Diagnosing Learning

I recently started watching a new Netflix series called Diagnosis. Dr. Lisa Sanders has written a column for the New York Times about peoples’ undiagnosed medical conditions to seek feedback from the greater community since 2002. This has now been turned into a Netflix documentary series, with each episode following the life of an individual with a medical condition that has never been diagnosed.

I was hooked within minutes of the first episode. Not because of the person’s unusual medical situation (while interesting) but the way they approached getting this person an official diagnosis for a condition that has been plaguing the patient for years. No longer was Dr. Sanders’ column just one-way communication, but now they are encouraging readers to interact with the column more than ever; specifically through a recorded video message to share their thoughts on what the person’s condition could actually be. It is all about casting a wide net for help and leaning heavily on the collective knowledge of “the room”, or in this case, the entire world. It was fascinating to see the high level of response the young lady in episode 1 received about her condition, within the United States and well beyond our country or our continent.

Both the doctor and the patient were fascinated and overwhelmed with the level of response they received. As an educator, I have encouraged and watched other educators do this to grow themselves professionally for over 10 years. In our age of information abundance and connectedness, we have the ability to learn from anyone at any time; not just in a physical classroom at a physical school building. While the results were fantastic in this documentary, it felt like the medical profession is behind here. Are doctors not encouraged to do this to better themselves and better help their patients? Why is this still treated as an anomaly as we approach 2020?

Image of the Earth with a connected wireframe laid on top of it.

Then this got me thinking on a “big picture” level about how this relates to teaching & learning. Are we creating opportunities for our students to reach beyond direct instruction and seek out learning opportunities elsewhere? What would happen if we encouraged this more? Students have lots of networks built up through the various mediums they use, but are we showing them (and allowing them to leverage) what’s truly possible? Which type of learning fosters more inquiry and creativity? We must think about what we want for our students and give them the opportunities they need to flourish.

Grace Giving

Back to school is in full swing. For my district, school started August 14th. Everyone has key tasks they need to be accomplished before kids pass through our doors on the first day and it continues through the first day to make sure things continue as smoothly as possible; whether that be tech-related or not. As a leader, I want to make sure every school has everything that they need from a technology standpoint. I want to give it to them in the best way possible and as soon as possible. We do our best every day and have (what we think) are the best-laid plans, but some things just don’t work out the way we had hoped. Kind of like that lesson plan we remember spending tons of time and energy on only to have the vision of how we imagined it going and how it actually went be two completely different things.

Summer is always an extra busy time in the technology department for a school district. This is our ideal timeframe to make widespread updates, get new devices ready for teachers and/or students, and any other projects that are just easier to get accomplished when teachers and students are on summer break. Really, it’s not just a tech department thing, it’s a system-wide practice for any department in any school district.

What I’ve found myself saying a lot during this hectic time of year is, “I’m sorry.”. We apologize for missed deadlines, dropping the ball on something that should have already been done, or for delays in replying to a particular email. We need to remember that we’re all heading towards the same goal and be more giving of something that all humans should give more of and can help this time of year feel a little less stressful…grace. It’s one of those things that we need to give each other more often because there are always going to be times when we need it given to us.

I don’t know what I’m doing.

Ever have one of those days? When you feel unsure with just about everything? You wonder, “How am I the best person for this work?”. You second guess, have self-doubt, and always worry about whether or not you’re making the best decision for students/teachers/staff/team, etc., etc. It’s a hard place to find yourself, and I like to think I’m not alone. Actually, I know some of my friends share a similar struggle. There’s comfort in that; having people in your corner who either are there with you or have been there at one time or another. When you feel totally lost, clueless, frustrated – like having to install a new light bulb that isn’t going to come on no matter how tight you screw it in even after double checking that the electricity is working.

We’re hard on ourselves about this. We’re afraid to ask for help many times for fear of seeming incompetent or we worry too much what others will think of us. How many kids do you know that have the same struggles in their learning? It feels like, through the media, including social media, we’ve created too much negative stigma about what it means to be vulnerable and reach out for help. If we as adults struggle with these feelings, imagine how it must feel for kids.

It’s okay to be vulnerable and ask for help. It should be okay if you don’t know the best answer right away. It’s a culture thing we need to bring back to our work as teachers, learners, and to our schools.