Got busy/lazy for the last two weekends and missed my window of writing, so I’m sitting down on a Wednesday evening (after a little gentle love from my wife and someone in her orbit pointing out the first part of this sentence).
I’m at an Educational Technology conference in Grand Rapids for the next few days (#MACUL18), and why I mention that will become evident later...
The post I had originally in mind was one to talk about Postsecret, and Postsecret: The Show we got to see two weekends ago. It was a dramatization, both sad and hilarious, of the website, its mission, the secrets, the community, and all sorts of things around that lens. It was, like Postsecret itself, a great experience.
Shelley and I have been reading Postsecret each Sunday since it was created in 2005, as far as we can figure. For those of you who don’t really know what it is, it’s a community art project borne from the mind of Frank Warren. He asked people all over the DC area to send him their secrets, anonymously. He took those secrets, scanned them (most likely on one of those ancient flatbed scanners), and then posted a selection of them each weekend. They were a mix of the sad, the silly, the horrendous, the profane, and the profound….they were a cross section of the human experience.
As you became a regular on the site, however, you’d see the through-lines of the secrets….about what might happen if someone finds out about their secret, about what the future might look like if they lost someone specific, if they never found love, or if anyone ever saw the real “them”.
The site really connects with me, and with the books that he’s published, I’ve been able to share the idea of Postsecret with many students over the years (Disclaimer: Students who were in 11th or 12th grade, and very, very mature. The site has some very raw content inappropriate for middle/early HS students). It connects with me most because in each of our secrets, we feel so alone. We feel, often irrationally, that the things we fear people finding out will irreparably change people’s perception of us, and that our lives will be irrevocably changed if that happens. The website shows with humor and gravitas and love and caring that we all share the same fears, and many of the same secrets. (It also shows you just how different some people are as well, but let’s not go there…)
In a professional development session at the conference today, we dove deep into design thinking, and just how important it is to create moments of “making” in the classroom. The session was amazing, and really connected to me, as I hoped when I signed up for AJ Juliani’s session. However, it connected with me in ways I didn’t expect.
The main focus of the session was the process of learning, as examined through the process of making things:
1. Look, listen, and learn. Empathize with those that are having the problems.
2. Ask questions. Tons of questions.
3. Define and understand the problem, as it exists, and not how you think it exists.
(Seek first to understand anyone?)
4. Brainstorm ideas with the people experiencing them.
5. Create a prototype and test it out.
6. Highlight the problems that exist in the process.
As I was listening to the process and his views, I was ruminating on just how useful all of that is in so many areas of my life. What makes good lesson design and teaching is also what makes a good spouse/partner. It’s also what makes me a good parent (when I do it right). It’s what I’m learning to do daily in my new job as an instructional technology coach. Same with pretty much every other area in which I have personal relationships.
How often have I launched into a rant about what I knew the problems to be, as though I have all the answers? How often have I interrupted someone to tell them what I think, when I needed to spend way, way, way more time empathizing with them? How often have I not worked with a person, but distanced myself from them due to constraints, either from outside, or my own selfishness?
I think back to the times when Amie was sick that we were the most upset, and it was almost always when someone violated those basic rules I just listed. When people would tell us how Amie would be healed if only we did X, Y, and Z. As though there was some miracle that we’d decided to ignore. They sometimes tried to make us feel better by urging us that everything happened for a reason, and that it was always part of a greater plan. These things were not helpful, and only made us feel more alone.
We are all guilty of it, at times. But I sat there today thinking what it would be like if our lives, and the lives of our students / friends / partners / family / peers, if this was the lens that we decided to adopt?
The other thing Mr. Juliani said that struck me was the value of iterations. It’s the small changes, the microscopic refinements that we do in the process of learning something / getting better at things that are most important. When we do the hard work of learning something, it makes us who we are through failure. It builds our grit, our determination. Our ability to withstand the hard things that we will face over time.
I look into myself and see all the places I’ve spent so much time on improvement (writing, reading, technology skills, D&D, etc), and the benefits that it has given me. I can also eloquently point out all the places that I haven’t spent anywhere near the amount of time where I could on improvement (treating my body well through what I put in it, working out more, being more considerate to others).
Postsecret and design thinking smash into me in one more way...the technology that surrounds us in such helpful and destructive ways. Postsecret: The Show’s main takeaway is that we are not alone. We are surrounded by so many caring and loving people, yet we don’t know it.
Facebook / Instagram / Twitter / Snapchat urges us to tell our stories, but in so many ways, it’s like the parallel play that you see two toddlers doing on a carpet….playing near each other, but not communicating at all. We see all these people, but don’t really communicate with them, even a little.
AJ Juliani charged us with doing an action item as we left the session today. So, this blog post is the first step of my action item, and what I’m asking you to do is the second part. Today (within 10 minutes of you reading this), reach out to someone and connect.
Connect in a real way, through words that are carefully woven. Do it through some authentic way. Write a letter, or make a phone call. Send a text to someone who needs it. Reach out and make a lunch date. Do it now. Make that small change, and strengthen the community you belong to in this small way. See what kind of ripples you might cause in our community pond.
Have a good week all. I’ll do my best to follow my own advice.