I have been a secondary principal for half of my education career – 12 out of 24 years. Starting this fall, I will have been in the main chair more than I was anywhere else. And so as I enter this off-season and reflect on the past school year, I can honestly say that I pushed myself in a new way. You see, I was starting to get a bit stale. Yes, I still was intensely challenged, and the commitment to my campus, its students, faculty, staff, and community, had not wavered. I simply wasn’t sure what was missing. And thus, I spent this past school year trying to figure out what I was trying to figure out.
Twelve months ago I entered the summer focused on the idea of becoming a learner again. I juiced up my iPad, downloaded some great books, and read a lot. The focus of what I consumed relied upon Twitter, and thus I resuscitated my twitter handle and committed to jump back into the learning. I was excited. I ate up articles, retweeted prolifically, and tried to spark wonderful conversation. My followers grew slowly and my notifications were few. I didn’t feel like I was gaining traction. And so when the start of the new year came, it was easy to “get busy with school.”
In October I attended the What Great Educators Do Differently Conference in Chicago with two friends. I was inspired and my learning engine was reignited. This idea of discovery and sharing and pushing myself was exactly what I needed. And as the conference closed, I kept hearing people mention #GeniusHour. I didn’t know what it was, and, honestly, I was afraid to ask. I nodded my head and figured it was something I could research later.
A few weeks later, I revisited my notes from the conference, and came across the term – #GeniusHour – again. I decided to google it. And as I perused the first website, and then the second, and then the third, I became energized again. My thoughts raced from, “sure this can work in ES or MS, but what could it look like in the content-obsessed world of high school.” And then the light bulb went off.
I spent the next two weeks constructing a #GeniusHour presentation for my administrative team. I then presented to the 12 of them the idea of #GeniusHour followed by the challenge that would come their way. I told them that we were each going to embark on this work and purely learn. Topics could be related to school or education, or they could be something more personal.
The room was silent.
A few members of my team had smiles as they knew what they were going to do. Others had clarifying questions – perfectly acceptable. And others basically kept their heads down.
I told them that they didn’t have to seek my approval. That I was happy to support or be available as they wished. I was specific enough to keep repeating the 4 caveats yet vague enough to make some restless. And I was okay with that.
That was in late November. In May and early June we took turns presenting our #GeniusHour projects. What emerged has exceeded my expectations. The topics ranged from learning a new language, to a DIY project; others focused on starting a blog while another was writing a novel with his son. Two projects centered on relationships with one focused on just adults and the other on adults and students. Finally, one teammate shared her journey from an inactive lifestyle to completing the Texas Ironman Triathlon.
And as we debriefed each presentation the common challenges of being a learner surfaced. The uncomfortable feeling of starting something you weren’t certain you would understand or be good at. The idea of learning taking longer or shorter than expected. The focus on the outcome as opposed to the minutiae. They had all reengaged as learners. They also spoke about what it could look like in the classroom and how they might better support both teachers and students.
This #GeniusHour work that we embarked on will lead much of what we do in August with our entire team. It wasn’t perfect – two members of my team chose not to participate. And I had to come to terms with that as being okay. They may not have felt safe or merely weren’t ready to reenter that space. The remaining ten that did will share their learning with smaller groups on campus. We will support our teachers in becoming a learner again. Maybe their topic will center on an idea for their classroom or maybe it will be more personal. Frankly, I don’t think the topic matters at all. It’s the process that will count more. It’s the experience that will stick with them as they move through the school year.
I didn’t know how it would go with my team, and I don’t know how it will go trying to scale it up with 185 teachers. However I was certain that we needed a fresh challenge to jump start our work, and I’m counting on that same energy to launch our faculty forward as well. If we don’t try then we’ll never know.
In my best case outcome, I see teachers embracing this challenge. And I see them more able to empathize with the challenges of learning. Each teacher will see that different learning styles exist, and that timelines and modes of sharing can enhance and empower the content they hold so dear. Additionally, their students will no longer see themselves as the only ones taking a risk. It’s increasing humanity on campus. Genuine vulnerability in an intimate way. Maybe it will help a student persevere a bit more, give it a go one more time. We will see.
How have you recently engaged as a learner? How could you facilitate a #GeniusHour with the people that work alongside you?