A lot has been made of about the role of social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter in the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa recently. Whilst I don’t know enough about Egypt, Libya and Bahrain to comment on their internal political situation, what I do know is that it takes more than the mere ‘potential’ of something to make a difference in practice.
And so it is with education. Mark Allen’s contribution to the #purposed debate reminded me of the important difference between something’s being available and an individual or group having the requisite skills and critical faculties to use it in a new, interesting, or even revolutionary way. As I mentioned in my comment on Mark’s blog, one of the reasons I think everyone should study a little Philosophy and History is because it prepares one to consider the ways things might, could or should be rather than being limited to tinkering within existing parameters.
So next time you read or hear of a technology or service that is going to, is, or has ‘revolutionised’ something, think of the context and milieu into which that tool or idea has been launched. As with Purpos/ed, it’s very likely you’ll find more than a hint of latent demand and the ‘adjacent possible’ in there. It’s never just about the tool or service.
I had Monday and Tuesday this week off school. I had a cold, felt lousy, and felt my recently-self-diagnosed SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) kicking in. Just as I didn’t believe that children were born with personalities before we had Ben, I used to think that ‘disorders’ were ways to label avoidable abnormal behaviours. I don’t think that any more. 😮
In schools and businesses we pay very little attention to the fact that it is human beings involved in these institutions and who, as such, fluctuate, change, and are affected by external factors. As I’ve blogged about before, one disorder I suffer from is migraines. There’s no way that those who don’t suffer from these can know what they’re like, of the way fluorescent lighting affects the way I see and think sometimes, and the ‘fuzziness’ associated with it. Likewise, those who don’t suffer from something I’m labelling SAD for convenience can understand what it’s like for a usually energetic and enthusiastic person to completely lack all motivation. 🙁
The stimulus for this post came from reading Dan Meyer’s blog post Wherever You Can Find It, signposted on Twitter by Darren Draper, who stated, “I’m telling you: 5 years ago, I was @ddmeyer. Absolutely no doubt about it” – linking to this comment in particular. The first part of it reads:
And maybe that kind of leadership is enough to staunch some of this new teacher blood, but it isn’t enough to staunch mine.
Because I came here to do a job, just a job. I wasn’t “called” here but I knew that job was essential to the future and polity of our country. That job was too hard. I failed. Then I learned. Then I started blogging. I torched a lot of terrible personality defects on the altar of better teaching. I sacrificed a lot of time to improve. Now I’m good at this job.
How many other professions would tie that kind of growth to zero extrinsic (and particularly financial) reward?
There is no promotion. There is no pay raise. There is no bonus. And lately, most obviously, there is nothing to compensate me for the time I spend elevating student achievement, time which other teachers spend throwing frisbees on the beaches of Santa Cruz with their wives.
As I commented on Dan’s blog, I’ve suffered burnout, depression and the effect it can have on the relationships with those around you whom you love. My advice to Dan and to all young teachers working all hours for the benefit of students is to beware of the Vortex of Uncompetence. It goes a little something like this:
If you can’t see the above clearly (it’s meant to be a little trippy), then here’s the stages:
Identify deficiency – you feel as a teacher that there’s something not right with the system.
Discover community – either in school, socially or online, you realise you’re not the only one to feel this way.
Attempt to remedy situation – you decide to do something about it, working hard to make your lessons and the learning experiences of students, different.
Face barriers – there are problems regarding student behaviour, assessment schemes, line manager comments, or you’ve not got enough time to do what you want to do.
Work at solutions – you work harder and harder, trying to convince others, meanwhile attempting to be radically different.
More barriers – becoming almost zealot-like, you meet a lot of resistance.
BURNOUT – unable to take on the might of the educational system, your physical and/or mental health suffers, along with relationships with people who matter to you.
Some may wonder why I’ve included the ‘discovering community’ part in step two. It’s a case of wanting to be seen to ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talk the talk’. When you’ve committed to something, staked out your claim as a believer, you’ve got to act in a way that’s befitting. Sometimes, this can engender more problems than if you’d slowly tried chipping away at things over time – evolution, not revolution.
Why Vortex of Uncompetence? It’s a tongue-in-cheek term I’ve made up, probably after reading too much Dilbert. Teachers who go down this road are not incompetent – far from it. But then, they’re not competent in the ways expected for traditional teachers. They’re uncompetent: they refuse to be held to the standards set by the majority view in education. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex and, as a husband and father I can’t afford to be pulled into it again. I’m trying to position myself as a catalyst for fast-paced evolution. Almost everyone resists revolution – the status quo is just too comfortable… :-p
Do YOU recognise yourself or anyone else entering the Vortex of Uncompetence?
(the Vortex of Uncompetence is based on an original image by ClintJCL @ Flickr)
I’m becoming increasingly aware of the importance of schools as social fabric. Some cynics might call it my becoming more institutionalised, but I would disagree. There’s a reason why we can’t just break with what has gone before and radically alter schooling – witness the French and Russian revolutions, with radical changes such as 10-day weeks, equality of students and teachers, and attacks on the church.
No, I’m now a firm believer in evolution over revolution. That doesn’t mean that I’m happy to leave the profession at the end of my career pretty much in the state I found it. Not at all. Just because I’m focusing on evolution doesn’t mean it can’t be a speedy process. :-p
The reason for my change of heart is my family. Before I was a father I could afford to spend hours in the evening planning radically different lessons, putting together projects and writing proposals that would aid the rapid change of the focus of my school. Now, it’s my family I want to spend time with. Whilst teaching will never be ‘just a job’ to me, I very much more sharply demarcate time spent working towards education-related ends and that set aside for my family. Perhaps that’s why, on a poster which reproduces 19th century ‘rules for teachers’ in our staff room (put up for humorous effect) it says that women who marry will be dismissed instantly. Perhaps we need a profession of driven, single people?
But I think not. We need diversity in the profession. We need young people to come into contact with as many different types of people from different backgrounds as possible. Teachers, although they necessarily come from a smaller pool than that which reflects the world’s population, can still give students a taste of different perspectives. Instead, what we should be doing – which has been called for time and again – is give teachers more time and smaller class sizes so they can really make a difference. I’ve said this many times over the last few weeks, but it’s only since my Year 11s have left that I’ve had time to cope and keep up with the multitude of tasks I’m expected to perform in my daily life as a teacher. Given that ‘changing the educational landscape’ comes over and above that, there’s been some things that have suffered this year. Marking, especially of classwork, springs to mind immediately! 😮
So, to return to the beginning of this post, schools need to change. We all know that. But we need to bring along all stakeholders with us, not just leave them behind. To some extent this involves ‘digital literacy’ (the subject of my thesis), but mainly it involves demonstrating by example how we can do things differently. And to do that, we need time. I, for one, am going to be looking to the future when allocating my education-related time next academic year… 😀