Wired/Inspired Episode 3: How Good Ideas Spread (& Some California #SeismicLearning)


Image courtesy #EduKettleBellSensei Chris Long

Katy Foster and I co-presented a session on “How Good Ideas Spread” at North Bay CUE on May 10.  This post catalogues all the resources we shared and serves the dual purpose of being the third episode of our Wired/Inspired video/podcast.  Five of the six of us #TeamNorthBay members led sessions, so this episode was a natural extension of a wonderful day of learning and sharing.

While we are just three episodes in, I already see us focusing on how high-functioning professional learning cultures are key vehicles for substantive growth and meaningful change in education.  While there are many variables to consider in “change,” (policy, funding, local politics, global trends…) ultimately the educational superstructure is made up of people – thinking, feeling creatures who are governed by their experiences, belief systems, and values.  Our purpose as educators is to enable learning; to do so we ourselves must continually challenge our perception of what is “right” and be open to ideas based on their merit – not their provenance.

In very un-surprising fashion, given their nonpareil track record as mega-collaborators, idea-supernovas and all-around #EDUHunks (I should copyright that term…), Fountain Valley High School (Huntington Beach) teachers Sean Ziebarth and David Theriault (rhymes with “stereo”) joined us on their precious Saturday to talk specifically about one of the key components we identify as being necessary for good ideas to spread: strong relationships.

The first example Katy and I shared of good ideas spreading came from our experience working together as assistant principals for three years.  Despite her interest in social media as a tool for professional growth and connection, my own feelings remained ambivalent (and non-committal).  I remember seeing her Tweetdeck open and feeling overwhelmed.  Interestingly, it was her departure for another school that exposed a gap in my own learning; I didn’t have access to the deep stream of resources she was constantly sharing with me and our staff.  Fast forward two years later and I get made fun of for being a Twitter addict (a highly subjective claim…) – but with over 30 staff members on Twitter with varying degrees of activity, I’d say the ripple Katy started is gathering force.

At times good ideas take a long time to spread even between the closest of colleagues.  Instead of getting upset at someone you consider to be diametrically opposed to any form of change, look closely at your own attitude towards new ideas and behaviors.

The hashtag we established – #IdeaSpread – sounds a bit like a mayonnaise-like product that isn’t actually mayonnaise but really tastes a lot like it.  But in the growing universe of hashtags – serious, sardonic, and all in between – this was unclaimed! #EDUwin (that one’s claimed).  I don’t know where I came up with #seismiclearning – it’s California, after all!

This clip of “The Practice of Adaptive Leadership” author Ronald Heifetz is in the presentation slide deck, which I’ve provided below in resources.  Two sentences fragments stand apart:

  • “Ongoing pervasive experimentation…”
  • “…capacity to innovate and experiment to discover through trial and error what’s gonna work here.”

His vision for the conditions that enable powerful innovation emerges (unsurprisingly) in the pre-session comments David wrote to the questions we had shared with him in advance:

1) What made you guys want to work/share together so closely? Why/how is it that good ideas spread between you two?

“We were friends, but we became GOOD friends.  Trying to be a great teacher means that you are going to have to spend time outside of class AND you are going to have to try things that you haven’t thought of.  To spend your “free” time with a teaching friend who also wants to get better is the best foundation for growth.

Just the other day I walked across our campus during our passing period to share just ONE idea I had with Sean.  Your ideas should be the type that you want to get out of your seat/class and walk to someone and be so excited you can’t wait for their feedback or +1 of your idea.  We constantly ask each other What IF? or How Might We?  (Ongoing pervasive experimentation…)

We also share our frustrations and failures, but with a mindset of… there HAS to be something we can do to improve this situation… not TOTALLY fix it, but improve it.”  (…to discover through trial and error what’s gonna work here.)

3) How/why have Instructional Rounds taken root at FVHS?  How have you seen the culture of shared practice and risk-taking shift/grow/evolve? How has this work changed YOU guys?

“It’s like Frankenstein’s monster (just kidding).”

4) How has this spirit spread to your students?  What are the behaviors you see them exhibit in a space where “good ideas spread?”  G+ pages (WhatIF), blogging, etc…..

“That’s still difficult. Many kids still think Social Media/Internet/YouTube is fun and school is NOT so it’s weird for them to mix the two, and there’s still not a lot of teachers doing what we do, just cause we share a ton (and JR) doesn’t mean the whole school does – sometimes you just have to load the wagon and GO!” (…pervasive experimentation…)

And as Sean said during the session itself: “It takes trust and time.”

One question we discussed with David and Sean: What do you do when you need to work with people you don’t necessarily like?  I posted on this a little while ago and it still may be the toughest challenge to system-wide change, especially given that each school campus is its own island – physically and psychologically.  We need to continue building the relational architecture that enables good ideas to spread fluidly – regardless of distance, time, or the position we occupy in our organizational hierarchies.


Slide deck



One thought on “Wired/Inspired Episode 3: How Good Ideas Spread (& Some California #SeismicLearning)

  1. hi, you have a BIG BLOG, I am in awe of finding myself on your blog’s I follow list, thanks, the Twitter stream is technologically beyond me too, but I’m very glad gout stopped by my simple visual stream of images blog. Do drop by regularly, bye for now from rural north west Donegal, Ireland 🙂

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