Collisions Can Be Meaningful

My worlds collided this morning when Michael Wesch, who was speaking at the University of Mary Washington Faculty Academy, referenced three different people from random areas and interests of my life.

I had spent almost all night awake, chatting in Elluminate rooms with @snbeach , @willrich45 and our fabulous teams from Australia (4 and 8pm their time, 2am and 6am our time). We had tackled issues that challenged our thinking; we probed ways to be open learners who could truly change systemic problems. As we closed, I felt satisfied and energized at the same time.

I finished up this morning  with minutes to spare and headed over to UMW to hear Wesch’s keynote. Sitting among Twitter friends and UMW professors who are working through many of the same concerns kept me thinking of our conversations hours earlier.

And then Wesch spoke.

I was excited as I’d only heard him on Youtube and ustream. As I watched my rock star, his message of turning knowledgeable students into knowledge-able students who can create, collaborate, and learn filled me with hope about what is possible for all of us.

Though I was a little sleepy (I don’t function too well on only three hours), my brain was processing, thinking, and planning as Wesch talked.

And then the collision. Someone asked about the difficulties in shifting not only our own practice but our students’ way of thinking about learning, and Wesch pointed to Shelley Wright, one of Powerful Learning Practice’s teachers, who reflects so candidly on her blog. I sat up and poked my friend in the ribs:

“She’s a PLPer!” I exclaimed.

And a few minutes later, when Wesch was asked by one of the professors about how to begin this sometimes difficult process, he spoke of love and care for our students.

“This isn’t practical advice,” he said. “Brene Brown writes of vulnerability, and I believe it may be the key to what we need to focus on in our classrooms.” Brene Brown? I love Brene Brown. But she’s in my “life” RSS feed, not my education feed.

And finally he spoke of Parker Palmer, who wrote The Courage to Teach. I’d first been exposed to Palmer in Sunday School classes. He once said, “If we want to teach well, we must learn more about the human dimensions of our craft-about the inward sources of our teaching, about the claims it makes on our lives, about our relations with our students, about a teacher’s wounds and powers.”

The message of the morning seemed simple at that point.
Be open and share with others, put the students’ needs first in all we do, and create classes that allow us all to be more vulnerable.

And it’s what the PLP team uses as its guiding principles. As Wesch finished, I felt proud to be associated with an organization that gets it.



What’s On Your List?

Changing the culture of anything (businesses, institutions, families) means taking a hard look at what works and what doesn’t. We can’t just wave a magic wand and say “change.” We also must consider our communication skills, our interpersonal skills, and often years of patterns of behavior.

So when we talk about shifting our schools and classrooms to a more open, collaborative environment, we need to consider that it’s often easier said than done. Maria Ogneva, head of community at Yammer, wrote this solid piece on changing culture (which I learned of from Jane Hart’s community).

She says, “as we all know, every time you attempt to change behavior, you run into resistance. The better you can anticipate resistance and channel it into positive energy, the higher the chances of success.”

How do we anticipate and channel? For many of us, it means taking a look at our goals, our vision. Even as a teacher, I needed to know why I wanted to move from the front of the room to being an active participant in my class. Why? What was my purpose? So for a school, we must ask the same questions: How will this move us to a better place? How will this help us learn? As Maria says, do we know what our mission really is?

But where she really caught my attention was in her list of barriers. Though she is speaking about business, look how we can apply this to education:

  • Command and control mindset
  • Functional silos
  • Rigid hierarchies
  • Wrong things measured

Bingo. Can’t you picture your school or school division right now?

In part two, Maria suggests ways to shift culture, offering tips such as starting small and making change relevant and personal. Don’t try to do everything at once, and for goodness sake, use available tools to help discussions happen.

As an example of a company that gets it, she  uses one of my favorites, Zappos. I often wonder what we in education could use from that model.

Zappos leadership believes ” if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff — like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own.”

Do you know what your school culture is? Do you know what you want it to be? I love the way Zappos identifies its culture in 10 key points:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

I wonder how different (or alike) our lists would look if each of us in a school tried this. What’s on your list?




Part of my quest to be more “in the moment” is to take time to watch, listen, or read something unrelated to schools, education, leadership, or community. Sometimes that means heading out the door with the dog. More often than not, I stumble upon something in my Reader or in a link on someone’s blog.

And yet, what I often find, is that moment connects me to what I do each day anyway. And I realize those connections are are not separate from but essential to helping us shift schools into places of community and shared learning.

In my email today, I received the weekly update from Karma Tube, self-described as “a collection of short, “do something” videos coupled with simple actions that every viewer can take. Our mission is to spread the good.”

Recently I watched this one, and the message reminded me of how moments in our lives will determine the full picture, the life itself. Kind of puts things in perspective for the classroom, doesn’t it? Simple, yet easily forgotten in this busy, crazy world of ours.

Cynics among us will say, “duh.” But I need this gentle reminder today.

It’s All About the Projects

When I was Director of Instructional Technology at my former school, I once asked teachers to stop calling projects–well, projects. That’s because I wanted them to think in terms of projects being the way to teach, rather than the exception, the “fun” extra (which is what was happening). I fully believe that year-long, student-centered, project-based learning  will be a key to developing thinking, caring, productive children.
Now that I am about to start working with the Australian Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, I plan to share my resources and develop new ones online.
Powerful Learning Practice will be running a cohort for the teachers in Victoria (in collaboration with ideaslab), focused on project-based learning. As the Community Leader (I’m so excited!), I’ll be working with them in our NING, sharing projects, collecting examples, and building community.

Sacha Chua’s slide deck has inspired me to try to share here more often as well. I tend to use this space to reflect rather than create. But let’s see if I can stick to my goal of creating and sharing–at least for a while!

Six Steps to Sharing

View more presentations from Sacha Chua.
image credit: By courosa