Creating time and space to scale innovative practice #EdChat Radio @TomWhitby @BlairTeach @AngelaMaiers

Regular readers here know that I listen to a small library of curated podcasts as I walk my dog Lucy in the early morning. It’s part of my personal learning plan.

Many of you may be way ahead of me on this recommended listen, but I recently added Tom Whitby (@TomWhitby) and Nancy Blair’s (@BlairTeach) #EdChat Radio podcast to my queue. In 10-12 minutes Tom and Nancy recap the recent topic of discussion from that week’s #EdChat, and they include a visitor or interviewee to add additional perspective and commentary.

For me, it’s quickly become a #MustListen. The sessions are concise catalysts for critical topics in education and learning. Check it out.

This week’s slot with Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers) about “20% time” and “Genius Hour” is a fantastic thought provoker about cultivating learner curiosity and creating intentional space and time for scaling innovative practices.

Studying identity through structured serendipity. My start to #identity in 2013. #CuratingPurpose

This morning, while attending “Walking with Lucy School,” I studied identity. I didn’t pre-intend to do so, specifically, but the opportunity presented itself because of structured serendipity. I have structured my podcast app with about a dozen different podcasts. Each morning, while walking my dog Lucy, I listen to the somewhat serendipitous collection called the “unplayed” playlist offered by the app.

This morning, the playlist looked like this –

  • The Moth, “A Dish Best Served Cold.” A young man finds something of a true identity for himself – albeit temporary – by searching for the person who committed identity theft with his credit card. I love that he found his identity by doggedly pursuing something that mattered mightily to him.
  • Radiolab, “Solid as a Rock.” Trying to get to the bottom of what makes stuff, the podcasters challenge the listener to consider that the most basic components of things are composed of mostly empty space. With physics, this short plays with our sense of what makes a thing a thing – it’s reality, perception, and identity. It reminded me of two blog posts that I had written, so I went back and read them – here and here.
  • 99% Invisible, “Episode 69- The Brief and Tumultuous Life of the New UC Logo.” Roman Mars and crew examine a metaphorical anecdote about resistance to change by exploring the visual-identity debacle that the University of California system has undergone recently. Among other lessons, I appreciate that there are levels of design investigated in this piece. Maybe most importantly, the transformation itself was poorly designed, and I learned a great deal relative to the work that I now do with educational change and transformation design.

Additionally, a fourth “class” became a part of my structured serendipity on identity this morning. During our walk, I decided to take a detour to my parents’ house. After all, my own identity was initially and powerfully formed by these incredible people. So, Lucy and I changed course and walked to my parents’ house. They were very surprised to see us, but I think they were incredibly pleased. In many ways, I was thanking them for my identity which they helped create. And I started the New Year by telling them Happy New Year in person. A great detour for identity.

All in all, I’d say this was a great way to start January 1, 2013. Now I feel well primed for my identity work in the New Year.

What “classes” and structured serendipity are you pursuing this year about your own identity? How might you help the learners at your school(s) explore their own identities? After all, as Sir Ken Robinson says, it’s about “How are you smart? Not – How smart are you?”


Bonus (and paradoxically the real meat)! A few reads archived on my Diigo that this walk made me re-read … and a TED talk:


[Note for further investigation: I thought my “class” this morning was pretty great. I learned a lot. I am inspired and motivated to learn further. Much of my motivation comes from the fact that I curated my own learning here. I collected the podcasts; I pursued the follow-up, related readings; I returned to a TED talk connected to what I was thinking relative to identity (to me Zander is talking more about identity and purpose than classical music).

In fact, part of my identity is defined by what I have chosen to open myself to this morning … by what to include here. How often do we use school to facilitate students pursuing their own identities? Not within the peripherals of school, but among the core functions and operations of school.

I am developing a new hypothesis – there is actually an 8th C of 21st C. Learning, namely “curation.” Perhaps the other 7 Cs largely depend on the practices of curation. Developing communication, creativity and innovation, critical thinking, etc. may all be connected through curatorial endeavors. And in school, the teachers typically do most of the curation. If When students are allowed to curate more of their school, then they will more likely develop the 7 Cs … as well as more of their own true identity. As they explore and discover “How am I smart? Not – How smart am I?”]

The Province of Elegance. @GrantLichtman #EdJourney, Episode 11

From the concluding pages of Grant Lichtman’s The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned In School

Elegance is not the province of heroes. It is here for all of us who want to emulate those who we respect, to practice the skills required, and to work hard at it. We must use the tools we have learned, and learn to suffer failure but not defeat.

Importantly, elegance is not the sole province of those we respect or revere, of those who share our world view, political party, or side in battle. Elegance deserves our attention not because it is good, but because it is new, creative, and efficient … in other words, because it is better. And if we don’t keep up with what is better we quickly lose the game, whatever the game may be.

A few paragraphs later …

The skills of strategy are our tools in the search for elegance wherever our passion leads us. … We, too, can overcome difficult obstacles and find or create these unique opportunities that make our lives full, achieve our objectives, and, hopefully, fill the lives of those around us. The key is not wealth or armies, not background or advanced degrees, or even necessarily raw brainpower. The keys are willingness, preparation, openness to new ideas, and the diligent application of strategy.

And, still, a paragraph later…

…creational thinking, not critical thinking, should be our ultimate goal in education. Critical thinking is a skill that allows us to steer a valuable course through a known problem. It engages a problem-solving skill set but stops short of what is possible. If problem solving and critical thinking are the goals of education, the bar is too low. Creational thinking, the use of content while branching into the unknown, leads to the possibility of truly elegant solutions. That is where the bar needs to be, particularly in light of the challenges that lie ahead of us.

In our search for elegance, maybe we create something new, or understand something old in a new way. Maybe we fill in a gap of knowledge, fit a new piece into the puzzle of human experience that has been forming for over four million years. Maybe we fail but decide to try again. Hopefully the elegant solutions that tend toward good in the world surpass those that tend toward evil. If we succeed, as scientist, engineer, peacemaker, prophet, soldier, teacher, designer, artist, parent, or just someone putting one foot in front of the other each day in a complicated world, maybe we have become someone else’s hero.

It has been my pleasure to follow along with Grant as he has visited 64 schools across the U.S. on his #EdJourney. The windows into these schools have proven to be invaluable to my own hope, imagination, confidence, and creativity. There are many heroes in the schools that Grant visited, and I am most thankful that they opened up their schools and their practices so that we all could connect and learn with each other. What we create with these new connections and insights will make all the difference in the world. Such is our province of elegance.

What follows is the twelfth and final videocast interview with Grant as he concluded his twelve-week, 64-school, cross-country #EdJourney. We recorded the interview on Friday, December 14, 2012. On that day, of course, Sandy Hook Elementary School experienced a horrid and terrible tragedy. Our hearts, minds, thoughts, and prayers are will the people and families of Sandy Creek in Newtown, CT. Grant and I decided to move forward with the interview on that day for that is what we must all commit to doing – move forward and create the elegant solutions together with our neighbors.

Innovating in Memphis, @GrantLichtman #EdJourney, Episode 11

As November 2012 drew to a close, Grant Lichtman completed his eleventh week of #EdJourney – his three-month, 60-school, cross-country tour to explore educational innovation in the K-12 school world. He has just one week remaining – three school visits in Dallas – to conclude the physical travel portion of his trek to learn and share about ways that schools are forwarding their visions for the future.

Nearing the end of the motoring phase, Grant’s penultimate week – a week in Memphis, TN – found me remembering the concluding chapter of The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned In School.

What is the goal that I wish for my students? What is the common characteristic of our heroes, the common context which lies at the end of the path? What is the height of the warrior’s bar?

I believe it is elegance.

Commonly, elegance refers to a beautiful gown, a memorable dinner party attendant to every trimming, an expensive yet tasteful entryway that welcomes both the guest and the eye, a Mozart sonata. More recently the concept of elegance has become the playground of engineers and software programmers. It helps define their goal of creating an effective and novel solution to often thorny problems with the greatest efficiency.

What is elegance?

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the French writer and aviator best known for his story The Little Prince, states that “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”

And a few paragraphs later…

Elegant solutions are found everywhere if we allow ourselves to, first, look, and second, not settle for less. But elegance rarely comes easily. Usually it is the end product of years or a lifetime of work, dedication, failure, and recommitment.

How might your school or learning community finds its elegant solutions?

In this week’s video-cast interview, Grant and I explore some of the threads that connect the innovation hotbed of Memphis, we ponder whether innovative schools are more like malls or orchestras, and we continue to search in our own ways for those learning communities that design learning environments which truly put the students at the core of their own elegant solutions.

Grant’s blog posts from Memphis:

In Atlanta – at Unboundary: @GrantLichtman #EdJourney, Week 9, Episode 10

This week, I enjoyed the gift of introducing my friend Grant Lichtman at Tuesday’s SAIS Lunch-n-Learn. He asked that I do so with the first three paragraphs of his introduction to The Falconer: What We Wished We Had Learned In School.

School prepares us to be successful. We aspire to be happy.
– Robert Landis, Falconer Class of 2001

We are not teaching our children, our students, and our co-workers what they really need to know. The lessons aren’t out there on some shelf or Web site. They won’t be found with more money and more programs to push more stuff in more different ways at our kids and our employees. It’s not about computer-to-student ratios, distance learning, high-speed links to the Library of Congress, or lecture podcasts. It’s not a pricey self-help guru claiming that his “new thing” is new, seven cookbook steps to success, or ten simple mileposts to make a million for your company.

Those tools help, but they are the dressing, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. We need to pay attention to the tree itself. Look at the people who invented computers, who designed the Internet, who overcame the Depression, who envisioned the best sellers, who challenged racism, who explored the ocean depths, who built the Panama Canal, who created the management-consulting firms that you hire to tell you how to run your business more efficiently. I want my children and my employees and my co-workers and my friends to exhibit qualities like invention, courage, creativity, insight, design, and vision a lot more than I want them to know the capitals of South America or the sequence of presidents and kings, fractions, computer science, art history, running a cash register, or throwing a football.

In short, I want us to spend more time teaching how to generate and recognize elegant solutions to the many problems facing our world.

School could – should – be more about generating and recognizing elegant solutions to the many problems facing our world. Content and skills could – should- be wrapped in contexts of citizenship, character, and caring. Not separate programs. Integrated programs. Systems programs.

What a pleasure it has been to help host Grant in Atlanta this week. After talking for almost two hours about the scope of educational transformation we envision at Unboundary, and after introducing Grant to the studio, we shot our weekly video interview – happily recorded not over Skype, but in the same room, sitting with each other.


Grant Lichtman’s #EdJourney Atlanta posts, thus far…

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