Do you remember the last time you took a risk?
Think not about the moment you took the risk, itself, as much as the point right before you made the conscious decision to try something new. Something that would challenge you. Something that would open you to being vulnerable. Something that would reveal weakness, that would expose flaws and insecurities, and that would open you to judgment and to criticism.
This blog post is my 20th.
When I think back to July 27th, 2014, I recall it as an important day in the evolution of my personal professional learning. This was the day I clicked "publish" on my first blog, as part of a new venture...on the road to Learning Leadership.
My first post, 5 People and the feedback I received, shifted my thinking on what it means to be a reflective school leader. That being said, I'll never forget the months leading up to making the decision to start blogging. I was roughly one year new to engaging using a personal-professional account on social media. I had been following and learning from so many educators, with so many perspectives, who were willing to connect with me. Outside of my professional circles in my local region, this was all new to me. After all, I got my start like so many others, deeply rooted in the foundations of 20th Century teaching and learning.
My curiosity was triggered by others around me, who had either started their own blogging journey, or who were carving the path for me and for others. These people before me not only set the example, but they also invited, welcomed, and embraced my willingness to engage. I studied their platforms, merged ideas, and modeled mine style after their combined influence. I arrived at a theme (Learning Leadership) that I could consistently stand by, after reading examples set by others. And when it neared the time to click "publish", I shared my draft with great anticipation, and received honest, constructive, supportive feedback. In some cases, this came from people who I either had yet to meet or had only met or spoken with in limited context, either through social media exchanges, on the telephone, or via Google Hangout, or in-person at regional conferences. Nonetheless, the consistently high levels of generosity was all-at-once cautionary, hopeful, and inspiring, leaving me to wonder, "How this was possible?"
See, the timing of this new venture and experience coincided with an uncertain time in education. The valuable potential role of assessment and evaluation was at risk of being tainted by external influences with disingenuous motives. The threat of compromising "the good" in education was real for those who understand and appreciate it's core values. And for those who live and work outside the education bubble, our profession was at-risk of being judged for being inadequate, inefficient, and ineffective, among other damaging judgments. And it was being manipulated, in a manner that broke trust and was damaging to the reputation of the profession and any progress it had made to that point.
So what was maybe most intriguing about taking this risk, to be transparent, to share openly and vulnerably, it seemed to run almost completely counter to an educational landscape that had been devolving rapidly, into a downward spiral, and at the hands of those who had little to do with having a direct impact on our most important "stakeholders"...our students and their families.
In the connected education world, collaboration, support, encouragement, communication, and eternal promise of growth, and progress seem to be celebrated. And in the "real world" of education, lines were being drawn, posturing based on assertions of beliefs, political negotiation, threats, and competition would seek to determine "winners" and "losers".
I found myself challenged, often considering, which one more closely resembled the values of a thriving learning organization?
Embarking on the journey of Learning Leadership not only kept my focus on what matters most. It made me realize, there are so many others who found solace who were inspired by hope, in this space as well. And for that, I am thankful.
July 1, 2016 will be the first day of my 20th school year as an educator. While, on some level, I am proud of the risks I've taken, I can also say with certainty, that I have also learned a great deal about the value of being reliable, predictable, dependable, and steadfast, especially during challenging times.
I've also learned that having these qualities and being a risk taker are not mutually exclusive.
And being a risk-taker is not only reserved for the 21st Century.
This time of year, when we welcome new teachers and bid others a sentimental farewell to embark on the next phase of life, I always look forward to retirement celebrations. I enjoy these because I am hopeful for these all-too-rare occasions when we seize opportunities to bridge generations of educators who can share wisdom of what it means to be a great teacher "then" and "now". There's one teacher in particular who I've always looked forward to seeing at these events, Mr. Peters.
As I look back on 10 years in the classroom and 10 years out of the classroom, I fondly recall regular conversations I used to have with the grandmother of one of my students...conversations about Mr. Peters. She would tell me, often, how I reminded her of him, when he taught her now-grown children. And while she'd explain, we were similar in our teaching approaches, she said we were never afraid to take risks if they were in the best interests of children.
One time, this grandmother shared a poem with me, which I keep to this day, and find myself reading every so often. It's a poem that reminds anyone willing to read it, the importance of taking risks. It was appropriate for Mr. Peters a half-century ago, it resonated with me over a decade ago, and it's as valuable, if not more, for educators in 2016.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing their's and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same
If you can bare to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
Mr. Peters has not likely ever used any form of social media, nor will he ever. But I am grateful for his influence, leading the way with taking risks, to better the lives of others and to better our learning organizations. And I am equally as thankful for "My 20 Favorite Bloggers": My 20 Favorite Bloggers . Connect with them today, and be prepared to take risks and to grow.
And if you're not blogging yet, today's the day to start. You will not regret you decision to take the risk and will be amazed by what you learn.