Stuff Changes. Or Not. Transformation Isn’t a One Time Thing.

A class I was involved in a little while back took a few minutes to write together the other day about a time “before technology,” “after technology,” and “personal technology.” To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I should share my writing there, but it turns out I have a blog – so I can share my writing here.

One of the things that I’m always reminded of when it comes to frames like “before technology” and “after technology” is that such distinctions are relative.  There wasn’t really ever a “pre-technology” period in my life – it’s just the technology of the moment that’s changing. Yesterday’s Word is today’s Google Docs is tomorrow’s I dunno yet. And so on. And my personal explorations of technology aren’t linear – it’s not like ever since I started typing words I no longer write them by hand. In fact, I’m writing lots more by hand lately than via keyboard, as I cherish the quiet of pen to paper without Internet connection over the allure of “what’s the latest news” when I’m sitting in front of the screen I spend far too much of my day in front of.

There’s not really an “after technology,” for me. I suspect the framing was meant in part to help folks realize that adding technology to something makes that thing better. That’s, of course, not always true. Frequently, it’s not at all true. Just because you can automate something sure doesn’t mean that you should. I wish more of the people in a hurry to automate education and learning and relationships realized that. The struggle is a big piece of the thing.

Adding extra stuff – technology, processes, media, etc – to a thing that doesn’t need it is folly and foolish and wrong. Tell your friends – don’t do that.

I’ll skip the personal part of the prompt – I don’t really know what that means. The tech I use IS personal. The same messaging tools I use to ensure my appointments are on time are those I use to ask my daughter how her day at school is going.

Maybe that’s weird, but I don’t think it is. Not one bit.

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Faking It

 

I’m working with a couple groups of teachers next week who want to explore the idea of blogging as a way of promoting inquiry and professional growth in their practice. As I’ve proposed to one group, here’s the session description as I’m thinking of it:

We’re on the third generation of writing tools for the Web. Or the 33. It depends on who you ask.

The tools for writing on the Web have never been easier to use or harder to master, but they all rely on basic writerly moves – an understanding of purpose, an awareness of audience, and an attention to detail that matters more and more as attention to detail is paid less and less.

In this workshop, we’ll explore how teachers write online for personal growth and professional development. We’ll talk about and help you unpack your reasons for writing online, and how you might get started.

Drawing on my twelve years of writing as a teacher, an educator, and a blogger, we’ll unpack what you might want to do as a writer today, how blogging can push inquiry both in your classroom and elsewhere, and how you can get started.

But what I really want to talk about with these teachers, as they consider moving forward as public writers, public inquirers, and public strugglers with their practice, is imposter syndrome.

Actually, how to defeat imposter syndrome. You guys, you fake it until you make it. So let’s do the things that writers do until we feel like we’re good at them. And we will never feel good at them.

It’s the doubt, I think, and the worry, the voice nagging at you that it’s not going well, or could be going better, or asking you to pay attention differently, that’s the power of writing about one’s practice. A big piece of the publicness that has value is the reassurance, both to yourself, and to others, that the doubt and worry exist. We really do have to fake it until we make it.

And the faking it, in truth, is an awful big piece of the making it. Being afraid/nervous/concerned/worryful is how the good work gets done.

That’s not to say that all worry is productive or necessary, but a good bit of teacher inquiry is scratching the intellectual itch or wonder.worry/doubt/concern that comes up when you begin to try to describe your practice in thought then words.

I don’t do a lot of teacher blogging workshops anymore. It’s not that I don’t believe in the power of blogging for personal or professional growth. It’s not that I don’t find it important to reflect on one’s practice. It’s that, most days, I feel like an imposter in a room full of teachers and learners.

But the truth is, I’ve always felt that way. What’s changed is that I’ve gotten better at listening to the demons that are shouting down my better angels. That’s mostly the opposite of what I wish were happening, truth be told.

Why I struggle with writing and inquiring online of late is that my young-middled aged self is less able to resist my doubts. That’s something I’m fighting and will continue to fight. But I hope I can offer to others some tips on how to get started and then they can help me remember how to continue.

That’s of course, what good classrooms look like. All the folks in the room are teachers and learners. When the classroom is working well, we all take turns.

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Seek Less Permission

Over the weekend, I read Dan’s post. I thought it was the right thing to say, and a good way to think about moving a networkish kind of community-esque thing into a better place in a time of networked publicness1 .

Stephen’s take is a good reminder of one of my Internet teacher pet peeves:

And it’s funny how passive people are – why would you need permission to use a hashtag? Nobody can own a hashtag, not even if they set up a Twitter identity and lay claim to it.

I wish more folks would quit trying to claim territory and focus instead on doing interesting things in ways that invite other folks to see/help/share/experience.

  1. Yeah, I know that’s a ridiculous phrase – but it’s more accurate than something like “the community.” On the Internet, there’s no such thing. Just the illusion of one. []
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Just Read, Dammit.

A couple of small things intersected in a timely fashion in my Twitter feeds yesterday.1

The first was this piece in the Washington Post about a district administrator in Florida who has banned all homework in elementary school – save for reading twenty minutes a night:

Elementary school students in one Florida school district are going to find a welcome new — but controversial — policy when they return to school for the 2017-2018 school year next month: no traditional homework.

They are being asked to do one thing to help them academically: Read for 20 minutes a night.

Heidi Maier, the new superintendent of the 42,000-student Marion County public school district in Florida, said in an interview that she made the decision based on solid research about what works best in improving academic achievement in students.

What a wonderful reminder of the power of reading AND the importance of taking a break from school. And, for that matter, the importance of actually incorporating data into teaching and learning. And, heck, while we’re at it – the significant power in NOT doing something. Not doing the wrong thing is a wonderful way to get better. It gives you room to try something else.

The second item was a collection of tweets I saw in passing during an EdSurge2 twitter chat. The gist of my noticing is summed up here:

If teachers don’t understand the the value in reading is less about WHAT gets read than the fact that READING BECOMES A HABIT for a learner, then there’s work for us to do.

Reading3 is essential to lifelong learning. It’s worth doing and it’s worth doing promisciuously, at least some times.  It’s also more important that most of what’s ever been foisted on children as “further practice” or “homework.”

While you’re reading big and broad this summer, you might want to pick up a copy of Daniel Pennac’s Better than Life, a delightful meditation on what it means to read and be a reader. Be sure to pay special attention to his Reader’s Bill of Rights, and consider how you’ll make the shift towards allowing those rights to be present in the reading lives of your students.

In the meantime, as you’re out and about this summer, please grab a text, be it an old favorite novel, or a trashy magazine, or a vampire romance, or a graphic novel, or the newest mystery, or a scholarly chapter, or back issues of your favorite newspaper, and please do me this:

Just read, dammit. And help others do the same.

  1. I’m learning again to watch for these, the moments when my writer sense tingles. []
  2. The fact that EdSurge itself is an infomercial is irrelevant to this particular post, but probably worth talking about at some future point. If EdSurge is your go to source for information on Ed Tech/edtech/edutech, you’re definitely doing it wrong. []
  3. In multiple modes, yes. Audiobooks count. []
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Custodians of Magic & Wonder

I’ve been working for a little more than two years as a library administrator, and am awful lot of my work of late has been planning for the future of the Clearview Library District, my workplace home.

We’re dreaming hard and big right now about what we want the future of our library community to look like. Specifically, we’re planning to build a new library.

It’s important work. Not just because you want to get the details right. (But we do.) It’s that when we’re dreaming about the spaces we want to build, and to ask the public to support, I wanna make sure we’re dreaming about the right sort of stuff.

Here’s the thing. Libraries aren’t just warehouses for books. But that’s a part of what they are. Libraries aren’t just quiet reading rooms. But that a piece of it. Libraries aren’t just civic spaces where people can gather. But they’re that, too.

Libraries are also places for events and experiences that help all folks learn and dream and wonder and hope and explore and be curious. That’s important. Essential.

Our library’s mission is to:

Cultivate curiosity. Enlighten the mind. Strengthen the community. 

At the library, we’re in the business of magic and wonder. We are the stewards of the experiences visitors will tell their grandchildren about. And we are the space in the community where anyone can wonder about most anything they want to. Our library is a curiosity and serendipity engine.

My job is to help make sure these things happen for all the people who might interact with the public library, as well as to engage anyone in the district as to the fact that we’re here, we’re open, and we’re eager to be that civic curiosity and wonder space for all. And that means we have to get the building right, yes. But that’s not enough. We have to make the culture work, both  for our staff as well as our patrons. It has to feel right and good and open and safe.

I used to teach high school to students who didn’t like school. Now, I help run a school that no one is required to attend. We call it the library, and the curriculum is mostly whatever you’re curious about when you walk through the door.

I take this responsibility very seriously. I’m helping, in some small way, to keep a tradition alive that’s American and right and good, in all the best ways about those words.

Magic. That’s what we do.

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Badges. They’re Still Not What I Thought They Were.

I’ve been working lately on some resources related to telling stories about the work that the Badges Team of the New Pathways Initiative has inspired and/or been influenced by. I’ve written some about the team and our work – but not enough. I need to do that more. But what I want to capture right now is a little thing, one thing that I’ve been missing in some of my work on badging.

I spent an hour yesterday listening to Deanna and Liz and Vickie talk about the work they’ve done at the Morehead Writing Project to build an online Summer Institute.  It’s modeled after their traditional Invitational Summer Institute, a multi week summer experience for teachers focusing on writing and teaching and classroom inquiry. Now in its eighth year, the Online SI is chugging right along as a healthy online experience. But Deanna also mentioned that she uses badges as a way of helping the community of a class develop. In a way, she uses them as props or lubricant to help the classes she facilitates pay attention to each other. They give gratitude via badges. They point out things they might otherwise not notice. She’s written an awful lot about badges and how she uses them. Here’s a good place to start if you want to read more.

Yet another reminder to me that the value in badges has very little to do with the credentials, sometimes, and an awful lot to do with the behavior they help describe and make visible.

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On Turning 39

I’m writing tonight from a room at the National Writing Project’s Resource Development Retreat in Denver. I’ve been here the last couple of days, working to build some resources and support some other folks to get things made. Several of the NWP’s initiatives and projects are represented here, and there’re folks working on making assignments better, sharing how they’re doing things, and reaching for a little more dissemination of the work that’s going on in classrooms around the country.

Oh, and today?  It’s my 39th birthday.

I can think of few places I’d rather be on my birthday than with the folks and the organization that has done so much for me and my students across my varied career as a teacher, a consultant, an IT professional, a library administrator, and a writer and speaker about technology. Tonight, we’re gathered together to encourage each other to get some writing done. So we’re sitting around conference rounds typing away as fast as we can. Writing alone. Together1.

This blog’s getting old, and so am I.  It’s been more than twelve years since I adopted, mostly by accident, the online identity of “Bud the Teacher.” And I’ve switched careers a couple of times since then. I wondered if it was time to drop this space, to say so long and start fresh somewhere else. I’ve made new spaces a couple of times, but they never stuck.

I’m still a teacher, even if the folks I’m teaching might not consider themselves “students.” I think I always will be. And I still am nowhere close to being done learning, which is what a teacher does, right up there in front of everybody2

So Bud the Teacher is still who I am, even if he was someone I never quite meant to be.

On this, the start of my 39th year, I want to write a bit about what I’m thinking about lately, what’s keeping me busy, and what I want to spend the last year of this decade and the first year of the next on. I want to try to push through the awkwardness of not knowing how to write in this space so much lately.

I’m going to learn how to blog again. Again.

I don’t blog like I used to. I don’t like that. I’d like this next year to see a little more of me.

I’ve been writing, certainly, and will never stop, but lots of my writing of late has gone into envelopes and mailboxes, as I’ve tried to work on being a better corresponder with friends and family. I just haven’t been writing here. Again, I’m hoping to change that.

The next couple of posts will be snapshots from my world right now.

  1. There are also silly hats. I do not understand this, but it seems to be working, so I’m going with it. []
  2. Though more and more now, I teach and love to learn through budgets and proposals and coaching infrastructure. Frequently from the back of the room. []
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Tying My Shoes

Late last week, I relearned how to tie my shoes.

I’m not kidding.

Every Friday in my office, my team and I sit together for a weekly team meeting. It’s our chance to be together at the end of a long week, catch each other on what’s been happening and what we’ve been up to, and to build our sense of our team a little better.

One way we do that is that we take turns sharing TED talks with each other, and talking about how the ideas the speakers share might relate to our work together, or to libraries in general.1

Last week, as a teammate was in a hurry, she suggested a short video. And it was one that messed with my head a little bit.

Just watch it. It’s only three minutes long.  Here it is:

All this time, and I’ve been doing it wrong. All my work shoes make their way loose throughout the course of a day. This way of tying them? Once they’re done, they’re done.

So I’m relearning how to do something that’s been muscle memory for me for almost my entire life. It’s slow going.

Change is hard. And it starts with small moves for good reasons. One member of my team said that she doesn’t need to learn to tie her shows differently, because her laces don’t come loose. She’s right – if the goals don’t line up, then you shouldn’t change. You should only bother to make a change for yourself or for someone else when it makes sense to, when your plan needs, or maybe even requires, that you align yourself differently and you work to change some habits.

But if your habits aren’t the problem, if they’re helping you get stuff done, then you’d better not change them. They’re the right habits to have.

The habits of my first thirteen years of work and professional career stuff aren’t all serving me well at this stage of my work. And while it’s taking me a long time, I’m starting to figure that out.

Part of what’s helping is remembering to think about the stuff that I do without thinking about.

I hope you’re doing that, too.

  1. This was not my original plan. I was hoping that the team would read things together. But we’re busy, and there’s an awful lot of good TED talks out there that are gateways into interesting ideas. So someone suggested we do that, and it’s working pretty well. []
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On Not Solving Problems

I’m writing today at the tail end of a National Writing Project Building New Pathways for teacher Leadership Convening in New Orleans.  For the last year, I’ve been working with a smart team of NWPeeps to think about the role of badging and micro credentials in supporting new pathways for teacher leaders in the National Writing Project network.  It’s been powerful work for me as I’ve been trying to understand how best to help the network help local sites to create new and strong pathways to bring people into the network.

New people. In new ways. It’s been about asking ourselves and each other what it is that has made the traditional pathway into NWP leadership – the Invitational Summer Institute – work so well. In asking that question, the work has also been framed around how to create new opportunities and experiences for folks who should be in the network to be in it.

But asking that question can be scary – because in a way it’s saying that there will be writing project people who are in the network who didn’t come in the same way that others did.

Of course, nobody came to the NWP in the same way. It just feels like maybe we did.

The last couple of paragraphs probably won’t make much sense to anyone who isn’t familiar with the way that NWP, a national network of near 200 sites, works. Local sites are university-school partnerships that stand up opportunities for writing together, asking hard questions, and developing teachers to become better teachers of writing.

And the role of the National Writing Project is slippery, though not in a bad way. It’s slippery in the same way any governing organization of organizations is. Loose ties and local contexts mean different ways forward. I regularly forget that.

And as I was listening to teachers and professors share their experiences of trying to “create the magic” of their writing project site for new audiences, in new ways, using some new tools, I heard a couple of phrases I want to remember.

One was my friend Tanya sharing that there are a couple of ways to think about what it means to be a resource to others1. It might be that you look out into the world and see a group of folks and say, “Hey. I can fix you. I can make you better.  You need what we’ve got.”  Think traditional PD. We know what you need. Come and get it.

But there’s a second way to think about it. “Hey,” you might say as you look out into the world and at yourselves and see that there’s a group or perspective missing from your organization, or that there’s an audience that’s new that you might should be in conversation with, “That’s a group that is interesting and isn’t here.”

What you might say next then, is, this: “We need you. We’d be better if you were here and we were there a little bit.”

That’s a better way. I don’t know what you need, but maybe I need you. Let’s get better together.

Another piece I want to remember from this week, and likely keep learning and forgetting as I work again and again with the National Writing Project. As I look back from when I entered the network as an early career teacher, and as I look ahead now as someone doing work as a representative of the NWP in multiple ways, this is the thing I forget.

It’s not that my work at the national level is to make you like me. It’s not my work to solve your problem. My work is to help you remember what’s important and special and true about our shared experiences and work. My work is to help you remember just enough of that, and to help you explore how you can solve your problem yourself. Because it turns out you can.

And then you need to help me solve mine, and to remember all the stuff I worked to help you do. Because I’m going to need your help to help me do the same thing.

The work of the NWP isn’t transactional. It’s not measured in deliverables.  It’s generative. It creates the opportinity and capacity for you to solve the next challenge, and to head out on a new path, and to help the next group of folks solve their next series of challenges. Then rinse and repeat.

We’ll never be done, but we can sure make things better. I forget that in new projects and rush to get into problem solving mode. That’s not quite the right way to do it, and I’m always frustrated for myself for forgetting and grateful for the network for the reminder.

One last takeaway from this meeting for me. When I came to the badging work, I got really excited to make some badges, and build out some pathways. That was, it turns out, the wrong way forward. The better way, which it took us a while to figure out, was to instead ask the network a very hard question. Rather than making badges, we needed to ask the network was with important, what wasn’t, and how we tell the difference.

The answer to that question has turned out to be far more useful than any badge I could’ve made. Our team will spend the next year planning out how to continue to educate the network about itself. What a neat thing to get to do.

  1. She didn’t say it quite like I’m about to – the good ideas are hers, and I’ll likely screw it up a bit – but know that she’d say it better. []
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Losing My Pigeon

I’ve been quiet in this space these last several months. I’m still finding my space and place as a consultant and library person. It’s a great transition – but there are many moments of my work of late that aren’t bloggable, and I’ve remembered that it’s easier, often, to keep quiet than to thread the needle of privacy and transparency when working to tell my stories of learning that involve others. 

There’s work to do to recover my blogging self, but my private writing self has been thriving. I want to push a little to regain some of my blogging ground, though. And I’m reading some incredible things lately.

So here’s a quick push to get you to read this incredible piece by a friend and fellow believer in people in a time of technology. Audrey said this a few weeks back, and you should read the rest:

I want to suggest that what we need instead of a discipline called “education technology” is an undisciplining. We need criticism at the center of our work. We need to recognize and sit with complexity; we need to demand and stand – or kneel – for justice. We also need care – desperately – the kind of care that has compassion about anxiety and insecurity and that works to alleviate their causes not just suppress the symptoms. We need speculative fictions and counter-narratives that are not interested in reproducing education technology’s legacies or reifying its futures. We need radical disloyalty, blasphemy.

From later in the same talk:

Care is largely absent from education technology, which instead promises rigorous and efficient training. Care is too often completely absent from education, let’s be honest; our institutions do not value the affective labor of teaching and learning.

I’ve taken her words slightly out of context, but attention to care and concern for others must be an essential piece of the work of teaching and learning, with or without technology, in the 21st Century. As I’m at work on pieces of technology right now that are meant to teach people, I want to declare that I’m aware of technology’s power to dehumanize. I reject that and want to do better. I’m willing to fight to lose my pigeon. 

You’re on your own to discover why Audrey believes that the pigeon is a worthy character in the struggle. But she’s right, and it’s a compelling story, beautifully composed. 

Go read it already.

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