Leaving snow and cold weather, Houston seemed like a dream destination. We landed in a different climate, 70 degrees, slight overcast, and a lot of excitement to learn and grow. Last weekend we had the privilege of attending ASCD’s 70th annual conference in Houston and we weren’t disappointed, to say the least. From learning about disruptive innovation to debunking myths that are common in education today, each session offered valuable insight into our next steps as organizational leaders. We thought we might pay it forward with a few thoughts.
3 Big Ideas
1. American Public Education is NOT Failing. In fact, when international assessment data, such as TIMMS, PISA, and NAEP are disaggregated, analyzed, and compared to other countries appropriately—apples to apples—America is doing quite well. It appears we don’t have an education issue, but as many of us continue to argue, we have a poverty issue. For more on this, check out works by David Berliner and Yong Zhao.
2. Find Your Own Private Domain. Your private domain is a place where you can suspend judgment, quiet your own inner critic, and unleash your own true unfiltered thoughts. Author of The Rise, Sarah Lewis, discussed a strategic approach to surrendering control for the freedom to be innovative, the freedom to ask foolish questions without critique. For more information, check out Sarah Lewis’s The Rise.
3. Allow Thoughts and Ideas to Take Shape. Each idea, innovation, and challenge must be able to develop into its fullest form and mature to be uniquely understood. For great organization and maturation, enjoy the process and perseverance that written word requires. Great ideas are shared through writing—books, blogs, magazines. We met the leaders behind the scenes of Educational Leadership’s magazine and website, check out the in service blog. We were impressed with the simplicity of their suggestions yet the sophistication of the articles they publish for educational leaders.
3 Lessons Learned
1. One fascinating aspect of learning and growing at a conference is how existing thoughts and beliefs evolve based on new, different, and unique insights. This is a remarkable experience when someone helps you uncover a new way of thinking about a topic or idea that you already have knowledge and beliefs about. Opening those doors, creating a new avenue of thinking, is the challenge of teaching and the reward of learning.
2. Create a safe place to think, learn, and grow. Sarah Lewis discussed how not to suppress innovation, take risks, and how masters of their craft accept a few fundamental truths. Here are two:
a. One, masters are pursuing a craft not a career; they realize there is no end to their pursuit. The focus of our efforts should be on mastery, not mere success as an end to learning or accomplishment, which leads to the second point.
b. Two, they except good enough. This doesn’t imply satisfaction or completion; rather it accepts the process—the beauty and joy experienced while innovating and creating. This, she calls the “near win.” Mastery is recognizing that near wins can occur over and over. We can consistently and persistently strive for perfection without needing to be perfect.
3. Embrace the archer’s split vision. Clearly understand your target, but also be painfully aware of the elements that can take you off course. Be a “deliberate amateur” as Sarah Lewis puts it. Strive for perfection with the balance of an understanding that we can fail forward as we learn from each mistake we make.
3 Casual Observances
1. A short stint can be packed with insightful new ideas. Sara Lewis’s keynote was mind-blowing, reminiscent of speeches by Malcolm Gladwell. We are still discussing some of the points made in her presentation. Neither of us had heard of Sara or her book, The Rise, but needless to say, we learned a ton in a short period of time, and can’t wait to start the book.
2. There’s no danger in a stranger with a story. We talked to several professionals from various channels within education and enjoyed great conversations and incredible advice. Scott, an 84 years old former superintendent for 23 years shared his thoughts on professional longevity and staying fresh. We met by happenstance at the opening event. Tip: Listen to anyone willing to share insight.
3. Education is on fire. Public education is doing better than ever before, despite what you read in the paper, and educators from around the world are doing far more than ever before by challenging conventions and leading disruptive innovations. The themes of the conference were spot on for today’s leaders, and we left with a sense that greatness is among us.