I’ve never seen “Waiting for Superman” and I don’t intend to. I’m tired of hearing about what’s wrong with education. I prefer to focus on what’s right. I’m not waiting for Superman, in fact earlier this month I was blessed with the opportunity to spend a week getting energized by the light of over 100 Star Educators at the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute (DENSI). Every teacher in attendance was a bona fide superhero. As we shared, worked, learned and played together I could see that each one of us was gifted with their own unique super power. Combine those powers and you have an unstoppable force strong enough to solve just about any problem in education today – or at least that’s how it seemed.
We made videos and built presentations. We got to meet and be inspired by big name experts like Danny Forster, Steve Hargadon (who we renamed “HargaDEN”), and Hall Davidson. We conferenced and we un-conferenced. When the scheduled events ended, the learning continued though impromptu “sessions” in the dorm rooms before breakfast and late into the evenings. Sleep was not a priority. Why sleep when you can spend that valuable time learning?
The only problem with this amazing week is that it had to end. In a perfect world, all of us superheroes would just stay there in San Diego, living, learning, and playing, but a perfect world has no need for superheroes. A superhero’s work is to fight for truth and justice, to right wrongs, solve problems, and protect the innocent. In the end each us had to leave and go home to our own schools and districts to face our own challenges and deal with the inevitable post-DENSI depression.
Every superhero has a weakness. For Superman, it’s Kryptonite – that substance that drains his energy and makes him feel powerless. As a teacher and tech leader, what is your Kryptonite? Perhaps it’s one of these…
- Internet Filters – It’s happened to all of us. You’ve got a great idea for a lesson or activity that will really motivate your students and get them excited about learning only to find that the site you need to use is blocked.
When a superhero faces a force shield, he does not give up and go home. He finds a way to go through it, go around it, or turn it off. Work with your school and district IT to get the site unblocked. As a teacher and an adult you have the right to override a school Internet filter or have have sites unblocked for you and you don’t even have to provide a reason. (See “Dispelling Myths about Blocked Sites” and “Knowledge is Freedom“)
- Consistency and Fairness – Ever been told that your class can’t do something unless all the other classes decide to do it too? How often do we sacrifice creativity and innovation for the sake of consistency?
Superheros are sometimes required to go solo, moving forward where others fear to tread. Lead by example. Blaze a new trail for others to follow.
- The “Almighty” Inflexible Schedule – Does your education dictate your schedule, or does your schedule dictate the education? This is especially true if you are departmentalized. I know I’ve missed the opportunity to participate in numerous live events and webinars because it didn’t fit into the schedule or happened during break or ”switch” times.
A superhero sees what needs to be done and fights for it. Often times this involves making personal sacrifices to bend the un-bendable. You may need to give up part of your lunch or prep time, or offer to cover for another teacher, or promise give up time out of your own class later on. If the opportunity is truly worth it, a superhero will find a way.
- Lack of Administrative Support – Do you live in constant fear of trying something new or innovative with your students because you know that if it doesn’t work or if someone complains that you’ll be left “hanging out to dry” by your principal or administrator?
Superheros must sometimes work outside the law to do what is right. Don’t let fear of getting in trouble rob your students of a valuable learning opportunity. True innovators and those who make a difference are risk takers. Think of the inspirational stories of Jamie Escalante and Erin Gruwell.
- Fear of Failure – What if it doesn’t work right the first time you try it?
Don’t give up. A superhero demonstrates mental discipline and chooses to focus on the learning goal rather than what could happen if he fails. When he does fail (notice I said “when” and not “if”), he doesn’t give up, but learns what didn’t work, makes changes and adjustments, and tries again. We learn more from failures than successes. Besides what better way to model to your students that failures are just part of the learning process?
If I learned one thing at DENSI, it would be that even though I sometimes feel that I’m fighting the good fight all by myself, I am not alone. When the Kryptonite of the real world robs me of my power and energy, I can reach out to my fellow superheroes. Help is only a text, a tweet, a skype, a direct message, an e-mail, or a just phone call away.
Thank you Discovery for a wonderful week in San Diego and for helping me build a powerful circle of Superfriends.