Sunday, July 8, 2012

Amplification of Small Movements

It has been more than a week since I returned from ISTE 2012 in San Diego, and I am still collecting my thoughts about what the conference meant for me and what it meant to me.  With anywhere from 15000-20000 'like-minded' (and I use that term loosely, because of course there would have been a wide spectrum of thoughts and ideas there) individuals in close proximity, I am still reeling from the crackling energy that you could tangibly feel at the end of each session.

One of my main goals for going to ISTE was to network with people and to soak up the multitude of different ideas that were happening on the ground, in classrooms and schools.  I tried to speak with as many people as I could, and interestingly, I found a similar theme weaving its way through a number of the conversations.  In each instance in which I chatted with a group of people, there would be groups of 2-6 educators from the same school or area who were looking to bring back innovative ideas that would help them to make changes in their districts, and to share great ideas of their own.  The creative juices were flowing, and the environment was exciting. 

But inevitably in each conversation, and certainly in a number of the sessions that I attended, you would hear a refrain of "Where are the Superintendents?", or "Where are the Principals?", or "I wish we had more teachers here!".   Often, there was a tone of resignation: people felt that without having those in leadership positions at ISTE to hear the important messages 'from the horse's mouth' of the conference, that those messages would be lost. Or, if there were not enough teachers from an area to create a critical mass, the idea would be washed away by the day-to-day business that swamps schools each days. These questions and comments were not necessarily derisive, but more the result of people (like me) wanting to make significant changes as rapidly as they possibly could.

Speaking from my own experiences, it can be very easy to get pulled into a mindset of helplessness in these situations.  How can I possibly make a significant difference without my Principal, without my Superintendent?  How can we make this happen without ALL of our teachers on board?  I find myself feeling this way from time to time, but for some odd reason, on the flight home from San Diego, I started thinking ISTE in a different way.  I started thinking in terms of small movements, amplification, waves, and social media.

Each of us is doing something great in our classrooms, in our schools, and in our districts.  While many people are making major strides and massive changes, I would guess that the majority of us are moving at a bit of a slower (and in some cases 'glacial') pace.  But we are moving.  Even if it is just small movements.  Every time we implement something that is better for kids, that engages them more in their learning, that improves instructional practice, we make a "ripple".  But without sharing this great idea, this positive practice, the ripple will likely remain a ripple that has little scalability, and has very little reach beyond that learning situation. 

But by going to something like ISTE, by sharing this "ripple" face-to-face, or through Twitter, through Facebook, or through another social media vehicle, we find people making ripples that are in a similar phase that can add to that ripple, and generate enough power to have that ripple become a wave.  If enough of these waves keep adding to each other, these waves become larger and larger, generating so much power that the idea becomes a powerful force that washes over those in leadership positions. 

At ISTE, Chris Lehmann said (and I am paraphrasing slightly) "It is no longer good enough for us just to do great things in our classrooms".  We need to amplify these ripples so they reach beyond our classrooms and schools. Because they make it better for kids.

David Feherty is a golf journalist, and earlier this year, he interviewed basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell.  Russell said something that is very applicable to what Chris said, and why we need to amplify our small movements.  Russell said:

"One day, we will no longer live in a world where we speak of 'other people's children'....because they are all OUR children."

But all of this would not happen if we did not make an attempt to amplify our small movements in to ripples and then in to waves. 

Twitter has allowed me to connect to so many educators whose small movements are making ripples all over the world, and I hope that my PLN continues to amplify their ripples so that we can truly make waves in education for all of our children.