Cognitive Surplus

So I spent a week in Miami during my holiday break taking a course called Technology Leadership……and it was outstanding. Our inspiring and impressively current instructor, John Mikton (International School of Prague), spent the week scrambling our brains with the seemingly endless opportunities that we now have as educators to enhance student learning in today’s rapidly changing educational landscape. One of the biggest takeaways for me over the course of the week was the idea of “Cognitive Surplus”, and how the days of teaching and learning in isolation are over….or at least they should be. With the ridiculous amount of tools that we currently have access to (blogs, websites, Google docs, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and all the other social media platforms) I believe that it’s now educationally irresponsible for teachers and administrators to keep their expertise, their innovations, their creative ideas, and their opinions to themselves.

The term “Cognitive Surplus” was first introduced by Clay Shirky, and he describes it as “creativity and generosity in a connected age”. In his book of the same name, he discusses on a macro level how the world has evolved in this connected age, and how we now have an opportunity as a global society, through technology, to come together and affect real change…….particularly if we focus on “civic” endeavors. If we scale his idea back a bit and focus simply on education, and how this idea applies to student learning and to us as individual educators, the message to me is clear…..put yourself out there and share your expertise! We have a responsibility (because of everything that now we have access to) to create….and inspire……and share! It’s so easy these days to figuratively open up our classrooms and collaborate……and learn from each other……and share our expertise, as well as the work of our amazing students. This is not only for the betterment of our colleagues, but for the betterment of the world…….because it’s simply not enough anymore to keep it to yourself.

We are better when we collaborate, and we are better when we see our vocation as a team sport instead of a solitary act. When was the last time that you videotaped a great lesson and posted it on your blog for all to see? When was the last time that you spent a few minutes observing a colleague of yours, or invited someone into your classroom to observe you? Have you found the courage yet to share your expertise during one of our monthly SIPS workshops, and how often do you share your lessons and innovative ideas with your department team? “Cognitive Surplus” to me is the realization and belief that we are a better faculty if we trust each other…… and learn from each other…….and share with each other. It’s not about what YOU bring to YOUR students….it’s about what WE bring to OUR students!

If we can arrive at a place where we’re using technology, and our “Cognitive Surplus” to enhance student learning then we all win. I’m asking you this week to think about that, and as the year begins to unfold, please frequently reflect on how isolated your are. If your door is shut……if your expertise sits lonely……..and if your teaching looks just like it did a few years ago, then I would suggest that you shake things up. Summon up the courage to share, and learn, and try something new…….and put yourself out there to the world! Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to be great for our students and to share with each other.

Quote of the Week………..
A teacher who loves learning earns the right and the ability to help others learn.
― Ruth Beechick

TED Talk – Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus
Book Suggestion – Clay Shirky Cognitive Surplus
Article #1 – The Detriment of Teacher isolation
Article #2 – Teachers Teaching Teachers
Article #3 – Alone in the Classroom
Interesting Article – Wired Magazine
Livebinders – Out of this World Ideas for Sharing Student Work