The Strength of Weak Ties

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Learn then Lean

Okay, it is back to school time. That means PowerPoint presentations, speakers, departmental meetings, saying hello to old friends, and even some work in the classroom. But what it really means is that we get to do what we do.

And that’s to work with kids. That’s what so exciting about the new school year.

It’s also a time to start trying out those new things, new techniques and new strategies that you learned over the summer, either through professional development sessions or by learning on your own. This summer I taught sessions on digital storytelling, Blackboard, Marzano’s work (Classroom Strategies that Work), and of course, Web 2.0. I’d like to think everyone learned a lot, and that these experiences would impact what those teachers did in the fall, and that their experience would in turn impact student learning. Perhaps you taught sessions yourself or perhaps you were a participant in some similar workshop.

Fast forward to the end of October, early November.

It’s several weeks yet to Thanksgiving Break (in the States) and you’ve got a monster pile of papers to grade, after-school curriculum meetings, parents to call, emails to answer, special education staffings to attend, well, you know the story. What happens next? What happens to all those new things? Do they get filed away for later, only to be never revisited? Do you stare at longingly your file cabinet?

Will you let school get in the way of doing things different, and perhaps better?

Over the summer, I read The Dip, by Seth Godin. It’s a short book with small pages, but with big ideas. Basically, the idea is that you want to be the best in the world at something. You start out great, all energized, and then barriers set in, which results in resistance, and then your ability to reach that goal enters into a big dip. The question that Godin poses is this: should you quit, or should you lean into the dip, push through the dip and proceed on your way to excellence?

Here’s an example. You took a really good Web 2.0 course, and you are interested in using those tools with your kids. You’ve even started to blog. You come back to school with the best of intentions, and then you get real busy, certain sites are blocked, your department chair doesn’t understand the importance in the era of AYP and NCLB, and bingo, you’ve hit the dip…

Now what?

Sometimes it’s not possible to make it through the dip because either you don’t have the skills or the resources, something gets in the way. If that’s the case, strategic quitting is the answer, according to Godin.

I’m not interested in quitting if the goal is to be the best.

So my question to all of you is this. Have you thought about the approaching dip? Because it’s coming…

To the teachers out there: What will you do to work through the dip? What can you do to anticipate the factors that will contribute to the dip? What alliances do you need to form or develop that can help to mitigate the dip? How must you alter what you do to provide the time necessary to nurture, develop and extend the things you have learned so that they become a seamless part of what you do? How will your past practice, behaviors, and methodologies contribute to the onset of the dip? How will you avoid these? How will you lean into and push your way through the dip to be the best?

To the administrators out there: What will you do to help teachers through the dip? Do you know what they learned over the summer? Have you learned the same things? What do you have in place to support teachers on those new initiatives? Have you built organizational readiness to support teachers, or will you be a contributing factor to the influence of the dip? In September, will you think of November, when the initial energy of the start of school is a distant memory? Are you planning to help teachers maintain the energy? Are you providing the dollars, the infrastructure, and the leadership to help your school become the best? Teachers can only do so much; administrators have the ability to open the door to more.

And the technology people out there: will you supply that lost or forgotten password ten times, and do so with a smile? Will you answer that email in a timely fashion because behind every email is a whole bunch of kids that need to know. Can you get that site unblocked for that teacher that wants to do more and take kids to the next level?

Look at all the questions. Look at all the potential excuses. It’s easy to see why the dip occurs, and why it’s difficult to get things changed in education.

Start leaning now.


  • At 9:40 AM , Blogger Kern Kelley said...

    Hey David,
    BTW The Dip is an audio book on which people can get for free if they go to I've found it a way to get some staff to read(listen) to books like A Whole New Mind that they probably wouldn't have bought.

  • At 7:32 PM , Blogger David said...

    Kern: that's a great idea, thanks. Going there now. David

  • At 11:15 AM , Blogger meisenheimer said...

    This article really resonates with me and I appreciate how you poke at teachers, admin, and IT all at the same time. It seems like the blame is usually cast from one group to the other. I feel like I'm in the dip after checking out web 2.0 for the first time this summer, but how do I keep up and teach? oh, and have a life? Also, I'm trying to decide between blackboard and blogger and pbwiki, etc. for high school math. Any suggestions? Thanks for your guidance.


  • At 3:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    David, you raise many good points that I have been thinking through as well. Terry Freedman interviewed my 18 year old daughter about her backchanneling during her classes in high school in a 1:1 environment -
    and I thought Grace added an additional dimension of differentiated learning approaches that I had not considered.

    I was involved in the BLC and Denver chatcasting, as well as David Warlick's chatcasting while he was in New Brunswick last week. What I especially appreciated about Dave's chatcast was that he returned to the chat later and added his own thoughts and rebuttals ( To hear back from the original presenter with additional feedback is a great plus and motivation to the participants. It also contributes to furthering the dialogue between all involved.

    For myself, I really enjoy the opportunity to engage in discussion via chatcasting (or backchanneling) during a lecture. Frankly, I have found it frustrating when I am forced to sit passively during a lecture or presentation because I want to engage with the ideas, synthesize and connect ideas and to be able to do that beyond taking notes for a blog post is an intellectually and invigorating experience. The level of discourse between those who have participated in the exchanges I have mentioned has been quite high. It has been a privilege to have real dialogue with colleagues of such distinction.

    Yes, it is messy - but most real learning often is.

    My questions:

    Why do lurkers not jump in to the discussion? Can it be that some are intimidated by the process or participants? How can we overcome that?

    For K12 uses - how can we involve those with slower typing speeds?

    How can we legitimatize the process? Can it be adequately evaluated? Can we offer chatcasting as one alternative to active participation during lectures?

  • At 8:08 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Hi David,
    I am a third grade teacher and your comments about “The Dip” that so many teachers face is exactly correct. I can completely relate to the feeling of being really excited at the beginning of a school year to try out new techniques that were learned and/or created over the summer, and then becoming overwhelmed and distracted with other things that those exiting things get pushed to the side. I am constantly juggling my time between music rehearsal practice, book exchange, holiday parties, mystery readers, etc. that I barely can find time to try something new and exciting that may take extra time to complete. I am still searching for the solution to this problem of “too much to do and not enough time to do it”. Let me know if you ever find an answer to this problem.


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