Ben Zoma says:
Who is wise?
The one who learns from every person…
Who is brave?
The one who subdues his negative inclination…
Who is rich?
The one who is appreciates what he has…
Who is honored?
The one who gives honor to others…
(Talmud – Avot 4:1)
Sometimes ancient wisdom becomes new again.
Although blessed with an alphabet soup of degrees – BA, MA, M.Phil, Rabbinic Ordination, and Ph.D – along with years of experience, there came a point several years ago that I found myself painfully unprepared for the demands of contemporary educational leadership: higher standards, fewer resources, new technologies, and a rapidly changing world to which to adapt. It’s not that I wasn’t trying. Indeed, I was in process of implementing a strategic plan more ambitious than any of us initially involved in drafting it had understood. At heart, the plan was reaching at a notion we could not yet clearly articulate – a paradigm shift from a focus on what is taught to evidence of what is learned. We were becoming a truly student-centered school, although we didn’t yet know it.
I had reached a wall; glimpsing a vision of more for our students, yet unclear as to how to articulate that vision and uncertain as to how to provide our teachers with the very significant supports they would need to make the shifts we strove to accomplish. I set out in search of wisdom.
Through engaging with educators throughout the world via social media, primarily twitter but other venues as well, I discovered more than I ever anticipated; I found not only wisdom, but also bravery, riches, and honor as Ben Zoma defines the terms. I found Ben Zoma’s ancient wisdom within the very contemporary notion of a PLN (professional learning network).
When reaching out to learn with others I anticipated finding educators who would share practices, recommend readings, and answer questions. Yet, I hadn’t dreamed of the creative collaboration and problem-solving with which I was embraced. Through the learning, I gained the strength not only to acknowledge, but to celebrate the fact that I’m not an expert. I’m a learner. And that wisdom has made all the difference.
Paradoxically, embracing what I did not know enabled me to develop the trust and credibility to lead other learners on-line and in my own school. I didn’t have to have the answers, I didn’t even have to have all the questions. Yet I was open and attentive.
I learned not to strive to “fix” teachers, or even myself. Instead, I strove to focus our school system to build on strengths, transform dreams to high expectations, and foster joint responsibility for the success of all our students. I found bravery in overcoming the inclination to tell others what to do; discovered riches in appreciating the greatness within my own school; and attained honor in honoring others.
As I learned, I gained the opportunity to lead, or more aptly, to facilitate. As a co-moderator of #educoach, a community on twitter dedicated to instructional coaching, I’ve deepened my understanding of providing robust job-embedded professional support for teachers. As a facilitator of YU2.0, a Community of Practice invested in learning, collaborating and integrating technology in Jewish education, I’ve engaged with other Jewish educators interested in the connections between ancient, enduring values and contemporary paradigms of learning and growing.
My recent participation in #etmooc, a connectivist mooc (massive open on-line course) on the topic of educational technology and media makes me wonder about the future of professional learning both on-line and off. Through my participation in #etmooc, I’ve learned that within connectivist moocs participants set their own learning goals and strive to create knowledge together. Perhaps that’s the essence of contemporary learning – setting meaningful learning goals and creating the knowledge necessary to achieve those goals together.
As I prepare to teach a course next week for the C013 Connecting Online Conference titled Learning and Leading In Online Community I reflect on ways learning and leading in online community may be evolving. What have been some of the benefits and insights you have gleaned from learning and leading in online community? What do you anticipate the future may bring for learning and leading in online community? What questions do you have? What wisdom have you gleaned?