Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who cheer for new friends and change-makers they have yet to meet. To those who attempt new things in front of experts unafraid of looking foolish. And then challenge those experts to make their creations even more ideal. To those who create karaoke lounges where none existed before. And the ones who dance alone to their own song and then run 5K through brambles together with others. For those who scoff at worksheets and embrace new realities. To those bold enough to stand in a room of high-achievers and exclaim here is my one good thing. And to those seeking change in the face of apathy and institutional inertia. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see distinguished educators. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
We’re coming onto the 25th anniversary of the ADE program, and they a whole video they create to introduce Apple Distinguished Educator’s to their roles and their community (that I wish I could show you). I thought the modified quote above though was a decent intro for you to gain an understanding of the community and how they interact. I bring this up because last week I attended the Apple Distinguished Educators (ADE) Americas Institute in Bethesda, Maryland where Apple employees and alumnus from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Columbia, and Brazil welcomed the new inductees of the ADE 2019 class.
For me is was a doubly engaging experience as I was attending my first ADE institute in a decade since my induction in 2009 (before the iPad-FYI) and I was encouraging a newly minted NYC alum, friend, and awesome teacher, Kerry McGarvey. While I had maintained connections with some of the wonderful people I met at my original institute like my roommate (and UDL guru), Luis Perez, who I’ve presented with several time since, I largely got disconnected from the community. There were many reasons for this that included technical issues, life issues, and professional responsibilities (i.e. year-round school), but I continued to make extensive use of Apple tools for accessibility and adventure in my classroom. It seemed time though to rebuild that connection and share what I had learned in my absence. So that is where the beginning of my new learning journey with Apple begins.
Key Lessons Learned
- Have gratitude for your community. Sometimes the only thing that can carry you through adversity, when it seems like everything inside of you is failing, is the people around you who believe in you when you don’t. Community can overcome adversity and relationships can help feed our determination.
- Broken dreams can become new opportunities. Rafael Chanin shared how one student’s soccer injury and financial struggles I’ve seen the same thing in my life, and it’s part of why I became a teacher.
- Sometimes giving up on what you think is essential frees you to pursue what is innovative. In Latin we say, ‘Per Aspera Ad Astr’ which means through hardship to the stars. See the story above for my example.
- Badges, we DO need some stinkin’ badges. Liz Meredith has created a system of professional development that teachers actually want to be involved in (or, at least, 98% of them. It involves assessing their needs, providing quality instruction, and digital badging. So who knew PD could be fun AND meaningful? (All the ADE’s, but that’s a different story.)
- Equity is our primary responsibility. I’ve shared about the challenges with equity here in New York City, but it is broad issue across many nations. There’s no one easy answer or solution, but that shouldn’t prevent us from fully addressing it.
- When you put students first, you win every time. This seems counterintuitive, but like in any successful relationship, the best pathway is one where each person, on a road paved with mutual respect and generosity, sees the needs of the other as paramount. When the students’ wins are our goal, we often find ourselves exceeding what we had hoped for too.
- Teaching is a story we tell with students in the lead. I’ve said this before but storytelling is one of the most powerful tools for personal and societal change. We begin telling students a story about ourselves, about how we see them, and about their place in the world from the moment we meet them. Are you telling the story you want to? Are you allowing them to tell their stories? Will technology help them tell it better?
- When society is slow to change, start with you students. Sometimes change must begin with the young because everyone else is too slow to change, especially on the big things when immediate actions is required.
- You should unleash students’ creative potential. Most students are celebrities (rock stars, athletes, YouTube sensations) in their own minds already. And while celebrity is not the goal, celebrating their creations should be.
- Let kids play in math. I hate that we live in an era where it’s become acceptable to say “I’m not good at math (or technology).” Or we allow, “I hate math.” Most people who say that confuse arithmetic for math (they’re not the same). Math can and should be fun whether with music or movies or manipulatives. If you want to change that consider checking out Why We Fail At Math.
- Everyone can be an artist/a creator. We make it okay to say, oh I’m not a designer, or an artist, or a creative person. Did you design that lesson? Did you create an opportunity for students to share their voices and their dreams? Maybe you’re not selling you “art” at a gallery, but it doesn’t make it any less valuable.
- Build something that wasn’t there before. There is power in seeing an empty space and from nothing bringing forth a wonderful creation…something new. Whether it’s an app or a model, it’s almost divine.
- Discovery and exploration are some of the best ways to learn. That can be done through 3D printing or digging in the soil, but whatever the method we must allow room for unexpected insights that come from hands-on learning.
- Pause, reflect, and envision the future. We can’t know what the future holds with any certainty, but not thinking about it will lead us to certain failure.
- There are 4 keys to effectively growing as a teacher and a person. 1. It starts with giving yourself time. 2. Don’t be your own stumbling block with self-doubt or inaction. 3. Keep your plans brilliantly simple. The less complexity you add, the more chance you have for success. 4. Don’t stop looking for new ideas. We also have room to grow.
- Move from your spot. Yes, this can be defined as getting away from standing in front of your class, but it is also about being willing to get out of your comfort zone which, more often, can function as a cage.
- Everyone should create. In a world of constant consumption, the only thing that will help our students succeed on the 7 Cs of Future Learning is to become creators. We can do that by embracing student passions.
- Beware of imposter syndrome, but don’t be stopped by it. It’s easy to think that you don’t have what it takes to succeed or that you’ve been asked to share about life or learning when you feel you have nothing in order yourself. Who am I? Why does anyone care what I have to say? Maybe 88% of the time they don’t. But maybe in that other 12% I can do some real good.
- Preparation is key to surviving the rigor of daily travails. This is true of wearing the right shoes to run farther than you’re accustomed to or whether you’re trying to move towards effective and lasting changes in your classroom. It doesn’t mean you won’t encounter something unexpected (bears!), but you’ll be more equipped to handle it if you’ve prepared for other contingencies.
- Good videos and good living share some key elements. You need to be willing to take chances and allow for some mystery without everything always planned completely (that doesn’t mean no plan). And sometimes the best way to get out of a rut is to look for a new angle.
CHALLENGING The Status Quo
Not everything in life, education, and Apple function as they should. Any good thing though that is worth our time and energy should be able to hold up to critique. We are not drinkers of the Kool-Aid but challengers of the status quo, right?
- We need to be willing to ask big difficult question. Why is it we do teaching the way we do? Why do we give grades? Why do teachers go by last names? Why don’t we go on field trips every day? Maybe there are some good answers, but we must be willing to ask the questions.
- Personal branding isn’t my brand. One of Apple’s great successes is a marketing themselves a company that is unique and caters to consumers who want to think of themselves as unique. That’s obviously worked pretty well for them. I am not Apple or Del Monte. I am not a brand, and I try very hard not roll my eyes when I hear people speak of personal branding to educators. Educators (unlike EdTech companies) are not selling a product. We are (should be) seeking to improve the education and lives of children or engaging as leaders in helping other teachers to do that. I’m not judging educators that do otherwise, but seeking personal fame and massive profit and being a teacher seem incongruous to me. I had other jobs before I sought education where I did that. I get that presenting yourself in the proper light in an interview or a presentation (or a blog, oops!) will make your message more powerful and reach more eyes and ears. And in so doing you may more effectively bring about positive systemic change. That’s great, but if the goal is your esteem rather than the ideas, I have little time or patience for it.
- Apple accessibility is amazing…to a point. The accessibility of Apple devices have long dwarfed their competitors who made little effort in that arena for 10+ years, but that gap has very much narrowed. That’s not because of Apple but because, gladly other companies see it as a priority too. There are some things others do better though. If we want live captions or captions or translations at the bottom of Keynote presentation, Apple is not currently the answer. Also apple accessibility is generally device specific which makes it more uniform and reliable, but there is accessibility in allowing people to use your tools on the device that best suits their needs.
- Apple collaboration needs a lot of work. So have you used that new iWork collaboration feature? Did iWork work well? Yeah, did you go to some Dropbox method instead or turn to a more collaborative Google Doc even if it didn’t have all the features you wanted? I get it. On their own iWork makes amazing and gorgeous stuff, but it doesn’t yet make it easy enough to play with others without taking a major hit in feature set.
- Apple teacher training should be better. Apple recently built from scratch their whole Apple Teacher site to train and support educators using Apple tools. And it provides a wonderfully simple and accessible entry point for new and newly learning educators along with lessons and resources. That is commendable. But I spoke with someone responsible for it (her name withheld for her sanity) and offered some suggestions, because I want to see it be its best. 1. There should be levels of certification (2 or 3?), not for the sake of elitism but so advanced users have a means to continue growing. 2. The advanced trainings could require submitting actual resources like a movie. 3. The ADE community has a worthwhile social component, but it’s very selective. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way for Apple teachers all over to connect? 4. Wouldn’t training beyond Apple products be useful too on topics like project-based learning or a flipped classroom? I think so.
So Apple describes ADEs as trusted advisors, passionate advocates, authentic authors, and global ambassadors. I’m trying to measure myself against those wonderful ideals. I try to be trustworthy and offer advice. I suppose whether I’m effective at that depends on who you ask. I do advocate passionately for those matters I find most important like learning that is meaningful, motivating, and made for all. I write stuff. You be the judge of how authentic this is, but it’s my voice and I rebuff authors from companies that want to promote stuff here because I regard my honest and sometimes critical voice very highly. And global ambassador…well, I wish I got to travel more, but I was made to feel pretty good recently when I was asked if some of my resources for teachers could be translated to languages I don’t speak in countries I’ve never visited. In the end though I often fall short of these ideals which may have kept me away from the ADE community for a while, but I know recognize that it isn’t a community of super successful and exceptional educators (though it is), but it is more a community of support to help you, faltering or not, be as exceptional as you can be. And for that I’m grateful to be a part of it.