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Posts Tagged ‘Seth Godin’

Seth on Sorting

sorting

Much of what Seth Godin blogs about is food for thought, but every now and again he writes something that really strikes a chord with me and I need to put it in context. His recent piece on The wasteful fraud of sorting for youth meritocracy is just such a piece. He takes up a conversation that seems to be gaining more attention as we question the purpose of school and how we approach learning for students, both in and out of school. In part, I am drawn to the post because I nod my head in agreement while reading it and, in part, because it really challenges all of the structures we have created around schools.

Godin argues students are being taught our world is one in which people are picked based on performance. When it comes to activities like school sports and music, those running the programs might point out “that their job is to win, to put on a great show, to entertain the parents with the best performance they can create.”

Godin challenges this and asks:

What if we celebrated the students who regularly try the hardest, help each other the most and lead? What if we fast tracked those students and made it clear to anyone else willing to adopt those attitudes that they could be celebrated too?

What if you got cast, tracked or made the cut because you were resilient, hard-working and willing to set yourself up for a cycle of continuous improvement? Isn’t that more important than rewarding the kid who never passes but still scores a lot of goals?

We do try to do this, and it seems we are trying harder now than even a decade ago. More and more, students are being compared and sorted on past performances rather than with of the students who sit next to them in class. Of course, old habits are difficult to break. No matter how much we say as teachers and parents we value the work habits as much as the letter grades (or even more),  our eyes quickly scan to the A and B grades before looking at the G and S grades.

And just what is this system doing? Godin says:

If you get ahead for years and years because you got dealt good cards, it’s not particularly likely that you will learn that in the real world, achievement is based as much on attitude and effort as it is on natural advantages. In the real world, Nobel prizes and Broadway roles and the senior VP job go to people who have figured out how to care, how to show up, how to be open to new experiences. Our culture is built around connection and charisma and learning and the ability to not quit in precisely the right moments.

This is challenging stuff. I am reminded of Mike McKay’s question, “When will what we know change what we do?”  While we know what Godin says to be true, we are very slow to change our system.  We (me included) like many of our school rituals — from the music concerts to sports matches — showcase the students we feel are the most talented.

Godin’s final challenge, “What is school for?”  is like this piece on sorting, a great conversation starter.

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What’s Your Job?

jobFrom time to time I have taken some of Seth Godin’s ideas and have related them to an educational setting.  In previous posts, I have written about Alienating the 2%, Thinking of School as an Experience, and the Pleasant Reassurance of New Words.

A recent post, What’s your job? struck me.  Teaching, and education in general, is such an interesting profession because there are multiple ways to teach successfully. To realize a common definition of our purpose (just what is the purpose of schooling or education?) and our role (what is an elevator speech for what teachers do?) is almost impossible. Godin writes:

What’s your job?

Not your job title, but your job. What do you do when you’re doing your work? What’s difficult and important about what you do, what change do you make, what do you do that’s hard to live without and worth paying for?

“I change the people who stop at my desk, from visitors to guests.”

“I give my boss confidence.”

“I close sales.”

If your only job is “showing up,” time to raise the stakes.

As a teacher, part of my job was to ensure my History 12 students did REALLY well on the government exam.  I also thought my job was to ensure students were interested in pursuing more learning opportunities in English, Law and History after taking the class (hopefully) than before taking it. I also thought part of my job was to add value and create community beyond what students could find in a textbook or on the Internet.

Now, as superintendent, I think my job is to keep us moving in the right direction. And there are so many moving parts — from politics and labour issues to new curriculum and pedagogies. So, part of my current job is to ensure our district is more than a collection of independent contractors who share a common location. It can be challenging and it is always a balancing act — pushing and supporting, giving attention to one area at the expense of another and then readjusting the whole.

It would be interesting, if not challenging, to put a one-sentence reply on “what we do” on an organizational chart.  So, back to where I started and “What’s your job?” There are so many different, innovative and fitting ways to do the job.  The more superintendents I meet and come to know, the more I am impressed by their approach to leadership and how they have taken ownership of the ‘job’. The person who will follow me will make the job theirs and it will likely look very different from what it is now.  Also likely, the people around them will have different approaches and facets to their jobs. Several highly accomplished superintendents in West Vancouver have shown us this through the years.

I think part of what is exciting and can also drive one crazy about education: is there one inclusive and all-encompassing answer to the “What’s Your Job” question?

I am curious to know what others see as their “job”.

 

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I am often asked “just what is the Culture of Yes?”  Although the ‘culture’ continues to evolve, it is still the belief system as I set out to define in my address on my first day as Superintendent:

It is the “culture of yes”, we have and will continue to foster — one that embraces new ideas and new ways to look at learning and organize learning; a “culture of yes” that supports innovation and creativity for both learners and teachers, knowing this is how we will continue to evolve.  It is a “culture of yes” that touches on the passions we entered the profession with, and that may have sometimes been lost along the way, but hopefully, found again.

It was interesting to see Seth Godin, who I have often referenced, take up a similar theme in his recent post, On Behalf of Yes:

Yes, it’s okay to ship your work.

Yes, you’re capable of making a difference.

Yes, it’s important.

Yes, you can ignore that critic.

Yes, your bravery is worth it.

Yes, we believe in you.

Yes, you can do even better.

Yes.

Yes is an opportunity and yes is an obligation. The closer we get to people who are confronting the resistance on their way to making a ruckus, the more they let us in, the greater our obligation is to focus on the yes.

There will always be a surplus of people eager to criticize, nitpick or recommend caution. Your job, at least right now, is to reinforce the power of the yes.

Seth’s blog brings to mind a story I recently heard regarding innovation and education in England.  The government proposed to their education system they could apply to have any rules, laws, etc. suspended in the name of innovation (there is currently a similar initiative in BC).  Those who wanted to ‘not comply’ had to make application to the government with the appropriate rationale.  The project’s one major finding was over 80% of applications received were unnecessary. Why? Because the rules that hundreds of educators had applied to have suspended didn’t actually exist.  I think this general challenge is also true in British Columbia — we believe we are more restricted by laws, rules and legislation than we actually are (possibly by rules that don’t exist, as well) thereby justifying the belief that innovation is not possible and we continue to accept the Status Quo.

In education, more than any other profession, we need to continue to promote YES; “yes” for the teacher embracing formative assessment discouraged by the parent who claims this is not how they were assessed in school; “yes” for the school that cannot re-imagine their programs in their current, highly successful system; “yes” for the people to take the risk knowing the road to change is long and challenging.

And, it is certainly nice to know there are others pushing  for YES.

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top3

My “Top 3” blog list is becoming a bit of a tradition with previous Top 3 lists for 2011 (here) and 2010 (here). This “top” list is an opportunity to review ideas that have become a big part or our learning over the past 12 months, which may have been missed in the “drinking from the firehose” approach (what has become social media and the Internet). I continue to shuffle the categories, trying to take a different approach to these year-end lists.  They are a great way to raise topics, discussion, debate, and perhaps shed some light onto areas deserving more attention (or topics missed) as the year went on.  I look forward to others adding their thoughts on my “Top 3” of 2012.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have Generated the most Traffic this Year:

1.  The Multi-Sport High School Athlete

2. If School Was More Like Swimming 

3.  How My Teaching Has Changed

Top 3 Used (and often overused) Terms in Education for the Year:

1.  Game Changer

2.  Perfect Storm

3.  Flipping It

Top 3 Growing Trends I See Continuing in the Next Year:

1.  Self-Regulation (but more broadly social-emotional learning)

2.  Outdoor learning (outdoor classrooms and full outdoor programs)

3.  Low / No Cost Conference Events (e.g. Edcamps)

Top 3 Books I have Read this Year that have Influenced My Thinking:

1.  Why School? by Will Richardson

2.  11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era by Nilofer Merchant

3.  How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough

Top 3 Professional Development Events I have Attended:

1.  Visit to Finland (Here and here are my two posts on the visit)

2.  Two Library-related events:  the BCTLA PSA Conference in October and the Changing Times; Inspiring Libraries Summit in December

3.  West Vancouver Opening Day with cultural-anthropologist  Jennifer James

Top 3 BC Edu-bloggers that I didn’t know about 12 Months ago, and now Follow:

1.  Anthony Ciolfitto – Principal, Riverside Secondary School, Port Coquitlam

2.  Stephen Petrucci – Director of Instruction, Fort St. John

3. 180 Days of Learning – Delta School District (cool project!)

Top 3 Non-education New Twitter Follows:

1.  Rick Reilly – ESPN

2.  Nate Silver – New York Times (FiveThirtyEight blog)

3.  Andy Borowitz – New Yorker Magazine

Top 3 School-related Videos from British Columbia (that I bet you haven’t seen):

1.   What a Teacher Makes – West Vancouver

2.  VSB Transition from Elementary to Secondary School (VSB has lots of great videos)

3.   Gino Bondi – Innovation and School Libraries  (BC Libraries also has a number of other great videos)

 Top 3 School-related TED Videos Posted this Year:

1.   Will Richardson (TedxMelbourne)

2.  Thomas Suarez: A 12 year-old app developer

3.  Stop Stealing Dreams:  Seth Godin

Thanks to everyone who continues to engage with me on my blog and push my learning.  Our digital community is continuing to grow and I am thrilled to be connected to so many thoughtful teachers, parents, students and community members.  Blogging is not easy, but it is exceptionally rewarding.  I look forward to continuing to grow and learn together in 2013.

Chris Kennedy

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From my recent Slideshare presentations, I have had a number of questions about what my thinking is about the role of teacher-librarians?  Here is the slide that has generated some discussion on this and the one I use to explain how we, in West Vancouver, are trying to support digital literacy and move forward with inquiry-based learning:

We don’t have the ‘middle layer’ of support for our schools that some districts have; we have no district coordinators, helping teachers, district support teachers or other similar positions that many, particularly larger districts, have to support the work of the teacher and schools.

In part because of size, and in part because of vision, we have made commitments around school-based staffing; thus, we are required to develop a model to support digital literacy and other innovative learning relying on the work in schools with limited outside support.

I call this the “Just in Time” solution, where we have principals and vice-principals who are learning leaders.  Regardless of their technology skills, they know their pedagogy and find ways to connect learning goals to technology and, more importantly, provide leadership around curriculum and assessment.  We have also been overt in recent years with our postings and our hirings — having digital skills is an expectation for new principals and vice-prinicpals. They are our first circle of support, and we need to continue to support them to lead the learning (including digital learning).

Teacher-librarians are our second circle of support.  In a recent interview with Dr. Paul Shaker on Your Education Matters, I said that as we move forward “teacher librarians are more important than ever.”   My experience has been that next to the principal, the teacher-librarian is often key in moving the learning agenda forward.  In schools that are moving forward, it is very often the teacher-librarian, working side-by-side with teachers on staff, who find new ways of working with students.

The third ring of the “Just-in-Time” solution is key staff members; they are formal leaders like secondary curriculum coordinators, or informal leaders who have an influence on staff, who are able to help in the moment to support digital literacy.  Teachers cannot wait for a workshop in six weeks, when they are stuck now; they rely on our network of staff — formal leaders, teacher-librarians, and key teacher leaders — all working together.

I saw the power of the teacher-librarian working with Gordon Powell (click on his name to check out his great blog), when I began my teaching career at McRoberts Secondary in Richmond, and then later in Port Coquitlam, as Principal at Riverside Secondary working with Sue Kilpatrick and Ron Haselhan, who simply “got it” in their roles supporting and working with teachers and students.  I am hardly an expert on teacher-librarians, but I have now seen first-hand — in three school districts — the important leadership role they play.

My thanks to Moira Ekdahl, a teacher-librarian from Vancouver and a recent winner of the CLA Angela Thacker Memorial Award who, in her recent post here, did a much more articulate job of pulling together my thoughts around teacher-librarians.  On the topic of library transformation, the BC Teacher Librarians Association have a wonderful document: The Points of Inquiry.

As we lament that little change has taken place, or how slow the change has been, many teacher-librarians have transformed what they do to stay relevant and ahead of the curve.  We have many who are seeing their roles, as Seth Godin does, “as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario” (Later, in this post, Seth stole my line about librarians being more important than ever).

Finally, one more place worth reading on the topic is Gino Bondi, Principal at John Oliver in Vancouver, and the work they are doing on a Learning Commons.  Thanks to Gino and Moira, Building a Learning Commons, is now on my summer reading list.

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If you don’t subscribe to Seth Godin‘s blog, you should.  One of his very short posts this week, The pleasant reassurance of new words, really hit home:

It’s a lot easier for an organization to adopt new words than it is to actually change anything.

Real change is uncomfortable. If it’s not feeling that way, you’ve probably just adopted new words.

I have to admit, the “21st century skills” and “personalized learning” conversations are not really feeling very uncomfortable yet.

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