Inspired vs tired edu-talks

Over the last decade or so, I’ve been at many education gatherings where people have talked about what makes learning better and what changes should be made to achieve that end. Without a doubt, there are three underlying principles the speaker uses in motivating and inspiring the audience. This is in contrast to those who rarely speak or simply mirror the discourse by responding to what they think the hierarchy wants to hear. Whether at a teach-meet or some grand affair, we all remember those speakers who inspire action because they frame their discussion as a genuine scholarly interaction in which they demonstrate respect for others as fellow professionals.

First, they speak about trust. As all teachers are at least under-graduates and have chosen a difficult and challenging profession, they recognise the responsibility teachers should be carrying as part of their professional code. By responsibility, I mean the teacher’s ability what they can do or are willing to learn to make the lived experience better for everyone in the community and what their response is when provoked to take up the new challenge, idea or method. They know a good teacher’s response will the to activate their ability because they trust the organisational logic and they are trusted in return. It becomes immediately apparent which speakers can activate this through their story-telling, seeking to elicit ideas and insights from other teachers in the room which they can readily relate to and infuse into the discussion – giving a sense of context rather than speculation.

Secondly, they avoid speculation and bar-stool theories. They use technical language and theories to underpin their arguments and give examples of in-situ applications that don’t rely on the audience’s imagination and representations. They might start with a thesis question to explain how came to know this; what it means for them once they became aware and how they have applied this into situations to which the audience can immediately relate, careful not talk ‘at’ the audience in a manner that appears to be a set of demands (disarming and dominating) or to establish themselves as more powerful. The kind of ‘do this because if you don’t then X is going to happen’. This element allows them to converge their ideas and work with that of the audiences – no matter where the audience is on a timeline of awareness or adoption.

Third, they do more than skim Twitter or TED talks for the big ideas. Most educators know all theories have a canon of work, a history of ideas and actions. They can tell the difference between speculation and demands from theories and methods. They are obviously not just talking, but are reading close material to develop their ideas and are critically aware that no one or two people own the idea, but stand on the shoulders of others, filling in the gaps or adding some new insight. There’s nothing wrong with being an n+1 thinker but everything wrong with chasing butterflies or echoing social-media bandwagons.

Lastly, anyone wishing to lead teachers to new ideas has an active voice and understands informational cultures. They know that information is not locked in the room, that nothing they say can’t also be discovered through the Internet. They may or may not be active on social media — but they will have a history in creating and curating information about their topic, their passion and what they see as their mission. It goes without saying that they will point the audience to these resources and invite further discussion well after the gathering. They know, as Seth Godin famously said – that people want you to lead them, and that followers and fans are so much more valuable that subordinates and conscripts. I guess it’s easy to tell someone to do something, but much harder to convince them if the landscape around the idea seems empty or a collection of replications.

Teachers are constantly under pressure to comply with the demands of authorities. They live in real world where time is finite and their lives are constrained by very real socio-economics and these two factors alone guide how they think, feel and act towards the concept of ‘responsibility’. There are things they simply can’t do unless they are trusted, given clear scholarly resources and have on-going access to people who have demonstrated they are worth following in pursuit of these goals. Where goals become vague, optional or speculation, the response is either to do nothing new (nod and pretend but with little idea on how to take action) or as a follower and fan of one or more ideas – validate what you’re hearing with those who they already trust. The latter is the new paradigm for organisations – people follow those who inspire and nurture their professionalism authentically. It takes only a moment to ping their network and validate just about anything and anyone.

I take my hat off to great-speakers, they are critically are of both the corporeal and digital hybrid environments we call ‘education’. They cannot fool the audience all the time, or even some of the time because validation is a click away. They have to demonstrate they have a reputation and credibility in the digital-sphere – something that doesn’t happen overnight – and they have to connect their unique ideas and insights to the canon of work in that area, as well as continuing to read, watch and talk about new ideas, projects and people.

The bad ones have nothing new to say. These are the ones who have five powerpoints on rotation or trotting out the same old stories (often utopian and opinion based). I guess there’s still an audience for that, given the number of people who seem to eek a living from it – but I suspect very little of their speculation and word-salad connects with their audience, such that they can inspire such a shift in thinking, a hunger for better, nothing will now stop that person changing what they see as their responsibility to be a better teacher and colleague. Once they enter the personal-digital-connected sphere of digital discourse around their idea … then they too become part of the informational shift.

Sometimes, this speaker only has to say a few sentences to achieve this … I’m glad to have had that experience on many occasions … and hope to keep having them because new ideas won’t come from re-cycled dogma.