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.

Islands of information and bridges of communication

When taking on any new endeavor (like implementing 1:1 devices, perhaps) it’s easy to set up islands of information. What’s more difficult is connecting bridges of communication.

Carving out a niche, working hard, and providing a valuable resource are all wonderful. What’s difficult is sharing what you’ve made so people will actually use the fruit of your labor.

If you can make something helpful, and explain its usefulness effectively, then you’re on to something.

2 things

Watching the news makes me certain of at least two things. First, teaching is as important as ever.

We have more information at our finger tips than we’ve ever had in history.

We can communicate more easily than ever before.

What young people need is a guide–a signal in all the noise. The way students learn may have changed since the 20th century (or even five years ago), but what they need is someone to help facilitate learning and point them in the right direction to find answers.

After all, we need answers right now. That’s the second thing I’m certain of when I watch the news.

Communication, the antidote

I’m close to (slowly) finishing Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. It’s a fun book because almost every page is packed with helpful information and ah-ha moments. I tend to rip through non-fiction books, but I’ve decided to take this one slowly. It’s worth it.

Catmull talks frequently about hidden problems–problems that the creative type doesn’t see because he or she is so close to the project. For example, it’s great to have a director so enthralled with his or her work that care is put into every frame of the film. Sometimes, however, a director can get too close. When this is the case, it’s important that people are bold enough to confront the director about such things as poor decisions or loss of perspective. If this doesn’t occur, it’s to the detriment of the movie.

The same thing goes for managers. Often, people who rise to management quickly cease receiving the same communication they heard beforehand. The dialogue dries up, and the inexperienced manager might believe it’s because everything is going swimmingly. This is when problems can occur.

In every area of life, communication is important. When the back-and-forth stops–for whatever reason–problems arise. This is why feedback should be given and sought by everyone.

On that note, I enjoy hearing the perspective of everyone who visits R&C. If you have any thoughts about the blog, please share!

On Writing Well

If you want to sharpen your nonfiction writing skills, look no further than On Writing Well by Willian Zinsser. This book provides the reader with invaluable information to build a piece with simple, clear, and concise words.

Tidy thinking is greatly encouraged by tidy writing. The best writers create linearly, building one idea upon another. The words are vibrant and useful, and ambiguity is banished for hacks to pick up*. Deliberately choosing meaningful words when writing crosses over to effective speaking. One of my hopes for writing everyday is to become better at speaking with lucidity.

Here are some helpful hints from On Writing Well off the top of my head:

  1. Use “however”  at the beginning of a sentence, not the end.

  2. *Don’t worry about ending a sentence with a preposition; especially if doing so makes the writing sound less stilted.

  3. Use humor (something I’m really trying to get better at wielding).

  4. Build and maintain a personae.

  5. Edit and trim. Then edit and trim some more.

Becoming a better nonfiction writer helps in many areas of life. With all the emails, texts, blogs, tweets, and memos that are ubiquitous in our personal and work lives, developing good communication skills has never been more important.