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Leaving Mighty Marks on the World

When we redesign our writing workshops in to order to invite the dynamic use of far more diverse tools, we honor the way that today’s writers often need to generate, develop, and test new ideas. We honor our noblest purposes for teaching writing as well: We didn’t become teachers to help students become proficient. We became teachers to help our students become influential. We became teachers to help them leave a mighty mark on this world.

On Saturday evening, I ran into a former student of mine at our local airport, where she was advocating for social justice. I smiled at her as we were introduced, that familiar wave of recognition quietly washing over me.

“I think she may have been one of my students,” I told the friend who introduced us.

And sure enough, she was. It’s been many years since she sat in my eighth grade English classroom. I was a very different teacher then I imagine, and she’s had dozens of others who have inspired and taught her so much more since.

Still: It meant something to see her there, using her words to try to make some kind of difference, and I sent her a note the next day to let her know how much I appreciated this.

Moments like these remind me of why I’m a teacher.

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They remind me of something else, too: We never know what our students will do with what they learn. We never fully know what they can do with it, either.

We live in a world that is constantly changing.

It needs us to think creatively about the contributions we will make.

I never taught my students how to advocate for social justice when I was in the classroom. We were too busy writing essays about The Outsiders and research papers about the Holocaust then. I was too busy trying to do things “right.”

I always hoped that my lessons would help my students use their words in many different contexts, but I never taught them how to accomplish this way back then. I never taught them how to be creative. They never had the opportunity to influence real audiences.

This seems so important now.

What would it look like if schools managed for creativity as much as they manage for incremental improvement?

What would it look like if the writing that students did inside of schools consistently influenced audiences outside of it?

Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo, co-authors of Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers challenge their readers to distinguish the pursuit of incremental improvement from that of creativity. This is a crucial consideration for those striving to build the world’s most innovative organizations. They suggest that managing for incremental improvement motivates the use of reliable, repeatable, and consistent processes that generate predictable results, while managing for creativity emboldens those we lead to create very differently, and what’s produced is often remarkable. Distinctive. Compelling. 

Creative thinking produces work that is far, far more than proficient.

It produces learning that serves more than grades or teachers, too.

Real learning is knowledge work. It’s honest and humbling and hard. It’s really creative, and often, really frustrating.

I know this from experience.

You see, as a consultant, people often expect me to be an expert. I know that entertaining that expectation is dangerous and yet, I’m often pressured to climb that pedestal by overwhelmed teachers who expect me to deliver solutions. When they realize that I don’t have any, some are disappointed.

If you’ve come here looking for the same, you might be disappointed, too.

The fact is that the ideas that I share emerge from my own work in my own little world. I’m happy to give them away, but I’m happier when the teachers I support replicate the processes I use to make their own discoveries.

Their students are different from mine, after all.

Yours are too, and the education world really needs your contribution right now.

You are the expert you’re looking for.  So if what I do inspires you, I’ll hope that you’ll start sharing too.

My next few posts will make my professional learning and writing processes as transparent as possible, so you can replicate them, if you wish. And this summer, a bunch of western New York area teachers plan to start meeting informally to explore how we can start sharing our learning and the products of it with others. Some want to start blogging. Others are writing articles or books. Some are planning to present at conferences. You’re welcome to join us, if you live nearby. I’m planning to create a space for faraway friends to join us, too. There won’t be any cost to participate. We all need good company right now. More information will be coming soon.

Wanna stay in the loop? Drop your contact information into the subscription box on my home page, and you’ll receive all of my upcoming posts.

I hope you’ll join us.

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