Sunday, 31 January 2016

Finding Your Life's Purpose

This post was originally shared on Mari Venturino and Justin Birckbilcher's Teach20s blog. They are creating a community of young educators and mentors and share on their blog and on Twitter with the hashtag #teach20s.

The post below is edited and partially excerpted from Creating Classroom Magic by the author.

Justin and Mari used the process described below to discover their professional identities.

Invest a few minutes in yourself and your future right now. Take time to reflect on and expand your dreams; define your life’s purpose as a professional identity statement; and share this statement with others.

Consider what you want to do in this world and who you want to impact. Think about how you can have the impact you desire. Allow your imagination to run wild, come up with Blue Sky ideas (don’t put a limit on yourself, allow your thoughts to drift as high as a big blue sky). After you have imagined the possibilities, it’s time to make your dream clear so that you can communicate it to others. Many companies and corporations create a vision statement to provide a clear description of a dream.

The professional identity statement you will create today states your purpose. It includes a set of ideas that describe the future state of your personal or professional life. Consider what the best case scenario is for five, ten, twenty or more years from now. Dream big. That is your professional identity statement, or your vision statement. For many years, the Walt Disney Company’s formal vision statement was: “We make people happy.” In recent years, it’s been changed to a much wordier statement that defines that purpose in an unnecessarily extended way. Ask almost any Disney employee and they’ll still tell you the vision of the company is those four simple word: “We make people happy.” I think that’s an extraordinary vision. Not only is it clear and concise, but it describes everything that Walt Disney aspired to do.

I discovered my life’s purpose, my own personal vision statement, nine years into my formal teaching career. I watched the ambitiously named “How to Know Your Life’s Purpose in 5 Minutes” TED Talk by film producer, Adam Leipzig (who, incidentally was an executive at Disney at one point in his career). In his talk, Adam asks five deceptively simple, but remarkably poignant questions. They led me to define my professional identity statement as a vision. You can do this right now. It could even take you less than five minutes, especially if you’ve given yourself time to dream.

Write something down as soon as you’re done reading these instructions. If you don’t love it, come back to it later.

Ask yourself:
  • Who are you?
  • What is the one thing you feel supremely qualified to provide to other people?
  • Who do you do it for?
  • What do these people want or need from you?
  • How do they change or transform as a result of what you give them?

With those five questions, I defined my life’s purpose: I’m Shauna. I create safe, inspiring places for kids. They need someone who believes in them. I help them become the people they never knew they could be.

As an educator, your vision statement will likely reflect your desire to help others. “In order to make good on your chosen task, it’s important to have someone you want to do it for,” Walt Disney said, ”The greatest moments in life are not concerned with selfish achievement, but rather with the things we do for the people we love and esteem, and whose respect we need.”

Once you have a professional identity or vision statement, live it. Come back to it often. Share it. Post it - physically or online, or both. This week, share it on Twitter with the hashtag #teach20s. Consider doing what I did and using your vision statement as your profile description on your social media accounts.

  Your professional identity statement will help direct you when you’re feeling lost or don’t know what decision to make. You can refer back to it and modify it as your dreams change and grow. By defining your vision, you will find it easier to chart your path in life. Your vision is your definition of success. Reflect on your progress often and celebrate all the things you do to live your life’s purpose.

Reflect on your life's purpose. Guide your students to do the same. Share your thoughts below, on Justin and Mari's blog, on your own blog and/or on Twitter, using the hashtag #teach20s!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Monorail Blog Crawl: Do You Believe in Magic?

My blog post from Disney's Contemporary Hotel, on this monorail blog crawl I'll created for myself will be written a little differently than I intended. I planned to sit by Mary Blair's mural.

Instead, I'm on the last monorail of the night, passing said mural and posting from the Blogger app on my phone. 

Things don't always work as I plan them. This was a pretty spontaneous plan and I didn't take transportation schedules into account. 

One of my favourite aesthetics is retro future, which makes the Contemporary one of my favourite buildings on Walt Disney World property. It is one of the places that I feel Walt in. It matches his original EPCOT feel, and though it's outdated, I love what Walt's 70s version of the future looks like. 

(Monorail update: I seem to be alone on this entire vehicle. Cast members are poking their heads in and checking where I'm going.)

For me, a structure like the Contemporary feels like magic. I know that it won't have the same feeling to everyone. To me, It feels like a place that was built with a specific story in mind - the story of an optimistic, clean and efficient future. It also feels frozen in time. The building's architecture is very obviously outdated and attempts to update it interfere with the feel of it. Aside from repairs, I'd prefer if Disney embraced the retro-futurism and went all out with the outdated future theme. 

I would like to see more elements of Walt's original EPCOT vision come to life in this hotel, as well as a resurrection of the Monsanto House of the Future (which, incidentally, I was discussing today with an educator who got to visit it). 

(Monorail update: I was, in fact, the only person on the last monorail of the night, at the literal last stop. This post is being finished in the 2nd floor lobby of the Polynesian. I know that doesn't count as a Polynesian post. I'll write one after this. Or maybe in the morning.)

The feeling of magic that I get visiting the Contemporary comes from, I think, a combination of nostalgia and wonder. I have a soft spot for the things that influenced me most heavily between the ages of 7-10. The things I feel in love with then hold such a special place in my heart and memory. Visiting EPCOT Center in those years left me astonished and inspired. The images and experiences I had there have always stuck with me. The future EPCOT Center promised me (like the one in Back to the Future) is the one I'm still waiting for.

To create magic for others, I like to do lots of little things. Right now, I'm waiting to see the impact of a little piece of magic on my cousins. In researching my book, I discovered one of my favourite ideas of all time. A parent describes "Tink Treats." They noticed that their children, upon visiting a Disney park, wanted to purchase souvenirs in the gift shops on property. If you've visited such a place, you've probably noticed, and commented, incredulously, about the prices. There is no denying that the theme parks are a revenue stream for Disney, and the merchandising game is strong. To combat their kids' requests and complaints, this parent devised a magical system of "Tink Treats." While their kids were out of the room, they placed pre-purchased (from a dollar store) items (many of them Disney branded, but only costing a dollar each) in their hotel room. Along with the surprises, they left glitter. The children learned that Tinkerbell visited their room and left them special treats for their next day of holiday. This reminds me of the feeling a child gets after the Tooth Fairy (or Santa, or the Elf on the Shelf) visits. Wonder, amazement and magic.

My past three Disney trips have been accompanied by Tink visits. She left treats for Gillian and Stephanie before Edcamp Magic in 2015. They shared a lot of their treats with kids they met on buses on Disney property. It's not hard to identify them as teachers. She left treats for my #DisneyCAST team: Ashton, Charlie and Travis/Tracy. In fact, the package they received at check-in and the Tinkerbell suite upgrade (to, literally, a Tink themed set of rooms) left them thrilled, puzzled and believing in magic. Tonight, Tink left a letter and treats for my little cousins to prepare them for their Luau tomorrow. I am eagerly waiting for a text from them, sharing their news.

When was your imagination captured so that you felt wonder and magic? How may we do the same for the people we work with: students, colleagues and parents? 

Monorail Blog Crawl: Intentions for FETC 2016

Sometimes I bring my computer to really cool places and write blog posts while surrounded by incredible things. Sometimes, that's just my local Starbucks or my couch, covered by my kitties who sabotage my writing at every turn.

Tonight, my computer and I are on a Magic Kingdom hotel blog crawl in Orlando, Florida. The Walt Disney World resort is the size of the entire city of San Fransisco. It's huge. Only one third of the property owned by Disney has been developed. Another third is set aside as green space, as stipulated by Walt himself when planning for his "Disney World" in the late 60s. That means that one third of the space they own can still be developed, effectively doubling the number of resorts, stores, restaurants, parks and attractions. As it is, you couldn't possibly explore the entire property in a single holiday. In my most recent visits, I've begun exploring areas I've never been. Tonight, I hope to visit the three hotels surrounding Bay Lake, the person-made lake attached to the Magic Kingdom's Seven Seas Lagoon. The best part about these hotels is that they are all connected by my third favourite type of transportation (closely behind Segway and helicopter), the monorail. My plan tonight is to visit the Grand Floridian, the Contemporary and finally, the Polynesian, and write a blog post in each resort.

The first stop is Disney's Grand Floridian. I am currently sitting in Mizner's Lounge, snacking on a flatbread and listening to "The Pink Panther" as performed by a robust live band.

If you're wondering what I'm doing in Florida this time, you've come to the right post.

This week, I have the opportunity to attend FETC (formerly, the Florida Educational Technology Conference, now the Future of Education Technology Conference) as a member of the media. I have a chance to attend a huge variety of keynotes, presentations, poster sessions, discussion groups and visit with other educators and businesses over the next three days. I am thrilled to be here, as I've heard great things about this conference, but have never been able to attend.

Along with Sean "Magic Pants Jones" Farnum, I explored the enormous Orange County Convention Centre (10 000 steps a day will be no problem this week), picked up my press credentials and popped in on some great sessions on the pre-conference FETC Executive schedule. I got to see fellow Canadian, George Couros, invigorate a crowd of administrators with his keynote message of the innovator's mindset (also the title of his new book). As always, George punctuated his points with entertaining and emotionally evocative stories and videos. He deftly ties viral social media stories to his big ideas of passion and innovation and celebrates the successes of others. The man knows how to capture a crowd. In fact, I noticed a member of the site catering staff enter to the room to clear away food and then stand in the doorway, rapt, as George spoke. Some of my takeaways from this keynote inclued:

  • Understand your user to find creative solutions to problems. George said, "Innovation begins and ends with empathy." By thinking about your student as your user, and valuing them as a customer with unique needs and wants, you will be more inclined to empathize with them and find ways to reach, engage and support them.
  • Don't shy away from sharing your story from a few negative interactions. "We need to make the positive so loud that the negatives are impossible to hear," George reminded us. During a presentation to high schoolers, a couple of participants, after being encouraged to reflect live on social media, wrote some awful tweets. George saw them and considered asking everyone to stop tweeting. Instead, he spoke to the students about the power of social media and some started writing positive comments about the impact of his words and stories. So many positive tweets began to appear that the negatives were, indeed, drowned out. This very concrete example reminds me that the "squeaky wheel" can draw a lot of your attention, but not to shy away from something you believe due to negative perspectives or poisonous people. Instead, spread your message, seek feedback and choose what to learn from and what to focus on.

On the eve of a big conference, I try to take time to set some intentions and make a plan. At ISTE last summer, I did this in a poem.

FETC officially begins tomorrow.
My Intentions (some things that I plan to do to get the most out of my time here)

  • Share my learning, live, on Twitter. I have gotten so accustomed to using Twitter on a daily basis, that I assume every event I attend has a hashtag. If it doesn't, I create one. FETC is using the official hashtag #fetc and their social media team is very active, retweeting content leading up to the conference. Because I am attending this conference as media, I am paying special attention to the twitter feed for the conference and plan to interact with other participants, as well as tweet out my learning for members of my network who are present, and those who may be following along at home.
  • I will blog everyday. How many times have I made that promise? This week, I have incredible access to people and resources and want to take advantage of that and share as much as possible. Dozens of tweets each day help me to do that, but a blog gives my brain a little more time to stretch and my words more space to move.
  • I will carefully choose where to spend my time. Unplanned, informal hallway and Blogger's Cafe conversations were some of my best learning moments at ISTE. They remain a priority. However, I've carefully looked over the massive FETC schedule (which is available online, on paper and in app form, for learners of all types) and highlighted sessions I'm interested in. I've taken those and added them to my schedule so that I can head towards them this week, but still be happy to be caught unawares by an engaging, in-depth, surprise discussion.
  • Discerning session selection. I will choose sessions that strike me as innovative, interesting or though-provoking. I will avoid those that are device or platform specific; thinly disguised sales pitches (go ahead and sell me something, but do it honestly!); social media sessions delievered by edcuators without a discernable social media presence; ones that promise "487 ideas in 12 seconds" or any other combination of numbers. I want sessions that dig into interesting ideas and I want to learn from presenters who have a new way of looking at things, share stories and push my thinking.
  • Take care of my feet. When I wake up in the morning or get up after sitting for a long time, it feels like I have skeleton feet. It feels like there is no fleshy padding and that I am walking on sharp bones. I learned that I have Plantar Fasciitis and my feet bother me not only after getting up, but also after walking around a lot. It's really glamorous. Massage helps, so does stretching. Instead of suffering through skeleton feet, I'm going to take care of my dogs. I brought my massage ball and will pull it out periodically throughout the day and roll it under my feet, busting up the bubble wrap feeling that accumulates over the course of a day. 
  • Not worry about being a part of everything. As an introverted extrovert (I'll explain that to you later), being "on" at a big event like a multi-day conference where you know almost no one, is exhausting. If I'm not in the mood for a session or a social event, I'm giving myself permission to miss it. I like to experience lots of things, but I also need to listen to my body and give it some rest when it needs.
  • Puruse my personal passions. Learn about: teacher entrepreneurs; educational consulting; people who have started alternate learning spaces; where thoughtful educators think education is heading in the future and how and if they want that to change. 

My Best Conference Pro-Tips (mostly as reminders to myself)

  • Carry business cards with you. For easy access, stash the plastic sleeve with your nametag on your sweet conference lanyard.
  • A big conference can feel like information overload. Jennie Magiera shared the idea of writing a digital top three list. Create a Google Doc to take your notes for the day, and write the numbers 1-3 at the top of the page. Throughout the day, put your best pieces of learning in those slots. As you develop your ideas, or get better ones, replace them. You can write as many notes in the document as you like (and hopefully refer to them later), but the top three ideas are those that you can instantly see and helps to focus your thinking, remind you of actions to take and give you a shortcut to effective reflection.
  • Have a portable charger. Tweeting, Voxing, texting, using maps and immediately searching for answers of any question that pops into your mind eats phone battery up quickly. Last year, I bought an Anker portable charger for about $40 (including shipping) n Amazon. It's the best money I spent all year. My little buddy has 2 USB ports and about 6 full phone charges. It's not light, but it's very manageable (almost pocketable) and is just what I need when I'm travelling.
  • Bring snacks. This one is very simple, but it is so easy to succumb to conference hunger and chow down on overpriced underdelicious food at a conference centre. With a snack in my bag, I can stave off a growling belly and wait for something that will actually satisfy my tummy and please my palate.
How May We (some things that I am considering and want to find ways to take action on)...
  • How may we use sketchnotes as note-taking frameworks? I sat with a group of educators from Utah today who had printed copies of Sylvia Duckworth's sketchnote about George Couros' Innovator's Mindset philosophy. Remember when people created Power Point presentations and printed out a copy of all the slides (but really teeny), with lines next to them to write your own notes? Though I would now consider those a waste of paper, I really liked using them to organize my notes. How may a presenter create a sketchnote (or any visual model) and leave space for participants to personalize it with their own thoughts and reflections?
  • How may we use participatory audience behaviours from Slam Poetry in presentations at conferences? During the keynote today, I noticed people nodding their heads in agreement, chuckling and making small exclamations, under their breath. At a Slam, people call out their agreement, snap along with the poet when a line speaks to them and cheer at the end (and sometimes in the middle). What would it look and feel like if this was accepted (and expected) behaviour at a keynote or presentation at a conference like FETC? Would the audience feel more involved? Would the speaker feel more supported and learn from the immediate feedback?