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?

The Letter

The LetterLetters2

I knew that losing a parent would be painful. Really, I had no idea. I’d not yet lived in that eternal minute when worry becomes reality and the truth of helplessness sets in. My thoughts were an endless news stream, broadcast across my brain…

‘I can’t change this. I can’t turn the clock back 5 minutes and make you still alive.’

I never knew tears like these; that there could be so many and that they would come so unceasingly, wave after wave after wave. A constant leaking. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but incessant.

I kept the bright red necklace I wore, and broke that night. Its partner, a beautiful bracelet, lies in my desk drawer. Occasionally the flash or red grabs my attention as I reach for the stapler or a pen and I just stare at it. Maybe I am punishing it by leaving it unworn. Punishing it for bearing witness to my pain and for daring to be red. I saw it today and it reminded me again. The first in a string of little things that brought me again to this valley of grief which is far deeper and longer than I imagined.

I don’t know what it was about the television that made me cry… but it did. And then I began to read ‘Gilead’… ‘In 1956, towards the end of Reverend John Ames’ life, he begins a letter to his young son…’

A letter

Suddenly I am back at the table organising the funeral. My brothers have slipped into sentimentality and for reasons I fail to fathom, they want to talk about her cooking… mince and spaghetti… in the eulogy… I am speechless. I am floating above the scene, detached and wondering how the world continues to turn. I write the only words I have on sad scraps of paper. My older sister grabs her box of memories and pulls out a letter

A letter

She reads and I find I am insanely jealous. Not of her but of what she is reading. My mother’s words, free and so well expressed, not trapped like her body on a slab in the funeral director’s fridge. I want her back but I want a letter more. God knows this.

I put the book down having suddenly felt the urge to write again after so many years. I thought to write letters to my own children but certain I wasn’t nearing death myself, I thought this a bit morose.

I remembered the poem I wrote while my brothers were reminiscing over the meatballs;

…I blew a Father Christmas

And watched the spindles

Float away on an upward breeze…

Having forgotten where I put it, I thought to write it again. Maybe it would be better this time.

I foraged through the dresser beside my bed looking for a book to write in. There were several to choose from – prayer journals, half begun poetry anthologies – but I chose this one. It surprised me because I usually wrote final works in here. Was I audacious enough to write as I hadn’t before, just letting it come, allowing a draft in an otherwise ‘perfect’ collection? Overconfident? Imprudent? Perhaps.

I looked through the journal and read words I’d penned more than 20 years ago. Immature, imperfect rhymes, confessions of love… and hate… and one really good one about daring to fall in love with the man I would later marry.

And then in the middle of these musings I found it.

A postcard.

No dates but clearly in her hand… ‘Darling Melanie…’

Wrapped around it was a birthday card she had given me when I was seven, lamenting the fact that I was sick and hoping I would enjoy my presents. Also, a Christmas card. Again, ‘Darling Melanie…”

Her words were free again, still so well expressed and still carried by a lilting laugh and heavy with her love.

I held the words and turned them over – rubbed them knowing all along no genie would spring forth. It was just nice to touch something she had touched and to see her handwriting again. I hope when I die my own children keep these cards. I just hope they do.

Delighted To Meet You: My First TeachMeet Experience

TeachMeetDelighted to Meet You!

Friday was a shocker. One of those days when I got nothing, of everything I had planned to do that day, done! I was tired. I was grumpy… and I had committed to going to my first ever TeachMeet. Moreover, in one of those moments when my brain and mouth operate independently of each other, I had said I would present. (I know! What was I thinking?) After dropping my iPad in the carpark, smacking the lippy on in the rear view mirror and doing my best creative driving to get to the University of Canberra by 5pm, I arrived at the aptly, although in this moment ironically named Inspire Centre not really knowing what to expect.

Name badge slapped on, convenor discovered and seat found, I quietly prayed for divine intervention with the dropped iPad on which my presentation, made with Explain Everything, flicked in and out of reality. And my mind raced… “You are about to be discovered… exposed! You’re here to present and you’ve got nothin’ babe!” I thought of a tap routine to create a distraction, perhaps a fainting spell or an urgent phone call which required my immediate presence on the other side of Canberra. (These are the panicked inner thoughts of the introvert who has trained herself to be social). To my enormous relief, I learned I was presenting last.

What unfolded next surprised and delighted me. A young chaplain from one of the local colleges spoke first, in rap, about the importance of voice and relationship in teaching. We then heard from a teacher using Schoology to develop meaningful learning connections with his students. We heard about the ways Minecraft, Google Docs, Twitter and learning spaces are being used in innovative ways in ACT schools to engage students and to create powerful learning experiences. I found myself in a room of like-minded teachers who clearly love their jobs, love teaching and love kids. They were so affirming of each other and so appreciative of the sharing that when I finally got up to present I was no longer worried. I just shared my experiences of getting out of the way of my students’ learning (without the pictures on my little slide show but if you click on the link, you’ll see them). They even (sometimes) laughed at my jokes. We chatted afterwards and I got to meet some of my Twitter colleagues face to face, which was a particular joy.

This is what I learned.

  1. There are great teachers in schools
  2. Great teachers love learning and love teaching
  3. Great teachers are doing great things in schools
  4. Great teachers affirm and encourage each other
  5. Great teachers make the effort to meet each other

Can I encourage you that if you are yet to take part in a TeachMeet in your city, state or territory, you should. Even more, can I encourage you to find your voice and to present? The thing you think might be really naff might actually be what someone needs to hear. It is a fabulous era in which to be teaching and the more we seek each other out, the more we learn from each other and the more we share, the more exciting the learning in our schools will be.

We teach who we are – Parker Palmer