I was recently searching through a bin containing some old pictures and elementary school projects that my mom had saved for me. I didn't find what I was looking for, but I did find my first-grade class picture as well as a first-grade Spelling Bee participant ribbon. That's right. This blog is being typed by a Willow Lane Elementary Spelling Bee participant. (In case you were wondering...I'm the stellar speller in the red shirt in the upper-left hand corner of the class photo.)
As I continued to dig through different class pictures, old report cards, and notes from teachers I discovered a notebook page full of autographs that I collected as a third-grader. I vividly remember the significance of these autographs because I almost caused a revolt in my school the day I collected them. A group of foreign exchange students was visiting our class in the late 1980's and I managed to get all their autographs during recess.
My fellow third-grade classmates REALLY wanted a copy of our guests' autographs too, so our teacher agreed to make photocopies from my sheet of notebook paper...but not before I secretly added my own autograph to the lower right hand of the page (see picture above). After the copies of the foreign exchange students' autographs were distributed to our entire class I revealed that everyone had a bonus signature...mine. That's when the revolt almost happened. My friends felt hoodwinked and were not as impressed with my John Hancock as I was.
Fast forward to today. Students shouldn't have to sneak their signatures on a sheet of copy paper to connect with an authentic audience. They can attach their names to real work that they are really proud of. Thanks to the tools we now have at our disposal kids can create and share some truly innovative work.
A student could literally write a blog post or create a podcast, TED-style Talk, or 360 degree Virtual Reality video and share it with the world in less than 10 minutes. (That's probably quicker than it took my third-grade teacher to run 25 copies of the autographed paper for my classmates!)
A problem that many students are experiencing is that they're either being handed devices with very little substantive change in pedagogy, or they're not being given access at all. In some ways, we're living in a digitally-connected world and acting as if Pen Pals are still the gold standard for global collaboration. I recognize this is not true of every school, but we have not arrived yet systemically.
As I speak with educators in different parts of the country, we have the chance to dialogue about real challenges and real solutions. Many educators do not consider themselves artistic, creative, or innovative. Still others feel as if their students are not interested in anything related to school. Whether we are trying to find out what truly motivates our students or tap into the talent we ourselves possess, our students really do need us to think, teach, and lead differently.
Some ideas to implement meaningful change in a pedagogical sense:
1. Try injecting a current lesson or staff meeting with additional opportunities for collaboration (asynchronous or face-to-face). It doesn't matter if this is done in a high-tech, low-tech, or no-tech way.
2. Increase the degree that students are "owning" the learning and process. Empower students to create something new and share it with an audience that's authentic to them.
3. If you tend to shy away from digital-connectivity, you might consider adding opportunities for connected learning in the lessons and/or meetings you facilitate.
4. Finally, find a way to make learning more experiential. If a traditional lesson/meeting culminates in a worksheet or practice book page, you might challenge students to produce a podcast, play, or project-based challenge for others to solve.
When I wrote Renegade Leadership, the goal was to support educators who wanted to find new solutions. It was about offering practical ideas to make learning even more meaningful than it already is. Together we can transform students from engaged participants (e.g. Spelling Bee participants) to empowered creators who are making a difference.
The only question that remains is, "How will you empower your students to leave their mark on the world?" I hope you'll consider reading Renegade Leadership which is available HERE from Amazon, or joining the conversation at #RenLead on Twitter.