It all started off well. But then TED spread.
TED first came onto my radar in 2006 when Sir Ken Robinson made his moving, humorous, and influential 'Schools Kill Creativity' speech. Ideas worth spreading indeed. Since then the TED Talks have inspired and challenged me. A few of my own key ideas, decisions and actions in recent years have had their genesis in a couple of TED presentations.
TED is now very fashionable. "Did you see it?" "It was amazing." "Very Inspirational" The risk is that TED-hungry leaders, managers and decision makers will end up with the sort of 'doing it vicariously' effect which has gripped the world of would be cooks, singers, and overweight people.
The abundance of reality media means that many people who don't cook their own healthy food can now instead get some sort of solace from living vicariously through watching Jamie Oliver do so. It means that people who want to have an entertainment career can now instead live that dream vicariously through their favourite TV Idol contestant. Watching the Biggest Loser gives an easier sense of well-being than changing diet and exercise programmes for yourself.
Also add to this list: Vicarious parenting through watching Super Nanny and vicarious home improvement through watching Grand Designs.
We can become dumbed down and passive consumers of ideas, convincing ourselves that the 'hard' but good things to do are taken care of in our lives by watching someone else do them on TV.
So the now pervasive presence of TED videos, and live local iterations of TED events, offer us inspiration, opportunity and also risk. The risk of us becoming consumers of TED content rather than producers of new ideas. The risk of living vicarious creative lives through the TED presenters' lives.
Ask some fellow teachers, principals or other leaders about creative things they have done recently. If they respond by saying that they have watched a TED video start to worry. Watching TED is good for getting inspiration but it is not creativity on its own.
Produce don't consume. Force yourself to be able to list actions you have taken as a result of a dose of TED. If we don't make ourselves do this then, as leaders, we are no different to an obese person cheering on their favourite Biggest Loser contestant while sitting on the couch eating a bucket of wings. Watching Ken does not make you Ken.
Who is it that is teaching new teachers to write lyrics for Whitney Houston songs? If it is you please stop it now.
Every few months I find myself in this position. All I want to do is find an outstanding teacher to employ. All I end up doing is wallowing through a pile of edu-speak sickly sweet treacle.
Who is it that is teaching new graduates that a CV should sound like a Whitney Houston song? The lack-of-substance mush-crimes are at their worst from UC College of Education here in Christchurch. Graduates seem compelled to offer something called an 'emerging philosophy of teaching.'
The problem with an 'emerging philosophy of teaching' is that it states the obvious and tells me nothing about what the candidate actually plans to do if I let him/her loose on a class of children.
"I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier"
Give me a break. Without breaking any confidentiality by quoting from actual applications in front of me, they seem to say the same thing while at the same time managing to say nothing.
"Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be"
The missing components of so many of these manufactured sugar-sweet teaching job applications can be illustrated by going back to the old school Dr. Julia Atkin circles (as illustrated in From Values and Beliefs about Learning to Principles and Practice. Dr. Julia Atkin, 1996).
Since no one would say "I believe in a teacher centered classroom where only some children reach their potential and only some needs are met and parents are unwelcome" everyone has to say "I believe in a child centered classroom where all children reach their potential and all needs are met and there is an open door policy/partnership with parents." These nice words are the centre of the circles mentioned above.
Sadly most job applications I receive stop there. They don't go on to say what the applicant's planned practices (which are congruent with their values and beliefs) are. A job application with the outer circle filled in will get my attention. The rest don't.
I could easily apply for a doctor's job by saying I want to heal people or an engineer's job by saying I want to build great buildings that don't fall down. The thing needed in those job applications would be some concrete ideas for how I might do that (the outer circles).
I hope teacher training institutions cotton on to these important gaps in the CVs they guide their students to produce.
And... one final point. We work with children, we get them to use crayons and picture books. This does not mean a job application and CV for a teaching job needs to look like it is made with crayons and made up as a pop-up book. Sort out the pedagogy/andragogy divide.