Thursday, August 22, 2013

My Why

Recently our Superintendent, Dr. David Smith, challenged my colleagues and I to put thought to the reason that we are doing what we are doing. He shared with us Simon Sinek's powerful TED Talk that explains how important it is to "start with why." Dr. Smith explained that if we want to create engagement with our learners, our colleagues and our community, we need to be able to not only express what we do and how we do it, but also why we do it.

Here is the TED video:


You can also learn more at Simon's Sinek's Start With Why website.

I've actually wrestled with this subject before in an earlier post where I came to this conclusion:

In [critical] conversations with [the teachers who had an impact on me], I learned to care about who I would become in terms of humanity, rather than what I would become in terms of career. I learned to care about what my life would mean anecdotally instead of what it would mean numerically. I learned to care about cultivating my own definition of success, rather than measuring up to someone else's.

My purpose as an educator is to have those kinds of learning conversations with others, to give them the strength to own who they are, the courage to seek joy, the empathy to care for and serve others, and the wherewithal to make their dreams come true. I know I cannot hope to be that person for everyone, and I know that I will only be one of those people for anyone in particular. But I can strive to be that person for each person I meet.

I like where I landed there, but in the interest of meeting Dr. Smith's challenge, I wanted to take another crack at this, not from a teacher's perspective, but from the perspective of my role as an Innovation, Curriculum and Technology Specialist. Why do I do this particular work?

My Why
The student is still at the center of my why. My daughter just started kindergarten, and like all parents, I want her to feel a sense of wonder and excitement about school every moment that she is there. I want that for every child. I believe that learning can always and should always be engaging, and yes, fun. In fact, I believe that real learning is fun, that we cannot help but be happy when we are learning. The reverse of this is also true. When we are not effectively learning, we are not likely to be having fun. If the purpose of school is to enable and nurture learning, then I believe that a measure of our success is the extent to which our students are happy in their learning.

To that end, I believe that we have a responsibility to build learning experiences that are vital, compelling, and joyous. I believe that the work we do cannot be effective if we reduce it to a standardized process that expects standardized results, if we run every child through the same curricular gauntlet, and if we measure every child against a generic set of expectations because such a system of learning robs the learner of autonomy, mastery and authentic purpose (to borrow from Daniel Pink). Obviously, in my opinion, we face some systemic challenges to my vision for learning. Therefore, I believe we need to change the system.

In the meantime, I also believe in the power of educators to make a difference to the learners in their care. I believe that each of us has the opportunity to influence each child we work with in meaningful ways. I also believe as learners ourselves, we have the opportunity to get better and better at building the types of learning experiences that our kids need. I believe that collectively, we have the power to transform our profession through continuous personal and professional development, and the folks who provide that to us come from many places because just as there is no one right way to be a student, there is no one right way to be an educator. Every professional conversation we have can make our work stronger.

Moreover, I believe that we learn different things through our interactions with different folks. I am an amalgam of all of the colleagues I've learned with. I've learned curriculum from some colleagues, pedagogy from others, technology from still others. People in my department and building help me improve as do folks I meet at conferences and through Twitter.

I believe it is part of my purpose to contribute to other people's learning in the same way. I happen to have the years of experience and the technological background to be of use to others. I hope that by sharing the things I've learned and continue to learn, I have the opportunity to help other educators to create more engaging learning experiences that lead to happy learners who will thank us for helping to build in them the capacity to shine on their own terms.

Why do I do what I do? Because learning is continuous and matters at a personal level, and I hope to nudge our profession away from its current bias toward standardization and back to a focus on the needs of the individual.

That's my why, and I'm sticking to it. I challenge you to do define your why, and feel free to share what you discover in the comments below.

photo credit: e-magic via photopin cc

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