So as I was taking a shower yesterday—fully clothed, if that’s a more comfortable mental image for you—I got into a full-on hunch fest.
“I’ll bet that we have a harder time recruiting accomplished individuals to the classroom than other countries,” I thought as I was scrubbing a bit of grime off my keister.
“And I’ll bet that the difference in the talent drawn to classrooms explains some of the gaps we see between high and low performing countries.”
Strange shower thoughts, huh? But I’ll bet your mind starts to wander when you’re washing up, too.
In fact, as Steven Johnson explains in Where Good Ideas Come From, many of our most innovative thoughts happen in the places where your mind is freed to think creatively:
“One way is to go for a walk…a similar phenomenon occurs with long showers or soaks in a tub.
The shower or stroll removes you from the task-based focus of modern life—paying bills, answering e-mail, helping kids with homework—and deposits you in a more associative state.
Given enough time, your mind will often stumble across some old connection that it had long overlooked, and you experience that delightful feeling of private serendipity: Why didn’t I think of that before?”
(Kindle locations 1244-1251)
Now, if you’re anything like me, these moments of private serendipity—which I like to call lathered brilliance for obvious reasons—are typically lost as soon as I towel off and head back into the grind of life.
It’s not that I don’t want to capitalize on the innovative moments that come underneath the shower stream.
It’s just that actually following up on my new thinking—in this case, studying the correlations between the qualifications of teachers and the respect shown to the profession in different countries and by different cultures—takes more time than I have to give. That means translating my lathered brilliance into practical action rarely happens.
Yesterday was different, though. You see, after slipping into my Superman Underoos, I pulled out my Blackberry and started skimming my Twitterstream. In less than five minutes, I came across this message:
I’d just finished spending twenty warm and soapy minutes thinking about the qualifications of America’s teachers as compared to their international counterparts—beautiful, innovative thoughts that would have gone to waste on a typical day because I wouldn’t have the time to track down the kinds of resources needed to follow-up on my hunch—and one of the minds I’m learning from in Twitter shares an article on that exact topic.
Do you realize how powerful that is? Now, I really CAN continue to explore my own thinking on teaching qualifications without being overwhelmed by the logistics of tracking down resources on my own.
What lessons can we learn from my serendipitous moment in my underpants?
Here are three:
Using digital tools to build a network of co-learners can feed innovative thinking: Learning has always been a somewhat solitary process.
Sure, we could always join with co-learners in our communities and in our schools for interesting conversations and resource sharing, but our thoughts—and our ability to pursue novel ideas—has always been limited by our access to other minds and materials.
Social media spaces, however, allow us to quickly and easily connect with hundreds—thousands if you’re willing—of other learners who are sharing their ideas. This exposure to dozens of other minds just plain makes learning more efficient.
Networked learners are more likely to stumble across resources and to have their thinking challenged in a productive way than those who fail to take advantage of the community of co-learners that are a click away in places like Twitter and Facebook.
The power of a network is only as valuable as the minds that it contains: Critics might argue that my experience yesterday was pure luck. “You couldn’t have known that you would stumble across THAT message at THAT time,” they’d say.
And while there’s some measure of truth to that statement—I miss more messages than I see in my Twitterstream each day simply because I’m not constantly connected—I DID know that the minds I follow were sharing resources about teacher qualifications.
Because I carefully CHOSE to follow their thinking.
They’d proven in post after post to have the same kinds of interests—teacher quality, education reform, teaching with technology, professional bowling—as I do. As a result, my choices increase the likelihood that my network will expose me to ideas that can stretch my thinking at any given time.
Sure, I had no idea that my Twitterstream and my lathered brilliance would align so nicely yesterday, but I’ve come to expect my Twitterstream and my lathered brilliance to align more often than not because I’m pretty sure the people I’m following are spending their time in the shower thinking about the same stuff as I am.
How’s that for a weird but powerful truth!
It’s high time that we start to teach students the power of networked learning in social media spaces: Isn’t it sad that we’re doing nothing to teach students to create similar networks to learn from?
I mean, if we don’t show them what learning in social media spaces looks like, where will they turn when their minds are finding interesting thoughts worth exploring further? Aren’t they more likely to discard those novel ideas simply because learning more is harder than it has to be?
We ban social media tools from our classrooms and our schools because we’re driven by an irrational fear of what could be.
But if success in the future depends on the ability to innovate and think creatively—and if schools are supposedly committed to integrating these kinds of skills into their instruction—how can we possibly justify building walls around the tools and spaces that make innovation and creative thinking easier?
Our kids understand the tools.
Now it’s time to help them understand how to use those tools to feed their own moments of lathered brilliance.