Be like Jon Stewart

As educational technology continues its evolution across the world, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: Building people’s capacity is an important–maybe the most important–professional task.

For too long the field of education has been a lonely place in which to work. Classrooms have traditionally been islands, and districts rarely partner with neighboring districts. Fortunately, the tides have begun to turn regarding this traditional lack of communication and support. I’ve seen more teacher to teacher and district to district collaboration this year than I have in the last ten years. Part of this is because technology makes communication easier (ex: Google Hangouts, Skype, LMSs, etc.). A potentially bigger reason is that the only way to learn all the new technology being developed is to band together and use collective expertise to thrive.

This is why building the capacity of others is so important. We’ve always lived in a world where people develop certain skills, and those skills benefited the whole community. Farmer, blacksmith, merchant, cobbler, seamstress, doctor… individual skills have always been valuable for the good of the whole.

Today you need a lot of skills in order to bring value. A teacher needs to understand not just his or her subject area, instructional practices, and curriculum, but also must possess a myriad of tech skills. This also goes for administrators. That’s why it’s so important to focus on making others better at what they do. Too often we’re focused on how “I” can get better, and we forget about ensuring the advancement of those around us. An educational community in which everyone is helping others (not just students) will reap better results.

Enter Jon Stewart–current host of The Daily Show. Stewart is a talented individual when it comes to comedy, but he’s also been adept at nurturing the talent in others. Stephen Colbert. Steve Carell. Ed Helms. John Oliver. Noah Trevor. All of these people have honed their crafts at The Daily Show. When Stewart took a hiatus from the show to direct a film, he allowed John Oliver to take the helm, which eventually led to a gig for Oliver at HBO. Many stars wouldn’t have given Oliver this opportunity–or they would have done it begrudgingly. Stewart saw it as a win-win situation: Oliver gets some exposure, and I get to make my movie.

Stewart didn’t care that the audience would laugh at Oliver instead of him, or even–heaven forbid–like Oliver better. As Stewart did before for other comedians, he wanted to help build Oliver’s capacity so he could leave The Daily Show and continue a thriving career elsewhere.

We can learn so much from this mentality. Unfortunately, many people hold their cards close to the vest. They provide little information, keep communication vague, and compartmentalize others within job titles. This is bureaucracy, and unfortunately education sometimes fits this mold. In the cases where it doesn’t–where teachers and administrators actively pursue the advancement of others’ knowledge–the transformation is inspiring. Students deserve adults in their lives who have everyone’s best intentions at heart.

Be like Jon.

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