Would education be more valued if more educators shared their work?

The-stories-you-tellI just finished reading Austin Kleon‘s Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered. My interest in this book stems from the challenge I have in my own work – getting educators to understand the value of sharing their own and their students’ work. Most people reading this post are probably already sharing their work (and their students’) online, but if you’re not, or if you’re thinking about ways to make it more the norm in your school culture, I recommend this book.

The book is a very quick read that includes many ideas to provoke reflection and some memorable quotes to boot:

“I’m an artist, man,” said John Lennon. “Give me a tuba, and I’ll get you something out of it.”

I couldn’t help but share that one as I drew a connection to my previous post, What is school for? Some of Kleon’s ideas that directly relate to the current challenge of getting educators to understand the value of sharing:

“The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others.”

It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.

To many artists, particularly those who grew up in the pre-digital era, this kind of openness and the potential vulnerability that goes along with sharing one’s process is a terrifying idea.

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours a day. People often ask me, “How do you find the time for all this?” And I answer, “I look for it.” You find time the same place you find spare change: in the nooks and crannies. You find it in the cracks between the big stuff—your commute, your lunch break, the few hours after your kids go to bed. You might have to miss an episode of your favorite TV show, you might have to miss an hour of sleep, but you can find the time if you look for it

Don’t think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine.”

“The problem with hoarding is you end up living off your reserves. Eventually, you’ll become stale. If you give away everything you have, you are left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish. . . . Somehow the more you give away, the more comes back to you.” —Paul Arden

“Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object’s subjective value can actually be measured objectively.”

“My work speaks for itself,” but the truth is, our work doesn’t speak for itself.”

There are more snippets I could connect to the idea of educators sharing their work, but I suggest reading the book if you are as intrigued by the topic as I am. As of today, Sunday, June 29, the Pennsylvania Legislature and Governor are haggling over a state budget which is supposed to be passed by July 1. The support for education is a bit underwhelming to say the least (as it has been for the past 3 years). While I don’t like this, I can’t help but ask myself (and we educators) two questions:

  • What responsibility should we as educators bear for the current lack of respect for education and educators?
  • Would education and educators be more respected if telling our stories/sharing would become the norm of our profession?

In the book, Kleon shares this idea: “The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work effects how they value it.” Does this hold true for education? Is our work undervalued because the public (including legislators and the governor) haven’t made an “emotional connection” to our work? And is this because we haven’t done the best job of sharing those stories of the amazing things we do and giving the opportunity for people to make that emotional connection? It’s a theory.

What’s next?

By Randy Ziegenfuss Posted in Learning

What is school for?

Lots of ideas to ponder in this talk from Seth Godin. My favorite:

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 1.58.00 PM

For me, this prompts a few questions.

  • In what ways do we currently make school more like art, less like work?
  • How can we change and make school more like art and less like work?
  • As educators, do we need to first ask ourselves these questions? Is our “work” more like work or more like art? Once we struggle with that question, and the varying layers of complexity, can we then move on to asking that question of the culture and environment we create in our schools?

Essentialism in a World of Nonessentialism

essentialismAfter reading Creativity, Inc. earlier this summer (blog thoughts here), I took a dive into Greg McKeown’s new book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. This is a terrific read, particularly if you feel inundated with work you don’t want to be the highest priority. While I learned quite a few new strategies I will personally use to focus more on the essential, I was struck by how our world as educators is so “Nonessentialist.”

What is “essentialism”? From the book….”Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

Can you see how disconnected our world is from this? Sounds like education doesn’t it? Common Core, Educator Effectiveness, SLO, PVAAS, data, data, data…etc. Not so much… Is this what we want to be focused on? Is this what we really should be doing? Most of us would probably agree that there are plenty of things we should be doing that are not on the radar of education. How do we as leaders create a culture of Essentialism – doing only what is essential – when the current culture is screaming “Nonessentialism”?

In the appendix, McKeown connects his earlier theory to leadership. How many of these do we actually do in education?

  • Be ridiculously selective in hiring people. “A Nonessentialist tends to hire people frantically and impulsively – then gets too busy or distracted to either dismiss or reskill the people keeping the team back.”
  • Debate until you have established a really clear (not pretty clear) essential intent. – “Without clarity of purpose, Nonessentialist leaders straddle their strategy: they try to pursue too many objectives and do too many things.”
  • Go for extreme empowerment. “The Nonessentialist disempowers people by allowing ambiguity over who is doing what. When people don’t know what they are really responsible for and how they will be judged on their performance, when decisions either are or appear to be capricious, and when roles are ill-defined, it isn’t long before people either give up or, worse, become obsessed with trying to look busy and therefore important instead of actually getting any real work done.”
  • Communicate the right things to the right people at the right time. “The Nonessentialist leader communicates in code, and as a result people aren’t sure what anything really means.”
  • Check in often to ensure meaningful progress. “The Nonessentialist leader is not great on accountability. A primary reason and somewhat obvious reason is that the more items one pursues, the harder it is to follow up on all of them.”

I loved this book and highly recommend it for educational leaders! After all, if we don’t get the idea that we need to stop being forced to be Nonessentialist leaders, how will our organizations ever focus on the essential?


Should you be remarkable?

REMARKABLE-PEOPLEThis idea from a post (How to be remarkable) on “being remarkable” has been swirling around in my mind for the past few days.

Can you ‘leave your mark’ in this life, can you be remarkable, if no one is remarking about you? While it’s important to be remarkable in your own eyes, making a difference by definition means being seen as remarkable by others. And, in order to be remarked upon, you’ve got to get in front of people – you have to be visible.

As educators and as schools, what kind of efforts do we make at being remarkable? What IS being remarkable, anyway? I suppose each of us needs to define that for ourselves and for our organizations. What is the “mark” you are leaving on your organization (as a leader) and/or your students (as an educator/leader)? And then how do you share out that which is remarkable?

Unless I can be convinced otherwise, I think we are doing a lot of “unremarkable” in education. Education policy, embodied in national/state politicians and local school boards, doesn’t want remarkable. Sure, we have remarkable educators -both classroom teachers and school leaders. You can find them all over the internet – on blogs and Twitter. But I don’t see these people as the norm in the American education system. The vast majority of us are focused on the unremarkable because we blindly implement the unremarkable policies placed on us.

Take the Principal Effectiveness system here in Pennsylvania as one example. How many principals are starting to dump all their energy into worrying about how they will be rated? Do they really think the rating will be anything less than “proficient”? Instead of worrying about being “unremarkable,” why aren’t they focusing on work that is remarkable? Why aren’t they focused on fostering and widely sharing the pockets of remarkable going on in their schools? Why aren’t they focused on creating a digital footprint that will trump any Principal Effectiveness rating?

It’s not my intent to disrespect educators, but how do we improve? We have to ask questions that often make us uncomfortable. And is thinking about “remarkable” one way to move us in that direction? What’s your remarkable?

Creativity, Inc.

creativityincI’ve just finished reading Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. This book is chock full of thought-provoking ideas for educational leaders at all levels interested in leading their organization toward increased creativity and innovation. This book was so good that I plan to give it a closer read over the course of the summer. I suspect there are ideas here to improve my own practice. I just need to make more sense of them and determine thoughtful applications to my current leadership context.

School leaders may find the final section, Starting Points, of particular interest. In this section, the author distills the leadership principles peppered with stories throughout the book into a bulleted list. These ideas provide fuel for those interested in inquiring into their own practice – uncovering what’s working and what can be improved. Several principles that caught my attention:

  • Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you get the team right, chances are that they’ll get the ideas right.
  • If there is more truth in the hallways than in meetings, you have a problem.
  • Failure isn’t a necessary evil. In fact, it isn’t evil at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.

The Afterword is a rather touching tribute to Steve Jobs – The Steve We Knew. Certainly paints a different picture from the major media. And Catmull should know as he worked with Jobs for over two decades.

I highly recommend Creativity, Inc. for school leaders interested in improving their practice. Commit the time to thinking about the ideas in this book and how they can improve your practice!