It’s conference time, and you’re off to the opening keynote. What are you expecting?
Do you want to be entertained, informed, inspired or provoked, or
maybe all of the above? Are you looking for your current thinking to be
affirmed, challenged, or dismissed?
So, which of those emotions will impact on you the most? Which of
them is most likely to have an impact on what you do when you go back to
your school or district, and most importantly, which is likely to cause
you to not only reflect on what you are currently doing but potentially
enable you to make significant change?
For me, I’ve always found speakers usually fall into one of two
camps: “warm baths” or “cold showers.” We love the warm baths because
they’re soothing and they just make us feel good (and don’t we deserve
that?), whereas the cold shower really wakes you up, and shakes you into
reality… into action.
How many cold showers have you taken lately?
The truth is for any workshop or conference you’re never quite sure
what you’re in for, but when it turns out to be a “feel-good” speaker,
you walk away happy with the world. It’s nice isn’t it?
You’re not sure the speaker had any idea about the reality you face
every day in your school, but he or she left you feeling good about
yourself and your world. And then later on when someone who couldn’t
make the opening stops you in a break and asks what the opening speaker
was like, you find it hard to recall anything worthwhile except their
funny stories, their little bit of personal drama..and well, hmm you’re
not sure what the point of it all was.
But the real question is, did their presentation have any substance
at all? Was there anything useful that you could take away, something
Seymour Papert used to say was for “Monday and Someday,” or was it
really just an escape from the reality of your day to day routine?
You see, I think most of the events we attend simply add to the
malaise that has infected our profession, and while we might articulate a
case for being provoked and seeking new ideas, feedback from conference
organizer surveys will tell us that in reality, most people seek
entertainment and affirmation. Sad really.
Maybe it’s because we don’t get enough of either of those in our
daily work, particularly for those in leadership positions, and for the
most part, we are happy to seek out professional learning events that
largely endorse our current thinking and practice?
Now I know all of this might sound a little harsh, but I can promise
you in the light of a broad range of anonymous audience feedback from
several large educational conferences that I have been involved in
running, not too many educators record a delight at being provoked or
challenged around their existing thinking or practice.
It is of real concern that so few leaders appear to be seeking new
ideas that are outside their current “echo chamber” whether that happens
to be on social media or not.
So when you roll up to a major national conference of several
thousand leaders and the opening keynote grabs your emotions with a bit
of comedy and stories of personal recovery that would do well on any
reality show, you’ve got to ask why you went in the first place.
Maybe it’s my age, but I’m looking for conversations that really
matter, that make me think, that move me to take action. I for one, am
sick of the change pretenders, who fantasize about transformation; those
speakers whose keynotes and workshops promise so much and deliver so
little…but keep you entertained nonetheless. They fake concern, they
fabricate bogus language, and worst of all they delude their audience
into believing in quick, ‘drive-by’ solutions.
Sorry, but I just don’t have time for that anymore. To put it another way, as Will said in his post earlier this week, we think “live-by professional learning” is a much more effective alternative to “drive-by.”
So, here’s what you might like to reflect on over the Christmas
break…in between families, friends and hopefully plenty of ‘your time’.
What will be the focus of your learning in 2018?
I know you, like me, have all sorts of priorities in your daily
routine, along with the distractions of the accidental and incidental
glimpses of social and mainstream media that continually catch your eye.
So here’s a thought. Focus on having a focus, because a lack of it
probably explains the lack of longevity for so many past change
Ask yourself, what should be the professional learning priority of a learning professional?
As we move the high bar change agenda forward, it just seems to me
that we desperately need focus, rather than fracture or distraction, so
that we can embed the fundamentals that will sustain the earlier work
to date. It’s time to let go of those “drive-by” events and start
“living-by” professional learning that is focused on the long game.
That means ignoring those distractions, the new shiny objects or
buildings and get a hardened collective focus on learning, even more
about how learning happens in the modern world. Focusing on the human
side of school change that can make that a reality for your students
through a deeper collective understanding of what you, your colleagues
and your broader community mean by learning and in turn focus on the
implications those beliefs have for practice.
Sounds easy? It’s not. Worthwhile? Absolutely. Perhaps some of the
most important work you may ever do, and together with the growing
global community of leaders focused on changing school, undoubtedly the
And unfortunately, this focus will mean the end of those
entertaining, drama-filled, laugh a minute, feel-good keynotes because
after all who needs someone to tell them they should feel good when you
know that the work you are doing is the best you could possibly do, for
you and most importantly, your students.
All the very best for the season. For me, 2018 can’t come soon enough!