About a year ago, I started carrying around an old-fashioned paper notebook. Whenever the mood strikes me, I jot down notes and ideas in it. They’re generally not very well reasoned. Sometimes, they’re little diagrams or lists or mind maps. Occasionally, they turn into blog posts or other work.
This low-tech solution allows me to focus on the idea at hand without the distractions of software and devices and connectivity and batteries. All I need is a pen. I pulled the notebook out at EdCamp Columbus and described it as my most valuable piece of educational technology. The remark got a laugh, but I was at least partially serious.
Looking back at the last year of notes, there are a few things that stand out. None of these are really developed enough to be blog posts on their own, but they’re worth sharing nonetheless:
Innovation and collaboration may be mutually exclusive.
One of my least favorite questions is “what are other schools doing?” If we’re going to be innovators, if we’re going to be leaders, then it doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. We’ve moved beyond middle school, and we are immune to peer pressure. We’re thinking so far outside the box that we’re not even going to use that metaphor. But if we are collaborators, we are working together for the benefit of all. That means we’re participating in PLNs and PLCs, we’re sharing best practices, and we’re learning from one another. So it DOES matter what others are doing. But somehow, suddenly, we’re not innovators anymore.
Learning is like old maid.
When you learn something new, it’s like picking the old maid card. You just CAN’T WAIT for someone to take it from you, to share your new knowledge or skill with others. Twitter is good for that, by the way.
Education is about relationships.
This came out of Educon last year, and I did end up blogging about it. Looking back at the notebook, though, it is striking to see in my notes how every single conversation about effective schools came back to fostering a culture of caring. We don’t do enough of that.
Learning is separate from validation.
Our schools are focused almost entirely on grades. That became very clear this year when I attended my first high school open house as a parent. Every teacher was there to explain how to get a good grade. They outlined grading policies, grade components, projects and tests and quizzes and participation grades and every other factor that makes up the letter that summarizes the student’s experience in the class. Almost no one talked about learning. Almost no one cares about the learning. Do what you’re told, and you’ll get the grade you want. In an ideal world, the grade a student earns reflects the student’s achievement of the instructional objectives of the course. But that correlation is rarely very strong.
Taking it a step further, I often mis-quote Paul Simon: “when I think back on all the crap I learned in grad school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.” Most of my schooling beyond, say, ninth grade is largely irrelevant to me. But I had to have the credentials to get where I am today. I had to have the diploma, the degrees, and the grades to get the job and keep the job. But there’s a huge disconnect between those credentials and the learning they are purported to represent. And there’s an even bigger disconnect between that learning and the knowledge and skills I need to be a successful contributor to our global society.
How do you apply UBD to a career?
I don’t know where that came from. It was on its own page, all by itself, just like that. I think I wrote that down at the NEOTech conference last spring. Can we even think on that kind of scale in a UBD framework? What is the end that I should have in mind? Even if I could articulate it, would it even be possible to come up with something that’s relevant over a 40 year time period? One of my biggest fears in my role is that I’m going to be so focused on achieving long term goals that I won’t see that they don’t make any sense anymore. Goals are good, but goals are always changing.
We have nothing but time, but we need more time.
I’m sick of hearing about all the time we don’t have. I think back to something a teacher told me back when I was in high school: We have 180 school days per year. We have two teacher report days. That makes 182 days per year. That means we have 183 days OFF. Her point is that we only work half of the days in the year, and have to give the job 100% every one of those days. Now, teachers in my schools are working 186 days, but they still have 179 days off. Still, after 10 weeks off from mid-June to mid-August, it never fails that someone will come up to me on Convocation Day and tell me how short their summer was. I don’t think we need to work 260 days per year, but everyone in the schools should probably be working 225-230 days. And students should be in session for 200 of those. Think of all of the planning, curriculum development, common assessments, and professional development that could be accomplished with that time.
Constraints are valuable.
It shows up several times in the notebook, and if I had used a notebook in the past, it would be in the 2012 and 2011 notebooks, too. We can be paralyzed by choice. Constraints can be a good thing. They encourage us to be more creative, more innovative. 140 characters is a good constraint. It forces me to be succinct on Twitter. Here on the blog, I don’t have those constraints, and sometimes ramble on for thousands of words. The iPad doesn’t support Flash. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. We can’t run Accelerated Reader in Windows 7. So maybe it’s time to try a different approach. Chromebooks can’t print. Hallelujah. Sometimes, we need more limits.
Another one of my least-favorite questions is any one that starts with “is it possible…” The answer, always, is “yes.” It’s possible. It may not be practical, but we can do anything we decide to do if there are no limits on time or resources. But sometimes, it’s good to say no. We’re not going to do that. It doesn’t make sense to do that. In shorthand, we’ll say we can’t do that. We need more constraints.
So there you have it. I never said the notebook was worth reading, but occasionally, there’s an idea in there worth talking about.