community; real, palpable, vital, connected and interdependent. This year #canflip13, our second annual Flipped Class conference, was more than anything for me, a celebration of our community of co-learners.

But my object here, is not to convince you of the blurred lines between the online and real world. My query here is how do I describe, explain, or show people who have not experienced an online community, the incredible value of it? It is possible to do so with words or does a person have to experience it first hand to appreciate the transformative power of it? Is it through sharing real life examples of real people who I now know? Is it by offering opportunities for people to connect themselves? Yes I go to Twitter for information infusion and inspiration, but why I love Twitter, love it, is because of the people there. People who I know, trust and how each of these connections created windows of change into my once isolated and often lonely classroom (inspiration from Chris Wejr’s slides Windows of Change). Each connection a lovely glimmer of light shining in and signaling change this way!

If learning is a social activity with sharing as a key component and teachers are to be lead learners, can we argue that to change we need to learn and to learn we need to connect?

How do we invite teachers to create windows in their classroom walls to allow for connections?
How do we change the closed-door culture and make it the norm to connect and communicate to the outside world during school day?
How do encourage being connected as a “normal” teacher skill, similar to lesson planning?

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. 

                                                                 Bernard of Chartres

I am moving!

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Image shared on Flickr by Cornelia Kopp

Back in May I had a pivotal discussion with George Couros. I won’t give you the nitty-gritty details here, much of the convo is documented on Verena Robert’s great post Commander Chris Hadfield, Canadian Hero and Education Disruptor. However the end result was I woke up the following Monday morning and realized I had been wrong (big step!).

Wrong about how I saw myself. Wrong about how I viewed the change process within the system. Wrong in that I had seen my work, myself, my initiatives, as outside of and different from the system. Somehow George’s comments had caused me to reflect and admit to myself that I was wrong in my point of view (although at the time I vehemently disagreed with him).

Move forward a month and my valued Twitter friend Chris Wejr writes an insightful post: If We Have a Good idea Don’t Give it a Name, which extends my thinking further. Chris has previously pushed my thinking in how I have defined myself as a “flipped class” teacher.

I wonder: Is my own definition of myself is my greatest hurdle?; Do I need to define myself?; How do I define the change process; through my own point of view or merged with others?

I step away.

I reflect deeply and realize I DO want to actively engage in the change process here, in this system.

And so…when I see an opportunity that I had previously seen as not relevant to me…I jumped.

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This weekend past I packed up and moved out of my classroom. After 22 years in a classroom, I will be leaving the classroom to join our school district’s Instructional Leadership Team.

I am sure.

I am sure, I am ready work in this system, to meet people where they are at, to listen, to empathize, and to grow with them.

Thank you to all that have supported me as a teacher.

Thank you to so many that have encouraged and fostered my growth.

I am scared of the unknown but I know you have my back.

Let’s go! Together.

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny.”
― Paulo CoelhoThe Devil and Miss Prym

Do you know your fortune?

I’m not a fortune-teller, I won’t be bringing news
Of what tomorrow brings, I’ll leave that up to you
I’m not a fortune-teller, don’t have a crystal ball
I can’t predict the future, can’t see nothing at all

                                                 Maroon 5

When I started teaching I became distinctly aware of 2 streams:

1. The stream I move in with my students, that we create together.

2. The larger surrounding stream that includes politics (government, staff, district), professional development etc. Basically anything that does not involve my direct interactions with my students.

I decided early on that I wanted to spend the majority of my time in stream 1. From my perspective, the less I dipped into stream 2 the more true to my heart, interactions in stream 1 could remain. I still feel this way 22 years later, though of course, there is trickle over from one stream to the other.

Over the last few weeks I have been trying to pinpoint for myself where I find value in my work. Sometimes in moments of self-pity, I wallow in feeling undervalued as a classroom teacher. I think I am prone to this wallowing of late as the purpose and meaning of academics (content) and school in general, is going through an identity crisis. Our education system has yet to clearly and consistently articulate what we value and what is valuable. Ghosts of education past still continue to haunt our halls and minds; these further add to the confusion. In this era of transition it takes time for new values to be adopted and understood. Over in stream 1 with my students, I feel new and strong currents ripping through.  It seems readily apparent to students, that static outdated knowledge is no longer valuable and as such they give it little respect.

I get that. I am ready for that.

With knowledge and content devalued and no new collective value set in town, there is a scramble to find and create meaning. Daily. Over in stream 1 it feels urgent; help these kids navigate this stream, quick they are going down! What is mind blowingly confusing to me, is since stream 2 heavily bleeds into stream 1 (good thing I defined that stream idea right off the get go!) the outdated artifacts on how to navigate the stream from the good old days still remain, everywhere. The big, looming framework that defines survival in stream 2 (and by default defines survival in stream 1) still stands, rickety and worn, but still looming over us in stream 1.

So for example when working with inquiry labs or open ended projects with my grade 12 students, there is no external infrastructure that supports the idea that these type of activities are valuable. The structures in stream 2 still speak loudly, high marks are what matter most, find out how to get the highest mark and game the system. The disconnect comes in that students do not intuitively find value in the marks game, they just feel trapped by it, and many feel an immense pressure to engage in the game.

They want something (success) but they don’t really value it (as it is defined). They aren’t sure if they want something else because the societal value is not obvious to them.

A clash, clanging loudly in discordance, between the evidence that times have changed, that students have changed, how they want and need to learn has changed with the Pavlovian triggers strewn across the landscape of both school and society that still point to another time and another value set.

In stream 1 this clash requires crazy glue and a massive clamp, in an effort to keep these 2 wildly divergent parts together. Simultaneously it demands a moving away, an abandoning of sorts, trying to move stream 1 far enough away from stream 2 to find some pure unpolluted waters.

 

Do you feel caught in the middle? How do you bridge this transitional time?

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Somewhere late last night it hit me. I was looking for value in the wrong places. I was looking for my value out in stream 2. Where my value lies is with my students, my time with them. I feel valuable when with them. Regardless of what is valued over in stream 2, I find value here in stream 1.

My value lies in my students, they are my fortune. I will follow their lead down our stream.