I’m writing this morning from the last morning of the Building New Pathways Working Meeting, which stopped being a Listening Retreat and became the Working Meeting at around 10:30am yesterday, as the larger group of assembled National Writing Project leaders headed home and a smaller subset of the group stayed to begin their work as action teams, tasked with synthesizing the stuff we heard, and additional needs and experiences of the network, into something tangible for local sites to use to build new pathways for leadership in their work.
There are two working teams:
A Knowledge Base Team, tasked with curating and collecting and helping to make more visible, discussable and useful the many collected existing resources of the National Writing Project to help local sites think about and bring to life the work of building new pathways to leadership in the NWP.
A Badges Team, which I’m co-facilitating, tasked with identifying ways to use microcredentialling and badging to help local sites make visible and discussable (and actionable) some of the many, many characteristics of “NWP leaders” or “teacher leaders” or “educator leaders.”1 It might also be that badges are visible invitations to help people who wish to adopt a role of “NWP leader,” formally or informally, begin to explore and adopt that role.
Later this week, the NWP will release an RFP2 to provide some support to local sites who want to explore and develop some new pathways to leadership, too. Neat stuff. Prototypes. Design sprints. Massive success and failure potential all at the same time. Hooray, bravery!
Our tasks are great. While we’ve got two years to develop the things we were tasked to make, we’ll be sprinting our way to drafts that the network can see, review, and critique and improve every few months along the way. There are many paths we could take through this work, but sometimes the hardest part isn’t following the path to the finish line – it’s finding a place to start.
So we’re working today to identify some of our roads into the work. Already, the intersection of experiences, expertise and thoughtfulness has provided useful friction to modify how I’m thinking about the right place to start, and the right checkpoints along the way. Pretty cool.
Though I’m humbled by the work ahead, I’m excited today to work with thoughtful colleagues, friends, and new friends, to build tools and resources to support leadership in and beyond the NWP today and tomorrow. Putting smart people from all over into the same spaces to work through difficult problems of practice matters. It’s important. It’s how pathways get built.
Deep breath. Here we go.
It’s tricky to get the right words to talk about the people, both in and out of school, who work to, as Ben Bates said it so well yesterday, “Work to develop young people.” Those folks are the allies in this work, and the types of leaders I’m thinking and talking about. [↩]
I’m working this week from Austin, Texas, where I’m at the Building New Pathways event with the National Writing Project. One of my more interesting consulting projects right now is working on this project, a deep dive into how we build and sustain new pathways for leadership development in the local sites, and the national network, of the National Writing Project. I’m co-facilitating a piece of this work, with my emphasis on helping to think through how we can identify and help others to identify and build the attributes that are essential for NWP leaders.
We’re defining “NWP leaders” broadly. Earlier today, Executive Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl asked us to think of NWP leaders as those who are entitled to do work in the name of the Writing Project.
We’ve talked about many things, and you should follow along if you’re able and interested. There’s a Yammer group where much of the conversation and work so far is being collected and discussed, and the conversation is on Twitter as well under the hashtag #nwpleads.
I’ve thought a lot these last few weeks of what we hold to be the essential characteristics of “National Writing Project people.” For some, this means people who have been through the traditional entry point for NWP Teacher Consultants – the Invitational Summer Institute. For others, it means people who have glommed onto, into, or through projects sponsored or inspired by NWP principles, people and ideas.
I’m struggling with how to think about what an “NWP leader” is, how we know, and how one can enter into thinking of themselves or others in such terms. Jim Gray is heavily on my mind. So is the notion of what’s the “minimum viable NWP leader.” And metaphors abound as I try to think about these things. Is NWP leadership, NWP-ness, something that is learned? Lived? Experienced? Grown? Developed? Inoculated?1
Plenty of questions, and as this is a project I’m committed to for the next couple of years, I’m certain the blog will become a scratchpad for many of them. But right now, I want to get down some thinking about two metaphors in particular that are helping me think through leadership pathways and how we might recognize – or help others to recognize – what an “NWP leader” is.
The Greatest American Hero
I loved the TV show The Greatest American Hero when I was a little kid. I remember tying a blanket around my neck and “flying” around the living room while Joey Scarbury’s theme played from the 45 my parents bought me spinning on my record player. If you don’t know the premise of the show, it’s about a guy who is given a costume by some aliens. The costume gives him access to a wide collection of abilities and powers – super strength, flight, invisibility, telekinesis, etc. The only problem is, that the guy, who happens to be a special education teacher (at least when the show begins), doesn’t know how to make the suit work. And the manual, which the aliens gave him, is lost. So the normal guy is able to adopt a mantle, a superhero identity, but he’s never quite sure which powers he has, and which ones he will be able to draw upon, until he finds himself in a moment of need. Frequently, he’s able to call up the powers and abilities he needs. But not always. And sometimes, the abilities he expects to use to get him through a moment of crisis aren’t the ones that ultimately help him solve the problem.
Other times, the suit itself isn’t the thing that helps the teacher to be the hero.
Why in the world does this story work as a metaphor for me for leadership in the NWP? Here’re a few reasons:2
The hero is the hero because he decides to be. No one forces Mr. H. to put on the costume. He chooses to, because he feels an obligation to adopt the identity of the hero, to help when he can, because that’s his theory of action in the world. Teachers and NWP leaders do similar things. They see a need and adopt a stance that says, yeah, I can do this.
The costume is part of the identity – but it’s up to the wearer to choose the abilities that emerge from the chosen identity.
There’s nothing “special” about Mr. H., except that he chooses to be the hero, or the leader. Others can wear the costume, can assume the identity of “super” or “hero” or “leader.” The power is partly in the costume, but it’s also in choosing to put it on. We can all choose to wear the costume, or to pick up tools. It’s what we do after we’ve chosen to do something that things get interesting.
Even with the suit, things can get messy. The powers don’t always work, or work in the way we intend them to.
You’re not a hero, or a leader, even with great power or amazing tools, unless you choose to be. And you can still choose to lead without access to the costume or the tools.
D&D Character Sheet (for an NWP-er)
Another way to think about the capacities and attributes of leaders in the NWP is to think about a character sheet for a role-playing game. What is “NWP leader,” but a role one has chosen to adopt? And when it comes to characters in role-playing games, it’s helpful to think about attributes that are necessary for all, but can exist in differing levels or degrees. All D&D characters have strength and agility – but each character starts with a different number for these abilities. Wizards are often smarter than warriors. But warriors are stronger than wizards. And even once we’ve chosen a class or character type, we can choose to specialize. Maybe we adopt the identity of a rogue. And we want to be good at lockpicking or stealth. So we choose to adopt those abilities through training and/or experience. And those abilities grow over time. But we can’t choose all of the abilities. In D&D, choosing one character type may open or close doors on the types of experiences that we adopt and/or can grow.
And in a good D&D adventure, it’s not one character facing the adventure – it’s a party. A group of players has to have several different character types to be successful. You need a tank who can take lots of damage, and a healer or two to help recover. Maybe that thief to pick some locks. And a ranger who can see in the dark. It’s not that you need all the types in all the situations. You pick your party sometimes through chance, and other times through intentional selection of roles and attributes that you believe will be helpful in the adventure you’re about to face.
But you’ve got to have a party. You’ve got to have a network.3
In both metaphors, there’s lots to consider to help me think through both what it takes to be an “NWP leader,” as well as lots of problems. Metaphors will only take you so far. But they can be helpful lenses for thinking through what’s bedrock, as Nicole Mirra has been calling core NWP leader attributes. What are the core attributes that every NWP leader has to have to be a member of the NWP “tribe?”
And what are the ones that you want distributed throughout the network, but not necessarily embedded deeply in every member? What are the skills and attributes and pathways that folks might want to dig into as they grow as characters in the network? What pathways do you want to emphasize? What skills and attributes do you want to nurture and develop in the network, but allow individuals to choose to develop for themselves or their parties?
What do you believe makes an “NWP leader” or a “teacher leader” either of those things? How do you know, how can you “prove” it, and how might we share that knowledge with others?
All of these seem viable metaphors in some way. [↩]
And for my purpose here, let’s use “hero” and “leader” synonymously, even though I prefer models of servant leadership to ego-driven, “hero” leaders who save the day. But leadership and saving the day, moving the ball, etc., are often the same thing. [↩]
And, in the case of D&D, someone else builds the character sheet template that the gamers use as a tool. And then the DM and the players create the game together – so things get complicated quickly, and the rules on paper are only useful until they aren’t. That’s when good players improvise. [↩]
I’m still decompressing from the blur of the last several days and, in some ways, couple of weeks. I’m now safely home from Washington, D.C., where I went with my best friend to be honored for my work by the White House. And the President. As I was processing the events of last Thursday with my wife, she and I realized that this was one of those experiences that will become family lore, that will be passed on by my daughters and, hopefully, grandchildren as “something that Daddy did.” So I thought it’d be a good idea to try to get some of my recollections down as a piece of my own family history. That said, I suspect my recollections and reflections will trickle out over the next few weeks as I have some time to further process them.
Earlier this fall, a friend and colleague contacted me to let me know she had nominated me as a White House Champion of Change. I provided her with some of my resume, per her request, so that she could complete her nomination, and then I promptly forgot about it, as I has suggested others to nominate, and I was certain that others would and should receive this recognition. Then, in early November, I was contacted by the White House and asked to provide some contact information so that they could complete a standard security check. At that point, I hasn’t received an award, I was just in the running.
It was a couple of weeks later when I was notified that I had been selected, and then things started to happen very quickly. For a short moment, I considered whether or not it was worth it to bother traveling to Washington, D.C., to be honored. I asked my wife if she would consider joining me, and by the end of the day, had booked a flight. How many times does someone like me get to go to the White House? There were photos to take, as the White House needed a good headshot for their website, and some additional writing to do, as they wanted to add a blog post from me to their collection of stories from other Champions. And, of course, I needed a new suit. My last suit was one I purchased several years ago, and, well, I’d lost fifty pounds since that suit was acquired. It didn’t really do the job I needed it to do. Many travel arrangements were made, and my mother graciously agreed to watch our children so that Tiffany and I could travel together to experience the award ceremony. Quickly, things came together and we were off to Washington, D.C., and the White House.
On the day we flew to Washington, D.C., I made it to the gym for a run before the flight. While I was running, I caught the footage of a special event – the awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to several notable Americans. Oprah Winfrey, President Bill Clinton, and Ben Bradlee were three of the award recipients who were honored in a ceremony in the East Room with President Obama. I remember thinking that their accomplishments were pretty amazing, and I thought that perhaps I was be so lucky as to catch a glimpse of the President, but that he would be too busy to visit with us during our time. We had been prepared that, although the President really liked to attend the Champions of Change events, that he was often too busy with the work of the day to stop by.
Thursday, November 21st, 2013
The day began with a trip to the White House for a public tour organized by the Office of Communications. This was the standard public tour, available to anyone who obtained a pass from their Congressional office.1 But in this case, we didn’t have to go through any waiting period – we were basically moved to the front of the line. Tiffany and I walked up to the White House and passed through several checkpoints. Our IDs were taken. And taken. And taken. A dog sniffed us for what I imagine was traces of explosives or weapons – we passed – and then we were inside the East Wing. While we couldn’t take photos inside, both Tiffany and I did manage to check in via Foursquare and Facebook to document that we were, in fact, inside the White House.
As we walked the hallways and made our way into rooms with so much history, I realized that we had entered a large room that seemed familiar. It struck me that I was in the same room I had watched the day before while running at my gym. We were in the East Room, where the day before, I watched Steven Spielberg wave across to his friend Oprah as the Presidents looked on. Whoa. We soaked in as much as we could, asking questions and exploring places I had read about and seen on television, but was now standing inside. We took our fill and emerged outside where it was once again safe to take pictures. Here’s one:
We then toured the grounds and took a few shots of the exterior that was so familiar. I discovered later that this was the entrance used by many dignitaries who visited the White House. To walk that same ground – wow.
It was then time to return to the hotel to prepare for the ceremony. As we made our way back, I took a quick scan of the President’s public schedule, something I’d begun doing once I knew when and where we would intersect with the Commander in Chief. And there was a new entry on the day’s events at 2pm:
The President would, indeed, be attending. Deep breath.
We changed for the ceremony and headed to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, or the EEOB as those in the know refer to it.2 After more security checks, we entered the labyrinth of checkered tiles that was the EEOB and headed for the auditorium where the event would take place.
Then we started waiting. And waiting. And waiting. We were told there was a special surprise or two in store, and we began to be posed for a photo. The photo, though, kept getting delayed. Unbeknownst to us, the reason for the delay, I would find out later, was that the President, our “surprise” guest, was delayed because he needed to speak to the press regarding the Senate rules change that had just taken place. But we were to delay for the President, because he really wanted to attend and visit with us.
No problem. I didn’t mind waiting for the President. Not one bit. While we waited, our picture was taken with Gene Sperling. And Valerie Jarrett came by to say hello. And the nerves built up. Lots of them.
Eventually, he did arrive, and we began. The opening of the event looked like this:
When the President came on stage, the first thought in my head was that the fellow on stage really looked like the President – but it couldn’t actually BE him. My brain had not yet processed that this was, in fact, the President. Of course it was. We were invited up to the stage to shake hands. I did my best to remain calm, as you’ll see in the video. But what you won’t see is that it took a great deal of work on my part to not jump the stage to shake his hand. I’m pretty proud of myself that I waited patiently, so patiently, as my heart beat a hole in my chest. I calmly, and firmly, shook the President’s hand and introduced myself. I remember distinctly that it was a perfect handshake – good hand placement, and firm squeeze and appropriate amount of pump. My father would have been so proud.
And then we moved into the rest of the event, with each of us taking a turn on stage in a panel conversation about education and technology. For the next two hours, I was alternatively pinching myself about what I was experiencing while also wishing for a more substantive conversation. That’s not a dig on the event, which was perfect, it was just my desire, in the middle of a group of educators who are on their game, to get into the weeds a bit and go deeper than surface level conversations about our work. I took some notes about what I wish we had talked about, and a couple of points that I’ll expand upon in a future post.
At the end of the event, the crowd cleared pretty quickly. I said hello to a couple of folks I knew who were in the room, and met a few more. Then the auditorium was empty and it was time to leave. With a deep breath, I stepped out of the EEOB, returned my visitor’s pass, and went through the gate.
The evening was a trip to the Lincoln Memorial. We had promised Ani, my oldest daughter, that we would try to take a picture of it for her if we could. And boy, did we.
After the visit, we stepped into a gift shop or two to find the right souvenirs for our daughters. Of course, the souvenir I want them most to remember and share is perhaps this one:
Or, better yet, this:
The perfect end to a magical experience was dinner after with Tiffany. We enjoyed a great meal, but more important, time to talk through and decompress on the day that had just happened. As I mentioned, I’m still processing and will share my thoughts here as I can compile them.
What an honor to represent all of my teachers and colleagues and the folks who helped me to become who I am at the White House. I stood with the President not for what I have accomplished, but because of what they have done with and for and through me. Thank you to all the folks who made this such an experience, and a special thank you to all of you who might read this who have been my teachers. You did your jobs well, and I am forever better because of you. I’ll have more to say about being grateful in another post, but know that I am, indeed, grateful. I hope that my daughters have teachers like you to guide them and help them discover and chase after their dreams.
Many of the pictures I’ve shared here, as well as several more, are now online in a Flickr set, if you’ve an interest in seeing them.
I wasn’t familiar with that location, but did remember the frequent references to the OEOB from the West Wing. Turns out that the building was renamed by President George W. Bush. Same place. My inner TV geek was elated. [↩]
I don’t usually repost press releases here or on the blog or, well, anywhere else. But this time, I’m going to make an exception.
I’m honored to represent all of my teachers, colleagues, and educator friends at the White House as I meet with the other honorees to discuss the challenges and opportunities of teaching in these exciting times.
I’m looking forward to this event, coming up in about eight days:
The CSU Writing Project is pleased to invite you to a free and fun day of hands-on activities for students, teachers, and families called “Making Equity.” The event will be held Sat., Aug. 10, 9am-4:30 (registration at 8:30), on the CSU campus. Please see the attached flyer for specific details.
This will be a day of “making” that’s connected to the Saving Our Stories project–a summer program that CSUWP offered to help local ELL kids “save the stories” of the Fort Collins Latino community. Some activities that day will include making cardboard cities, book sculptures, quilts out of foam squares, computer games, Ipad stories, tweets, and more.
In the afternoon there will also be professional development breakout groups to help teachers learn how to incorporate making activities with an equity focus in their classrooms. We will have PD certifications of participation for attending the breakout sessions. National speakers from the National Writing Project (including Bud Hunt), will be facilitating these sessions.
This event is free to all and includes breakfast muffins and pizza and cookies for lunch.
Please help us spread the word, and contact Cindy O’Donnell-Allen (email@example.com) or Antero Garcia (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have further questions.
This morning, Tanya Baker asked us to use the writing time we shared together1during the plenary session to write a note of thanks to a writing, teaching, or other kind of mentor. Below is what I wrote. Not edited or polished, but worth sharing. I hope you’ll take five minutes soon to write about someone you’re thankful for. Better yet – send that writing to those folks.
Being thankful. I have so many people I could thank in these seven minutes of writing together, seven minutes of 1,000 writers writing in a quiet hotel ballroom. Throats clearing. Keyboards clacking. Error blips blipping from unsilenced machines. But I’ll stick to these NWP people for right now.
I thank Cindy, who brought me to the party. And Richard Sterling, for helping to make it the place it was when I arrived. And Jim Gray, for wondering about doing learning differently, who built the ship in the first place. And Sharon Washington, who inherited a tricky gig, and seems to be rocking right on.
But Cindy again, who made me make the thing happen for other people, made me a part of the best experience of my professional life. She made me work to build those experiences for others. Which shaped everything that came after.
I thank Paul Oh for believing in a young geek and wondering if I might could help build other experiences. And Christina Cantrill, who helped me realize that the most frustrating questions were likely the best ones, the most important ones to be asking. I thank the NWP Tech Liaisons who showed me the ropes, who were taking their risks in their classrooms and sharing them in public. Another Paul. And Chris, and Gail and Patrick, and Andrea and Chad and Kevin and Peter and Meenoo and so many others who learned on purpose in public together. And then there was Troy, who took a chance on presenting with me at my first NWP Annual Meeting.
I thank all the program associates who made sure there were snacks, and rooms, and paper and sticky notes and crayons and scissors and whatever else I needed to do the work – both as participant and as facilitator. And coffee. They made sure there was always coffee. Nicole and Izzy and Kate and Bob and all the others. That’s essential, and probably no one ever says thank you. I thank whoever helped me juggle a cancelled flight into a 90 minute van ride from one airport to another to make sure that I arrived on time.
I thank the office peeps, folks like Tanya and Elyse, who continue to build exciting opportunities and keep inviting folks like me to participate in them. And people like Grant and those folks who published work I and others did.
I thank the NWP who, at a time when so many are closing doors and shutting out teachers and saying no, continue to say, “Yes. We’re here. You matter. Let’s do this thing. Together.”
But I have to thank Cindy again, because she brought me here. She extended the hand of the NWP on behalf gf the NWP, and changed my professional life, and the lives of all the teachers I’ve been privileged to work with.
So many other names that didn’t emerge in this text, but who make me better.
I still don’t know how to do this work well. But I know that I know how to get better at it. I know how to ask good questions, and struggle with them. I know that the struggle won’t end, but that it’s worth doing. And that’s the National Writing Project.
So, thanks, NWP. Let’s keep those invitations going. There’s plenty more to do, and plenty of room here to do it.
Writing Project teachers always write together. Before we do anything. I mean anything. It’s important. [↩]
Basically, I try to explain that we’ve got some silly false binaries in our heads when it comes to writing instruction. At the heart of it, writing is about learning how to pay attention. (At least sometimes.)
Pay attention during the podcast and tell me what you think.
I’ve been continually struck at DML with the notions of connectedness and participation. It makes sense that these would be sticky ideas here, and dominant ones. The conference opened with the announcement of the Connected Learning Research Network and a talk from John Seely Brown that dealt heavily with notions of participatory culture.
But in our rush to make and play and tinker and connect and engage in learning that matters in institutions that might not, I feel like I’m missing the love.
No, that’s not quite right. Actually, I’m finding notions of love everywhere I look. But perhaps that’s because I’m focused on looking for it, and you know how it goes – when you look for something, when you look really hard, you can find it anywhere.
His words here stick hard with me – I cannot divorce his concept of love and teaching from my way of thinking about teaching now. And the Internet, or a school, or a community center, or a museum, or any institution of and about learning, can and should provide examples of teachers in love with what they love in front of others as a way of communicating that love, and helping students to find and communicate their own.
In a nutshell, connected learning is learning that is socially connected, interest-driven, and oriented towards educational and economic opportunity. Connected learning is when you’re pursuing knowledge and expertise around something you care deeply about, and you’re supported by friends and institutions who share and recognize this common passion or purpose.
In talking with her briefly the other night about some mentoring work she’s hoping to do, work to connect passionate mentors to interested learners, I wondered more about issues of scale that have been raised at the conference, about what can scale, and what cannot.
And while I’m not sure that love, itself, can scale, I wonder if finding love maybe can. Certainly people have limited capacity, and can only love so many so deeply, but computers can help us to find each other. Networks can help us to find each other. Institutions can help us to find each other. Then we can .
And finding each other, then looking after each other, is well worth doing1.
In this morning’s panel on technical and social innovation, I saw too much emphasis on systems designed around outputs. I think that’s a large problem in education – we look heavily at what comes out of a system, but not so much on what we put into it. I’d argue quite strongly, with anyone who’ll listen, that we need to look quite closely and intentionally on what goes into a system, and on what sorts of inputs are privileged in our infrastructures. And how we inject love and care and compassion and concern into infrastructure is very, very important. It’s not considered enough, if at all, and these things rarely show up on measures of output.
So how do you build love and care into your systems and infrastructures and learning environments and experiences? How are you doing so in a way that doesn’t over simplify the complex backgrounds of the people and communities you’re learning from and with? How are you looking for ways to increase the love and care in your systems?
What are you loving in front of your students and colleagues? What would they say gets loved in your spaces?
Certainly, too, it’s worth wondering about people who aren’t getting found, or served, or looked after, by institutions of love and learning. How do we make sure that we focus on entry points so that those who wish to be found can be, and those who don’t want to be found can do that, too. I’ll say more on entry points, infrastructure and inputs in a future post. [↩]
Looking forward to attending my first #DML2012 conference. Should be a fascinating opportunity to learn from and with folks who are thinking about learning. Also, as I’m mostly facilitating others’ learning lately, it’s nice to attend an event in a primarily learning role1.
I’m honored to be a participant/facilitator for a session at this conference. It’s called “Tapping into the Mutiplicity of Composition” and is a panel featuring several teachers who are making interesting things with students in the service of teaching writing and composition. That should be a fascinating conversation. And, of course, we’ll be writing together. Never a bad thing to do.
To support the conversation, we’ve built a couple of Pinterest boards as ways of creating galleries that show some of the texts that students are making in the panelists’ classrooms. A second board focuses on the testimonies of the panelists as a way of providing some background that might not surface during our conversations. The agenda for that session is taking shape and will be finally finalized soon. At a time when so much of the “interesting learning” that is taking place for students is taking place beyond the classroom, and sometimes in spite of it, I wonder about the role of schools moving forward into new learning landscapes. I hope that schools see the potential in other ways of learning that haven’t been privileged in our classrooms. I wonder how to bring the fringe learning into those spaces. I know that the has a role to play in these conversations2.
I’m struggling to write about some of my adventures in building cultures of play and love both in my school district as well as in my classroom. I hope to get chunks of that thinking out here on the blog over the next few days. My lens for this conference is basically “How do we promote cultures of learning and playfulness and care and concern for each other?” Important.
Which isn’t to say that I don’t approach teaching as a learning opportunity – but that sometimes the logistics of facilitation interfere with my ability to process what I’m learning as it’s happening. [↩]
Disclosure – the NWP has supported my attendance at this event. I’m grateful for that. [↩]