Stepping up to submit, plan and execute a session at a conference can be a stressful and time-consuming thing for busy educators. I've made many of these mistakes myself and everyone has their own style. I recognize that the purpose of any given session (and what the attendees hope to get from them) can vary. I hope this tongue-in-cheek look at some common disruptions to the flow and impact of a session will lead to more Eventful Learning at the conference.
Keep the tables in rows. Use a linear slide deck with lots of bullet points. Keep people seated the whole time. Introducing variety can lead to chaos and confusion that these educators just can’t handle.
No teacher comes to a conference to have fun, so why would you waste your time breaking the ice with a goofy activity or video? You need to prove yourself as a serious educator who gets results, not make the audience feel comfortable.
Teachers don’t need anything to orient the purpose of a session, they should be able to figure that out themselves. Leave out the story about that student who was impacted with your lesson. Dive into your tool and process right from the beginning because you don’t have enough time for the touchy-feely stuff.
With 30 or more educators in the room, there’s no way you have time to break into collaborative groups or open up the conversation for anecdotes and questions. You were the one selected to present and you have the expertise, so don’t even think about giving up the microphone. Oh, and NEVER sit down at the same level as the participants.
Your session description was clear about who this was for, so if someone is lost or bored, that’s on them. You have learned so much about this tool or project or strategy and that information needs to be imparted to the attendees in 60 minutes. Providing alternate paths and resources to explore will just distract them from listening to you expound your knowledge.
Eyes on front. Devices off. Tinkering while you are talking will just lead to them missing something. Having participants make something during your session is the kiss-of-death for a presenter being able to control the room.
Squeeze information into every second of the session. Just like in your classroom, it's the content that you cover that counts.Thinking about the next steps and reflecting on the implications of what was presented is something for the attendees to do next week back at school.
Enthusiasm and passion should be left for the expert Keynoters. Being fired about about innovation can be intimidating for your average teacher and it’s too risky to worry about being interesting. The content and tools you demo should be the only thing energizing your participants.
This is a technology conference, after all. This is not the place for asking questions about school reform or offering pedagogical theories. Teachers just want to get your websites you use and going beyond that would imply that they should have a voice in bigger decisions about their profession. Clearly that should be left up to the folks who were at Cobo a few weeks ago.
And, in case you missed it, last week I posted The Positive Deviant's Guide to #MACUL15
If you’re headed to #MACUL15, it’s probably because you know they always put on a great event. There are always innovative sessions and you always leave with new ideas to try in your classroom or school. But this year, take your MACUL experience to the next level by not doing what everyone always does. You won’t find most of these listed in the brochure or the conference app, but you just might stumble upon potent possibility when you stray from the herd.
...something big. Maybe it’s a student showcase for your own district or a prototype for an idea that would solve a classroom problem. Seeing all the innovation happening in Michigan’s schools at MACUL is bound to get you fired up. Harness that. Meet up with some colleagues or connections and find a spot to start planning how you can bring that idea to life! The ShiftMich Idea Slam on Thursday night is going to be an epic gathering to showcase this movement...get your tickets for some fun and come support those willing to put their passion on the line. It's like #michED + Shark Tank...AND it's at a Brewery!!
...keynotes and featured sessions. No offense to any of these presenters, but those are usually the sessions that are filmed so if you miss anything important you can watch later. Plus, there will be plenty of people live tweeting from those rooms and the “best” stuff will rise to the top of #macul15, anyways. Big rooms with big names can be inspiring but don’t necessarily mean the biggest impact or the most innovation. On the other hand, making sure you stick around for the Lightning Talks on Friday afternoon means you are supporting home-grown innovators who are taking a big risk to tell their story (for free)...and you never know what will get dropped in these 5 minute bursts of passion and true tales from Michigan schools.
...the new (or old) Detroit. It's not just the beautiful updates to Cobo that provide a fresh perspective...there are too many cool things going on in this city now to be grumpy about Detroit being dumpy. It’s on the way up and what good does it do to focus on the past? I’ve been guilty of “preferring” the Grand Rapids MACUL, too, but once you catch the spirit of the resurgence I promise you will see and experience something that only Detroit can offer. I still have a lot to discover, but here are some recent favorites:
...questions that others aren’t asking. Be curious during the sessions you’re in and the conversations you’re a part of. Don’t hold back while group think takes over. Tactfully poke around the edges and dig into the unspoken implications of “the next big thing”. Continue the conversations with others who aren't satisfied with simply talking about the tools by joining a #michED meet-up:
...everything down. Don't succumb to information overload because you don't have a system of offloading your ideas. “Don’t worry about taking notes, everything is in this slide deck that I’m sharing”. Ignore that. Capture quotes, link trails, and half-baked thoughts. Unload everything buzzing around in your brain into some sort of searchable database. For me it’s some combination of Diigo, Workflowy and Trello. Sometimes paper is faster on the go, so I’ll pull out a mini notebook to act as a parking lot until I can digitize it. Schedule an hour where you can look everything back over to pursue the connections and patterns and go beyond simply trying out a new website or two with your class. If you're feeling generous, share your reflections with the world like Rob did last year.
....something with your hands. The maker movement is in full stride and for the first time ever we’ve got an awesome space to disconnect from the devices and reconnect with the innate creativity that comes from building and breaking and gluing and hacking. This (semi) digital detox on Friday in the Atwater Lounge can be an independent time to let all those ideas swim around in your head or can be a collaborative time to invent something as a team.
...with students at the Student Showcase. Conferences can feel like a nice little break away to be with adults, but when else do you get the chance to glimpse into the lessons from so many other classrooms in such a convenient way?? And these are the projects that are going to stick with these kids for years to come. So plan for at least an hour on Thursday between 11-1 to mingle with the kids...because they are the entire reason we are here, right? Oh, and start planning for how you can bring a group to next year’s conference. You won’t regret it, it’s a super-cool experience for all involved.
...anything interesting. And I don’t mean selfies with Twitter people. Your phone is a lens that helps you reflect and share, and this event in this space only comes along a handful of times. Find tiny moments and the big picture and everything in between. Try not to take a photo that could easily be replicated...you are looking at it from your unique perspective and the media you capture tells a lot about your story.
...the second you stop trusting the presenter to deliver something that will resonate. It might be awkward, but it’s not rude. It’s also not a judgement, it’s a decision. We all have to be OK with others finding the right fit and making the most their time. Sometimes you can make it to a Plan B session, but other times this means you have the opportunity to capitalize on some impromptu moments. It’s like an unexpected snow day where you end up tinkering with that thing you’d always been meaning to try. Maybe you end up grabbing coffee with someone else wandering the exhibits or maybe you use social media to plan a meetup. Maybe you put your headphones in and write or maybe you follow-up on those notes from the last session. Just don’t be miserable by sitting through a session that doesn’t match your needs.
...something unique and share it with the world. It doesn’t have to be pretty and you don’t need permission. A few years ago some goofballs turned app sharing into a March Madness tournament and acted like sports broadcasters. Last year Ben Rimes snuck an iPad on stage and captured a time-lapse of the keynote. Everyone has a production studio at their disposal now and this is a safe place to tinker with the power of digital publishing. Use MACUL as a sandbox to not just do a test run with your toolkit but to actually “ship something”. While everyone else is sitting in rows during a session...find a spot to geek out on your mini project. Maybe you can even recruit a collaborator. This conference is fertile ground for creative juices, so don’t be a bystander!
… a visit to see someone’s teaching in action that has inspired you. Actually find a way to visit their school! I’ve heard many teacher presenters say it over the years… “my classroom is always open if you want to see this..” but how many actually follow through on that? Especially if your district does not participate in things like classroom labs, instructional rounds or the MI Teacher Exchange, you need to get outside the walls of your building! Take a personal day if you have to. Use your MACUL connection with that person and follow-up with them within a week to set up your visit for the spring.
Whether you are heading to MACUL seeking inspiration, a few useful tools for your classroom, new connections, or all of the above…giving yourself permission to swerve outside the well-traveled lanes might lead to Eventful moments whose impact reaches beyond what you previously thought a conference could provide. Have fun! -Brad
A few weeks ago, you may have seen the sad announcement from a company many of us in the edtech world knew fairly well. It began, “This is the letter I never wanted to have to write...”. Yikes. While it may not be shocking that an edtech startup is having to close it’s doors, to me it is a reminder of the complex realities that both educators and creators of products are facing now in regards to the tools we make and the tools we use.
One of those realities that smacked me in the face recently was when our hosting bill for Write About came in. A month of hosting was already more than my mortgage payment..and we we’re still in beta! Yet, it’s a good problem to have because it meant that thousands of students and teachers were creating ideas and writing posts on the site. But how to ensure they never lose out on that opportunity because we can’t pay our bills? For us, the answer has been to adopt a simple pricing model (including a free account level) and stick to a few core guidelines.
How we make decisions
The High Cost of Free
For what it’s worth, I loved what Infuse Learning did and consistently recommended it to teachers as a formative assessment tool. They had great features and seemed to be doing things for the right reasons. But in the end, what was that really worth? They are in a very competitive segment and I always included the caveat that they would not be free forever. I fully expected a freemium model to be unveiled, but an abrupt end to service? That is a little more confusing to me and I think we can learn something from their laudable– but failed– effort.
“We never released a paid version of the product because we were unable to fully execute the vision our small startup team had in mind.”
My biggest disappointment with Infuse is that they never gave me the chance to say “this is worth paying for”.
“We have come to the realization that we cannot sustain as a free educational service..”
In the end, remaining completely free turned out to be the least generous thing they could have done. Because now it’s over.
Making Ideas Happen and LAST
It seems to me like there are a few paths to follow:
The path we took with the iPad apps Write About This and Tell About This (long term/self-funded) has allowed us to serve thousands of classrooms and ultimately opened the opportunity to do something even bigger. Write About officially launches on March 1st, and we are proud of the quality content that will continue to be available for free. Hundreds (soon to be thousands) of visual writing ideas, lesson plans, help tutorials, and a public facing aspect of the community. We’re equally proud that we have a simple membership model that allows for any classroom to use all the features while determining if it fits their needs. We don’t nickel and dime you on premium add-ons. If teachers want their students to use Write About as their publishing platform, it’s available to purchase.
By starting out as paid, all parties involved have agreed that there is a unique value to what Write About provides and there is no announcement looming over the future of the platform about how we will monetize. Some teachers may determine that Write About isn’t for them because their students can’t use it for free for the year. As someone who dreams to positively impact as many students as possible, sure, that’s hard to accept. I want every kid to get the chance to be inspired to write and given the power to publish with what we built. But I have to be OK with it for now while Write About gets off the ground and aims to be sustainable.
The reality is that a platform takes a lot of money and time to build and maintain. As we dance into new territory and make decisions about the future, focusing on our core beliefs allows me to be more than hopeful that I will avoid having to send you an autobiographical eulogy about this project in the foreseeable future.
The conference session is in less than 24 hours and I am back into my slide deck making more changes. Rearranging, adding, deleting. Doubt creeps in. I should add this one more thing. If I don’t mention ___ they will know I’m a fraud. If only I had another day to prep. I’m not ready.
Changing up a lesson plan late on a Sunday night...tweaking a grant application for the 42nd time...re-reading the email to your principal over and over again, making sure the words are just right...
The truth is, we’ll never be ready.. we just have to GO. The tension between planning and doing is the space where most projects fade slowly into mediocrity and where most people excuse themselves because something more urgent is calling.
I convince myself that I am Ready Enough.
We need to embrace “What if?” in the context of possibility and shun “What if?” in the face of self-doubt. Instead of allowing the voice in our head to go down the dark hallways of “What’s the worst that can happen?” we should forcefully shine a light into the unknown possibility of “What’s the best that can happen?”. If I actually DO what it will take, ask this question, make this thing...will there actually be any regret?
The institution of education is great making sure there is a process. We always do more planning, more review, more discussion. We form more committees and schedule more meetings and make more motions. But the educators who will make the biggest difference are the ones who are motivated, instead, to create a movement. They can’t wait for the giant ship to turn in the harbor.
We always seem to be a little behind with 21st C. learning for teachers -Ben Curran
Millions of tweets….thousands of teachers….. hundreds of chats…
I've heard dozens of educators tell me "Twitter is the best PD I've ever been a part of."
So over the course of more than a year, I brought up the question to lots of folks. Teachers, ed techs, administrators. It's even been discussed with the MI Dept of Ed.
Some of the time I had a microphone with me to capture those talks or calls, and recently I worked with Ben Rimes to piece together the issues and options that surround the prevalent use of social media in our profession.
Enjoy the show:
You can listen to the #michED podcast anywhere you are by subscribing on your phone through iTunes or Sticher, or, play it right from your browser above (and subscribe on SoundCloud).
There's now more than 250 minutes of produced audio content in the 10 episodes of the podcast!
A few of my favorite moments from the show:
View the entire show notes page over on miched.net
If you enjoyed hearing these educator voices, please subscribe and consider leaving a review of the show on iTunes or sharing with a friend who might also appreciate carefully crafted audio narratives made for educators, by educators.
10:00-10:20 Recess & Snack
10:20-10:30 Read Aloud
A dedicated room. A dedicated time. The Computer Lab. It’s where I was taken to use a computer as a student. It’s all I knew for tech integration for the first few years of teaching. In many elementary schools, scheduling (or not) “computers” into the day is still normal.
That needs to stop.
When a school has a computer lab, teachers often..
Send their students to the “computer teacher”
Go there to “do tech”
Go there to “test”
Go there to check papers while students click
When a school has a computer lab, students often..
Sit in rows
Spend 10 minutes getting logged in
Understand that learning with technology is isolated in those 4 walls
Play games that are the digital equivalent to a worksheet
Practice keyboarding outside of the context of digital writing
Computer labs are great for:
The IT department to manage
Administrators to show off on a school tour
Digital test prep
Digital testing environments
Easy classroom management
I don’t blame teachers for using computer labs. It’s often the only way they are able to provide access to technology. I don’t blame “technology teachers” who work out of a lab. They’ve been asked to fill the gaps that classroom teachers haven’t, because of the system, addressed with students.
Of course not all schools have “technology teachers”... which leads to common wishful thinking– “we need a computer teacher”.
No, you don’t.
No dedicated teachers. No dedicated rooms. No dedicated times.
It’s just how students should learn. We learn from ALL our teachers, in ALL our spaces, ALL the time. And technology is a part of that wherever, whenever and with whoever it makes sense.
When, in the real world, are kids going to go to a dedicated place at a dedicated time to use a stationary devices to access the internet for work, communication, or learning?
There are some schools doing a marvelous job of breaking down old computer access structures and the mindsets that come with them. They shift resources and devices from the lab back into the classrooms. Teachers and students have ownership over digital tools and they are increasingly “invisible” in the day. Curriculum planning embeds new opportunities that the devices afford and lessons include the student creation and collaboration that we know is so important. Professional technology integration specialists work side-by-side with every teacher to help them evolve their practices and students gain “technology” skills through the curricular projects they encounter every day.
Unfortunately, administrators making the decisions about building layouts, device purchasing and staffing have a strong track record of maintaining the status quo. They also are known to employ curricular professional development models that are separate from “technology training”. They continue to build the physical spaces, purchase resources, and make assumptions about pedagogy based on what learning used to look like.
So the next time you are in a staff or leadership meeting and someone says “but we only have one computer lab”... try asking the question: “What if we didn’t have ANY?”.
And what if you built your technology access around digital learning instead of digital testing?
...oh yeah, and "Carts" don't work either.
I just noticed the new Twitter analytics options while checking tweets on my phone. TechCrunch describes the dashboard as “a handy resource that tells you how well each of your updates on Twitter’s social network have performed.”
Performed. Is that what we are all doing now?
It’s really not surprising. Instant feedback expressed in figures and charts is today’s normal. We’ve come to expect that every action we take online is tracked and the resulting data can be made accessible. More than just view counts and re-tweets, deep analytics are available on YouTube, Facebook and many other platforms. You can check to see at what point people stop watching your video and check the age demographics for who is clicking your links. Well beyond open rates, there are entire industries built around checking the numbers generated from the billions of emails sent each day.
The numbers are fascinating and readily available for us….should we choose to check. In a time where we have the opportunity to do things that ‘matter’, are the numbers a good measure of that?
I have a complicated relationship with the data that surrounds stuff that I make, things that I share and conversations that I’m a part of. Some numbers I always check. Some numbers I sometimes check. And some numbers I never check.
Just Trying to Help?
If you are reading this on my website, over there on the right is a little box where you can subscribe to my writing by email. Other than my mom and my wife, I have no idea how many people are subscribed...I’ve never checked. It could be 20 or 200 but it’s certainly not many compared to the folks whose blogs we typically run in to on social media. Does it matter? Do I care? I started documenting projects and experiences here more as a portfolio, never intending to become “a blogger”. Now, as I enjoy reflecting and writing more often...I have to decide if growing my audience is important enough for me to start checking the stats.
I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t feel good when something you make or something you say gets a lot of hits. Assuming it was intentionally shared, I’m not sure anyone can honestly say they don’t enjoy seeing large numbers of people reading, liking or otherwise consuming what they have put out there. Isn’t that a part of creating? Sure, we can claim we do it just for the process... for the personal growth...for the learning. But aren’t we also seeking validation? Or are we just trying to make a bigger impact? Or make something el$e..
So there’s this constant tension between altruistic motives and self-promotion...between generous sharing and humblebrag narcissism. If I check the numbers and a lot of people have clicked, doesn’t that mean there was a (potentially) further-reaching positive impact? Or am I just enjoying the rush of dopamine from notifications about the RTs? In an edu-media landscape measured in follower counts and characterized by personal branding, should we assume that most people are checking the numbers?
“To help each other”.
The elephant in the room here is cash money. Educators are often quick to push back against the commercialization of content. If you put ads on your blog or start promoting a paid product, now you are selling. But aren’t we all selling? And doesn’t your book help people? Didn’t your blog post freely share lots of useful resources? If people hadn’t seen and clicked on the tweet, then they wouldn’t have been helped. So you check. And the numbers shape how you’ll act next time. But as soon as you cross the line and your content feels disingenuous, feels contrived, or feels like an ad… how many will stop reading your blog?
I’ve been finding my way as an educator, school reform advocate and an “edupreneur” for the past several years. It usually feels awkward and there don’t seem to be many good role models. There are no maps to follow and there are certainly more questions than answers. How much should I promote my own project? If it didn’t get shared did that mean it wasn’t any good? Is it OK to dislike the methods of self-promotion that many of the “big names” use? How can I avoid being a hypocrite after being critical and raising questions?
Some days it is exciting to me that more teachers are becoming entrepreneurs and freelancers in the digital marketplace. But other times it feels yucky. The influence of online/content marketing is taking root in the EdTech sphere and more and more influencers are sticking to their “talking points” and personal brands. (ht John Spencer and Ben Rimes) I love that as a whole we are getting better at telling our story, spreading inspiration and designing better content. But at what cost? If there are more performances aren’t there fewer authentic conversations? Is it possible to have both?
When we first launched Write About This, I checked the download counts every day. Over time, I stopped checking as frequently and now I rarely notice if we’ve sold 7 or 70. I’m not sure if I can say that it’s because I’m not motivated by money. The (relatively small) amount of money generated from those downloads is actually sorely needed so that we can build new and better things that will help more classrooms. And yes, so I can put more in the bank to help my family. But truthfully, the personal interactions I’ve had with teachers and students impacted by the work is invaluable. You can’t put a number on them, they can’t be exchanged for things and you can’t take that narrative away from me. When the true essence of making and sharing is realized, the numbers become very diluted while the stories, faces and emotions endure.
There's a huge difference between the shallow pleasure of instant connection, and the long lasting impact of true connection. -Seth Godin
So, yes, I sometimes care about the numbers, and sometimes I will check them. But I always care that what I made moved you, made you ask a question, or will make a positive impact in your classroom. I know I might have to “perform” in order to grab your attention and get you to share...but I hope I can do that in an honest and tactful way. Just like I know you don’t see your students as a number, I hope to give you the dignity of being more than just a follower or a click through or a download.
What numbers do you check?
I sent a lot of electronic mail last week. I don’t know how to feel about it. I’m sitting at Inbox Zero, but how do the recipients feel about my name showing up on their screen? I thought I had some important things to share, but did my message cause excitement or stress for them? In education, we’re all doing work that involves people. People who “need” information from us, people who have questions for us and people who also have 367 other things on their mind. Here's what I’ve noticed about this medium..
Email is the most ubiquitous form of digital communication
I stopped sending home paper copies of classroom newsletters by 2010 because more than 90% of parents were able to access email in my district. This access obviously depends on the community you are in, but every year more and more Americans carry with them a cell phone capable of email.
For professional communication with other educators, we expect that 100% of our co-workers will at least receive the message. Which means that it comes at us from every department, every organization and every person that we invite into our work...along with many who we don’t invite in. It’s kind of like this.
Email is overwhelming
Teachers are inundated with communication and are at a huge disadvantage for keeping up with it. They are working with students all day. They don’t get the same opportunities that people like myself get to regularly monitor what’s coming in and to choose an action. Yet, most administrators expect that teachers stay up on their inbox daily. Meeting agendas, notes from the office, departmental updates, parent questions, parent concerns...it doesn’t stop. I once worked with a teacher whose inbox was overflowing with more than 15,000 messages. 15 THOUSAND! In fact, I often catch a glimpse of inboxes easily into the thousands. Does this say something about the productivity level of the individual? Maybe. But the reality is that all of us are constantly playing catch-up and teachers are commonly using precious and rare planning/lunch minutes to read and respond. Is that what we want?
Principals, who we might logically think get more time at their desk to email, are usually just as overwhelmed. Last week one principal mentioned how she had been away from her desk for an afternoon and 71 messages had rolled in. It’s like playing Whac-a-Mole. Author John Freeman describes how we aren’t “biologically trained to respond to that many people.”
Email is fast and convenient
Our messages can provide on-demand, personalized help and support. A new resource shared can impact next week’s lesson. A question answered can save a lot of time otherwise researching. We want teachers to have the information that matters for their work. But “what matters” can be interpreted differently by the sender and receiver. It’s a catch-22. Freeman, who wrote a book about email’s “Tyranny,” ironically still says it is “great” and “enormously efficient”. Something has to give.
Email is the best way to directly reach a large audience
As long as they want to hear from you...as long as it's a mutually-beneficial relationship.. I believe it's OK to have an "audience". Having access to large distribution groups as well as opt-in subscription lists, every time I work with a team to create a new event or opportunity, we have to wrestle with the choice to use email, phone, social media, face-to-face or some combination of mediums. We can’t NOT tell teachers...it’s our job to make their jobs easier and have an impact in their classroom. We all have to “sell” our ideas. But how to get on their radar in a way that they will appreciate?
Email is the low-hanging communication fruit
But will they open it? Every time you do a “blast”, you undermine the next time when you actually have something to say. I have interacted with some who clearly abuse their access to school or district-wide email groups, and with little thought will forward something on, expecting people to care. One time last year this resulted in ZERO teachers signing up for something unique we had worked hard in preparing for the district. In other districts where a more balanced and planned awareness campaign was executed, we got dozens. Administrators sending blasts with little thought is like a teacher who throws up a powerpoint just to “cover” the curriculum.
On the other hand, I did the math on a message I sent out to 760 elementary teachers last year– even if only 5% of the teachers used a strategy or resource that was included, 1,000 students would be impacted. That is powerful. It’s also a power that can easily be abused.
Email is a terrible To Do list
The productivity and modern workflow experts all seem to agree. “It's better to disappoint a few people over small issues than to surrender your dreams for an empty inbox,” says Mark McGuinness in Manage Your Day to Day. The sentiment is echoed by Todd Henry in the mantra which is written on a small white board by my desk– “Creative work first. Reactive work second.” This speaks to how checking your email first thing in the morning is one of the worst things you can do if you want to make the biggest impact with your work. A popular suggestion is to schedule two short blocks of time for email, never in the first 2 hours of your day.
Email is winning. We are (mostly) losing.
It is structured to be our master. Every time we are able to delete messages, endorphins are released and we get the sense of being productive. Dan Ariely describes how the “Choice Architecture” of digital mediums are designed “for the now”.
The worst culprit, in my opinion, are push notifications. One of the best decisions I ever made was to eliminate all mobile and desktop notifications from email and social media. YOU decide when you will check your messages. YOU decide when you will see your Twitter mentions. There is no better way to disrupt the flow of a face-to-face conversation or deep thinking during a creative project than to have beeps, buzzes and pings going off in the vicinity.
Email is an energy sucker and creativity killer
I wish I could say I stick to the “only check your mail twice a day” rule, but in reality I go and check dozens of times...usually when I’m walking from place to place or sitting in my car on my way to or from a school. As the day progresses, I am experiencing “ego depletion”. Dan Ariely explains that every time we have to resist the temptation, it builds up, drains us and wears down our mental strength and focus. For me this sometimes results in a crash at night where I’ll space out, staring at my phone “getting caught up” only to ignore the more important things around me.
There are also negative physical effects of electronic mail that decrease productivity. Linda Stone often writes about Email apnea. When checking email, people are shown to be in a state of shallow breathing, which triggers the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). In this state, she says, “our bodies are tuned to be impulsive and compulsive”. So checking your messages might lead to checking Facebook which leads to following a link trail and the next thing you know, you are on YouTube and your creative momentum is lost. What stinks is that this all happens on the same machine where amazing progress can be made on important work.
Email is the easiest way to annoy your colleagues
To CC or not to CC? Do they need to be aware of this conversation? I really struggle with this because it can save on work down the road and keep people up to speed, but again...do they really WANT to know? I personally would prefer to be kept in the loop on things so that I don’t have to ask later, and it’s not hard to just delete it after a quick glance. So I usually do.
To Reply All or NOT to Reply All? Even beyond the extreme (and hilarious) results from Googling “reply all disasters”, it’s rarely welcomed. When the sender has already chosen to CC people, this can be pretty tricky. But too many times it leads to 1-sentence responses between two people that just seem so trivial. Again, I have been a culprit of this. I apologize to those who I have annoyed. I pride myself on being sensitive to (1st world) human suffering. My intentions were well-meaning and I DID spend a moment thinking about if it was worth it. By all means, please tell me when you’d rather be left out...it won’t hurt my feelings.
Email is the best. Email is the worst.
Without a doubt, the medium of electronic mail enables quick collaboration for teams working across distances large and small. It can be an equalizer. It can be a stressor. It’s our closest work friend yet could be the one thing that holds us back from doing our best work.
Being prolific (not just productive) doesn’t mean you HAVE to maintain Inbox Zero. But, some of the most effective, inspiring, creative (and productive) educators I know DO keep their inbox very tidy. So I do, too.
I sincerely hope that if you get a message from me that you’ll find it valuable. Please know that I love hearing from you...but I also wouldn’t mind a phone call, a Tweet or a Vox instead. Better yet, maybe a conversation in your classroom or over coffee. The conversations– no matter where they happen– that lead to us doing something important for education are the ones I appreciate the most. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to untie ourselves from the Inbox, but I do think we can all get better at making sure we actually have something to say.
33 months ago I professed how 1,000 Tweets had changed the way I learned and the way I taught. 9,000 tweets later, a lot has changed...but as I reflect this week on the opportunities I feel so thankful to have, I am in awe of a different 1,000.
This list of educators from a state I am so proud to be a part of shows a staggering amount of talent, passion, innovation and grit. It’s a giant community full of tiny individual actions reaching toward big dreams. These teachers are creating a massive swell of energy that is sweeping through schools from the shores of Lake Michigan to the streets of The D.
There's Something Happening Here
A vibrant weekly Twitter chat has become an inclusive and recognized community where collaboration, growth and real stories are shared both online and face-to-face
Education and community organizations have built networks of support to ensure opportunities for every child and are doing a fantastic job of sharing the stories of success
A project-based learning school becomes an annual host for two days of conversations that debunk the tradition conference model
Students are increasingly getting the opportunity to share their passion and voice and events like this and this
Entire school communities are given permission to Innovate Wildly
The state Dept. of Education has recognized the importance of and is working on a big push for Personalized Learning with help from many innovative classroom teachers
A group exists solely to spread opportunities for creative educational opportunities and puts on student-centric events to showcase their stories
A grassroots tribe of self-proclaimed literacy nerds descend from all over the country on a small Michigan town each summer for a one-of-a-kind event powered by an enormous social media presence
We’re all within driving distance from one of the most incredible learning spaces in the country (and the company that helped make it happen)
Not happy with the status quo for professional conferences, one educator created an epic 3 day event that has raised the bar for how teachers can learn together while having fun and being inspired
There is so much innovation happening that an entire conference has sprung up to share what these Michigan schools are doing
Without waiting for permission, educators are binding together to build networking and learning opportunities to support their classrooms
A radio show and podcast is dedicated to sharing the stories of children from low-income families in Michigan through high quality journalism
One teacher is spreading the impact of project-based learning around the globe through his speaking
Educators from every region of the state are collaborating on projects that create new professional development opportunities and save our schools millions of dollars
Not a month goes by where teachers somewhere in the state gather on a Saturday to share and connect
One of the largest and most respected edtech conferences in the country brings thousands together in Grand Rapids or Detroit each spring
A global discussion and sharing project centered on the importance of classroom design is hosted by two Michigan educators
One passionate teacher partnered with a student to publish a powerful book that tells a local story and gives others the tools to bring more empathy to their community
I could go on. Many more deserve to be mentioned and others I simply haven't discovered yet. So many individual teachers, schoolwide projects, organizations and innovative leaders that are doing amazing things. There are no excuses for being uninspired. We are surrounded by ideas, projects, lessons, conversations, tools, articles, performances, videos and even books created by our statewide colleagues. There is no reason for not being excited about education in Michigan right now. It’s time to rise above (and leave behind) the edu-garbage so we can spend our time on what matters – creating the Eventful opportunities, experiences and environments that will help kids become engaged lifelong learners and positive contributors to society.
The connections are being made. Action is being taken. A positive SHIFT in the school experience is happening for our students. But how do we tie it all together? How can we keep up with it all? How can we sustain innovation?
I believe that a central hub is needed that brings together the people, groups, events and innovative educational resources in our state. And I’m not the only one. Many of us have been waiting for an organization to step up to create something like that, but it seems as though if we really want to see it happen, we might have to build it ourselves.
If you are interested in joining forces to create something that can bring it all together, please reach out! More importantly, you, your school, your group...you all have something to contribute. You are doing amazing things and everyone should have access to that story. We should all be able to find each other. I believe that when the opportunity finally shows it’s face, these 1,000 Michigan educators will be the center of the SHIFT. They have already chosen to connect. To learn out loud. To share their stories in 140 character bits. Imagine what will happen when those voices become even more in sync.
If you’ve talked with me about education or work over the past 6 months I’ve probably mentioned something about Flow. I’ve been a bit obsessed with this branch of psychology as it relates to learning ever since reading The Rise of Superman. I’m constantly seeking out connections and research and anecdotes that might lead to a better understanding of it’s implications for classrooms.
I believe that Flow is the missing link between disengaged students and Eventful Learning. I think it can inform how to design an ideal school experience. It tells us a lot about how we should design our classrooms and school buildings. Flow— in sync with research on learning and motivation— sheds light on the pedagogical practices that can make learning stick. Ultimately, I’ve concluded, the ability to tap into Flow can determine whether or not an individual will become a passionate seeker of growth and positive contributor to society.
So when Wes Fryer invited me to answer the question “What ignites your own innovation as an educator & learner?” for his K12 Online Conference Keynote, I felt compelled to share something Flow related. I had no idea it would be this.
Clearly I am not a poet. But playing with the words, ideas and media that were buzzing around in my head in order to create something to share was incredibly scary and challenging and fun. It’s a bit meta, but on the afternoon I put this video together here are some things I experienced: time flew by, I knew exactly what needed to happen next, I wasn’t worried about trying something new, and thoughts seemed to connect connect like puzzle pieces. I was in Flow.
I highly recommend setting aside some time to watch the entire Igniting Innovation in Teaching and Learning presentation. Wes does a wonderful job of framing the importance of innovation in order to create positive change in our schools. The contributions from many other brilliant educators offer a variety of perspectives and stories that, collectively, left me feeling as inspired as ever to contribute to the connected (and complicated) landscape of education.
Brad Wilson, Educator | Michigan, USA
The views here are solely mine and do not represent my employer.
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