Author: Clarissa Bezerra

EFL teacher, mom, Anthropology & Culture enthusiast, lifelong learner committed to personal and professional development.

Compliance and the Adjacent Possible #IMBC

In the intro to the Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros writes:

“The structure and type of learning that happens in many schools does not fulfill the needs of the twenty-first-century marketplace. When students graduate, many of them are good at one thing: school. They have mastered rubrics, they know how to ace tests, and they have figured out how to wor with specific parameters. But the world is not a series of rubrics! To succeed, they will need to know how to think for themselves and adapt to constantly changing situations. And although we say we want kids to think for themselves, what we teach them is compliance.”

I think this statement clearly shows the great divide that has opened up between the learning experiences that happen in school (formal educational setting) and the learning experiences that we can engage in if we are self-directed and motivated. Information and knowledge are available on our networks, and the internet has blown up the “learning box.” There is no box, after all. Go find a video tutorial on YouTube, enroll in a MOOC for free, post a question on your Twitter feed and get answers from people who are experts in many fields of knowledge, go to a Maker Space and take a carpentry workshop, you name it. Learn how to navigate the networks of knowledge and people, and in the process you lapidate your lifelong learning skills.

Informal learning prompts the kind of behaviors and actions that help shape lifelong learner mindsets. It pushes you to acquire skills that you will need to solve problems, to pose new questions, to investigate and be able to collaborate to finding or building solutions to complex problems. Schooling or traditional, formal learning experiences prompts compliance. It needs to standardize, control and measure. I don’t mean to say that formal learning experiences are fundamentally bad in all its aspects. There is a lot of value in direct instruction or in a good lecture from a competent teacher or expert. But that’s not all there is to it, to learning. There are a million other ways we can “measure” learning that do not involve a room full of people sitting in rows and silently taking a test which will amount to a numerical score.

How might we approximate the traditional, formal learning experiences to the informal learning experiences? How might we strike a balance there? What does that blend look like in the classrom? What does it do to the traditional school roles that presuppose authority, power and hierarchy?

George cites Steven Johnson on the concept of the “adjacent possible.” I find it very powerful because it means that the collective journey to exploring possible answers to the questions above within one’s community is where the transformation lies – it IS the transformation. Steven Johnson states (as cited by George Couros):

“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a rom with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven’t visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.”

There is no recipe for innovation in education. What there should be is a predisposition to listening rather than telling, to working together rather than alone. To being vulnerable and saying “hey, I don’t know where this road will take us but I’m open to finding that out together, as a community, and with a focus on our learners.”

For our book club folks, George Couros poses this question for the introduction read:

Why do you believe that schools need to change, and what are the opportunities that lay in front of us?

Change

I have been thinking a lot about change lately. I look at how my life has changed over the last twelve months and I’m in awe. Those closest to me know about my latest struggle, one which I have been overcoming thanks to luck, a great deal of self care and, well, change. But this change that I am talking about here is of a more primal nature. It has been happening in many inner dimensions and it has now come to a stage where it’s impacting my outer life – how I show up in the world. I want to reflect on that here because it means a lot to me. It means I am still here and I am pursuing the idea of a metaphor for learning, which I suspect is strangely connected to another metaphor – rhizomatic learning. And that’s where it all began. It’s where change began.

Learning is changing. Depending on the nature of the learning, the deeper the change. We have all heard of (or lived through) life-changing experiences, experiences in which you learn something so impactful that it alters who you are, how you show up for others. It’s a natural, evolutionary process; we are always learning, and we are always changing. To learn is to change. My Rhizo14 experience changed me, it greatly contributed to who I am today, how I view education and learning. Why? And how was it that it managed to do that? First, I had choice. In fact, I had all the choice I wanted, to participate whichever way I wanted. To engage with people the way I wanted, to share and show my reflections the way I wanted. To approach the prompts from the perspectives that made sense to me, and to me only. But also the very choice to keep engaging was a powerful drive. I kept choosing to keep engaged. So choice is the initiator and the driver of change.

My engagement came from collaborating and communicating with others. It was born of the connections, and it gave birth to connections with other people. We celebrated each other in our connections. We were curious about each other’s change process, the words, the artifacts, the play. Now it needs to be said that I was a newbie to the whole digitally connected educator ethos. My Rhizo14 fellows were already swimming in that pool with lots of confidence, but that was not a hindrance, that didn’t prevent me from feeling connected to them. I felt appreciated. The virtual company of my ideas was being appreciated. Celebration. It changes you.

So I suspect there are certain behaviors, certain actions that promote change when an educator purposefully engages. Change is driven by constant choice. Change happens in collaboration with each other (create together). Change happens in communication with each other. Connection equals collaboration + communication. And change happens in celebration of each other. I will be pursuing this idea, the articulation of these 6 C’s of BECOMING a 21st Century Educator.

Claim your own growth

Photo: Grow by David Joyce on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I learn a lot in conversation with others. I learn so much blogging. There are some insightful people who take their time to read me and respond to what I say. This post was initiated in one such exchange with my friend Scott Johnson. Reminiscing on my learning a few months ago when attending the Edtech Team Brazil GAFE Summit, I poured out what resonated with me regarding the use of portfolios and how they fascinate me. Scott chimed in with the following words:

Clarissa, I’m interested in the portfolio idea as a form of claiming our efforts as authentically won plus as a tool of being a conscious learner. Sometimes we need to remind others that we are serious about our growth.

There’s so much packed in those two sentences.

Life is not easy, and professional development is most definitely an effortful endeavor. It requires commitment, a vision, and a purpose. We learn so much on the way but so many of us end up not keeping track of our development by engaging in some kind of self-reflection. To me that’s the true purpose of a portfolio. It’s a way to track your progress, to take stock of what you’ve learned. But it is only when we engage in reflection, when we actually examine the curves and the paths we chose to take along the way that we are able to attain a more concrete sense of achievement, of development. It is your reflecting on your own development that makes you aware of your own learning. And I guess that openly engaging in that reflection and declaring yourself to the world impacts your self-image and your self-worth more deeply than we might perceive if we go about our lives in auto pilot, just reacting to whatever experiences happen to us along the way. Being aware of your own achievements makes you care about achieving anything to begin with.

It is all about reminding yourself and the world that you are serious about your own growth. That you care. And that you purposefully work for it.

This blog is my portfolio. Here I have shared so many reflections on what has happened to me along my way of professional and in so many levels my personal development. This is my way of claiming my little bit of space in the world. As my friend Scott put it:

Clarissa, in art class we did portfolios to demonstrate that we had some claim to a place in the world. Not just dreamy and lost in ourselves but tangible actors with presence. This was very hard for some I think they had never been asked for THEIR thoughts and as students we were used to only being asked for what others thought.

Tangible actors with presence. Engaging in self-reflection and declaring our learning and our worth to the world is powerful. Forming our own opinions about ourselves is powerful. Asking ourselves the questions that enable us to dig deeper and find our hidden talents, our voices.

How do we come to feel worthy to put ourselves out there? To show what we can do? Some are confident and just blast ahead but that leaves a lot of students behind. And even confident people can hesitate when they feel less than competent. How to remove the barrier of not being “good-enough-yet” might be possible with a portfolio where a student can see their path and understand it as growth from effort?

I believe that we come to feel worthy to put ourselves out there by leaning on people who care, who believe that we all have something unique to contribute to the world. I believe that we all need to go through the “not-good-enough-yet” feeling and conquer it – not be paralyzed by it. Going through that process is an important part of your growth. We need a support system, a group of people who are willing to start the reflection process. We need other people to read us and talk to us about our reflections. That’s how we grow.

How can we start a culture of self-reflection on one’s own professional development? I guess we need to value our own answers to questions like What have you achieved so far? What are your goals? What is your vision? If we want to create a portfolio culture among our students, we first need to inspire and support teachers along the way. We need to create a sandbox for teachers to feel as learners and engage in building their own portfolios. Teachers need to experience first-hand the empowerment that comes from claiming their own growth.

Thank you, @scottx5 , for taking the time to talk to me here.

Looking forward to hearing from you, and from whoever feels they have something to say on all this! That’s how we grow.