The Power of "What if"? - 3/23/2020

Last week, I wrote about adjusting to my "new normal" as we experience a world where "social distancing" is essential in a COVID-19 world. As we enter Week 2 of these uncharted waters, I need to focus on the positives. This is so hard, especially now knowing that we will not be going back to school this year in Virginia. How can I use this experience and make the best of it?

One way that I am doing that is by taking time to engage in professional learning. Whether that means listening to educational podcasts while walking the dog or reading educational books, I want to be able to best serve my colleagues and students while modeling being a lifelong learner.

So when I saw a Twitter post about a Facebook book club this weekend on Learner Centered Innovation by Katie Martin, I knew this would be a great way to connect during this time of distancing. In fact, last Friday, when I listened to George Couros' podcast interview with Katie Martin while watching my dog , I knew this needed to be my next read.

Every day, I have been reading a chapter. If you are looking for an inspirational read during this uncertain time, this is it. I just finished Part 1 today and couldn't wait to share some of my takeaways.

Today, we began the book study and I took this opportunity to review the Foreword, What Ifs and Chapter 1 for my reflection this week. Although Katie published this book two years ago, so many of her messages resonate strongly, especially in light of our current circumstances.

"What if?" These words are small, but they have so much power. They encourage all of us to explore possibilities and take risks. With this current crisis, we need to choose our "what ifs" carefully.

What if we promoted the use of remote learning to connect our students and give them opportunities to explore areas of interest?

What if we use the exemption from state testing to give our students opportunities to engage in creativity?

These are all risks- unfortunately, they are not the educational norm. They do not fit the traditional role of school. But in times like these, the traditional school cannot function- we need to explore other ideas- new ideas that not only spark curiosity, but ignite the passions of our learners.

Our students are naturally curious and want to learn new things. They are inherently creators, problem solvers, and innovators. Think about when children engage in something as simple as building with Lego's, they build something to meet a need, examine their designs, make adjustments as needed. They engage in a "creative workflow" without even knowing what they are doing. In my March 8th blog post, I defined "creative workflow" as a process where we Define tasks, Create, and then Reflect. In a traditional school setting, do we see opportunities and time to engage in processes such as this? Sometimes, we do, but often students are engaged in more of an "industrial workflow," where students complete and turn in tasks.

What will we miss out on if our what if questions subside and we begin to settle for what is?

Katie asks this question in the introduction of her book. Our students can't be sentenced to a schooling of "what is?." That will not prepare them for the future, where they will need to be able to not only identify problems, but solve them. We need to provide our students the opportunities to be innovative.

When we empower learners to investigate how to make an impact on the world, we inspire problem solvers and innovators.

Katie's vision is totally achievable, but we can't just dream about it. We need to work as educators to design experiences that empower our students.

We need to change as a collective unit. In chapter 1, Katie explains that educators now need to-

Create the conditions that inspire learners to continue to wonder and figure out how to learn and solve problems and seek more questions.

She describes the evolving role of the educator in this chapter. I loved this- while we spend a great deal of time talking about how to help students develop twenty-first session skills, this focuses on what educators need to do, how they can lead the way.

The evolving role of the educator is multi-faceted. It requires that the educator be a co-designer of powerful learning, a community developer, a connector/activator and a partner in learning.

As I read these descriptions, I naturally reflected on my progress in each of these areas and how I could grow in them.

  • Co-Designers of Powerful Learning: This is something that I am passionate about as a tech coach. As part of my role, I co teach lessons with colleagues and show them opportunities that technology can provide their students. It is so important that we work together to create lessons that meet their learners' needs. It is one of my favorite parts of my job, but is definitely a work in progress. Some of my colleagues embrace this model more than others do.

  • Partners in Learning: I am definitely a lifelong learner. I am open with both my colleagues and students that I don't know everything. Whether listening to a podcast, reading a book, or participating in a Twitter chat, I openly share that I am always learning because I love doing so. In fact, when a student teaches me something new, which they regularly do, I always make sure that I acknowledge their risk-taking.

  • Community Developers: As a new member of my staff, this is an area where I am treading lightly this year. As a tech coach, I am still getting know how grade level teams work, listen more to build relationships and talk less. Trust is an essential component in this area. At the beginning of the year, I initially pushed too hard; now, I am learning new ways to support my learning community.

  • Connector: As an educator, I am very tuned in to being connected to my PLN. Being the only tech coach in my building, it is so important for me to connect with other coaches. In my school community, all online connections are managed through our school website, News You Choose, and school Twitter feed. Teachers send materials in to be posted. Some teachers have participated in Skype visits, but this is an area that my school culture is very cautious about.

  • Activator: Last year, I had my sixth grade students conduct Passion Projects. I loved this, but this year, I have not had the opportunity to engage my learners in self-directed learning. What if students were given opportunities to engage in this type of learning during the extended closure? This may be a possibility to explore.

I am honest- yes, there are some things that I do well, but I am always willing to grow and learn from others. That is essential for all educators. I look forward to participating in this book club.

What if I meet someone in the book club who challenges and inspires my thinking?

What if I learn something new?

What if connecting with new people with similar interests leads me to innovation?

What if?

Take this time to ask some What if questions and see where their power leads you.