Getting Unstuck

Seth Godin:

When times get confusing, it’s easy to revert to the habits that got you here. More often than not, that’s precisely the wrong approach. The very thing that got you here is the thing that everyone who’s here is doing, and if that’s what it took to get to the next level, no one would be stuck.

Of course his point is directed at business.

However, falling back on the habits that got us here is exactly why reform of the American education system is stuck in the 1960’s. Teacher-directed instruction, using a curriculum based on the concept of a fixed knowledge base, with learning assessed in the narrowest possible manner is “precisely the wrong approach”.

When do we move to the next level?

Collecting Dots

In a recent, very short post, Seth Godin observes that it’s very easy to collect dots but not so easy to make some meaning from them.  Of course, in his analogy dots are data, and learning to connect them in meaningful ways takes a lot of work.

Here in our overly-large school district (and elsewhere I’m sure), teachers are spending an increasing amount of class time collecting dots, but what happens after that?

Why then, do we spend so much time collecting dots instead? More facts, more tests, more need for data, even when we have no clue (and no practice) in doing anything with it.

And there’s one of the big problems with obsessing over data. It’s useless, and potentially harmful, unless someone has the ability to make meaning from it, skills that Godin says are “rare, prized and valuable”.

However, as with so many other parts of the American education system, we expect every teacher to either come to the table understanding how to connect dots, or learn it in their spare time.

Dots that represent some very complex and highly variable data, kids and their learning.

Slightly off topic: a good way to look at dots/data by the wonderful cartoonist (and visual philosopher) Hugh MacLeod.

Defining Yourself

Today Seth Godin discusses the problem with new words, specifically identifiers for jobs, devices and ideas that didn’t exist a few years ago and don’t easily explain themselves.

The iPhone isn’t really a phone, it’s actually not a very good phone at all, but calling it a phone made it easy for people to put it into a category. The category was expanded by the behavior of the iPhone, and now “phone” means something far more than it used to. “What do you mean your phone can’t tell me how far away the diner is?”  Of course, this was an absurd thing to expect from a phone not very long ago.

Mario Batali calls himself a chef, but of course he rarely if ever sets up in a kitchen and cooks meals for strangers at minimum wage. But chef is a lot easier and simpler than a whole bunch of hyphens.

My job title, assigned by the overly-large school district, is pretty lousy, not to mention vague: Instructional Technology Specialist1. It doesn’t come close to explaining what I do.

Better would be “helping educators improve their professional practice through the use of new tools for communication and collaboration (and other duties as assigned)” but that doesn’t fit well into the small “job title” box on a form or into the very brief conversational space following the inquiry “what do you do?”.

In the past few years, when asked to provide a job title/position for conferences and such I’ve been using “Educator. Blogger. Learner. Geek”. Not perfect but it’s a step towards defining myself outside of the small group of people I work with2.

How do you define yourself to the outside world?

That’s No Way to Predict the Future

Another thought from Seth Godin that he probably didn’t intend to apply to our education system but in which my warped head saw a link.

One of the problems of using the past to predict the future is that we sometimes fall in love with the inevitable coincidental patterns that can’t help but exist in any set. But that doesn’t mean that they work for predicting the future. Past performance is often no predictor of future results.

We seem to do a lot of that “it’s always worked for us in the past” kind of planning in our overly-large school district.

And it’s pretty much the foundation of everything they do a short distance up the road in Congress.