Musings on Leadership, Trust and PLP

So, our PLP Group gave a presentation at our Culminating Event today, and one of our members, Micheline McManus, gave us the theme – improv.

Yes, our presentation was going to be an improv – we were going to go into it with no planning, and audience suggestions were going to lead our presentation.  Talk about out of my comfort zone!  I am not a person who usually gets up to make a presentation without knowing what I’m going to say ahead of time.  I am a “scripted” person – I have been in theater for years – and even when I am making the script, I will have at least timed and practiced the presentation once.

Our presentation was to be about our process as a group through our year of connected professional development.  Micheline drew an analogy between improv and our process.  There were certain tenets in improve that mirrored our experience: trust, risk, listen, make the other person look good, and … “Yes, and …”

The idea behind an improv is that no matter what your partner says, you go with it.  You don’t say “yes, but …” because that stops the game right there.  You take whatever offerings there are and you build on them.   With “And…” we are led to a place of action.   “But …” leaves us in a state of inaction and indecision.

For part of our presentation, we decided, we would take a tenet and expound on it.  I knew I wanted to say something, I could feel it rising within me, but I couldn’t articulate it – yet.  But I knew it would come.

T-3 days to go.  Still no inspiration.  Still lots of talking and thinking around the issue, but nothing coming together.  The others had outlined what they would say in our wiki.  I still had nothing – except there was something there, I knew it.  I logged on to my computer to read some blogs.  I found this one from Maggie Hos-McGrane’s “Tech Transformation.”  Here she quotes John Lennon: “Everything will be alright in the end.  If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.”  Ok, I thought, what I have to say – it will have something to do with that.

Day before the presentation – no, make that day OF the presentation – 2:30 am.  I get up, despite having taken Tylenol PM to get some sleep, and I have the undeniable drive to get up and express myself.  My creative brain will not let me sleep until I get it down in writing:

Trust (Unscripted)

What are you going to say?  I don’t know — when I get there, I’ll know, but I won’t know until I get there.

Trusting that inspiration will lead me.  This challenges my idea of leadership – that a leader knows where one is going.  This gets lots of pushback from within myself.  I actually don’t like knowing where I’m going, and my best work happens when I don’t.  But it is highly uncomfortable to not know where you’re going, so it is a trust issue.

Remaining with this uncertainty in the face of having others around you who also want to know where they’re going.  Ths process can’t always be managed if your outcome is going to be unique – because the outcome hasn’t been decided ahead of time – it is unfolding as you speak (think improv).

When you have a script, everything that looks like the script gets accepted, and everything that doesn’t look like the script gets rejected.  Without a script, you don’t now what is going to be accepted or rejected, so you have to just let it happen.  TRUST.

Trust the process
Trust that the outcome will be there
Trust that there will be a finish line and that we will finish together

Intuitive Leadership:
I do know when we’re NOT going anywhere and how to put us back on track.

Sometimes, being the leader means that someone else is going to lead you through it – this might be a co-team member.  It could be a student.

Our “plan” was to get up here and dance.  [We recreated Derek Sivers’ “Leadership from a Dancing Guy” TED talk video example].  We don’t know what the outcome of this will be.

Release the outcome …

Unleash the outcome …

Trust that the road is going to lead somewhere, and that you don’t know where that is.

When others say – we’re not going anywhere, you might need to be the one who says “Yes, we are – let’s keep moving.”  A leader keeps us from stopping when we panic and say that we’re not going anywhere.  It’s more about discovery than destination.  Stop.  Look around.  What’s right in front of us – rather than way up ahead.

Faith – what if we have nothing?  What if we get to the end and there is nothing?

Then, a leader says “There will be something – have faith.”

I’m not saying this is what I did, but I grew during the process, and I had to “unlearn” what I felt a leader was.  I made mistakes because I was trying to meet my preconceived notion of what a leader should be, or how others had defined it for me, rather than being the person I am.

When others are saying “We’re not good enough – what we’re producing is not good enough,” a leader says “Yes you are, yes we are – it’s good enough and were getting better.”  And the person who says that – the “leader” – is not always the same person – so the group doesn’t have the same leader at any given time.  Leaders change places throughout the process.

A leader also has to know when to call it “done” – otherwise, the process will continue without end – because that’s what processes do – the river keeps flowing.  The creative ideas keep coming.  The leader has to know when to step in and out of this river.  [Warning – I’m about to beat this analogy to death …]

Again, this person may not be the designated leader.  Like with our improv activities, the person that feels we’re done nods and we all “yes, and …” them – we all say “ok, done.”

But someone may not feel we’re done, and then that person guides us back to the river.  This can be disheartening, because we all thought we were done!  Now we’re going to “do over?!”  But after that, then we feel, “yes, we weren’t done, but now we are.”

The river is always there when we need it.  Trust.

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Decorate, Illustrate, Illuminate


Photo courtesy of NASA via Wikimedia Commons

In 8th Grade History, we are just about to begin filming the Post World War II Documentaries. We paused for a class period to talk about music. I remember attending a professional development conference where the presenter talked about the ability of images to either “decorate,” “illustrate” or “illuminate” a project. Decorating involves putting an image that does not necessarily relate to the topic, but that makes the presentation more attractive in general. Improperly used, the image may actually detract from the presentation, or confuse the audience.   Illustrating means that the image relates to the topic, and helps to explain or clarify the meaning with the audience.  Illuminating takes two elements that have different meanings, but the juxtaposition of those elements creates a separate, third, or deeper meaning.  In this conference presentation, the teachers had a rubric to guide the students in determining how they were using images in their projects.

I immediately thought of how we use music during the documentaries.  We’ve had some confusing music parings that were chosen because I think the students liked the song, but clearly hadn’t had the opportunity to think through the relationship between the action on the film and the music.  We had one pairing that was actually disturbing in the final edit, where a violent kidnapping scene was paired with some electronica that resulted in the kidnapping feeling like an action film and not the depiction of real violence.  We’ve also had the deliberate use of silence in a scene to make a point.  When these decisions are made deliberately to harmonize with the message of the presentation, it is good documentary filmmaking, and good information literacy.

Our activity to spur this discussion included the same film footage (the launch of Apollo) paired with three different pieces of music.  The students were divided into three groups, and each group watched a different pairing, but did not see the others.  The first group watched the film with a vintage ragtime song called “Too Much Mustard” – bouncy and carnival-like.  The second watched with “Rocket Man,” by Elton John, and the third, “Spirit in the Sky,” by Norman Greenbaum.  We then had them write “Six Word Novels,” a technique I picked up from EdCamp Social Studies a few weeks ago.  They had to describe the story the film was telling in six words.  We then shared them with each other.  The group quickly realized that they had seen the same footage, but that the stories and emotions described were different for each.  Here are some of them

“Too Much Mustard” Group:  (feelings described: happy, whimsical)

  • Blast off Earth, ready for space!
  • Life is a circus!  Explore it!
  • Happy occasions involve polluting the Earth.
  • Blast off!  To the moon team!
  • We’re going to space with music.
  • Rockets fly; where will they go?
  • A successful liftoff, hooray … for now.

“Rocket Man” Group: (feelings described: sad, serious)

  • Goodbye, all of you Rocket Men.
  • They fly away leaving their family.
  • Explosion: worried, anxious, will it succeed?
  • Take off, Rocket man, be gone.
  • We have liftoff; to the moon.
  • Getting in.   Getting out.  Can we?
  • Slow and steady wins the race.
  • Spacecraft launches: one leap for humankind.

“Spirit in the Sky” Group:  (feeling described: proud)

  • Shot into the sky.  A new frontier.
  • We’re in sky, our spirits high.
  • First stop earth, next the stars.
  • Rocket rising as the dust clears.
  • Rocket smoothly blasting off for moon.
  • Blastoff, two boys without a dad.
  • Blastoff – preparatory months; minutes of action.
  • Houston we are go for launch.

I think my favorite, though, was a spontaneous six-word novel about the process:  “Boys sitting: Pondering weird history activity.” 🙂

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Give me a week to rejuvenate and well, I start thinking about things …

Last year as a faculty we suggested books to read for summer reading, formed groups, and came back together to discuss our books at the beginning of the school year. I have already decided that I want to recommend “Reality is Broken,” by Jane McGonigal (see her TED Talk, below).  Having just come back from EdCamp Social Studies, and seen the power of a group of people who just want to come together and discuss similar interests – find a space and make it happen, I’ve decided that I want to propose a Game Think Tank for the summer.

So my husband (the game designer) and I got together and brainstormed some ideas.  We can hold about 20-25 people in our home.  I’m going to propose the book for summer reading, letting the prospective group members that along with discussing the book, participants will have the chance to:

  1. See what a real live, gamer’s house looks like (including the 10,000 painted miniatures that are arranged in old library card catalogs in our basement).
  2. Participate in a role-playing, resource-management, collaboration-type game that will involve learning and combine math, history, science and/or a variety of “curricular mashups” to see what it’s like to use game mechanics to build a lesson that is motivational and meets instructional objectives.
  3. Eat lots of great food (my husband and I are fantastic cooks, and my “Victory Garden” will be in full swing by then).
  4. Discuss both the book, and the possibilities for using the motivational structures of games in the classroom (and out of the classroom – who says learning has to happen in the classroom)?
  5. Include some experienced gamers in the day for both the gaming and the discussion/brainstorming session.
  6. More surprises to be arranged …

I’m calling this “EduGameCon.”  I can see it happening again – thanks to EdCamp, I now feel it is “doable,” and I feel empowered to do so.  I’m hoping that what comes out of this is a lot of great thinking about using games in education, most importantly the “game mechanics” aspect — which is so much like good lesson planning and design.  I also hope to dispel some negative stereotypes about games in education:

(Some feel that) Gaming in Education means:

  • … individual students sitting in front of monitors interacting with a video game and cut off from everyone else.
  • … a break for the teachers – plug and play the students in and let the program do the teaching.
  • … trivializing content.
  • … glorifying violence.
  • … “un-assessable” – can’t measure how students are doing or what they’re learning.
  • … encouraging unhealthy competition.

I think really good game design is the opposite of these.   I like what Jane McGonigal says about games being intrinsically rewarding because they are structured to meet our craving for: “satisfying work, meaning, social interaction, and hope of success.”

So, the idea is born.  It’s Spring – let’s see what grows …

Gaming Can Make A Better World


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Library Levity

This is my very own cat, Calliope …

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Students With a Burning Desire to Know?

Connected Learning –
Learning is everywhere (not just in the classroom, not just in the library) – provide the right motivation and the students will go out and seek answers. Evaluate those answers when they return – discuss. Point them towards other possible answers. Rinse. Repeat.

The Essence of Connected Learning from DML Research Hub on Vimeo.


Posted in 21st Century Libraries, Curiosity, Information Literacy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Kickstarter and Solutionaries

If you haven’t seen Kickstarter, it’s a great example of the kind of “Solutionaries” that Zoe Weil talked about in her TED talk.  It’s also a great example  of how collaborative media is making things possible that used to be done through large grantors and big business.  It’s grass roots.  And so is this example, about a green space in NY’s Lower East Side:

I also want to put this on my list of examples of how technology can make it possible for us to be closer together, dispelling a popular myth I hear often that technology makes us sit unfeelingly in front of our computers not interacting with the rest of the world, losing our humanity, etc.  It’s not that simple.  And like many things, “it’s in the way that you use it!”

Thanks to Kathleen, who posted the Kickstarter link on Facebook and got me thinking about all this …

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Inquiry is Everywhere!

This is a video of our bulletin board comparing the Research Process to the Scientific Method, the Writing Process, the Invention Cycle and “Things Good Readers Do” to let you know that inquiry is everywhere!  I added Flip’s music to make it a little more exciting, if you’re not already excited by research to begin with, which I am, of course.

The Research Process: Friends School of Baltimore
The Scientific Method: Creative Teaching Press, Inc. (2008)
Things Good Readers Do: Carson-Dellosa
The Invention Process: Spark Lab – National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution)
The Writing Process: Carson-Dellosa

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