Tag Archives: Seth Godin

Life on the Wire

“Life is on the wire, the rest is just waiting.”  

~Papa Wallenda

The next several months of recruiting season are exciting for many teachers and administrators. Having resigned, lives are once again lived on the “wire.”  As a teacher of inquiry there seems to be a valuable ordering to the questions which might propel the decisions so many are about to make.  Our “why” paramount, hopefully a clear vision of why we remain in the hallowed field of education.  Followed by “what.”  Understanding the nature that there is not one market but many.  What exactly is most desirable?  The “who” you are, what you are able to offer, but also “who” or identity of your potential future employer also is to be considered.  And last, the “how.”  Trust is what ultimately is required here.  Confidence in yourself but moreover, a deep sense of trust in the process, and in life.  

Further, we might do ourselves a favor to remember and hold fast to the fact that similar to graduating students, there are no “best” international schools.  Unlike United States universities and colleges, there are no rankings of international schools. Even if there were, the list would be flimsy and likely, saturated in bias.  For, even the thirty odd years of US News & World Report university and college rankings recently were debunked by Malcolm Gladwell in his Revisionist History podcast. Gladwell brazenly asserts the “rankings game” report to be audaciously inaccurate in measuring the quality of institutions.  

Yet, somehow there persists a myth in the international circuit of tiered schools.  Reputation is an aspect not to be dismissed, however what makes a “top tier” school is worth sussing out.  Besides reputation, “top tier” equates to a more generous package.  Such benefits as matching retirement funds, annual return trips home, shipping allowance, and health insurance.  Benefits are unarguably measurable. Yet, they do not necessarily equate to the effectiveness of a school, student learning, or most importantly fittingness. 

First Rodeo

Snow was being removed from the tarmac as my plane landed in February of 1998. My life was about to be positively changed as I attended my first international teaching job fair. These were the days before the ubiquity of the internet and a physical catalog of schools was provided after mailing in a check and registering. So much has changed in the world and yet, I sometimes grapple to put my finger on how much the international teaching “circuit” has.  In many respects it still seems like a small world, especially when a new colleague is quick to connect, “Oh, you taught at X, Y, or Z school.  You must know Dan Stiles (or take your pick of names!).”  

I entered the fair expecting nothing more than a chance to gain interviewing experience.  When I received my first offer, I hurried to the pay phone, mind you this also was before cell phones.  “Dad, I was offered a job,” I celebrated.  Even more surprising, later in the day another contract was extended.  Since this experience, I have utilized the services of two other recruitment agencies and had the pleasure to teach on five different continents.  However, only in the last few years have I fully come to appreciate the importance of the term, “fittingness.”

Fittingness

The concept of fittingness is a constant, so long as we are willing to put our lives on a limb. Throughout life there are choices to be made, forks less or more traveled in the road.  Stress, usually self-induced, besets a mental fixation on making the “correct” or “right” choice.  For grade eleven and twelve students it often centers on higher education.  Achieving high IB or SAT scores and being selected into an Ivy or other lofty “league” school. Assuming Harvard is the best for everyone, when in reality some big fish may have a better experience in a smaller “pond.”  The reality being one where there is no “best” school.  Thankfully there are many “bests,” and the notion that matters most. is the fit.

Abundance and a World of Choice

ISC Research,  a leading provider of English-medium K-12 international school data, trends and intelligence, reported in 2017 there are more than 9,000 international schools. To operate under the belief that there are but a few “best” schools would be a gross understatement. Seth Godin, best-selling author and entrepreneur, purports there is no scarcity.  As we close out on the Industrial Age, the opposite is true.  In effect we are living in great abundance and are experiencing a world of choice.  Instead of stressing ourselves about the “best” or “top tier” schools, what might make more sense is to create a sort of hierarchy around what matters most to you in your next place of work.  

Some Ideas of Criteria to Consider (not in any hierarchical order)

~location of the school and size of the city. An increasing consideration is quality of life, looking at a cities air quality may be one helpful criteria

~size of the school. Small, medium, and large schools all have their pros and cons

~history and tradition of the school.  Schools steeped in tradition may sometimes not be as quick to be progressive as tried and true systems of yesteryear may not demand revision. Unable or an unwillingness to be innovative or make quick shifts may lead to feeling like Krishnan Kanthavel, the captain of the Ever Given, as he diagonally blocked the Suez and prevented the  transit of nearly everything bought and sold on the planet!

~your personal mission as a professional 

~a school’s clarity in mission, vision, values and how these are tangibly being realized

Further, keeping it clear what one ideally wants in a school is vital. A component of this is fully coming to grips with what you have to offer.  Schools will want to know this.  Moreover, just as a school’s clear identity is important to you, they will want to feel confident in their ability to see an “authentic you.” Envisioning the interview this way may even help dissolve barriers which create anxiety and possibly create more of a conversational feel. Feigning questions at the end is easily discernible. Instead, determine what you really want to know about the role you are applying for, the school, or even the host nation.  

A Few Ideas of Questions You May Wonder

~What has your school learned through the pandemic?  Or, how has your school positively adapted as a result of COVID?

~How are you leveraging PD as a whole faculty?

~What measures are being taken to ensure students are learning in ways that fit with what the world is asking of graduates today?

~What are the top three strategic goals for your school?

~What does ___________ look like in the classroom?

~What would have been most helpful to know before you joined the school?

“I’m Excited”

Transition can be scary business.  Anxiety is normal when we courageously unroot ourselves and pick up our lives after any number of years.  However, it is possible to reframe the experience and actually enjoy the process. Alison Wood Brooks, a renowned psychologist found evidence across several studies of reappraising anxiety as excitement. Simple self-talk as saying “I am excited” out loud can actually work, giving credence to the aphorism, “fake it till you make it.” The doors of the world are unhinged. Your vulnerability ultimately has the power to lead to unforeseen opportunities.  Trust and enjoy life on the wire.  

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STUCK CONTAINER SHIP: A METAPHOR FOR THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM?

What could be harder to turn around than a 220,000 ton ship measuring nearly a quarter of a mile long?  The education system. The Evergreen however served as a fantastic metaphor.

For six days, the colossal three year-old was stuck. In a stretch of water narrower (985 feet) than the length of the boat (1,312 feet).  Not even a 3-point Austin Powers maneuver back and forth was possible “baby.” 

Not What It May Seem

Though the word “Evergreen” is painted on the ship’s side, on its back and bow in smaller letters is its official name, “Ever Given.”  A Taiwanese company called Evergreen Marine is responsible for operating the vessel, though it is registered in Panama.  Further, it is managed by a German ship company, but owned by a Japanese billionaire.

Education, more than a fifth of the way through the 21st century, is also not what it might seem. 

Roots of Education and Where We Find Ourselves Today

For most of human existence children educated themselves simply through play and exploration. A scary concept for most today.  Agriculture and the eventual systems of servitude resultant of the Middle Ages may have been what led to the death of children’s free will to organically learn.  In its place, obedience and reverence for lords and masters. The Industrial Revolution further squelched the innate desire to learn, as children were used for labor.  Once industry began to become more automated children were no longer as needed as much and at the advent of the 20th century child reform efforts surfaced. Finally, in 1924 opponents of child labor in the United States sought a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to “limit, regulate, and prohibit the labor of persons under eighteen years of age.” However, “the conservative political climate of the 1920s, together with opposition from some church groups and farm organizations that feared a possible increase of federal power in areas related to children, prevented many states from ratifying it.”  Not until 1938 were child labor laws enacted.  

Mind you, this is but 83 years ago!

Until Jean Piaget (1896-1980), pedagogical theory envisioned children as merely “empty vessels.” To be kept in line and “filled up.”  A diametric opposite of the very meaning of education. Etymologically, the term “education” derived from the Latin word “educare,” meaning “to bring up, rise, or to nourish.” Or, even more fitting is to consider the Latin “educere,” and its meaning to “to draw out.”  

Nourishing and Drawing Out.  Are Schools Doing This Today?  

More aptly, are schools whole-heartedly bent on settling for nothing less than a child’s best and allow for personalization?  I would argue we still have many miles of road to pave.  However, traction continues to be gained as educational systems move from compliance to empowerment.  The narrow ideologies of the past may pervade, yet however steeped in “control” they may be, such views are being sabotaged by digitization and connectivity.  Now, a teacher in the virtual world likely contends with YouTube, chat rooms, and possibly even Netflix, for a student’s attention.  “Armed” with pre-determined and trite curriculum, it often feels like a losing battle.  Vying for students’ attention and dumping curriculum on them was not the impetus most teachers got into the profession.  

An alternative approach might instead based on respect and trust.  Where the knowledge, skills, and standards checklists become more invitation than imposition. Or, what about the powers of collaboration?  How many educators are trusted, willing, or daring enough to set out to build a sort of kinship with students, where curriculum might be co-created?  A return to a more master and apprentice style; exploration as opposed to inculcation. For an example of how one middle school teacher does this, take a look at the basic structure for a unit design in a post written by Allison Zmuda titled, “A Play-By-Play Strategy for Co-Creating Curriculum with Students.”

Damage Done

The Suez Canal, a slit carved between the Mediterranean and Red Sea, took 10 years to build.  An investment well spent because today it is the preferred path connecting east and west. Ten percent of the world’s trade purportedly flows through these waters. From the 23rd to the 29th of March, the world watched as more than 360 ships were forced to wait.  A behemoth blocked the way. According to Lloyd’s List, a maritime intelligence organization, a total of $9.6 billion worth of cargo was held back each day.  Not until April 3rd did the Suez Canal Authority declare the logjam over and that all waiting ships finally crossed through.  Then, on April 13th, the Evergreen was seized and “Egyptian authorities said they wouldn’t release the massive ship… until its owners agreed to pay up to $1 billion in compensation.”

Are today’s schools similarly being held for ransom?

What is it going to cost to free our brittle, antiquated, and traditional system of education?  Though there is a clinging on to a delivery of knowledge; something seemingly more ubiquitous than even clean water or air, I remind you how the duration of this model, is but a flash in time. A “new normal” if you will. Yet, cracks in the system, like the ones the pandemic is inducing, continue to create a sort of vacuum. The rays of light clear the space for teachers to be more daring and for learners to return to what is instinctual.  Learning which is constructed, not consumed. Actively uploading, as opposed to passively downloading.  

Nothing New or Particularly Earth-Shattering

The late Sir Ken Robinson was turning heads 14 years ago, claiming how schools actually squash creativity. Further, in a visit of over 200 schools, Ted Dintersmith shared his observations in a book called, “What Schools Could Be.” Further, for specific schools standing out in the field, you may want to take a look at Getting Smart’s list of “Middle and High Schools Worth Visiting.”  Here you will see project-based learning, personalization, purpose, and a variety of other “ingredients” necessary to “unstuck” education.   

The stuck container ship is in fact a fitting metaphor for the education system. A difficult system to turn. One that still is wedged.  However, I like to think progress is being made, even if  transformation has not freed the “ship.” Marketer and author Seth Godin says it best, “Most difficult, quite rare and precious is the idea of transformation.”  The idea is there! Allies and advocates alike, we are tugboats.  Please stay the course, because your pushing and pulling is critical.  

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Leading as Opposed to Managing

Nearly four centuries ago samurai turned poet Matsuo Manefusa, or Bashō, gave us the gift of Haiku (The inspiration for the Haiku I created above). Similar to Haiku’s time-tested refined distillation of 17 syllables, Twitter constrained users to but 140 characters.  More practical than artistic, Twitter was initially designed as an SMS-based platform and 140 characters was the limit mobile carriers imposed. In both instances, paramount is getting in and out with intentionality.

If only all facets of life were streamlined. Imagine faculty meetings or even better, dentist visits! 

Probably much like you, I have a host of people I follow across social media platforms and frequent newsletters. However, none whom I follow parallels the unmistakable brevity and potency as Seth Godin.

If you do not already follow Godin, I suggest you check him out. Godin is an inspiration of what it means to be both purposeful and clear.  For more than thirty years, he has shared inspiration through his writing.  An author of 19 best sellers, his daily blog is in its eleventh year and imparts clever but also applicable messages that pollinate ideas across a spectrum of workplaces. For example, his top two all-time most popular posts are titled, “Don’t Shave That Yak!” and “Quality and Effort.”  

One constant of Godin’s style is his ability to succinctly convey his message, masterfully positioning us in the slipstream. Voice so present in his writing. Clear and in pure breviloquence, Godin’s posts are possibly two steps from Haiku and but one away from Twitter.  He imparts wisdom that is enduring but also especially transferable to the craft of education. For example in a recent post he commented on the power of more self-directed and project-based learning, “We can create a pattern of teaching people to be curious because curiosity is an engine for learning… it is less predictable but far more powerful than the current alternative: Creating a desire to get it over with, combined with the ability to believe whatever the person in power tells us to believe.”

Who could disagree with this? The difference between compliance and empowerment.

Just envisioning paths paved by curiosity but moreover what is possible, is the first logical step.  More difficult is the necessary next move. For adults; teachers, parents, and administrators to make a conscious effort to simply get out of students’ way.  Please do not take this as a recommendation for an anarchic melee. Instead, the motivation is more an invitation.  To allow students to genuinely take a front seat to their learning.  If not in the driver’s seat, at least to sit shotgun. Far too much chauffeuring of backseat passive non-learners has grown to be the default modus operandi.  A generation often labeled as bored, disengaged, and unfortunately ill-prepared graduates.   

This is not the first time I made the bold suggestion to step out of the way so students can get on with learning. So salient it crops up daily in my reflections, after and sometimes even amidst a lesson. Seemingly I keep having to learn this, as I forget, unlearn and relearn. Why?  My best non-guess is that it is a matter of control and of critical importance is to courageously let go. This I confess with equal parts honesty and vulnerability. Further, I am beginning to think it best to begin each lesson or unit plan with an overt intention to lead and not manage. Similar to coaching.  Or, what Godin references to what we don’t see in a music conductor’s success, “They have less power than it appears, and use their position to lead, not manage.” Ultimately musicians, athletes and all learners will find themself on a stage, field, or court.  Let them manage.  Let them play!