If work is learning and learning is the work, then leadership should be all about enabling learning. – Kenneth Mikkelsen & Harold Jarche
We end where we started, by stressing the importance of continuous learning. As educators, how can we expect our students to achieve new heights if we do not regularly challenge ourselves beyond our current levels of comfort? The six Cs are essential to our own professional development and to be able to support our students in their learning.
Mikkelsen and Jarche (2015) recount a story of a famous race car driver and a vital choice he made during a race. Juan Manuel Fangio put the breaks on his car at the precise time when common sense would have said he should be accelerating. Around the bend was a devastating crash involving multiple cars. Had he focused solely on the finish line and winning the race, he likely would have lost his life.
What informed Fangio’s choice to slow down at that point? He had seen a picture of a terrible wreck the day prior. As he scanned the crowd the day of his race, he noticed in a split-second glance that he was mostly seeing the back of people’s heads. Something ahead was amiss. He was then reminded of the photograph and instantly decided to take the counter-intuitive move to slow down. He was able to make connections between seemingly disconnected data and make a choice that many describe as a life-saving one.
A Commitment to Lifelong Learning
Our choices as educators are rarely life-or-death ones. However, the choices we make in terms of seeing ourselves as lifelong learners will have a ripple effect on our students beyond what we can fathom. While most of us are committed to keeping up with our respective disciplines, or teaching levels, far too many of us lack the dedication and mindset to continually work on developing our technical competence.
Technology skills are not the type that we acquire and then can mark off on our professional development checklist. These tools are forever changing and new ones are always on the horizon. As we pursue learning about an aspect of using technology in our teaching, the action introduces us to even more areas to explore. Mikkelsen and Jarche (2015) stress, “Reinvention and relevance in the 21st century instead draw on our ability to adjust our way of thinking, learning, doing and being. Leaders must get comfortable with living in a state of continually becoming, a perpetual beta mode” (para. 6).
We must avoid the mindset that our individual digital competence is in a fixed state. David White (2014) describes the myth of today’s youth being well equipped in terms of their digital literacy, while those of us who are older, being unable to “get” technology. Our competence is not a binary thing. We can learn how to navigate the same tools our students will need to master in order to thrive in today’s workplaces and institutions of higher learning.
The difference White (2014) illustrates is in our comfort levels of engaging online. He coined the term ‘digital residents’ as those who leave behind traces of their identities when engaging in online spaces. I might place a photo of my family on Instagram, or tweet about a conference I am attending. I am acting as a resident in these spaces. White (2014) describes that we may think of these online spaces as places we ‘visit’ and he compares the experience to spending time in a park or other public space. In contrast, I may prefer to lurk in an online space and see what others have to say. I see no need to leave any digital footprint, but rather watch and observe what is happening there. I may have a need to gather some information. I ‘enter’ a digital space, get the data I am seeking, and then move on with my day.
White (2014) outlines two other variables in his model: the personal and the professional. Depending on what social media we are using, we may gravitate toward sharing more personal information, or those things that are more related to our professional endeavors. We can certainly do both on a given network, but it is more likely that we will have varying uses for the different social media we adopt.
We do not close this book with the aim of getting you to start taking pictures of every meal you eat and documenting that on all the social networks that exist. Instead, we want to rid our educational communities of the myth that some of us (our students) have “it” and some of us (“older” people) don’t. We touched on one reason for this caution above. It is unhelpful to think of our digital competence as fixed. It is also dangerous to consider our students as already having this all this technology stuff figured out.
Today’s professions require that we can use technology to locate, assess, and evaluate information. With the propagation of misleading or outright false sources on the internet, our learners need digital wisdom and literacy more than ever. While they may be more comfortable acting as a digital resident than some of us educators, they need assistance learning how to consider the permanency of what they choose to share and how to collaborate online and in person.
In addition to leveraging the digital tools that are at their disposal, today’s learners require support in having candid face-to-face conversations when facing conflict (candidly, we could probably use a dose of that, ourselves, as educators). Turkle (2011) describes the frequency of high schoolers having fights via text message when they are sitting in the same room. The subtitle of her book is “Why we expect more from technology and less from each other.” In order to be able to use all of the skills described throughout this book, we will need to have the courage to put the technology away and engage in important dialog around controversial subjects.
This book was written as a part of a doctoral class at Concordia University in Irvine, California. We were each given the opportunity to write a traditional research paper or embark on the unknown path of writing a textbook together. We all selected the less familiar choice having no idea what would come next.
As we put the finishing touches on this text, we consider how much we have learned. While the experience did make us collectively a little better at citing sources and communicating about research findings. We enjoyed the opportunity to spread our voices a little wider through our companion podcasting project. Overall, though, one theme emerges.
We learned we were capable of more than we ever realized.