UnPlug’d11 Wasn’t Perfect, It Was Real

This post was co-authored by Rodd Lucier and Ben Hazzard then published at both: TheCleversheep.com and benhazzard.com.
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We are struggling.

A couple of weeks ago we, Rodd and Ben, were participants and members of the organizing team for UnPlug’d, a Canadian Education Summit. As the website says:

UnPlug’d brings together Canadian educational change agents to share peer-reviewed success stories; to deepen relationships among participants; to publish the collective vision of the group. Grassroots educators will share their first-hand experiences, collectively considering modern approaches to learning. The summit will culminate with the release a publication that communicates a vision for the future of K-12 education in Canada.




We’re struggling to find the words to explain what Unplug’d was, but we do know what it wasn’t. It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t a conference, and it wasn’t perfect.

But maybe:
Perfect isn’t real.
Perfect is fake.
Real isn’t perfect.
Real is beautiful.

In trying to understand what happened at unplugd11 We’ve developed a list of what perfections we ‘missed’.

Perfection Myth #1: Everyone, from every official organization, was represented.

This didn’t happen. We didn’t have every ethnicity, region, and Conversation and Songcultural group represented. For goodness sakes there were only 37 people there!

Ben: One moment that I remember is the campfire the first night. I looked around the fire. The warm glow was illuminating many faces that I’d only known as avatars. We were singing. Yes singing. Two guitars were being played by Stephen and Bryan. In this moment I had the overwhelming feeling of loose ties being tightened. In that moment, I had a sense of connection and belonging with this group. This imperfection may have allowed the intimacy and warmth to develop between the group that did attend.

Perfection Myth #2: Perfect Logistics = Perfect Learning

Pick Up In the ParkRodd: Our initial plan called for transportation to deliver my group to Northern Edge Algonquin by 3 p.m. We arrived just after 5 p.m. What did we do during the few hours we waited? We talked. And I stressed. Maybe this was the way things were meant to be, because after reassurances from my fellow stranded campmates, I joined them in ‘slowing down’, doing a slow dissolve into a different space and a different pace. Our late arrival meant that our initial large group and small group meetings would be taking place later in the afternoon.. through the dinner hour. And knowing how comfortable that first meeting came to be, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. This bit of imperfection led us to a more natural setting for the sharing of personal stories.

Dinner Conversations

Perfection Myth #3: Professional conversations are best held in spotless rooms with round tables, white linens and climate controlled conditions.

Prettier than Venice

This also didn’t happen. We sat on floors, rocks, muskoka chairs, and benches while getting mosquito bites. We wrote on our laps, had conversations while doing dishes, and paddled in silence as the sun set. At times we were too warm. At times we were too cold. At times, we were downright smelly.

IMG_6774Ben: On our bike ride to the site from the train station I settled into a comfortable pace with Vince. We had known each other as acquaintances from various other face to face meetings. However, over the bike ride there were unique moments that we shared as we peddled. We shared about our upbringings and why we are in education. We shared at a deeper level than I was used to in traditional conferences. As we peddled Vince shared that, “having distinct experiences, like riding bikes to get to the location, are going to help me remember what I talked about during each part of this weekend”. This imperfection led to memorable and unique conversations around mutually shared experiences.

Perfection Myth #4: Getting feedback on our work is easy for professional learners.

CollaborationRodd: I remember listening to feedback from my colleagues meant to improve upon my writing, and thinking “What… It’s not perfect just the way it is? I’ve already revised it numerous times. I write online all the time!” Giving feedback in handwritten notes, and providing encouragement and tweeks was fine when I was in ‘teacher’ mode, but as the recipient of similar advice, initially I bristled. But, the advice I received was given constructively, and in a generous spirit, and when I was able to disconnect myself from my piece, I was able to see my work with fresh eyes. The advice, including a suggested title, made my writing better. Not perfect, but better. Although the many ideas shared in ‘Why Blank Matters” are sure to resonate with educators, the writing that communicates the ideas, is far from perfect. But realizing that the search for perfection might forever delay the completion of any piece of writing, maybe the 40 pieces in our document are just perfect enough. The book models for readers that ideas are worth sharing, and debating, even if only polished to a state of mild imperfection.

Perfection Myth #5: It is best to share ideas in completed slide decks that give clear answers.

Editing my final draft

We intentionally ignored this usual conference expectation. Each participant brought their own ideas, vision, and passion. Each person brought their ‘story’ to share over dinner. These ideas were challenged, reconsidered, and revised as the shared experiences of the summit unfolded.

MeetingThe final formal moments of UnPlug’d were shared as all the participants gathered in the Butterfly room and were given a brief moment to share any closing thoughts with the whole group. Each person attempted to distill the thoughts and ideas that had been filtered throughout our weekend of shared experiences. Encouragement was offered, insights were shared, and profound statements were made.

Ben: I don’t want to speak for others, however, when my turn came I was overwhelmed with emotion and chose to share a key lesson that I had learned about courage. As my voice cracked, I let down my guard and shared what I had learned about courage from my interactions that weekend. I finished by sharing how this lesson about courage would guide me in the upcoming school year. This imperfect sharing of ideas allowed us to ‘get real’ about the situation that we are trying to improve.

Perfection Myth #6: Each planned activity achieved its intended purpose.

Tom Fullerton

One of the symbols of UnPlug’d was a large physical mindmap that represented the participants (stones), their ideas (wooden disks), and the connections between them (ribbon and twine). On site, Kim Crawford reflected “Just as we gather around a campfire, the ideas and people in the centre of our meeting room, provided the flame to foster our connectedness.” As the weekend progressed, Tom Fullerton further explained “The rocks were people and the wooden disks our ideas. We used cord to show connections. I described the rocks to my working group as not being as solid as they might appear. Each of us is shaped and rubbed smooth by contact with other rocks as we are pushed together by waves and wind, the conversations and experiences we share.”

Our NetworkSome participants looked to the map as an opportunity to let their artistic sensibilities shine. Others created personal icons as more of an afterthought. Limited access was available to the evolving map because the planning team opted to host ‘check-in’ meetings in the same central meeting space. In doing so, we unintentionally blocked participants from fully engaging with this piece.

Although the mindmap never fully realized its visual potential as a representation of the many connections among participants and their ideas, the artistic and symbolic elements were meaningful to many participants. Some withdrew artifacts from the collaborative piece as mementos of their experience. When members of the planning team stayed behind to finalize publication details, we were granted the honour of finding a home for the personalized artifacts that had been left behind by participants.

High Value Imperfection
Unplug’d had many imperfections. It wasn’t perfect, it was real. Real conversations and struggles were shared. Real people maintained eye contact, were present in the moment, and expressed authentic empathy. Real people were heard and listened. Real people expressed how this experience has re-energized them for the challenge of a new school year. And real is beautiful… even if imperfect.


Talking

Sharing: Be Sure to Monitor Your ‘Heart Rate’

Sharing. It is quite the bandwagon term these days.

Recently, I read a few news reports on CBC and a book called SPARK, that all talked about the value that cardio exercise can add to the brain. Basically, if anyone, including students in school, started the day with cardio exercise like running they are more prepared to learn.

One teacher in a secondary school used heart rate monitors to assess if students were really exerting themselves in physical education class. Instead of giving higher marks to the students who ran faster, the students who had the highest percentage heart rate were given more credit. This intrigued me. Instead of the outward signs of fitness, this class rewarded what was truly going on within their hearts.
Surf City Marathon

The more I think about this physical education class, the more I think it is like sharing. The current push for more digital sharing may:
– focus too much on outward signs within one realm: online & digital, and
– reward those who aren’t really giving their heart while ignoring those who are giving their whole heart.

Maybe the online education community is too focused on outward signs within this digital realm. Recently I took part in an experience called ‘unplugd‘ where a group of digitally connected educators literally disconnected from the internet and the ‘grid’. The sharing was open, vulnerable, and deep. Aspects of the sharing were captured to share, but most of these conversations were in the moment. It wasn’t shared digitally, instead it was shared between hearts.

Catching conversationsWhen we implore fellow educators to share online are we making the mistake of the phys. ed. teacher who gives the highest mark to the fastest runner? Have we considered all the other times that educators share? Have we considered quick conversations in the hallways, a coffee after school, the end of the week social, the dinner party, the conversation with a spouse and private journal as all equally valid ways to share?

Maybe the online education community rewards those who are sharing from a safe place, while not embracing those who are sharing with their whole hearts. I’ve shared many things online, and as my comfort grew it was less of a risk to share. From lesson files to my own ideas as my comfort grew and it was from a safer place. I wasn’t risking as much. My sharing ‘heart rate monitor’ was showing low exertion.

When we implore fellow educators to ‘just share’ online are we ignoring the exertion in their ‘heart rate monitors’? Have we considered the high levels of vulnerability that they could be facing? Have we considered the courage this act is requiring within their heart? Have we committed to journeying with them through this process to share?

So what?
If you want to increase sharing, why not listen to your heart. Find a safe place and medium to begin the sharing process. Eventually, it would be great if some of your sharing was digital but this is not essential. Just share, over coffee, in the hall, or in a journal.

If you are the ultra sharing online guru, why not listen to your heart? Find out where you are at with vulnerability, courage, and risk taking. Eventually, it would be great if some of your digital sharing began to reflect your inner courage.

Unplug’d: Canadian Education Summit

Click here to listen to a dramatic reading of this post by the author.

There is a guy I know, named Rodd.  He had a skype chat with me this past summer and offered a number of interesting ideas:

So, what would happen if educators from across Canada who were doing compelling things in the 21st century all got together in one physical location?  Not a chat room, a skype conference or a google doc, but actually face to face.

 

And what would happen if these educators not only met face to face, but also unplugged?  The focus of the time would be  on the interaction with leaders  in front of them and not connected to the grid.

 

Wouldn’t it be interesting to take a train up to a natural treasure, Algonquin Park, within the Canadian wilderness where the event will take place?  This summit’s location and activities would develop into a product and the product would reflect the participant’s interaction within this wilderness.

This conversation was followed up with additional skype calls that included folks named Alec, Dean, Tom, Bill, Darren and Zoe.  The result is an event we are calling, “Unplugd” (unplugd.ca).

 

Are you interested in being part of this event?

  • Do you attempt to use innovative practices in teaching and learning?
  • Are you interested in deepening your relationships with other innovative and creative educators?
  • Would you collaborate with teachers across Canada and become part of this larger group?

Invitations will be distributed in March/April 2011.

If this event is for you, let us know who you are.

That guy I know, named Rodd and a few other compelling folks will be unplugging to tell stories, deepen relationships, and share experiences.  The more I talk with these folks, the more interested I get.

So, what would happen if educators from across Canada who were doing compelling things in the 21st century all got together in one physical location?

What might happen? Something worth being a part of.