What really matters?

Sometimes, life seems like a long list of have to’s: get the winter tires on before the snow flies, get through the pile of emails before Monday, get the house prepped for winter, and the list goes on. Sometimes, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to think deeply about what really matters. I mean, generally, we would all say similar things about what really matters. Things like: family, spending time with people we love, finding fulfilling work, and other such things. We all know in general terms what really matters. But sometimes the details around what really matters get a bit hazy, get a bit blurred. Kind of like being at the ocean, when you’re working hard to build a sandcastle and whoosh, a wave rolls in, and completely erodes the fine details. Life keeps sending us those waves.

“We can either make our choices deliberately or allow other people’s agendas to control our lives.” Greg McKeown

Luckily, life also presents us with moments of clarity and truth. In these moments what really matters and all the corresponding details become crystal clear. Everything else, fades into the background. These moments get you back on track or they change your perspective completely.  You probably have had moments like this in your life: looking into the eyes of a newborn baby for the first time or, feeling the mystery and wonder of this universe as you look at the night sky. 

I had a such a moment last spring, as I got to learn from a group of youth, who were speaking at TEDx Youth @DoyleAve. I could call them students but I didn’t learn from the fact that they were students. Instead,  I learned from their human-ness. Each one of these amazing humans had fought hard to create their own identity, and each had worked hard to find an authentic voice to express this identity. These inspiring humans were complete individuals and were complete long before we adults came along. All we did was stop to listen to their stories.

Their successes were not achieved by marching along the adult-centric pipeline model. You know, the elementary school, to middle school, to high school, and then university, model. Instead, each of these youth had discovered their unique strengths and indenties when they strayed away from the pipeline. 

“Students already have complete control over their learning.
Our hubris is to think they don’t.”
  -Will Richardson

From this experience, I had a moment of clarity and truth around how much I had to learn and that it wasn’t going to happen from listening to people exactly like me. I recognized that I had to move well beyond my bubble of sameness and hear diverse perspectives. 

sameness

The world we live in is becoming increasingly complex. As the challenges we face increase in complexity, these diverse perspectives and identities are becoming more essential.  Think back to the last meeting you attended and think about who was around the table. Diverse or homogeneous?

simplevs complex

If we are going to meet these complex challenges head on, we will need to assemble diverse teams. And let’s be clear: diversity doesn’t mean you have different Starbucks orders. Identity diversity includes gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.  Thanks to the extensive research of Scott E Page, we know that diversity and inclusion are not just the ethical thing to do. Diversity and inclusion are also the better thing to do when tackling complex problems. Better like bottom line better.  This intersection of what is ethical and what is better, gives us a moment of clarity and truth: diversity and inclusion ARE what really matter. 

“Diverse groups of problem solvers outperformed the groups of the best individuals at solving complex problems. The reason: the diverse groups got stuck less often than the smart individuals, who tended to think similarly.” ~ Scott E. Page

Finding one’s identity and voice and discovering your unique strengths is not just nice, not a luxury if you have time or money, but instead, it is a necessity.  Each child who enters school needs discover their unique identity and create a voice to express themselves. Each child needs to find their proverbial mountain, climb it, and say: “Hello World! Here I am in all my glory!!”

Then, they will be able to challenge the complex question: what really matters?

(This is an adapted version of my mike drop for Innovate-Ed 18, slides are below)

 

Clearing the Clutter

wonder
Shared on Flickr by Jimmy Brown

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
                                                 ~Stephen Covey

Lately, a common theme has emerged from conversations with educators. The theme sounds something like this: Where do I start?; What do these terms mean in practice?; How do they these ideas fit together?; How do I make time for all of these?; How can I do all of these well?; Where does what I have always done fit in?

To sense make, to break new ground, and to connect old to new, can all be daunting propositions. Especially when we are attending to already established initiatives. Especially when we have children in our care who deserve our full attention and presence. Especially when the educational landscape is shifting daily, with new words, concepts, approaches, practices, and projects.

We may, like squirrels in fall, launch into action and gather up as many new projects as possible. Everyone else is doing it, right? Don’t want to get left behind! Before we know it, we are knee-deep in initiatives. We are keen and fearless but somehow we don’t make the head way we imagined we would. Quite frankly, we end up dabbling only superficially with each new initiative and before we know it, our interest and enthusiasm wanes. Eventually, our new initiatives lie abandoned, like discarded oxygen canisters at the base of Everest, varied in colour but empty none the less.

Is there another way? Can we reduce the clutter? Can we come together to create a cohesive story for what is at the heart of the matter? How do we navigate the increasingly cluttered educational landscape?

Articulate Your Big Picture 
“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
~Greg McKeown

If you don’t have a big picture of what you are after, get one. Make it detailed. It doesn’t have to have every detail. You can fill in as you go. Make it big, but not too big. Make it big enough so that all the smaller initiatives can fit inside.

The big picture (or call it vision, the why, or big rocks) should get to the heart of the matter of what you do. It should clarify for you what you are after. It should describe what you are trying to create. It should inspire you. It should stretch you just the right amount.

The big picture should add clarity to everything you do. Everything you do should be in service of this big picture. If you can’t come up with a big picture ask someone you trust and respect to help you with this process. If you don’t have such a person, rely on research based principles such as the OECD principles of learning.  Or look out into the educational field to thought leaders and see what they are saying. Regardless of the source, work towards articulating the big picture in your own words. Make it meaningful to you. This is important.

Refer to this big picture every day. Refer to it several times a day. Write it down on index cards, on rocks, on posters. Just refer to it. All the time.
My big picture looked like this:

  • Make space for student ownership
  • Play school less, play learning more
  • Create a self-sustaining community of self-regulating learners

    rock
    Part of the picture I was trying to create included making space for student ownership.

These simple statements helped me to judge whether a new initiative was worth my time and energy. Just because a new initiative appeared on the landscape, didn’t mean it was going to serve the big picture.  I needed to ask myself if the initiative revealed more detail about how to create the big picture, or did it create another pile of clutter?

For example, even though Jupiter Grades was extremely popular at that time, I didn’t jump on board. I decided that Jupiter Grades wouldn’t help create the big picture I was after. In fact, Jupiter Grades would have maintained the status quo I was hoping to move away from. Jupiter Grades didn’t make room for student ownership. Jupiter Grades was really good at playing school but it didn’t help to create clarity about learning. Jupiter Grades wasn’t an obvious yes, so it was an obvious no!

To recap, some ideas for clearing clutter:

  1. Articulate your big picture – Make it meaningful, make it yours, and make it visible. Use it as a filter for identifying clutter.
  2. Before you add, let go – Just as with children’s toys, entrance way closets, and kitchens, we need to edit on an ongoing basis. Decide what practices might be vestigial and let go. For me, this was elaborate daily quizzes, marking absolutely everything, and huge assessments. Eliminating these practices freed up time for me to introduce new routines to create the big picture.
  3. Stop to synthesis – Reclaim some time to think. Use any found time to sense make, to think, to fill in details. As with students and the internet, we have to rely on our brains to be the filter for the irrelevant and the clutter.  Your big picture is valuable. Don’t let junk obscure it.
  4. If it isn’t an obvious YES, then it’s an obvious no – If a new imitative doesn’t jump out at you as helping to create the big picture, then walk on by.
  5. Treat your time and energy like money – Protect the asset of you! Scrimp and save for what really matters. Say no to the cheap and small items. We have finite energy units to spend on creating the picture we are after. Spend those energy units wisely.