Are We All The Wizard Now?

Reflections on Living (& Tweeting) with Authenticity

Dorothy meets the Wizard.

‘Dorothy pulled back the curtain to reveal the Wizard…

Who are you?

Well, I… I…I am the great and powerful… Wizard of Oz.

You are?

Uhhh… yes…

I don’t believe you!’

I still remember this scene from the Wizard of Oz, probably because my shock at the ‘man behind the myth’ was as great as Dorothy’s. I didn’t believe him either and the impact that had on me as a child endures. I can’t say I am any more impressed by the Wizard after seeing him in Wicked some 30 years later. He’s a cad! A bounder! A fake!

So why write about him?

Something happened last week which reminded me of the Wizard. I got ‘unfollowed’ by someone on Twitter. Now I know this is not extraordinary in itself and the connection seems bizarre, but bear with me. Here’s the story.

It began when someone followed me on Twitter… someone claiming to be ‘passionate about failure’. A speaker, it seemed. Lots of photos of his book, pithy quotes & tweets extolling the benefits of allowing children to fail in order to learn. This is not an unusual thing to hear in education circles at the moment and I have to confess, my biggest life lessons have come from my own failures and mistakes. I subscribe to the much quoted ‘Fail: first attempt in learning.’ I watched for a while, deciding whether to follow back. Then he tweeted something that piqued my interest. I wanted to clarify whether I understood what he was saying. I wanted to explore what he had said. So, I asked a question. He answered it but I still felt I wanted to understand him more, so I asked another.

He immediately unfollowed me… and then BLOCKED me!

I know! Little old me, demoted to the ranks of Twitter Troll!

I was so shocked, I checked and double checked and wondered how to tweet that I thought there was something quite valuable in what he was saying. I guess my FAIL for the day was being curious. His fail, despite having 4,193 followers, was that he had absolutely nothing to say. I felt like Dorothy pulling back the green curtain to see the man behind the myth.

Now, I am hoping that said ‘speaker, passionate about failure’ is no Wizard and that he really does have things to say and really does enjoy intelligent debate with colleagues… and perhaps I should have included a smiley face or winky face (good heavens) to indicate my benign intent…. however, that is not the message his block sent to me and sadly (for him) because of that I won’t be buying his book. I have no reason to believe his message.

The whole incident has got me thinking again about our authenticity, both in our everyday relationships and in the world of social media. The call to authenticity, to being real, is so important, especially for those of us engaging everyday with the wonderful world of schooling. Children are particularly adept at smelling a rat. They know who amongst us is real and I think we owe it to them to model that.

Another Twitter friend commented this week that she ‘hates fakers’, that there’s nothing worse than finding out that someone is not what they have presented themselves to be. I felt sad that she had been let down by someone and while ‘hate’ is not a word I would choose, I can say I understand the passion behind it and that this kind of thing disappoints me also. My hope is that I will always be willing to walk my talk and to engage in the deeper conversations about learning, conversations that go beyond 140 characters, beyond the megaphone of opinion, beyond self-promotion.

Beyond that hope, there’s another; that I can meet those with whom I disagree, those who challenge or question me, in a place of mutual respect and a heart to hear. I love listening to such people because what they say drives me to a deep place of contemplation. It forces me to evaluate my values, my beliefs, my prejudices. Such people are a rich part of my learning, a rich part of my growth and I am as thankful for them as those who encourage, inspire and affirm me. I choose not to block them… and I sometimes buy their books 😉

A Simmering NAPLAN Rage

I have no idea how this post will end. I am not even sure whether I should post it. I do know that a rage is simmering within me and it has to do with the week ahead.

It’s NAPLAN Week.

It says so on the front sign at school. It says so in the Sydney Morning Herald. It says so in The Australian, The Age, The Times and on Channel Seven! It says so. It says so in the supermarket aisles, where lurid red signs screech ‘Essential School Supplies’, appealing to my mother guilt, warning that my lack of purchase will consign my children to scrapheap of  educational failure.

It’s NAPLAN Week.

It says so in the school yard and in the coffee shops where different mums and dads compare “My School” to “Others” and declare hopes for this year’s performance compared to last; where some boast of the prep that’s been undertaken and others outline the study regimen in the lead up to this week.

This NAPLAN week.

It whispers to me on Twitter where stories are posted making generalisations about the misuse of data or worse still revealing the breathtaking inequity of a system that demands disabled children in ‘special schools’ sit the same test as, and be measured against those in ‘elite, selective schools’. I want to write to that school this week, this NAPLAN week. I want to write and say “You are amazing! You do, every day, what I could never do. You are the champions of education!”

But I want to write to you too, whoever you are. I want to write and implore you to reconsider the value we place on this week. Can we reconsider the value we give to high stakes testing when we say we will plan for and implement effective teaching and learning by introducing a series of practice NAPLAN tests? Can we reconsider the value we place on learning when we suspend it for weeks to prepare for tests? Can we reconsider the value we place on children when we speak of them relative to state or national averages?

I am sure my rage will subside as the week does. The tests will come and go. I’ll read more stories about vitamins to improve brain function during the tests and about stress toys which can be bought for those nervous ones amongst us. I will no doubt read more stories which pit systems of education against each other. But a question still nags. Can we please, as Australian educators find and use more meaningful data about student learning so that standardised test results are no longer publicly perceived as the sole indicators of school performance and of children’s intelligence?