Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Wheatley’

What YouTube Taught Me About Learning

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

This week I’m giving a post-dinner talk in Niagara Falls, Canada.  I’m never too sure about how such a thing can be done, but as I prepared the presentation, I asked myself, what would I want after teaching all day, driving to a conference, and having a nice dinner?  Aside from a short talk, I thought, I suppose I wouldn’t mind watching some videos and talking with my friends.

So that is what I decided to do.  The presentation summarizes six ideas about learning, both personal and professional, illustrated by some of my favorite video clips and quotations.  I’ve included the clips, ideas, and quotations here.

1.  Learning that dehumanizes carries the seeds of its own failure.

This clip, for me, captures a simple idea, that life should be fun, joyous, playful and human. Margaret Wheatley says it beautifully:

There is a simpler way to organize human endeavor. It requires being in the world without fear. Being in the world with play and creativity. Seeking after what’s possible. Being willing to learn and be surprised.

The learning we experience and the learning we provide should celebrate that humanity.

2. Learning involves partnership.

This conversation, for me, illustrates that no matter how different our level of expertise or status, we can still engage in respectful, partnership conversations.

When we do learning to each other, using what Paulo Freire refers to as banking education, we decrease humanity. An alternative is to learn with people in partnership, that is, to design learning that recognizes each adult or child’s need for autonomy.  Peter Block, whose work really introduced me to the idea of partnership, writes about it this way:

Partners each have a right to say no. Saying no is the fundamental way we have of differentiating ourselves. To take away my right to say no is to claim sovereignty over me. For me to believe that I cannot say no is to yield sovereignty.

3. Learning occurs in a culture.

Learning in any system — a classroom, a school, a school system — occurs in a culture. Therefore, one of the true challenges for a leader (a teacher, principal, superintendent, whomever) is to shape culture. Edgar Schein, who literally wrote the book on organizational culture and leadership, puts it this way:

The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture. If you do not manage culture, it manages you, and you may not even be aware of the extent to which this is happening.

4. Coaching accelerates learning.

For more than a decade we’ve been learning how coaching can help people improve practice.  When coaches help teachers set goals, work as partners with colleagues, demonstrate what Michael Fullan refers to as impressive empathy, they provide a very important service for their colleagues.  Atul Gawande’s New Yorker article is the best writing I’ve seen describing the challenges and potential of coaching.

5. Learning involves striving for personal bests, striving to do things we couldn’t do before.

What I notice about this clip is how profoundly empowering it is for Cooper in this clip to do something he couldn’t do before. There are at least two ways to understand learning. One way is to assume that people need to be motivated by leaders, and therefore learning requires extrinsic rewards and punishments if people are going to move them forward.

An alternative is to assume that people actually want to do good work; people need to be trying to improve, to be striving for personal bests, to feel they are living a fulfilling life.  One of my favorite authors, George Sheehan, puts it this way:

My end is not simple happiness. My need, drive, and desire is to achieve my full and complete self. If I do what I have come to do, if I create the life I was made for, then happiness will follow.

6. Learning involves moral purpose.

One thing, I believe, that characterizes Mr. Rogers is that he clearly did what he did because he cared about other people more than himself. For professionals, for educators, focusing on something bigger than ourselves is very important.  Michael Fullan, who’s written several books about moral purpose and moral imperative, put it this way:

Moral purpose, defined as making a difference in the lives of students, is a critical motivator for addressing the sustained task of complex reform. Passion and higher order purpose are required because the effort needed is gargantuan and must be morally worth doing.

I love all these quotations and clips, and like so many things, I see them through my perspectives. I hope you see them from your perspectives, and that you benefit from watching them too.  I’d love to know what other clips and quotations you think truly illustrate key ideas about professional and student learning.

What clips and quotations inspire, encourage, and educate you?

The Five Temptations of Teachers, Temptation One: Fear over Growth

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.”  Hafiz, 14th-century sufi teacher & poet, quoted in Margaret Wheatley’s Perseverance

Fear comes in many sizes and shapes.

The beautiful and inspiring online magazine Fear.less documents the many forms of courage people demonstrate as they overcome their various fears. In the September 2010 issue, Alex Gibney writes about his fear of losing his life while filming the documentary “Taxi to the Darkside” onsite in Afghanistan.  Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund, writes about her fears of mediocrity, losing relationships, or losing humility.  Spiritual leader Tom Kelly writes about fearing that he will not live out his life’s purpose. Ogilivy creative director Michael Paterson writes about confronting the fear of quitting his job. And in two deeply moving essays, Brian Clark and Karen Preziosi write about the fear they experienced at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Like the people featured in Fear.less, teachers experience fears in numerous shapes and sizes.  Among them, the following are some of the most common.

Fear of Students


Students are victims of the same institutions that teachers may struggle within, and students’ alienation, frustration, anxiety, anger, loneliness, and especially their fears, can lead them to act in ways that are disrespectful to their fellow students, to adults in the school, and to themselves.

Standing among a group of students in a classroom can be very intimidating, and fearful of losing control or losing face, some teachers resort to coercive tactics. In fact, confronted with the fear of losing control of a class, teachers may decide that teaching students coercively, as a way of maintaining control, is a better option than teaching students respectfully and risking losing control.

Fear of Looking Foolish


Few jobs are more public that teachers’.  Every day teachers conduct their professional practice under the watchful eyes of sometimes more than 150 students–and few mistakes go unnoticed.  If teachers try new teaching practices and find that they flounder.  If they express compassion toward their students and see their compassion rejected.  If they risk being silly, open, or innovative, and fail and look foolish, all these experiences can make it tempting for teachers to stop taking risks and stick with what is “safe.”


Fear of Caring


In the 1990s, I conducted a study of teachers as they explored their personal vision. As part of that process, I was fortunate to work with a bright, enthusiastic first-year English teacher.  We met frequently over a year, and on a few occasions, through tears, the teacher told me she was finding it harder and harder to care for her students. She so passionately wanted the students to find more of their humanity through the study of literature, but instead they seemed completely uninterested in her class.  This was heartbreaking for this idealistic young teacher.  As we talked about her vision of herself as a teacher, she confessed that she was beginning to fear that she would stop caring.  The pain of failing her kids was overwhelming, yet she was recognizing that her life would be easier if she didn’t care so deeply.

Fear of Other Teachers

In 1989, after an exhaustive qualitative and quantitative study of schools in Tennessee,  Susan Rosenholtz concluded that our behavior in organizations is often “socially constructed.”  In other words, how well teachers teach is as much a result of where they teach as it is a result of who they are and what they know.  For example, an outstanding teacher in a learning-impoverished school, Rosenholtz calls these “stuck schools,” may be criticized and ostracized for her success or for winning recognition of acclaim. In the face of such negative reactions, the temptation may be to stop trying so hard so as to attract less attention, to join in when conversation in the staff lounge turns destructive, or, in the worst case, to quit teaching altogether rather than feeling alone and alienated in a school.

What to Do


The solution, I believe and hope, is not giving into fear.  Your students need you not to quit.  They need you not to stop caring.  They need you to take risks.  They need you to keep being innovative and to find the courage to empathize and keep trying for your students.

Margaret Wheatley writes wisely that one way to address our fears is to use our curiosity to transform fear:

We can stay where we are and bravely investigate our fear.  We can move toward it, curious about it. We can even interview it … What’s important is to question the fear itself … Our investigation moves us closer and closer, and then the fear begins to change. Paradoxically, the more we engage directly with it, the less fearful it becomes.

And you do not have to be alone as you take on the daunting task of investigating your fears. You can partner with the people commenting on this site, for example–our growing network of radical learners all over the world. We can help each other find the courage to steady ourselves, to find the courage to support us in doing what is best and stand up for students.

Jacqueline Novogratz, mentioned at the start of this post, also describes how she addresses fear: “It’s not that the fear isn’t there; it’s a commitment to looking at the fear and walking through it.” If we investigate our fears and move through them, we can realize our potential in whatever endeavor we take on. And no endeavor is more important that inspiring, empowering, educating, and liberating our students.