I feel like I’ve been on information overload lately. The more podcasts I listen to, books and blogs I read, and TED talks I watch, the more vast the problems in education appear. My reading list is growing faster than I can afford – a lot of the books I want to read aren’t available at the library, even through inter-library loan. But maybe that’s a good thing. I can only absorb so much at once. (Plus, my reading time is limited with an infant and toddler taking my attention.)
I’m also getting a crash course in using social media professionally. It’s a little embarrassing how much of this stuff intimidates me. It’s embarrassing to say that I’ve never even Skyped without someone else setting up the call. Facebook and WordPress are my comfort zones. Anything beyond that makes me nervous. And yet, I find myself entering into the world of Twitter chats, MOOC’s, and Skyping with other classrooms. It’s starting to snowball, and I’m just hoping I come out more knowledgeable and connected in the process, rather than getting overwhelmed.
Seriously. It’s gotten to the point where I literally pray before stepping on the elliptical to listen to another podcast. God, what do you want me to pull out of this one? Where should my focus be? What’s my place in all this? Help me to do what I should be doing!
Because if there’s one piece of hope for me in all this, it’s that my conviction has grown so much stronger. There is a place for me in all this, though I can’t exactly see what it is yet.
One of the TED talks I recently watched was #OurVoice by George Couros (author of The Innovator’s Mindset). In that talk, he said “If you want to be innovative, disrupt your routine.” And that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve disrupted my routine in my classroom and in my own professional development. I’m throwing myself out of my comfort zone, even if I only teach seven 8th graders right now.
For now, I take the baby steps that are in front of me to take. StrengthsExplorer was/is a baby step experiment with mixed success. I’d definitely do it again, but I need to adjust my approach a bit. The students seemed to like it, but it wasn’t exactly life-changing. It made a bigger impact on some than others. BUT! One thing I have noticed is that the class culture is so much more positive this year than it was last year! There is SO much less negative joking and cutting each other down in the name of “friendship”! It’s not gone completely, but it’s definitely better. Clearly, a number of factors contribute to that, but starting the year talking about individual, unique strengths certainly didn’t hurt.
My next baby step is Genius Hour, kick started by participating in the Global Innovation Exchange Innovation Exchange set up by Don Wettrick – a four week challenge encouraging classes to identify problems in their schools and communities, implement solutions to those problems, and then share their experience via skype with another participating class. Initially the kids seemed overwhelmed and didn’t see how they could change anything in our school, much less the community, but the conversation finally gained some momentum today. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep that up next week!
It’s interesting (to me, at least) to reflect on how my ideology has progressed since I first started this blog. I’ve referenced different authors over the years, sometimes focusing the uniqueness of the teen years, sometimes drawn to the power of strengths-based research, and sometimes lamenting the shortcomings in our current system and culture. I wrote my very first blog post five years ago. So much of my life has changed since then, between the travel, life struggles, and finally finding stability and having my children. Not that I was immature when I started, but I’ve done a lot of growing up, too. Life does that to you. Despite that, my mission has essentially stayed the same at its core. I just went back and reread that first blog post, and this is part of what I wrote:
The teen years should be a time of intense growth and serious, exciting identity exploration. Instead, for many they’ve become a time to goof off and party. And as I look around at my generation – those of us in our mid-to-late twenties – I see the results of that mindset. Schools focused on getting us into college, but no one prepared us for life after academics. No one warned my generation that many of them would spend the years after college unsettled and drifting, moving back into their parents’ homes for years after college, or end up in a career path that had nothing to do with what they studied in college. Thankfully, many of us had parents that sent us the right messages to grow into adults, even when the schools didn’t. But shouldn’t teens, who have this awesome energy and drive to achieve great things, be given the tools launch themselves into the adult world, instead of aimlessly drifting into it?
I still firmly believe this. And this is where all my ramblings come together, whether it’s about the Harris brothers’ Rebelution, Clifton’s StrengthsFinder, or Genius Hour. It all points to breaking the cycle of the endless adolescent and encouraging teens to take ownership of a successful future. And now it’s time for me to start doing something, instead of just talking about it. I don’t think every kid needs to become a professional entrepreneur, but I do think every kid needs to learn how to take initiative, push their comfort zones, display a professional work ethic, and self-direct their learning when needed. It’s cool to see that there really are teachers doing this.
Like I said – I’m still in the baby steps phase. My class now is tiny and based on current enrollment, my future at this school is uncertain. But I do what I can with the platform I’ve been given, however small it may be, and maybe those seven kids will be better prepared for the future after being in my class.