Innovators Unite: Closing Day at #SXSWEDU

Laura with two PBS costumed characters

When we go to conferences like this one, we load up on ideas that are going to get us to progress. We have our little tote bag – we’re going to fill it up with ideas. We hear about a new strategy…a new tech tool…we hear about all these great programs other people are doing… by the time we’re done, we are FIRED UP, we are PUMPED, we are ready to go to progress.
And then we get back to our schools…”

– Jennifer Gonzalez in her closing keynote

I’m writing this post from San Diego. Although I am glad to be home with my family and sleeping in my comfy bed, I am sad to have left #SXSWEDU.

Innovation is hard work, especially within an established institution like K-12 schooling. It can be isolating to realize that not everyone sees or believes in your vision for change.

That’s why I love SXSWEDU so much. It’s like finding the holy grail of like-minded educators. Thousands of them! It feeds my soul, refills my bucket, and gives me hope and inspiration moving forward.

So it was perfect that the final day’s keynote, by Cult of Pedagogy founder Jennifer Gonzalez, focused on the Aerodynamics of Exceptional Schools. Jennifer reminded the audience that our excitement and ideas and leaving a conference like SXSWEDU isn’t always met with open arms from eager colleagues. In fact, often it can be met with resistance or hostility. Therefore, how change is introduced is just as, if not more, important than the change itself.

Her tips were on point, and I’d encourage you to watch the entire presentation on your own. But in the meantime, here’s the Reader’s Digest version of her tips:

1. Take a breath – ask yourself – what problems does this solve? What are obstacles? Do I have proof? Can I find a guide? What is my long-term vision?
2. Find allies – (as illustrated with the infamous Dancing Guy video) – When you have a group, it helps you to clarify your vision, it helps you to deal with negativity, and it also makes your crazy ideas seem a little less crazy to other people
3. Set precise goals – different from dreams. “DO” Genius Hour is a dream. Goal is dates, specifics, etc. Backwards map the plan to reach the goal.
4. Expect bumps – build in buffer time. Ask “what can we learn?” Celebrate small successes. Come at me, bro – attitude
5. Invite – too much telling, and not enough asking. Why not a learning menu for adults like we provide to students?
6. Validate – not same as agreeing. Recognize, affirm the feelings or perspective of another person. Ignoring pushback doesn’t make it go away. 
7. Be transparent – especially about failures. Makes you more approachable, more accountable, easier to follow – blog, staff meetings, newsletter, bulletin board, video, podcast
8. Praise – Seek out the positive in those around you, praise them for it, and include their skills in your process

The final tip was to dig deep. She related the story of a Crossfit participant who always pushes himself further. He isn’t afraid to grunt, to sweat, to go all in when he’s tackling a tough challenge. She encouraged us all to be that guy.

This talk really resonated with me. I’ll be honest, I feel like the “set precise goals” is a weakness of mine. I like to dream big and build big. Details aren’t always my thing. I want to create the vision and set it loose on others to carry forward.

But dreams are weird things… think back to the last time you had a really vivid dream. You can picture it like it is still happening. And yet, when you try to explain the dream to a friend, they look at you like you’re crazy. You realize that you forgot part of the narrative, or you can ‘t quite explain the right shade of blue on the 3-headed monster chasing you through the candy store because you stole his favorite Hello Kitty band-aid box.

When goals stay in dream mode, people have a hard time being part of the narrative. They need to see it all laid out so they can find their part, read their lines, rehearse their scenes. Therefore, I need to (and will) be better at laying out all the components.

Thank you Jennifer for a fabulous end to the conference, and thank you SXSWEDU for filling my tote bag with ideas. Can’t wait for 2020!

You can read my #SXSWEDU musings by catching up on Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 or learn a ton by following the hashtag on Twitter.

2 Comments on “Innovators Unite: Closing Day at #SXSWEDU

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