Yesterday I was catching up on my Google Reader and ran across this gem from Seth Godin called, How Big is Your Red Zone? In the post he shares three graphs (I have created my own with a similar feel below). The first graph shows how our joy grows over time as we learn how to do something new. At first our joy over learning it may not be huge, it is sometimes difficult and frustrating to learn something new. But, over time as we get better at the task, our joy in interacting with it grows. There may be some dips of boredom with our newly acquired learning but over all the trend is upward.
The second graph shows the hassle of the same activity. At first the hassle is large because as I mentioned before, it can be difficult and frustrating to learn something new. Eventually overtime the hassle is less as our expertise and experience with the learning grows.
The last graph shows the two overlaid. There is a gap between the initial hassle and the initial joy of the learning. Seth’s contention is “that the only reason we ever get through that gap is that someone is on the other side (the little green circle) is rooting us on, or telling stories of how great it is on the other side.”
This had me thinking about student learning, professional development learning, and the value of a personal learning network (PLN).
First student learning. As teachers, it is easy to forget the frustration and discouragement that comes from learning something new. We teach the same material year after year, in nearly the same way. After the first few years we can start to take for granted the background information that students have and just try to dive into the new learning. This is a mistake. It causes the hassle graph to rise quickly and the joy of learning drops substantially. We need to remember to meet our students where they are at and be that green dot that is rooting them on and encouraging them to keep going so that they enter that place where learning is a joy. I think one of the major problems in schools today, is that we have made the green dot a grade or diploma. The school system seems to be under the misguided assumption that if they offer a grade or diploma (as the green dot) that students will hold on to that and work to get through the hassle to the joy. Unfortunately that green dot just doesn’t do it for most kids. The promise of a grade on the other side diminishes the joy of learning and makes the journey to the little bit of joy a big hassle. So, how can we transform our classrooms into places where students know that when they work through the hassle they will reach that ultimate joy? We can be their green dot, we can encourage their peers to be the green dot. We can work together and encourage each other in the learning process. We can hold out our hand and help them along until the hassle drops and the joy of learning remains. We can offer our students learning opportunities that provide a lot of joy and discovery so that the hassle doesn’t really seem like so much of a hassle.
Professional development can be an enormous source of frustration for teachers. This has been especially true in technology training sessions. Teachers enter the training wary of having to learn one more thing and worrying about how to add it into their already packed curriculum. They can enter with an attitude of hassle so before a word has been uttered, their hassle graph is already high. The joy that might be gained from the learning is overshadowed by worries of meeting AYP, passing state tests, and thinking about a student who came to school with cigarette burns down their arm. Trainers make the mistake in professional development of overselling. They try too hard to make it all look like joy that the real joy of the learning is lost in a sea of wariness. Teachers have been sold the “joy” before. It looked great in the last training but when it was attempted in the classroom it was met with blocked websites, slow Internet connections, and unruly students. How could professional development look different? What if it was built into the school day instead of an extra crammed in after school? What if teachers were really given time to learn the new tool or concept? What if teachers were given time to work together with colleagues and encourage each other? What if the roadblocks were removed when they got back to the classroom so they could actually use it? I think the biggest missing piece in most professional development scenarios is the green dot who urges teachers on in their learning. Everyone needs someone to rely on for help and support. Everyone needs someone to remind us of the joy that is just on the other side of the hassle. Change your professional development model to include those things and PD will suddenly be a true learning experience.
I have mentioned this many, many times before, but it bears repeating: my personal learning network consistently makes my learning a joy. My PLN (mostly on Twitter) constantly acts like my green dot. They cheer me on, encourage me, and help me when I don’t understand. Whether your PLN is digital, face to face, or a mixture, invite them to be your green dot. Let them excite you about learning and remind you of what a joy learning something new is. Don’t forget to be the green dot for others, you may already be “in” on the learning, but don’t overlook those who need encouragement to get there. A PLN is all about giving and receiving!
Can you be the green dot?