Monday, July 16, 2012

Impact- Breadth and Depth

As educators, we all got into this game to have a positive impact on kids.  Lately I've been thinking about what is the best way to maximize my own impact on kids.  Maybe someone else out there is thinking the same thing, or maybe the way I've been thinking about this will resonate with someone.  Who knows and here goes.

When thinking about the kinds of impact we can have my mind categorizes them in two ways:  

Breadth of Impact - Things we do that reach a wide range of students.  For myself, this includes writing my book, creating TeacherTechVids and putting it out there for free, speaking/presenting, and my current job- as tech facilitator at a middle school.  These kinds of impacts are by their nature more shallow, as they don't include a personal, long-lasting connection or relationship with students.  The draw here, of course, is having a positive impact on a lot of learners, known and unknown.

Depth of Impact - Things we do that reach a small range of students, such as within our classrooms, as a leader of a club, or other personal student connections made throughout a building.  For myself, this includes my 6 years as a classroom teacher (2 in kindergarten, 4 in 2nd grade) and some of the work I do with kids now, leading clubs and trying to make as many deep, personal connections as possible.  These kinds of impacts are the ones that last a lifetime, the ones that kids can look back on later and point to as something that changed their lives.  They are deeply personal.

There is obviously room for both types of impact in our education system.  I've come to believe, though, that all of us in the education system, from top to bottom, need to strive for a balance between the two.  

If you reflect on your career  or present position and see that you are operating almost entirely on the breadth side of things, you should be thinking about ways to cross over into ways you can have a more personal, deep impact on students under your purview.  If you are an administrator, actively find ways to make this happen- whether it's hanging out with some of the more troublesome kids after school, leading a club, or even going back into the classroom for a period of time.  If you are a policymaker, get yourself into a real classroom, with real students, and spend some real time with them in order to better their lives in some way.

If you reflect on your career or present position and see that you're leaning heavily to the depth of impact side of the equation, you should be seeking out ways to have a broader impact on students outside your classroom walls.  Think about connecting with other educators through Twitter or blogs.  Think about connecting your classroom to others around the world through services such as  Think about publishing your own blog and sharing the great stuff you are doing (you never know what other teacher will see your ideas and try them out with their students, to great success). 

For myself, in the past 4 years I have strayed too far away from the Depth of Impact side.  As difficult as it can be with my current job responsibilities (I'm mired in technical difficulties and troubleshooting all too often now), I need to actively find ways to personally connect with students in my building.  And if that doesn't work, maybe I'll go teach 2nd grade again (which would be AWESOME).  I feel the yearning for those deep connections and I plan on being aware of it at all times this school year (and beyond).  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Yes Business

As an educator and parent, I'm in the Yes Business.

"Can my students crash in your room and learn _____?"
"Can our students bring in technology from home?"
"Can I take apart that computer and take pictures?"
"Can we do this with our iPods next year?"
"Daddy, can I write a book?"
"Daddy, can we make a princess castle out of those boxes?"

"Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes!"

Being in the yes business means being in the let's-make-it-happen business.  And that's exactly where we all need to be.

We don't want to be in the:

  • "Yeah, but" business.....  -- Don't let the logistics of the challenge be the first things to come up.  Everything worth doing has logistical challenges and risks- let them arise naturally as part of the problem-solving adventure.
  • "What you don't understand is _____" business  -- Don't be this person.  No one likes this person.  They are a fun squasher.
  • "What is everyone else doing" business  -- Don't be like everyone else.  Honor the idea as novel, develop it, then cross reference how others might be attempting.
Because when someone is coming to you with an idea, they are already excited by it.  They are already psyched to do it.  They wouldn't be asking you if they weren't.  The worst thing you can do is respond with anything but an unqualified YES.  Because the minute you qualify it, the asker becomes deflated.  The idea loses it's present power.

So when someone asks you if they can try something:

1.  "Yes!  That sounds cool!"
2.  "Let's work together to figure out how to make it happen"

With those two simple steps, I think we could encourage a ton of great ideas and innovation.  And before you know it, the process will flip- when you ask your students if you can try something new, guess what they'll say?  When you ask them to approach something in a new, challenging way, guess what they'll respond with?