What if you could check out a rabbit? #nxtchp2011

What if library was a verb? What if librarian was concierge or coach or therapist? What if second graders and seniors used the library to build a dinosaur…together? What if the library was made up of yurts or kitchen islands or secret passageways? What if the library was a social buzzing place? What if the library could be every child’s academic advisor? What if the library could be every person’s therapist? What if library was school lobby? What if library was school hallway? What if library was school?

What if you were asked to design an agile ecosystem of wonder, care, creation, and exchange for the modern learner – and for society – and call that ecosystem library…what would it be?

As I reflect on my weekend of what ifs and whys and hows and let’s, I am struck by how the simple design process (with inspiration from Abraham Lincoln and also from the art of improvisation) allowed for a group of librarians, teachers, students, administrators, designers, futurists, and architects to turn into true educational visionaries. I’m struck by our ability to listen, imagine, and create not only a vision for the future of the K-12 library but also the future of learning.

In the coming weeks and months, all of the work from the weekend will be posted in one way or another on the Reimagine: Ed – Next Chapter site and will also be tagged with the #nxtchp2011 hashtag on Twitter.  Things like this video by Brian, Rebecca and Bo on the Library as Kitchen Island “Flash Cart” prototype (a response to designing the unquiet library) as well as the presentation by the group who hacked this Starbucks cup and turned it into Library as Yurt prototype (a response to designing the library as the park of possibilities) will continue to spur this weekend’s RE:ED group and others toward unlocking the next chapter of the K-12 library.

But this week, today even, as I returned to my school and to my office which is (interestingly) housed in the central hub of Trinity which is the Media Center, I was certainly thinking of both process and product. Sure, the ideas from the three design challenges (especially the one I tinkered with all weekend: What must K-12 libraries do to spur continual innovation and to make libraries the places and spaces our learners crave going forward?) surfaced. Yeah, today I daydreamed about  prototypes and products that were imagined, discussed, debated, and sketched on whiteboard walls, post-it notes, and on the back of cocktail napkins.

But…what will most directly affect my work this week and in the months to come has so much more to do with process than product. And if  libraries = learning = life, then what I learned from this weekend’s process is applicable from today until way past the time when my school re-imagines library as both a noun and a verb.

If the words to the right are words that matter (and I believe they do),

I see how they could infuse my work (and my life)

and shape my outlook (or even my destination)…

So, what do I need to do to get there? How do I need to grow? What can I learn to do better? Well, to start…

#1: (Learn to) Say “Yes, and…” — I was challenged early in the weekend by Zac Chase who taught us a few rules of improv, all of which I need some practice with both as mindsets and as statements. Two of the mindsets we were encouraged to adopt during the weekend — “My idea is good, and I like your idea better” in addition to “Yes, and…” — certainly shaped the conversations and propelled our ideas to higher level of creativity and risk. Simply saying Yes+And and not Yes+But (or even Yes+Yet) was a challenge for me. And it’s something I need to work on. Sure, playing Devil’s Advocate has its time and place, but this weekend I learned how much that role can kill innovation. According to the RE:ED folks, the Yes+And mentality allows everyone to “embrace a growth mindset, build on each other’s ideas, and celebrate new viewpoints and roles.” Pretty important to not stifle those things by a silly three letter conjunction.


#2: (Learn to) Love Creative Abrasion — I have always appreciated Peter Senge’s idea of creative tension and this weekend I learned that the design process has the potential to turn that tension into something closer to creative abrasion…and that’s actually a good thing.  Something I learned from Jeff Sharpe, who truly was more of a sherpa than facilitator this weekend, has to do with failure. The thing about the cutting room floor, he described, is that there’s great stuff on the  floor. And usually that great stuff is a result of a lot of messy learning. There were moments on Saturday (many, in fact) where the process seemed stalled, backwards, and frustratingly counterproductive…and even if that wasn’t the goal, it was the point. Lots of us were trying and failing and there were a number of ideas left on the floor…and it was up to the forces of the collaborative group to move individuals (me being one) to try harder and fail better. At one moment late on Saturday afternoon, I was ready to check-out, to leave for a run, and return the next morning with energy and a rested mind. I’m thankful for the model of my friend and colleague who felt the same frustration and was committed to staying through the process. Late on Saturday afternoon, we didn’t know what we were doing but we knew we could do it. We knew it was possible and we just had to figure it out. Sitting in the backwater eddy of creative tension (according to Bo Adams) or the hydraulic of creative abrasion (according to yours truly) allowed for us as individuals and as a collective group to get to the high level of creative success for the remainder of the weekend. We certainly ended the weekend sprinting with reckless abandon, grinning ear to ear, as Christian Long so beautifully described in less than 140 characters.

 

#3: (Learn to) Think of Ideas as Currency — The push of the weekend, articulated by the RE:ED Leadership Team and Provocateurs time and time again, consistently centered on the value of ideas and ideation. On Sunday, one design group envisioned Library as Market/Bazaar and explicitly stated that ideas and curiosity were the currency in this place. Interestingly, throughout the weekend, this was certainly the case as ideas, both large and small, were most valuable and held in high regard. More and more, I saw that ideas beget ideas. I was challenged in my own thinking…in our schools, do we honor ideas as valuable currency? Do we give ideas time to marinate or even allow for the ideation process to take place — failure and all? As design groups, we were allowed to create the learning spaces where ideas flourished. We had freedom. Tables became idea walls, chairs became office supplies, and we could get up, eat, drink, and go to the bathroom at will. We did not have to wait a bell to tell us where to go and what to do and we were allowed to sit in the backwater eddy for as long as we wanted or needed. A phrase like “I have a really wacky idea,” was met with smiles and exclamations, “Awesome! Good! Let’s hear it!” Even a “What if you could check out a rabbit?” idea was met with wide smiles and an exclamation, “What IF you could check out a rabbit!”

     

This weekend was one that was full of YesAnds, Creative Abrasion, and Ideas. It was a weekend about library as both noun and verb. It was a weekend of what ifs and collective reimagining of the future.

It was a weekend about libraries…about learning….and about life. 

Thanks to the RE:ED team for the experience and for the inspiration.

What’s the next “What if?”

“First Day” (Part II)

So, I’m lucky enough to work less than two miles from my good friend and fellow educator, @KPlomgren. We went to high school together (actually 7th – 12th) and she was always the one with the most glamorous job of divvy-ing up the bill at the end of a meal. She actually still gets that assignment when we go to dinner with a large group! Some would say that Katie displayed her strengths early in life…she did end up as a CPA and now she teaches kids math in a major way.

At some point today, I saw this tweet from Katie as a part of the #day1wms experiment:

Of course, I wondered what was going on. After speaking to Katie briefly this afternoon, I learned that her “tech mishap” was minor…and in fact, an incredible lesson for her students and to her colleagues as well. On this, the first day of school, her students learned that it’s okay to try, to fail, and to try (and maybe fail) again.

With our conversation still on my mind (and with all of my mistakes opportunities for learning from the day emerging), I came across @boadams1’s post (which includes a short video) about the first day of school. Imagine my surprise when I see my good friend and the excellent teacher @KPlomgren explaining the kind of learning environment that she wants to (co)create during the upcoming school year. Such good stuff. If you watch the video, you’ll hear from 2:16-2:33 that @KPlomgren wants to learn with her students…she wants to make sure they know that “it’s okay to try, to fail, and to try (and maybe fail) again.” What a lesson to impart to young learners on the first day of school. Both in words and in honest-real-life example.

Opening Doors

Garner Flowers Trees

“Megan, you can be you. It’s okay.”

I probably don’t remember the first time I heard those words. But I do remember the first time I remember hearing those words. I had just arrived home from ballet practice and was with my father, wearing a pink tutu and soccer cleats, practicing kicking a football through imaginary goal posts in the front yard of my childhood home. At some point mid-practice, a few neighborhood friends passed by on their bikes and I immediately felt self-conscious. My father, who undoubtedly recognized my discomfort, uttered those words and not only reassured me that it was okay, but in those seven simple words, he carefully honored my strengths, my passions, and my uniqueness.

Yesterday, I was reminded of this moment, a distant memory buried deep within the vast amount of childhood memories, while reading Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone. In what I suspect is a major turning point in Verghese’s novel, the narrator (Marion) gives voice to an important moment in his childhood — a moment which was certainly formative in terms of his strengths, his passions, and his uniqueness.

Looking back I realize Ghosh saved me when he called me to feel Demisse’s pulse. My mother was dead, and my father a ghost; increasingly I felt disconnected from Shiva and Helma, and guilty for feeling that way. Ghosh, in giving me the stethoscope, was saying, “Marion, you can be you. It’s okay.” He invited me to a world that wasn’t secret, but it was well hidden. You needed a guide. You had to know what to look for, but also how to look. You had to exert yourself to see this world. But if you did, if you had that kind of curiosity, if you had an innate interest in the welfare of your fellow human beings, and if you went through that open door, a strange thing happened: you left your petty troubles on the threshold. It could be addictive.

As educators, what can we learn from Marion’s words in Cutting for Stone?

First,  we must be able to convey to students that “you can be you…it’s okay.” Even though I am on vacation, I have loved reading the tweets and blog posts coming from Klingenstein’s Summer Institute for Early Career Teachers (#klingsi11). From the blog of Peyten Dobbs (@epdobbs), Superfluous Thoughts, you’d never guess that she was an early career teacher. In a recent post about honoring the uniqueness of every individual, she writes:

Irrespective of what I or others feel about homosexuality, gay marriage, or LGBT in general, the guiding principal of teaching is that I must validate all of my students. I must foster a safe place for them to learn in my classroom and in my school. This is true whether they are LGBT, straight, black, white, asian, female, male, atheist or religious, rich or poor.  My job is to help students foster their own identities, to know that they are respected, and to learn to respect others. (you can read the full post here)

Her post and tweets related to this issue caught the attention of a student from her school (who is also on summer vacation), who responded with a powerful comment conveyed in (impressively!) less than 140 characters:

Love Learning Tweet

It is essential that we establish an ethic of care in schools. Nel Noddings conveys in a bit more detail what @TaraWestminster’s tweet suggested. Noddings writes, “As we build an ethic on caring and as we examine education under its guidance, we shall see that the greatest obligation of educators, inside and outside formal schooling, is to nurture the ethical ideals of those with whom they come in contact.”

As educators, I firmly believe that we must provide the time and space to convey to students that “you can be you…it’s okay.”

A second takeaway from Marion’s words in Cutting for Stone is that we, as educators, must create a culture within our schools which honors transparency and collaboration in the learning process. We must be models. And we must recognize that for some (both adults and children), the need/importance for transparency and collaboration is not always so evident. After Marion is given the stethoscope, he remarks that Ghosh “invited me to a world that wasn’t secret, but it was well hidden. You needed a guide. You had to know what to look for, but also how to look. You had to exert yourself to see this world.” In my personal growth as a learner over the past two years, I have seen first-hand that the tools for learning are abundant (and those tools can be as technological as Twitter or as basic as those face-to-face conversations with friends and colleagues). Sometimes introduction to the tool is sufficient for furthering my learning. Sometimes I need more than an introduction. Sometimes I need an attentive and well-versed guide to take me through various steps of the learning process.

For Marion, the tool was the stethoscope. Ghosh was the guide who was willing to open the door to further learning opportunities (and for Marion, those learning opportunities were addictive). Certainly, both (the tools and the guiding process) are important, but we must always keep in mind the balance that Gardner references in the image at the top of this post. If it is true that “much of education today is monumentally ineffective.” And that “all too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” Then how do we, as educators, strike a healthy balance?

For the adult learners, I believe that the first step is that we need to be as transparent and collaborative as we possibly can. Then, we need to inspire the learners in our care. I love what my @PrototypeCamp friends have to say:

learning advocates

First, let us open the door to allow students to understand that “it’s okay…you can be you.” Then, let us help them embrace learning (because their life does depend on it) by helping them become their own unapologetic learning advocates who will ultimately open doors for others and become addicted to opportunities for learning even if the absence of the tool or the guide.