We Are What We Share

We are what we share. And what we read. And what we do after we share what we read. This goes for adults in the world of course, but in an age where our youth are being born with devices in their faces (and eventually their hands) this goes for them too. If we are in fear of using and/or outright blocking social media and personal devices in our schools how in the world do we expect our youth to share quality resources, important content, and care enough to post things that matter to them locally and globally if they aren’t getting real practice in the place they are 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 187 days a year? My morning started with this post from Seth Godin’s Blog.

As I read, I couldn’t help but think about a project my friend Daniel and I and 25 young people worked on 2 summers ago called Youth Converts Culture. We learned a lot about each other, from each other and with each other. We discovered content and created content and spent a lot of time sharing it face to face and online because it mattered deeply to us. We wrote a manifesto that will forever live online and is still extremely relevant today. We made mistakes along the way but every individual, adults included, grew into more developed citizens living out loud in the physical and digital world. I am proud of what we shared that summer and confident the actions I take daily reflect those choices to post.

Godin argues for us to not just share what care about, but also to do something about it after we’ve posted. All I’m asking for is the space for students to be able to do the same. If you’re doing this with students in your classrooms please create a hashtag, engage with an authentic audience, trust your students to share things in class and online that they care about and want to do something about. Provide the space and support in life and online and see what happens. We live in a connected world, lets start preparing and supporting connected learners as connected educators. They might just surprise you and share more about social justice and positive change than selfies.

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A Millennial Educator’s List of New Years Resolutions for the 2015 Year of Learning

  • Put the people, partnerships, and possibilities of better first, always. Then projects. Then technology. Then Twitter.
  • Model radical vulnerability and transparency in the classroom, in the community, in the coffee shop,  in the tiny purple ed tech coach office. Be a person, not a teacher/principal/job title.
  • Keep on talking (and tweeting) about all the things — but really work on listening more. Listen to more student voices, listen to more teacher voices; become an empathetic listener of the learning revolution. None of us are alone — let’s stop acting like we are and start with really trying to hear what others are saying.
  • Amplify the voices. Use the head and heart to get more people talking about what matters, use the technology to get more people listening.
  • Intensify the why of it all. There is so much potential for so much more in so many. A little more emphasis and intensity won’t hurt. Keep amping it up. Keep sharing things that make you pumped!
  • Co-create spaces where real learning is happening and is owned by the learner — not the lecturer. Genuine leaders of their own learning. Life hack the classroom. Real voice. Real choice. Real learning.
  • Jam out whilst having a few more tiny purple office dance parties to celebrate the small wins. Small wins matter and they deserve jams, dance moves, and instagram posts. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of a little better.
  • Jump a little more. Take a few more leaps rather than checking out all the awesome possibilities from the ledge.
  • Keep asking why. A whole lot more asking why. Finding why. And acting on why.
  • Make more things (mistakes included). Model failure. Model trying again. And again. Write more things. Share more things. Support students and teachers in doing the same — over and over again until we get somewhere else. Lessons learned are not steps in the wrong direction if we’re actually learning.
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2015 Ed Tech Coach mantra for 2015 courtesy of Kennedy Prints.

The Disconnection Myth (A Working Idea in Progress)

“Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.” – Brené Brown Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

If I heard anything in college it was the phrase “it’s all about connections.” I often wondered how in the world I would find my way when I couldn’t nail down what I wanted to do with my life long enough to make the connections it seemed I so desperately would need to get in the door. The what of my path was always, (and still is) a bit tricky and makes me feel uneasy sometimes but the why on the other hand was never an issue. I always knew it was about people. More specifically, I always knew it was about helping people. It was about the constant pursuit of living for others, beside others, with others. It was about bridging the gaps between people and the hope of leaving the world a speck better than when I entered it. It was about connections. This truth still exists. It is still one of the most important factors to finding, and becoming our best selves. It is still all about connections – it’s just that the definition of the word has changed. And that is a good thing, a really good thing. We have the chance to flip the script. To shift the paradigm. To make the good the only – and connections is how we are going to do it. It is no longer just about who you know, who your parents know, where you were born, where you went to school. All of those things are factors, yes but they are not the deciding factor. They no longer have to make or break you, or your path. All we have to do is become connected locally, globally, and digitally, person to person; in all of those spaces. I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about connections- and a lot more time in the world of education defending my stance on the critical need for people (all people) to be connected locally, globally and digitally. I am constantly asking a lot of questions about what it means to be connected and am usually most drawn to how we are connected to each other, what is created because of those connections, and the illusion that connection is a privilege and/or choice. But before we get into any of that we have to start with the why of it all. Why do we desire, seek out, and identify through connections? Because connections are the thing. The fear of disconnection disappears when we realize not only are we all worthy of connection, we are all capable of it on more levels than were ever humanly possible. So go ahead: get connected. Even more so than that, embrace connection. I dare you. Stop believing the myth that we are simultaneously becoming more disconnected as our world is allowing us to be more deeply connected in every aspect of our life. The majority of our students have already figured this out whether or not you decide to join them, but I’m betting on the fact that most of them hope you will.

It’s a Mobile Natives World, I Just Teach In It

Today I woke up to a text message from my sister that said “Classrooms of the Future on Today Show! Textbooks to Tablets!” I replied with “Awesome! But it should really be called ‘Classrooms of Today’!” and she replied with an affirming “Yes!” She lives on a farm in Iowa. Her husband, my brother in law, works for John Deer and is using technology everyday to help farmers in his area create “smart farms” with mobile technology. It’s amazing. Google it. We do completely different work but are able to vibe out on topics related to mobile technology because he gets it, and so does she. Not only that. They are parents to 3 children under the age of 5 that are mobile natives, meaning they were born in the age of mobile technology. Ben is going to start kindergarten next year and he can teach himself how to do things on a Kindle Fire that it would take my Dad weeks to learn. (Sorry, Dad…but you know it’s true!) They learn differently because they were born into a different world. This issue matters. Society (teachers and Today Show watchers alike) need to understand that mobile technology and the issue of how to best support mobile natives in the classroom matters. A lot. 

Understanding the issues we are facing in education is critical to our society’s progress, but they tend to be so complex that they are difficult to pinpoint and address. More and more it seems like everyone has an opinion about what is wrong with our education system but much less to say about how to effectively (and realistically) fix it.  Regardless of the multitudes of expectations and  complex circumstances educators are dealing with we are all being challenged with the task of helping shape and prepare students to thrive in an ever-changing, globally connected world. Furthermore, our young learners are developing a moral code and a learning style that are different from pre-internet and pre- mobile technology learners. Most teachers (and people born before the late ’80s) are struggling to connect with these developments and how they are not going to, but rather are already, deeply effecting the way we teach, learn, and live.

Research speculates that 65% of the careers our students will have do not even exist yet. This phenomenon is one of the truest challenges the field of education has ever had to face.  Furthermore, the role of teacher is morphing quickly because, for the first time in human history, our youth can have access to unlimited information, resources, and connections. This access could help them transcend virtually any circumstance, but only if we, as educators, work together to provide this access and to create the space our students need to become lifelong learners capable of adapting. And it will only work if we are open enough to see the real needs of a modern learner and the true expectations and capabilities of the modern educator.

This brings me to what I believe is one of the most critical trends—the one that must be addressed and accepted across the board to create real support and solution for learners of today: partnerships. As teachers, we are no longer the primary source of information. Even harder to swallow for many educators, a textbook is no longer the principal source of the information necessary to learn, adapt, and succeed.

Teachers are resources. Textbooks are resources. But nothing can compete with the global bank of knowledge and connectivity that the Internet provides. Knowledge learned can be immediately explored, adapted, shared, and re-created. Our students already do this—they already learn this way. They are digital natives, born and raised. But when they come to learn in our classrooms, we pretend that they are not. We ask them to perform an impossible task: we ask them to be someone else.

They are builders. They are content creators. They are native synthesizers. And they are bored. To fix this boredom, this disconnect, the only option for us is to become partners with them. We must partner to explore real goals, ethical behavior, self-assessment, and productive communication. We must partner with them so that they can learn to create, to tinker, and to find their own voices. We must allow them to use their tools to create solutions to problems of their world. We must work against homogenization so that they can walk confidently into their next phase of life. Right now, they are leaving timid and unsure of their compatibility with our world. I teach high school. I see it everyday. I hope I won’t be writing this same blog when my nephew is starting high school.

If we walk with them to learn in their way, then they will not feel alone as they walk away from us. If we work with them to create empathetic connections to all humans, then they will never feel disconnected from our world or even from a world that does not exist yet. We must embed our content into the problems we are solving in the classroom. We must use our common core strands to guide projects and to inspire in-depth usage of that core to solve problems of the world, not fill in bubbles. We must activate passions and we must side-step who we formerly were. We might even take a step back. Yes, a step back is what we need; to truly partner, we must consider ourselves learners too. When we all begin to truly utilize the partnership approach in every school and in every classroom, we will see the change needed to support our students at the most critical level and all of us will be much better off because of it.