As we head into the national holiday of thanks, I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on reasons educators have, but might overlook, to be thankful…
It’s easy to get sidetracked, frustrated, or beleaguered into forgetting about the wins or the pros, but it’s important to consider both sides of the coin for the most accurate lens, isn’t it?
My dad (for whom I am also quite thankful) once answered my question of his biggest life lessons with something that has stuck with me. If you read my stuff, you know he’s a minister, organizational consultant, and outstanding communicator. He is also someone I admire a great deal. So when he told me this lesson, it resonated.
He told me of a mentor, who was imparting wisdom. The mentor knew my dad’s strengths and watched as audiences were inspired and moved by his talks. The mentor knew that my dad had meaningfully interacted with thousands of people because of his talents and skills. Yet the mentor also knew another truth that could derail a life track that had so much promise. It only took a few sentences, but here is the gist of it.
“Your preaching is amazing, but have you noticed that you come at every sermon from the perspective that we’re losing? People don’t want to lose and they won’t stay inspired by a losing message. People want to win…and we are winning.”
It was profound for my dad who took it in, internalized it, and changed. He transformed his messages to not only inspire and “wow” through narrative or reason, but also to help people leverage expectancy value theory (a persuasive technique by which a sender helps a receiver believe they can do X). It’s sometimes called the, “Win one for the Gipper” theory.
I was talking through my own journey with my family this past week. We were taking a long needed holiday, revisiting my daughter’s favorite place on earth – Disney. But as I started looking back at the year, including as much blogging and speaking as I’ve done in a long time, it occurred to me that I may not be coming at things from the perspective that we can win, nor that we are winning.
I don’t think it’s hard to do. I chose a profession where I would be surrounded by criticism and correction. I do something that many people (most people?) believe they can do without much need for training or work. I placed myself into as bureaucratic a system as exists, with politics often trumping reason, with personal agendas hurting others, and even seeing silos take precedence over the end goal of actual learning. So trying to find positivity throughout all of that can seem…let’s just say it can be hard to find thanksgiving.
But we should. It’s there. While I continually beat the drum of a system mired in fallacious, because-we’ve-always-done-it-this-way thinking, there are pockets…more pockets than there were a decade ago, of progressive, forward-facing, genuine learning throughout the halls of academia. Even though I still have arguments with professors touting the worst possible, n-of-1, dug in like a tick methodologies, I have seen more gamefulness, more constructivism, more do-first learning than ever before.
I did everything in my power to change an institution’s entire instructional design workflow during the past decade and, despite walls of laziness, political backstabbing and Greek-tragedy like subterfuge, in the end I witnessed transformation. An entire team began working together to promote learning, the likes of which online learners had never seen before.
At the same time, in the past year, I have had remarkable conversations with Presidents, Provosts, Chief Innovation Officers, technologists, directors of faculty enrichment, and more. Those conversations have been tremendously hope-filled. People are moving forward. No longer needing to be convinced of the problems, more people than ever are open to talking about (tough) solutions that will actually produce results. My team and I have been given the honor and privilege of executive coaching, institutional consulting, and team development, all of which will begin to transform at scale.
And along the way, I have seen and even worked with some amazing people, doing amazing things. I have cheered from the sidelines as @DrEmmaZone and her new colleagues at the Faculty Guild spread the news of how to teach better. I worked on the #CoursewareInContext project with powerful thought leaders like Cristi Ford from UMUC, Kelvin Bentley (@blacktimelord) from UWF, @PennyMoved from Penn State, Joseph Moreau with the California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative at CCC, and more. I continue to marvel at old friends who seem to be resurgent every year in their efforts to help students succeed. From TCU’s @RomanaHughes to Rich Novack at Rutgers to all of my friends at the @ICCOC, I am surrounded by those that inspire me. I am thankful for each and every one of them.
So, as we head into a few days of rest and reconnecting with family and friends, perhaps take a moment to remember that we have even more than that to be thankful for. There are others who are fighting the good fight. And while we may not have won the war (yet), there are a lot more battles being won every day, at various colleges and universities across the country. We are winning. Let’s be thankful for that too.
Good luck and good learning.