Monday, April 1, 2013

Getting Past the Slump

The digital landscape is relentlessly shifting: with the next new thing just around the corner, yesterday’s favourites die young if they don’t stay up-to-the-minute, innovative, fresh, and “old” things, like Facebook, survive by reinventing themselves continually.  A steady barrage of change is forced on users.  We scarcely have time to wonder if it’s a good thing.

Perhaps today’s technology is merely a perfect expression of what Carl Honoré calls our “quick fix” obsession in this “fast-forward, on-demand, just ‘add-water’ culture":  we want hard things to be easy, which is, of course, the purpose of technology. The easy part of anything is the honeymoon, the beginning, the discovery.   Back up.  The very easiest is not starting anything at all – or to distract ourselves (often with busyness) from doing anything.  Then the honeymoon.  And then the next easiest thing, once the honeymoon is over (and it always ends) is to change things – or, better yet – to think about changing them:  redecorate, move, start something else, write reports, hold meetings, create charts, gather data, hold more meetings, write recommendations.  Of course, changing doesn't change anything or, at least, nothing important.  Sticking with things does that (which is very different from doing nothing), sticking with them past the post-honeymoon slump when you've run out of ideas or energy or resources for changing or planning to change, and you have to either quit (easiest) or roll up your sleeves to do the necessary work for growth.  Because growth is only possible when we don’t change, when, over time, by sticking with things, we nurture meaningful relationships, build our business, develop expertise.

Last week I spent several hours migrating blogs out of Posterous, a blogging platform that is closing down after not yet five years.  The blogs supported district programs that have been “closed down” as new programs (the next up-to-the-minute, innovative, fresh things) are funded.  The migration has been a slow process, not technically (there’s an app for that, of course), but because I'm rereading and reflecting on what we almost learned.  In our “Technology Explorers” blog – a community blog to document our discoveries as we experimented with classroom technology to augment and deepen, rather than change, our practice - I found a post entitled The Six Stages of Technology Learning.  It described what we learned about getting past our initial suspicion of technology as “one more thing” and the later, inevitable “slump” when our enthusiasm for the new tools wore off.   I wonder what we might have learned this year if we had stuck with it.

I've been thinking a lot, lately, about how we can grow in education despite change, how we can build despite constantly tearing things down, how we can develop expertise despite constant demands to learn something different.  I keep wondering how we can get past the slump to dig deeper, persevere and learn from our mistakes rather than beginning again, chasing different enthusiasms, re-branding, reinventing, and shuffling the deck chairs.  And it seems that it’s only possible if we focus on what doesn't change, if we remember that people matter first.  Everything else (including technology, perhaps especially technology) is window-dressing.  Without the commitment of people to act together, things can change, but nothing will grow.

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