Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Power of a Network

I have always loved this commercial from Cisco about the Human Network.  So much so that I think I over use it in presentations when I discuss The Weidner School of Inquiry @PHS and our goal to help our students create professional learning networks that will help them to communicate their ideas to a broader audience.  Yesterday, the reason why I relate so well to this commercial became clear in my visit to Niles New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy in Niles, Michigan.  I was there to meet with the Director, Jerry Hotlgren, but since he was ill, I met with Mike Vota to discuss their Trust Card program and how they utilize it in working with student discipline.  

I have spent the last month or so thinking  deeply about student discipline, and how the simple discipline  does not seem to work.  There needs to be something beyond punishment to truly change behavior.  In the course of my searching, I had been reading a lot about the concept of Restorative Justice in particular through reading Howard Zehr and Ali Gohar's Little Book of Restorative Justice.  The idea behind Restorative Justice is that their is not only punishment for one's actions, but a large focus is placed on restitution and restoring community.  This approach fits with a lot of my core beliefs about discipline and has been attractive to me.  In order to learn more, I wanted to have an in depth discussion with a school that is utilizing these concepts.  My discussion with Mike provided this opportunity, gave me a framework to think about and share with my staff, and lead to some great thinking.  

Ultimately, what connects me to the Cisco commercial and appeals to me about Restorative Justice, is not the idea of a network.  Networking is powerful, don't get me wrong, It connects us to other people, places, and ideas.  The ability of the Net to do this has greatly enhanced both my learning as a professional and increased my awareness of the world around me.  The key though is not the network itself.  Rather, it is the relationships that come out of that network.  

As a part of the New Tech Network we have the ability to receive training, to access a data base of PBL lessons, and to attend conferences held throughout the year in which we can grow as leaders and facilitators of learning.  The greatest strength though is in the relationships we develop with the people of the network.  The short and long conversations that we have in the hallways of those conferences, the ability to call up the people we have met and seek their greater wisdom, and in the discussions with other passionate educators that rejuvenate our own passions.  It is those relationships that need to be the foundation of our culture as educators, and it is the restoration of those relationships that needs to be a foundational piece we hope to have school discipline lead to long term change in behaviors.  True change comes when we connect with others, and as Jack Nicholson says in As Good as it Gets, they "make us want to be better humans".

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Conversation with a Futurist

Two Thursdays ago our school corporation had the pleasure of conducting a meeting via go to meeting with futurist David Houle in which he discussed with us the future of education and his conception of Flow.  He focused much of his talk about how the decade of 2010-2020 will be the transformation decade, in which all of the change of the last 10,000 years will take place in the next 100, with this 10 year period kicking that massive change off.

His concept of Flow involves three areas, The Flow to Global-in which the only boundaries will be planetary,  the Flow to Individual-the explosion of choice where power will move from institutions to individuals, and finally Accelerated Electronic Connectedness-cell phone ubiquity.

What struck me most from his conversation though was his idea that the concept of place no longer exists.  He explains this by talking about how we can now be anywhere, and connect to someone anywhere in almost no time at all.  This is not a new idea, the telegraph allowed people to quickly send messages from place to place, but you had to go pick them up or have them delivered to you.  The telephone brought both voice and direct connection-as long as you were in your home or office-and the cell phone made that connection mobile.

The scope of this change though hit me in two different ways.  The first was the way that cell phones have mobilized communication.  Freeman Hrabowski, the President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, told a story at a conference I attended in which he spoke of how when he was growing up, and Star Trek was on, he kept hearing that some day phones would be able to go anywhere-he just couldn't conceive of the idea because he kept wondering how you would keep the cords from being tangled.  The shift that the mobile phone brought changed how we connect with other, where we connect with others, and made the world a smaller place.

But cell phones did not truly change the concept of place.  Yes, they allowed us to communicate with others wherever we were.  The truly radical change though came with the advent of the smartphone.  Now not only could we connect with anyone, anywhere, at anytime.  Now we could share our ideas, pictures, videos, and thoughts with anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

Two examples, one from American history and one from my personal experience, solidified this concept for me.  The example from American history is the letter writing of John and Abigail Adams.  While John was stationed in Europe during the American Revolutionary War, and after until 1789, he and Abigail exchanged 258 of the over 1100 letters that they wrote each other in their lifetimes.  What struck me about these letter exchanges, in light of Mr. Houle's discussion of place no longer existing, is that it took each of these letters three months to travel to it's recipient, and that was when the letters were able to get through and safely cross the ocean during war time.  The strain on the relationship was such that Abigail referred to the time as her "widowhood".

This leads directly to my personal experience.  While I work long hours, I am blessed with having few requirements to travel that take me away from my family overnight.  The week prior to Mr. Houle speaking though, I was in Berkley, CA at the New Tech Network Spring Leadership Summit.  During this time, while I missed my family, they were always no more than a text, email, or instagram photo away.  In fact when I returned the principle of a neighboring elementary school commented that he enjoyed the pictures I was sending with my tweets as I walked around Berkley.

The world has now shrunk to fit in the pocket of our pants, and we are no longer cut off from either those we love or the work we do, unless we choose to unplug ourselves.  This is truly the game changer, as the Digital Generation continues to grow up in a plugged in world, the ways and interfaces for this plugging in will change and further shrink their concepts of time and place.  Google Glass will only be the beginning of an ever more connected life experience for all of us.  How we continue to adapt as educators to a world where all resources are available at the touch of a few keys, will determine how well our institutions survive this decade of disruption.