Envision the “Best-Case” Scenario

Image via charlottesvillerealestate.posterous.com

I’ve often wondered why – when faced with the prospect of professional or personal change – people often defer to the worst-case scenario or predominantly envision why something won’t work.

Now, while I don’t pretend to be an expert on all of humanity, I do believe that it is primarily a way to prevent ourselves from looking foolish.  There are few things in life more aversive than the idea that you didn’t think it through or were, in some way, naive about the potential downsides.  It seems as though we spend most (if not all) of our energy contemplating why something won’t work or envisioning the worst-case scenario, which really means we spend very little time contemplating why something will work or envisioning the best-case scenario.

The future, from where I sit, is really an illusion that we construct based upon our past experiences, successes, and failures.  Of course, some of those experiences are valid and do provide us with the necessary background to not repeat any mistakes we’ve made.  That said, we still can’t predict the future and don’t know for sure that something will or won’t work.

Think about it for a moment…do I not box myself in when I predict something won’t work? I mean, to predict failure, only to then try something and succeed would prove myself to be wrong…we don’t typically like that. However, to prove you were right you would have to try – and fail – at something that other people have succeeded at doing…we don’t typically like that either.  It’s a lose-lose scenario.

What if we spent an equal amount – or better yet more – energy contemplating the best-case scenario.  Since we can’t predict the future and don’t know for sure that something will/won’t work, why not develop a positive mindset of possibility and success.  Why not, at the very least, put yourself in the frame of mind that best reflects what it is that you actually want.  Predicting failure is negative; negative thoughts produce negative outcomes. Will it succeed or fail? Who knows, but envisioning the best-case scenario will at least create within you the kind of conditions you wish to produce.

Reflections on Edcamp Vancouver

If I were to sum up my experience at Edcamp Vancouver I would say it exceeded my expectations by a long shot!  Now don’t get me wrong, I expected to have a great day, but it was better than I anticipated and well worth the drive down to Vancouver. Darcy Mullin (@darcymullin – see his reflections here) and I made the trek to Vancouver and came away convinced that the Edcamp format is the way to take any initiative to scale through embedded, self-directed professional learning.

I think it would be a mistake, however, to say that we never need an outside expert or an organized conference.  I think there is value in having an “expert” begin the tough conversations, provide inspiration, or develop the necessary fluency and capacity within a school or a district; I think there is still a place for that. We all have expertise, however, we may not have the expertise in the specific area we are interested in implementing and/or growing.  The one-time pro-d sessions fail not because there is something inherently wrong with that format; it’s because once we experience that one-time pro-d we do very little in terms of contextualizing and embedding the big ideas to suit our context. Sometimes we need to be nudged or inspired by someone else, but once we are it is up to us to take it as far as we can.

If we want any of our initiatives, processes, programs, practices, or ideas to go to scale and be sustainable then we have to become far more self-reliant and determined to lead our own professional growth – this is where the Edcamp format undoubtedly plays a major role.  The choice in topics, the collective expertise and experience in the room, and the enriching back channel chats on twitter were inspiring. Meeting many of the people I’ve connected with on twitter was also great.

Choice in what I learn, the freedom to disagree, the synergy of collective experience, and the relationships that develop all make the Edcamp format for professional learning a non-negotiable if we are to move beyond the flavor of the month pro-d and begin to embed the changes that we know are necessary for the next generation of students.

A big thank-you to all of the organizers for a great day. I returned to Penticton energized by what I experienced and hopeful that maybe the thought of Edcamp Okanagan might one day become a reality…we’ll see!

The Invisible Leader

Sounds like an oxymoron, but all leaders will face the dilemma between the true purpose of leadership (empowering others) and the ego of leadership (getting credit) at least once in their careers.  Admittedly, this is one I have struggled with.  The struggle between humility and ego is one that all leaders must come to terms with.  Being an invisible leader is what we all know great leadership is about, but it can be challenging – even privately – to park our egos and allow others to flourish. Verse 17 of the Tao Te Ching:

With the greatest leader above them, people barely know one exists. Next comes one whom they love and praise. Next comes one whom they fear. Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

When a leader trusts no one, no one trusts him.

The great leader speaks little. He never speaks carelessly. He works without self-interest and leaves no trace. When all is finished, the people say, “We did it all ourselves.”

Like you, I have accomplished a few things in my career so far that I am proud of and have, for the most part, been fairly successful in keeping my ego in check.  That was tested a few years ago when I was part of meeting where an individual was heaping praise upon another person (not in attendance) for the great things this person had brought to our district. Now I’ll keep this purposefully vague so as not to identify individuals.  My goal here is not to criticize anyone else; this is about my reaction and how my ego was tested.

Anyway, as I sat and listened to this person go on and on I quickly realized that they were praising the wrong person.  I was the one primarily responsible for this so-called  great thing and the voice inside my head (ego) was going crazy saying, “It was ME, It was ME…not HIM/HER.”  Saying anything at that moment would have embarrassed the person; saying anything after would have done the same, and both would have been moments of self-indulgence that would only flip the embarrassment on to me as well.  Thankfully I chose to say nothing, nod along with the person heaping praise, and allow the meeting to continue uninterrupted. It’s something that is definitely easier to say – or tweet – than to do, but it was definitely a moment that tested me as a leader.

We all want to be great – to leave a legacy – and the thought of being overlooked is next to impossible to embrace, but our legacy is really up for others to establish and debate. My legacy is not up to me and while I can certainly convince myself of anything about myself, that’s not my legacy.

I think the most effective leaders are often the ones where others truly believe they didn’t need a leader in the first place.  The art of leadership is shifting the focus away from yourself and maintaining a kind of authentic humility that is not concerned with who gets the credit or whose name goes at the top of the list.  It’s the kind of humility that uses the words we and team and us! It’s not the awe shucks kind of  ‘false’ humility that is painfully transparent.

There is no mastering this.  Each time these moments present themselves our egos will look for any opening to infuse a me first mindset into the conversation. As leaders, must fight our natural tendencies and remain grounded in our knowing that the greatest leaders are the ones where the people barely know one exists.

21st Century “Elevator Answer” Challenge

With all of the talk about Personalized Learning for the 21st Century, I thought this might be a fun challenge and way for all of us to refine our messages and learn from each other.  I am a big believer in making messages simple and accessible, which is why I think this challenge is so relevant.  It’s very easy to kill a good idea with a poorly constructed message, especially early in the implementation/exploration phase.

So….here is your assignment, should you choose to accept it:

“You are attending a conference on 21st Century Learning (yes, I see the irony!)  At the end of the first day you step into the elevator at the hotel in which the conference is being held with someone who is NOT attending the conference and is NOT an educator.  They turn to you, notice your name badge, and say as the doors are closing, “You’re attending that conference on 21st Century Leanring, right? What’s that all about anyway?”

You have 4 floors (3-5 sentences) to explain to this stranger what 21st Century learning is and give one example of what it would look like.  Can you do it?  How would you respond?

Good luck! This message will never self-destruct so send it to every educator you know!!

The Birth of a New Paradigm

For me, Virus of the Mind by Richard Brodie is another book that has influenced me both professionally and personally.  Brodie, who incidentally was one of the original authors of Microsoft Word, explores the somewhat controversial science of memetics.  Memetics is the study of the workings of memes (pronounced “meems”), the basic unit of cultural transmission or imitation.  As the gene is to genetics, so is the meme to memetics.  According to Brodie, ideas (memes) act in a way similar to “real” viruses.

Viruses – say a flu virus or a computer virus – essentially do three things: the first is to duplicate itself, the second is to infiltrate any openings or weaknesses, and the third is to spread.  With either flu or a computer viruses one can easily recognize the process as each has physical properties.  It all sounds very daunting, however, Brodie’s intent is not to suggest that all viruses of the mind only have a negative impact; we can have memes that are positive. He suggests that ideas can move through society in a way similar to other viruses, only a meme has no physical properties; this is how we develop cultural norms he suggests.

One meme that is very common amongst most people is that it takes a long time to change. . When we say that, we are essentially making a prediction about the future and, according to Brodie, if we keep telling ourselves that it takes a long time to change then it will (A positive meme would be that change is easy). Most memes are programmed into people without any conscious intent and can develop from your upbringing, your relationships, from television, and from advertising, just to name a few sources.  It is a very interesting read and certainly challenges us to think and reflect on why we believe what we believe, and whether or not what we believe is actually true.

Here’s the point. In the introduction of the book Brodie outlines the Birth of a New Paradigm and the four stages a new paradigm must go through in order to gain widespread acceptance.  Given where we are in education with 21 Century learning, the rapid evolution of technology, and everything we’ve learned about learning, these four stages brought me comfort in knowing that in order to get to acceptance, all other stages had to be experienced.  As a leader, I have been able to stay the course with any new initiatives and now have a level of awareness about what’s happening within the organization I work.

So, given all that we are trying to accomplish in education, know that all new ideas have to run this course:

1. Complacency/Marginalization: At first, new ideas are seen as off-the-wall ideas that are quaint but don’t threaten the dominant view.  As a result, most people will not pay too much attention the idea when it first comes out.

2. Ridicule: Complacency fades as the new ideas refuse to die which results in people ridiculing the new idea as it is inconsistent with what they hold to be true.

3. Criticism: As the new idea gains acceptance, people who have held conflicting views take off their gloves.  Those whose reputations are invested in the ‘old’ paradigm begin to sharpen their criticism through accusatory language and emotional feedback.

4. Acceptance: The new paradigm gains both intellectual and psychological acceptance as enough people make the leap; those who understand the new ideas are no longer alone.

My take: When we hit the stage of serious criticism, leaders can take solace in the fact that the new idea is on the verge of gaining widespread acceptance.  If it wasn’t, sharp criticism wouldn’t be necessary as the idea would just fade away on its own.

Whether we are looking to implement “new” assessment practices, grading routines, instructional processes, integrate technology, or any number of “new” initiatives, knowing these four stages has help me step back from being emotionally competitive about any implementation plan.  Knowing that new paradigms have to run through these four stages has brought a level of awareness to my leadership that allows me to support people as they work it out for themselves.

We all need to Press ‘Pause’

Another Saturday, another day of skiing.  It was an incredible day at Apex Mountain so I thought I would snap a few pictures to share.  As busy as we all are it’s easy to get caught up in what’s next…my next tweet, my next blog, my next link.  Today I decided to press ‘pause’, appreciate the moment, and see my mountain for the first time.  I live in a beautiful part of the world (I’m sure you do too) but sometimes I take it for granted; today I didn’t. My challenge to you is to do the same.  Press ‘pause’ every once-in-a-while and live in the moment you’re in…it’s good for the soul!  Have a great weekend!