Maybe You're Looking At It Wrong

I made a purchase the other day and I'm pretty excited about it. Before I tell you what it is, I must first tell you about the person who inspired me to buy it. Her name is Grace Hopper and if you've never heard of her, then you're not alone. Up until last week, I don't remember ever hearing about her either. 

Allison McCann said this about her in her post, The Queen of Code:
"As a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, Hopper worked on the first computer, the Harvard Mark 1. And she headed the team that created the first compiler, which led to the creation of COBOL, a programming language that by the year 2000 accounted for 70 percent of all actively used code. Passing away in 1992, she left behind an inimitable legacy as a brilliant programmer and pioneering woman in male-dominated fields." 
There is also a great mini-documentary directed by comedian of Community fame, Gillian Jacobs.

I was so impressed with her story and at one point the documentary it talks about a backwards clock she had in her office. The clock would really confuse people and they would ask her why she kept it in her office. She would say that there is absolutely no reason it has to go one way.

As soon as I heard that I knew I had to have one for my office.  When I opened it up, it wasn't long before I was explaining its significance to a coworker in my office. This new reminder to me and those who see it that we don't have to do it just one way. What works for one doesn't work for all.

I was recently in a conversation about best practices and the direction of schools. Upon hearing somebody tear down another school because they "weren't following best practices". I asked the person if the data supported their claims about the state of that school. Her response was that they are doing great work but just imagine how much better they would be doing if they followed best practices.

It just made me scratch my head because how dare we be so arrogant and say that we have the answer to every school, every student, and every community. I'm reminded of something my friend Dan Spencer is fond of saying. (And I'll have to paraphrase because I can't remember the exact quote for the life of me.) There are no silver bullets in education but if we use a bunch of silver BBs then we can make a difference.

It's the idea that we can't find one idea and then apply that idea to every situation. I was recently talking to a district about their technology plan and where they want to be as a district over the next couple of years. I was telling them about the great work we have done in our district and how we've transformed our district and community during my tenure as Director of Technology. However, I'm not naive enough to think that whatever we have done in my district will yield the exact same results in another district. It's about taking what you know, adding to it the knowledge of the community/audience and finding the best fit.

I would rather strive to find the best fit than just blindly implement the best practices.

The 3 Rules of Improv That Will Change Your School Culture

There are some meetings that you find yourself in and you're just counting down the minutes until it's all over. The presenter knows you don't really need to be there, you know you don't need to be there, and you probably couldn't recall anything the presenter said during the meeting. Then there are those meetings when you're like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

"This means something. This is important."

Well, as I recently set in an Association of Talent Development meeting, I had such a moment. I was about 5 minutes into the meeting and I knew I was participating in an event that was going to add another tool in my toolbelt in terms of professional development. 

The session was led by Kate Bringardner from The Speaker's Studio in Louisville, KY.  They offer a variety of coaching and training options and this event was centered around improv. I thought we might end up like an episode of the Office, which was totally fine with me, but I learned way more than I honestly expected going into the night. 

Kate and her co-presenter took us through a variety of improv exercises. They were fun, funny, and made you step out of your comfort zone. If I were to describe them you might say that those were some nice ice breakers. However, these were much more than just some games because they were centered around their 3 rules of improv. It was these 3 rules that I've been pondering on ever since that meeting and it's these 3 rules that I think many of our school districts lack. 

1. Say Yes

The first rule of improv they dropped on us was to say "yes". Improv can make you uncomfortable because you don't really know what could happen next.  Sounds a lot like a day in the life of a teacher. One thing they said over and over again at the beginning was, "the only way to lose is not play." See, saying yes isn't about being a "yes man" or a "yes woman". It's about playing the hand you're dealt the best to your ability. We learned really quickly that whatever you think might happen next was not going to happen next. 

In our schools we need a "say yes" culture. We all need to say yes to the hand we are given and figure out how to make it work. It really reminded me of somebody I've worked with over the years. When I first met this person it always seemed they knew why what we were trying wouldn't work. It didn't matter the idea, they were going to shoot holes in it. One day we were having a conversation about it and I asked that person to shift their thinking. It's not that they wanted what we were doing to fail. They really were trying to help by finding the weaknesses in the plans. However, they were being shut out because they were being perceived as a negative person. Instead, I asked them to shift from thinking about how something might fail to thinking about how we can make it work. 

That's what saying yes is all about. It's not about adopting bad policies to go along to get along. It's about finding a way to make things work. 

2. Make Your Partner Look Good

I immediately thought of our good friend Amber Teamann. The first time we had her to our eLearning Conference she told a group of principals that her rule for her staff is that it's their job to make her look good and it's her job to make them look good. Simply put, you've got to have each other's backs. 

There is hardly anything that fires me up in education quicker than this notion of competition inside of education. If all you are worried about is beating some high stakes test, out performing the neighboring school or school district, or being the best teacher in the hallway, then I'm sorry, but that's pretty small minded. Education is about the greater good and we must resist the societal pressure to turn it into a competition.

Some of our improv activities got out of hand real quick. We said some ridiculous things and whatever was said, you just had to go with because your partner was relying on you. There is something freeing when you take the focus off of your own performance and you put it on your teammate's performance.

3. Be Curious, Not Critical

Some of the other benefits of improv, and maybe they're ones people think of first, are it forces to think on your feet and it gets you comfortable with speaking your mind. These are two things that we all need more of in our individual classrooms, our school buildings, and our learning community as a whole. 

As educators we've got to be able to think on our feet. There are hardly two days alike. Even the year that I only had one prep and I taught the same lesson five times a day, I never had two identical lessons. Improv is a great way to help hone that skill and to do it a fun and engaging way. 

However, we've got to do more than to think quickly, but we've got to be able to speak up. Employers will tell you that they want you to speak your mind. At least most of them will tell you that. All of us as classroom teachers have encouraged our students to speak out when they have a question and don't understand something. We also know that more often than not, students (and adults) would rather sit in silence and be lost than to speak up and feel stupid or dismissed. We feel this way when we are entrenched in a critical culture and not a curious one. 

Like I said earlier, our improv activities got out of hand in a hurry but they kept flowing as long we stayed curious and not critical. The same can be said of our schools. People don't speak their mind because they are afraid. They are either afraid of their ideas/thoughts/questions are wrong/bad/stupid
or they are afraid of how they will be received. 

If we find ourselves in an improv situation and our partner(s) starts throwing out ideas that make no sense to us we will be faced with a choice. Our we going to be critical of that idea and shut down the conversation or our we going to be curious, make our partner look good, say yes, and figure out a way to make it work. 

Final Thoughts

So I think I want to adapt this into a keynote or breakout session and add it to my menu. I think it would be a cool and fun session to do with a room full of educators. There are some pretty awesome large group improv activities you could start off with, then launch into the conversations around these 3 rules of improv, weave in some moments where you bring up some audience members for improv activities, and I think you'd have a fun, thought provoking keynote. 

What do you think about these 3 rules? Which rule(s) do you think you have in your school and which rule(s) do you think are lacking in your classroom/building/district? Would you enjoy a keynote built around improv and would you find it impactful?

5 Lessons From A YouTube Expert

Recently I had the tremendous pleasure of introducing our TV/Radio students at one of our high schools to Beyond The Trailer and its host Grace Randolph. A friend of mine introduced me to her channel and as somebody who enjoys movies, I was instantly hooked. Her show is informative, entertaining, smart, and engaging. She interacts well with her fans and it's no wonder she has over 600,000 subscribers to her channel.

It was through our interactions on twitter that I floated the idea to her about doing a video conference with the students from one of our TV/Radio classes we are fortunate to have in our district. I met with the students leading up to interview, showed them some of her clips, and put together some questions for Grace.

It was a very enjoyable 20-30 minute conversation that I'll post below. If you go to video on YouTube, you can skip to different questions in the description below the video. As I reflect on the conversation and the follow-up discussion I had with the students from that class, I can think of five lessons I took away from the interview. (In no certain order.) These are going to seem pretty obvious but from this perspective, they had a profound impact on the students and me.

1.  It's a marathon and not a race.

I really hope you take the time to listen to Grace's perseverance as an artist. Multiple times she reminded the students that success is a marathon and not a race. In order to be successful we must be reminded that we can't get too down on ourselves when we come up short and we can't get too proud of our successes. Every day and every challenge deserves our top level of intensity and passion.

2.  Find a career where you can say, "I have to go to work" with a smile on your face. 

I loved to hear the excitement in Grace's voice as she talked about her career and the serious tone when she spoke about the business side of things. She spoke about how when you find a career you love, then you're always at work. It's something we've been talking a lot about in my district. This idea of balance and how technology has changed the way we work. It used to be that you were at work or you were off work. However, for most of us, we're never really off work. So, if you're always going to be at work, you better love what you do. Life is too short and there are too many great things going on to have to go to a job you hate every day.

3.  Think through your decisions. 

Towards the end of the interview she was asking the students what they were working on. She got talking about what to think about while viewing movies and TV shows. She said that every decision has a creative reason and a business reason. It really got me thinking about lesson plans, professional develop, and just learning in general. What are the creative reasoning behind our decisions we make in our schools? What are the business reasons behind the choices we make as learners? Man, a better blogger could write an entire blog just around those two questions.

4.  Know your stuff.

One of my favorite moments in the post interview discussions with the students was when a student says he was shocked by how much she knew about the business because he just thought that people lucked into success on YouTube. Grace talked about her time at film school, what news she reads every day, and how she reads more than just stuff that directly addresses things on her channel. She is a learner, and it was apparent to both the students and me.

5.  Be relevant. 

Grace puts out content about every day. Her Morning Movie News is fantastic! She covers 3 of the top stories in the industry and answers a viewer's questions. She talked about being on a schedule and how it throws the entire day off if she doesn't get going early enough because the industry is pushing content every day and she has to stay relevant. It's a great lesson for all of us to learn. In our ever-changing world, we better stay relevant because the moment we decide to become complacent, we get left behind. This world isn't going to wait on us to catch up. We are either ahead of the curve or we are falling behind.

Once again, a big thanks to Grace Randolph. I highly recommend her channel and she's a great follow on Twitter.

Bonus ideas: Her content is great for relevant conversations with our students. Check out her Movie Math episodes to discuss in math how projections are made, the percentage that movies drop in their second/third weeks, and how much money movies cost vs how much they make. Talk about how Hollywood helps shape the conversations around social hot-button issues and why in the world Vin Diesel is so popular in China. Finally, she breaks down the 3 Act arcs of story-writing as well as anyone you'll ever meet.

Ok, sound off below. What did you think of the interview? What lessons did you take away from our conversation with Grace? 

UPDATE: Thank you Matt Miller for the infographic!

If Its Not BLANK, Then They Won't Do It.

"If it's not graded, then they (students) won't do it."

This is something that I heard somebody say the other day and it really just rubbed me the wrong way. It's this idea that we have to use grades as some sort of negotiating tool to force students to complete task in our classrooms. It's cousin to the idea that teachers won't go to PD if we don't pay them. 

I believe that when we say that we have to use things like grades, mandates, authority, or pay in order to get somebody to complete a job, assignment,  or task then we are admitting that what we are asking to be done isn't relevant, engaging, and probably not necessary. At the very least, we are saying that we don't want to take the time to explain why it needs to be done. 

Here is the reality, it's not if it's not graded then they won't do it. Its if it's not relevant, interesting, necessary, fun, their choice, for the greater good, helpful, _______, then they won't do it. Nor should they have to. Come on folks, we are better than this. We don't have to use grades as leverage to force "engagement". 

I left a blank for you. How would you fill in the blank? 

UPDATE: Bill Ferriter wrote a great post about this conversation. You can read it here.  

See original image here
Also - the conversation made me think of this gem from my friend Bill Ferriter

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