Question 61 of 365: How do we make renewal more accessible?

Question 61 of 365: How do we make renewal more accessible?

Sometimes, making a single change to a long held practice will completely renew your interest and commitment to that practice. One of those times was this week.

I am renewed in my fascination and commitment to blog comments.

For years, I have thought that along with PDF’s (as Will Richardson puts it), they were where ideas went to die. They only lived as tiny little attachments on the end of a post, an asterisk on an idea. While they may spark a lot of debate or be the most interesting part of a blog, I could never help but feeling as though they were a waste because of how little they were incorporated into everything else I was doing. Sure, you have been able to subscribe in e-mail to comments on blogs, but it never felt like a cohesive conversation. Sure, people have had threaded comments for a couple years, but it always worked more like just an extension of the regular commenting structure than a real debate of ideas. The threads never really went anywhere besides what the original blog post had envisioned.

So, why this renewal?

The switch to Disqus comments has fueled my new outlook on comments. The simple ability to respond to a comment directly in e-mail and then see all of the threads as a conversation in gmail has made me think that there really could be a commenting renaissance in our future. Because each comment now has its own short link, I can send it out on Twitter or Buzz and continue the conversation.

I am now looking at my comments as ways of forming relationships and beginning/continuing conversations that were impossible to do previously. And, all from one simple switch to a different commenting system.

So, this has gotten me thinking about whether or not the entire process of renewal can be made more accessible to others. It makes me want to figure out which feature of a process could be changed in our every day lives that would cause us to buy-in anew and want to create something.

Which aspect of collaboration can I change to incite renewal for others?

Which part of meetings can I shift in order to renew interest in talking with one another?

What can I change in the writing process to allow people to see it as a renewing force in their life?

And there is the crux. In order to make renewal available to everyone, there is a level of investment required. All of these things do require someone to DO something. So, by focusing on things that people are already doing, we may be able to shift them one or two degrees in order to bring about real change.

In essence, what I need to figure out is not so much what are the changes I can make for others, but to really figure out what people are doing and go from there. Unless I have a good understanding of exactly how people are using a given tool, protocol, or idea; I will have no chance of making a lasting change that brings about renewal. I need to hear more stories about how people are meeting and collaborating, about how they are asking questions and about how they are leveraging the people that they know in order to find answers.

Until I listen, I can’t renew or reinvent anything.


  1. It's frustrating to blog and not get comments, especially when others write similar things and get dozens of comments. It's hard not to be jealous, I admit, and for many it's hard to be patient. I've been commenting much more in the past week or two, not only to share my ideas, but to build the community that will be more likely to give me feedback when I initiate the conversation.

    The impetus for my renewed activity was Gary Vaynerchuck, whose book I expect to receive today. While there's a ton of good stuff on his site (especially the videos), I really enjoyed his interview on Net @ Night with Leo Laporte (, begins about halfway in). Gary responds to over 500 emails every day, not just because it's good for business, but because he cares about the people who appreciate him and what he does. I'm not interested in building a business or making millions of dollars, but I think these ideas are easily transferred into the realm of education and PLNs. We care, so we share.

    I see what you mean by “focusing on things that people are already doing.” Gary would probably say that's not how you “crush it,” but not everybody thinks like Gary, and no one is telling Gary what to do. I once heard at a conference that somebody asks a teacher to change more than 20% of what they're doing in a year, that's unreasonable. Meanwhile, if a teacher doesn't expect themselves to change at least 20% of what they're doing each year, that's unprofessional. Either way, it takes intimate knowledge of what people are doing and the tools they are using, just as you concluded, and enough understanding and cooperation to get a person to willingly (happily, if possible) take ownership of their 20%.

  2. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
    When I was 12, my mom had me sit down at the kitchen table and write out my mission statement. I'm for realz, here. I'd gotten the Franklin Covey Student Planner for my birthday and it was time to put it to use. To be fair, my mom's worked in Human Resources for as long as I can remember, so it wasn't altogether out of the ordinary.
    It wasn't until later that I really looked at Covey's _7 Habits…_ and saw their usefulness.
    Listening is key. Really listening is key.
    Specifically, listening to understand is key.
    Listening on its own, listening to say you've listened isn't any good.
    In class today, my G11 kids were moving forward with Phase II of the Change the World project today. I was moving around the room having the groups pitch their next steps to me. Without hesitation, I was shooting down ideas like, “We're going to make a video,” or “We're going to make a website.”
    They were coming up with ideas to explain the problem, not solve it.
    They hadn't considered who they were talking to. They hadn't considered what it might take to get them to shift those one or two degrees. What they could do overshadowed what was needed.
    Oddly, when I told them to do something that mattered, they knew what I meant and saw that they'd been so focused on their own solution that they'd forgotten other people's problems.

  3. I think that “crushing it” is a little difficult to do in Education, mostly
    because you have to start from somewhere that already exists many times.
    That is not how I always want to do things, but in talking about renewing an
    interest in something that they have always done, you do have to figure out
    a way to work “new” into an already established workflow.

    I absolutely love your point about 20%. I had not heard that particular
    anecdote, but it does resonate with me a bunch. My question is, what is your

    By the way, I did tweet out your blog a couple of times yesterday, so
    hopefully someone clicked on the link.

  4. I love that you were writing mission statements at 12. I wrote a lot of
    poetry which ended up looking a lot like mission statements, but in a really
    bad rhyme scheme.

    I attended Ignite Denver last night with a few friends and they asked me
    what I would present on if I decided to do it again, and I ended up
    referencing you a whole bunch in my answer. I said that I would probably
    talk about how you challenged me to be “human” with more people. I don't
    think I will ever forget that moment in John Pederson's session where you
    were trying to get people to be human with one another and have that be

    It makes me wonder if renewal isn't about change at all. Perhaps it is just
    about looking someone in the eyes and listening to what they have to say.
    Hearing their story and letting it affect you on a personal level. If that
    is what matters, let's break down the barriers to doing that.

    Would you feel better about their chances to create change if your students
    said “we are going to create a community” or “we are going to go and capture
    stories” or “we are going to provide a way for people to be human with one
    another and empathize enough to feel intertwined with the problems facing a
    part of society to feel as though it is everyone's problem too”?

    By the way, I think my next Ignite presentation would be called “Be Human.”
    Do you think that would be an interesting tagline for The Next School?

  5. I think at the conference someone asked, “Why 20%?” The speaker replied that it wasn't about a specific amount – it could be 15% or 20% – but we can't pressure people (or ourselves) to reinvent themselves on an annual basis. That all made sense to us, so we moved on without really thinking of your question, “What is your 20%?”

    Last year, my final year before heading to grad school, my 20% was the adoption of new textbooks for Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2. That might have been more than 20%, but the important part to me was that I didn't feel the obligation to radically change the rest of my practices. Although, in hindsight, there are things that I wish I had changed – but that's where the next year's 20% should come from.

  6. I'm at a yes and no place here. The sticking point for me is the number. I get from the conversation here that the number is arbitrary and unquestioned, so not the point. But, it would be the point.
    If I were tell a faculty they needed to change what they were doing, they would ask “What?” and “How much?” If I gave them an answer, let's be generous and say 10 percent, too many would see it in two ways.
    Some would see it as an unobtainable goal and feel it a yoke around their necks until the next mandate. Others would strive to the 10 percent, reach it and sit atop it as though they'd accomplished something.
    The third group are the ones I will want teaching my kids. This group is comprised of the people who hear “change” think “innovate” and are too busy coming up with ideas to hear any of the conversation about percentages. Those are the people I want to have as colleagues, teachers and friends.

  7. You're right, and you're reinforcing the self-doubt I have as I think about my last year of teaching. Adding a third class (Algebra 2) to my schedule and getting new textbooks in every class was a huge change, and at the time I was doing about all I could handle. But now I look back I wish I had done other things differently. Maybe I belong in your third group, but maybe I was in your second group. Maybe the classification isn't that important. What's probably important is that I get back to Ben's original point (or closer to it), which was that “new” and “change” must be things we accept as part of our jobs, not because we're reinventing ourselves or ordered to do so, but because it's just what we do.

  8. I'm not sure that I would agree that changing curriculum would constitute
    the 20% that the speaker was referring to, though. If I am reading the idea
    right, the change that he is referring to is all about practice.

    I think that updating curriculum is a daily habit, and clearly it is an
    extensive undertaking to use different books. However, I would ask you what
    you really changed (other than creating more work to create engaging lessons
    around that new curriculum) by switching books.

    Are you asking better questions now? Are you collaborating more with your
    students? Are you creating new and real things in your classroom?

    I am by no means saying that your teaching isn't good enough. The very fact
    that you are blogging and thinking critically about your practice shows that
    you care enough to continually make it better.

    I think what I am trying to say is this: How do you know that your 20% made
    a difference to your kids?

  9. I believe in the power of change and in learning to be better (hence the
    name of my blog). I forget sometimes that those two words don't have the
    same meaning for everyone. I think it is valuable to define our terms, and
    perhaps that is where the percentages get sticky. I think that prioritizing
    and figuring out just what is doable in the time that you have is a good
    thing. But to me, change is about finding an opportunity to create and then
    creating until you are done (or at least done enough to move on).

    The percentages may not matter, but if it helps someone to think through
    whether or not they have changed at all, I think it could be valuable.

    Perhaps it isn't so much that we should strive to change 20% of the things
    that we do. Perhaps, we should look at changing some of everything that we
    do. If I am looking for those ways to be better in everything, I think it
    may be that I settle around 20% that I change at any given task or idea in a

    Maybe I am little off on that, but there is more to this soundbyte than a
    lot of other ones I have heard. It made me be reflective, and not many other
    ones can do that.

  10. This is well put.

    I love figuring out “what we do” all of the time. In another one of my
    recent posts I talk about how we should be writing out our job description
    on a yearly basis. I think that performing the act of reflecting on all of
    the things that we do can be really valuable in order to actually see the
    change that we claim to value. So, I wonder… If you wrote out all of the
    things you do today vs. all of the things you did a year ago, how much
    change would you see (and what value would that change have for your life
    and your work). Clearly the number would matter, but the change would.

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