Is Anything Truly Original?

My Post

For decades, perhaps even earlier as some claim origins dating back to Aristotle’s Poetics, writers, and literary critics have uncovered a finite amount of story plots in fiction. Even the great Kurt Vonnegut argued this theory of story “shapes” in his College thesis that was rejected for its simplistic nature that there were indeed a set of shapes that all writing could be categorized by citing such favorites as Cinderella as a spin-off of the Bible.

What it boils down to is this… there are seven original story plots, Overcoming the Monster, The Quest, Rebirth, etc., and that every piece of fiction is actually a spin-off of the original. Beyond those first 7, no piece of fictional writing is truly original. So should new writing be published? Should new stories be shared?

This year marks my 19th in Education. Shorter than some, longer than others. Most of my years have been as a high school English teacher (thus, the connection to the aforementioned example) and for the past few years as a regional support consultant in the state in the areas of literacy, technology, and school improvement; but I digress.

Because of this, I am going to take some liberties… much of education parallels the 7 original story plots. Things are repackaged, renamed, shined up, fine-tuned, and sent back into the education community as “New” or “Innovative”. In fact, I would venture many seasoned teachers out there would agree with me and have seen the circular nature of programs and instructional strategies recycled and the educational wheel spinning and spitting them back out again when their number is called. Very few things that we as Educators use or do in our classrooms are Original.

I will repeat, you, and I for that matter, are not as original as we think we are.

We are spinoffs from the educators before us. And what we do, say, and use in our classrooms are mostly variations of what has been done before.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but one that is mostly true, teachers have been doing variations of what you and I have done long before it was an idea in our heads. We are not the first… (fill in the blank…)

Take, for instance, a recent experience I had at Flipgrid Live. The first Day consisted of an Edcamp and a social gathering of Educators at Flipgrid HQ.

Day 2 was much the same. A Student Voice Conference with keynotes and breakout sessions and a sharing of personal stories and ideas to spark change. This was followed by a grand reveal of new updates, modifications, acquisitions, celebrations, photos, videos, singing, and on and on and on all focused on empowering student voice and connected classrooms. To many educators, these events are not considered as completely original or new. Even the new releases, ideas, and social media sharing celebrated variations that educators have been using for decades.

This brings me to my second point, or liberty I am going to take,,, Change, passion, meaningful learning does not take place vicariously. I attended this event as a learner, not a presenter, and while many know my story, the majority at this event did not. I have always been a Student Voice Advocate and Connected Educator. I have connected classrooms around the globe, traveled with kids internationally based off of those connections, connected teachers to resources and communities (in fact, many of you reading this could probably attest to the way I have helped connect you) but I am not the first one to do this. Many educators before me have been working towards similar verbs, connecting, student voice, the difference is this… social media and the desire to one-up each other often times brings out the negativity in people, and flipping through my Twitter feed I found these tweets and educators I respect trying to one-up the celebrations taking place at FlipgridLive.

When I became a connected educator and shared my story I met a wonderful educator named Sean Nash. We were prepping for a conference (Bacon Wrapped Lessons) and getting to know the other educators on the team (I was known as the student voice cheerleader). Sharing my classroom stories about amplification and connection was met with support and enthusiasm from the group. I felt proud and I had passion. Come to find out, Nash had been doing this for years- connecting his kids, traveling internationally, amplifying their voice; but not once did he squash my voice or diminish my experience. My story was not interrupted or replaced by his.

Educators, students, humans need to share their story. It may not be an original, but a spin-off, just as many argue what fiction is, but passion and change do not happen through vicarious circumstances. We are all working towards similar verbs, and as hard as it was for me not to interject my stories and past experiences as a connected educator and student voice cheerleader at the Flipgrid Live event I knew it was essential for their story to be told, the excitement be shared, and I, as a seasoned educator stood next to, not in front of, these educators and helped to lift them up just as so many have done for me. I was not there to interrupt, disvalue, or one-up them on social media that I have been doing it for years… every story should be told,,, whether it is one of the originals or a spin-off, each story adds value to our profession and supports the same passions or calls to actions that many of us support.

Top 4 Take-Aways from EdcampUSA

edcampusaIt’s been less than 24 hours since I left Washington DC and returned home to Iowa after having the privilege to attend Edcamp Us DOED a collaborative effort between the Edcamp Foundation  and the United States Department of Education. This ” intimate gathering of teacher leaders and policy leaders in order to discuss the most important issues in education” ignited excitement in the heart of this small-town Iowa girl.

On July 8th, 150 educators from across the nation, members of the US Department of Education, and other educational thought leaders gathered at the US Department of Education for EdcampUSA. The majestic ambiance of the location, along with the professional discourse throughout the day makes me proud to be an educator.

Edcamp is a Global Movement, and together, we CAN create change! Three incredible women helped make EdcampUSA possible: Hadley Ferguson, Shannon Montague (Hamilton Fanatic, email junkie, and general organizer of chaos), and JoLisa Hoover  (whose warm smile lit up the room and who also has a new role this fall with our youngest learners).

I was fortunate to reconnect with Hadley Ferguson and talk a bit of Edcamp shop. As Executive Director of the Edcamp Foundation, Hadley’s role is multifaceted. During our conversation, two points resonated with me, first, no one knows for sure how many edcamps there have been or how many educators have participated. Collecting that data is difficult and relies heavily on self-reporting; still, it is essential to have this information for future funding and discussions. Second, Edcamps have been attended by thousands of educators and continue to grow by the month. Together, that collective voice could be strong – so how do we harness this power to work together, and how do we encourage other educators who are unaware of Edcamps to attend and join the conversation? (Please send all easy answers to Hadley and Shaelynn)

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John King, Secretary of the US Department of Education gave the opening address. Mr. King took some time to reflect upon the current violence happening in our nation and the effects it has on our kids. He urged us all to “create the time and space” to work together to improve outcomes for all students, reminding us on the Civil Rights Legacy and the need for equity and excellence in education found in the Every Student Succeeds Act. Education is central to a democratic society, and our students must see a diversity in teachers and administrators around the nation!

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There were many notable conversations and shared stories; here are my Top 4 Take-Aways:

  1. Open Education Resources (OER) – In a time when technology can afford equitable access to the most relevant content, best instructional strategies, and engaging lesson designs, OER should top the list of every educator. Applying the 5 R Permissions of OER: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute helped many of us create a working definition of OER. Kristina Peters, K-12 Open Education Fellow at the US Dept. of Ed shared insights of this emerging focus at the DOE  sharing, “OER is changing conversations at a district level for intellectual property. As a member of an OER platform  via Amazon Education, Amazon Inspire, I see this culture of sharing happening daily! Kaye Henrickson shared the movement of OER in Wisconsin, WISELEARN. OER is a way to support each other collegially by sharing rich content and pedagogical strategies that work best for our students. But as with all groups, Steve Dembo (incredible thinker, educator, and favorite thought-provoker) offered these considerations: Free does not necessarily equal open, reallocation of funds must be considered, how can the best resources bubble to the top in these curation receptacles?  This, of course, launched into further discussions which sparked a “hallway” conversation and future actions. ThinkOER!  ThinkOER
  2. Literacy – Literacy is the responsibility of ALL educators. In multiple sessions I attended during the day, the importance of literacy resonated throughout. Technology has not only opened the floodgates to global information, but brought with it the opportunity for students to read, write, communicate, and learn in multimodal means. The evolving definition of literacy and what makes someone literate penetrates all grades and disciplines. To simply ignore this reality is detrimental to the success of students. Digital literacies is a passion of mine. It is my focus and drives much of what I read, write, and learn. It was only fitting to include literacy throughout the day. Whether in Genius Hour or Passion Based Learning, equipping students with the skills and strategies to discern digital resources and to create their own seeped into many conversations. Along with that, I was fortunate to meet both Barry Saide and Juli B two passionate literacy educators I have connected with virtually for years, but only face to face at EdcampUSA. These two consistently fuel my passion and shared snippets of literacy love throughout the day!                            IMG_0428 (1)IMG_0395
  3. #BlackLivesMatter: Social Justice and Culturally Relevant Practices in the Classroom – One of my favorite discussions during the day focused on social justice and cultural relevance in the classroom. Many ideas were shared, rhetorical questions asked, and passionate stories told from the group. Shout out to Valerie Lewis (an incredible educator from Atlanta) for Periscoping the session to share with the world! Watch it here. Literacy was again referenced as a way to not only build connections and relationships but as a model to reinforce diversity in learning. Juli and her colleague Justin shared insights from the book by Chris Emdin For White Folks who Teach in the Hood, “ in schools, urban youths are expected to leave their lives at the door and assimilate to “school”  causing trauma to the child and the “village”. How then can we expect young people to invest in their community? Adam Bellow (an incredible educator who  is now CEO of BreakoutEdu and gets to drive a cool bus around)  raised a great point, “often times we begin with Slavery and America, ignoring the important contributions and victories won dating back to Ancient Civilization.” This lack of balance across all content areas reduces diversity to an event or celebration. It needs to be assimilated into the curriculum and an intentional part of the agenda!IMG_0437 (1)
  4. Connected Education – My final takeaway reaffirmed the importance of being a connected educator. There are so many passionate educators who are helping to make education great, get out there and meet someone new. Attending an edcamp at a new location helps to foster new connections! First, it was incredible to be reunited with Krissy Venosdale, Wanda Terral, and Chris Aviles; we were all in the final Google Teacher Academy together, and as Chris said, “broke the mold.” I was also grateful to have the opportunity to connect with Josue Falaise, an incredible eduleader with vast knowledge in professional learning and leveraging community support! Kharima Richards,  Joyce Valenza, and Matt Frat were among the many educators that I met throughout the day whose thoughts and kindness made me pause and think! Finally, I am fortunate to be surrounded and supported by a group of educators who push my thinking and offer an endless supply of laughter and good times – thank you, Kristina, Bob Dillon, Kaye and Adam . My first time in DC was Epic! YOLO!                        All session resources can be found here!IMG_0445