Sunday, May 1, 2016

Be a Learner

The Power of Yet

This is a picture of me standing center stage in the a High School gymnasium in Northern California. Those faces in the stands are 650 of my newest favorite people. I am not going to lie, when you hear about districts like this one, you don't assume it is filled with people willing to stretch their limits, innovate with tech and try something new: you imagine that it is a collection of staff who think, "We are more or less the best district in the Western Hemisphere, why should we waste a minute talking about managing change? Why would we change a thing?" By every measure imaginable, this district is killing it! Academics, athletics, community partnerships, student culture, college and career readiness, you name it, they are knocking it out of the park.

I wandered out to center court and took the mic while a little funky Motown music streamed through my iPhone and into the stadium quality speakers. Motown is my favorite sound for breaking the ice with new friends. It has a beat that makes you want to move and has a little sexy soul to it, but not sexy enough to make even the near retirees feel uncomfortable. The crowd always digs some Stevie Wonder, and I always hope, by association, that they'll dig me.

I came to this gig because a good friend of mine said, "We need a pep-talk. We need a message that fires people up to try something new."

With Stevie in the background, the crowd and I swapped stories. I asked who was new, and who had been their since the dirt was new. By a show of hands I scanned the room and learned who taught the littles, who coached the bigs, and who in the audience was just there to support the teacher - that is always one of my favorite parts: teachers can't help but drop the mic and pop to their feet in celebration of support staff. Authentic or otherwise, it always feels good to see K-12 credentials giving it up for secretaries, custodians and cafeteria crew!

With introductions out of the way, it was time to unveil the ask: Why are we here? I asked the room to come with me down the rabbit hole of change management. I shared that in our industry, if any person in the room isn't currently suffering from the overwhelming pressure of a massive change being thrust upon the industry, then they are probably recovering from a recently managed massive change initiative; finally, for those who don't fit into either of these first two categories, brace yourself - you're next. While this wasn't the message of hope I came to deliver, it was a giggle starter, and an icebreaker to the concept that change is simply another word for learning. When we learn, we change the way we view any given subject. As leaders of learning, we are also change experts and once we recognize that, the more quickly we can embrace any circumstance we encounter.

I spent the rest of the morning talking about stretching ourselves just enough to feel the tension, but not so far that we'd snap. I praised the power of celebration and encouraged the crowd to applaud one another at every opportunity. I lead the audience along the path of using the word Yet as a key to unlock future learning, and finally I demonstrated the acronym SAMR, through which we all can find a starting place that fits our strengths.

It doesn't matter if you are working in the most successful school in America or a start up school located in a portable on the back corner of a blacktop: we all are faced with managing change. Those who embrace this will never stop learning and those who resist it will never stop fighting. My advice: be a learner.

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