Where and How?

It “just happens” that the theme this week for the edX “Leaders of Learning” MOOC is “Modes of Leadership,” and the driving questions have to do with where and how you can be most effective as leader and learner, given your particular theory of learning and the theory of leadership that naturally flows from it.  It’s the same model that Professor Elmore used last week, with its vertical axis of Hierarchical to Distributed and its horizontal axis of Individual to Collective.  And the iVersity “DO School Start-Up Lab” is focusing on managing your start-up phase … in other words, the earliest phases of where and how to take a social venture from vision to reality.

And all of a sudden, as Mark pointed out in a Google+ comment, I’m focusing on where and how, too:

Finding your true calling is different than finding a personal passion. Your calling can point you in a precise direction while your passion will fuel the efforts of your calling. There are two additional pieces to this puzzle some would title life. Where will you pursue your calling and just as important, how do you want to pursue your calling….

You can have a calling, be passionate about that calling but if you are working in a place that prevents you from practicing your calling in the most productive and modern manner, you will quickly find your yourself outdated and struggling. Your calling will devolve into a stress filled job that is the only way you know of for generating a paycheck.

In hindsight I can see how important it was to first have a calling and be passionate about that calling. It was just as important to have a place to safely practice my craft and pursue mastery while at the same time being discontent with the status quo and full of curiosity that fueled my search for a better how. If you are looking for a recipe for a lifetime of happiness, all you need beyond these 4 items is customers for what you are pursuing as your calling.

And as I read Mark’s comment yesterday afternoon, I realized that’s exactly where I am.  The calling and the passion are there, but the place and the search for a better how?  Two decades ago, before the great push for higher standards and more accountability, there was a tacit agreement in most factory-model schools: “Just close my door,” said Ms. X, “and let me teach, and don’t bother me because I’m busy.”  “Just keep them busy and quiet,” responded her Powers That Be, “and show up for the Special Training and the Scheduled Meeting, and make sure the Relevant Paperwork is in the file.”  Within that tacit agreement lay a great deal of freedom and opportunity … for innovation or for more of the Same Old Same Old.  As the Relevant Paperwork was complete and the busy, quiet students weren’t roaming the hallways, teachers and students could be as innovative and creative as they wanted.

But then came higher standards and more accountability … and in themselves, those aren’t bad things.  But if you operate from a hierarchical individual point of view about leadership and learning, the only logical pathway to higher standards is to command and control them into existence … and the only way to achieve accountability is to ramp up the inspection and testing.  I was intrigued to see an article from EdSurge about how and why Rocketship Education moved away from an experiment they’d tried this year … an experiment that seemed to produce positive results of various kinds.  The problem?  “The lack of a formal structure made it difficult for Rocketship to replicate and control quality,” especially with younger teachers who “rely on pre-determined schedules and procedures, with clearly defined expectations about their work, in order to focus on building basic teaching skills.”

In other words, the promising innovation didn’t fit the existing institutional structure.  If you’ve ever worked in a hierarchical structure, you know how important it is to preserve the structure.  It takes a great deal of work by Relevant Powers to make anything else as important as preserving the structure.

But I don’t have the will, the energy, or the stomach to be part of an organization where preserving the structure is more important than serving the customer.  And as factory-model schools, especially in These Parts, feel under siege from Greater Powers Yet, not to mention “those bad, lazy kids” and “those terrible parents” and all the people who “just don’t understand how hard it is,” preserving the structure grows ever more important.  Describing the relentless push toward standardization, a friend said to me, “They talk the talk about personalization and individualization and differentiation, but they don’t walk the walk.

And, honestly, if you operate from a hierarchical individual starting point, I’m not sure you can walk that walk.

So … where and how am I put my calling and passion to work?  Where and how will I find those customers who want and need the experience of building a joyful learning community and building meaningful things together?  I started to find some answers about where on my long, hot drive on Monday; there’s a string of four or five little towns that I love, and every one of them could benefit from a third place for young people to spend a few afternoons or early evenings each week.  There are plenty of empty storefronts just waiting to house such a thing … and endless opportunities to connect personal learning journeys, areas of interest, and things you want to learn about once the communities begin to form.

All of a sudden, there are lots of opportunities; a year ago, looking at essentially the same circumstances, I could see none.  I suppose that’s because, as my friend E said recently, “when the time is right, you just know.”

I wonder what else I just know … but don’t yet know that I know.  And I wonder what other new insights and discoveries await!

Published in: on July 16, 2014 at 1:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

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