Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Good Ideas or Why You Should Be Excited about NCTIES 2011

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know I have recently and frequently quoted social science author Steven Johnson. It’s no secret I’ve been reading his latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From; The Natural History of Innovation. As I read through Johnson’s book I’ve been intrigued in his attempt to identify the circumstances and physical environments that foster great ideas. After all, I am in education where we ALWAYS look for better ideas, better methods, better ways to engage – good ideas.
As I read and found a phrase or section that particularly struck me, I “tweeted” it out of force of habit because I found value in the anecdotes and research. I thought others would too.
We work in cultures of PLCs (professional learning communities) and attend LTMs (learning team meetings), often by district and administrative requirement, and get evaluated by a walk through the classroom. The question then becomes what we do with that kind of professional culture. How do we mold it? What do we contribute?
Do we dread the scheduled merger; simply go out of requirement, or do we do create something constructive that helps us achieve better ideas to teach students not just to prepare for a test, but for life.
As somebody who attends six or more LTMs a week I read Johnson’s book wanting to learn how to foster an environment that truly leads to innovation and celebrates and values the vast talents of my colleagues.
I looked back over my archived tweets inspired by Johnson’s book, and it became crystal clear why I am excited about the NCTIES 2011 conference, and why you should be too. Here are a few of the most profound things I found in Johnson’s book and how they explain my excitement, which I hope becomes contagious.
Johnson explores seven patterns to innovations and I won’t go into them, but the first he entitled “The Adjacent Possible.” When dedicated professionals come together and share it creates the adjacent possible because we all come with different perspectives, different strengths, and being willing to share that opens doors to new ideas. I tweeted:

"It’s not so much a question of thinking outside the box as it is thinking through multiple boxes."

NCTIES offers those who choose to take a hard look at what others are doing and have genuine discussions to get the most out of the experience the conference offers. This also struck me while thinking about environments that encourage innovation and good ideas. While they become commingled (which is a good according to the book) as we go from session to session they do provide opportunity to connect to new ideas later (something Johnson calls the “slow hunch”).

"It's not that the network itself is smart; it's that the individuals get smarter because they are connected to the network"

These are words by which I live. If I really think anything I’ve been able to accomplish has been because of the people with whom I have chosen to share, network, and collaborate. Without my network of friends and colleagues I dare say I would have accomplished close to nothing. I owe many thanks to many people, some I have met personally, and others only through my personal learning network.

“The most creative individuals had broad social networks that extended outside their organization and included people from diverse fields of expertise.” And
"Encouragement does not necessarily lead to creativity. Collisions do - collisions that happen when different fields of expertise converge in shared intellectual space."

I encourage NCTIES to continue to strive not only to bring in technology educators and keynote speakers from our own profession, but also from other vocations so we get a clear view of what we need to do, where we need to go, and what we need to do to be innovative educators. Without those opportunities we cannot create the collisions in that shared intellectual space.
The final tidbit that Johnson left me was:

"Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore."

We talk a lot about giving students opportunities to fail, learn from failure, and that school should be the “safe” place for them to experience failure. We must offer ourselves those same opportunities. If being right keeps us in place and being wrong forces us to explore, then we should continue to explore. What better place to explore than at the NCTIES annual conference?
All of what the NCTIES conference offers gives every open mind a chance to think through multiple boxes, connect to a broad and diverse network of individuals and have those productive “collisions” in an intellectual space. Johnson says are all components of an environment that fosters innovation and “good” ideas.
The litmus test will be whether we leave the NCTIES conference energized (as I always do) and take that back to our schools, our LTMs (required or not) a genuine encouragement to our colleagues to share ideas, play to their strengths, and attempt to create an environment of innovation. I strive for that daily. See you in Raleigh!
Sam Walker is the Technology Facilitator at Kimmel Farm Elementary School in Winston-Salem, NC and the 2010 NCTIES Instructional Technology Educator of the Year. - Photo provided by Cayusa via flicker and a creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.