Wednesday, December 31, 2014

[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] L is for the Law of Unintended Consequences

Okay tootsies... it's time to get down with some philosophy up in the blogosphere. 

As I reach the almost halfway mark of the Abecedary of Cape-Wearing with the letter L.

L is for the Law of Unintended Consequences

Here are some quick definitions:

--events and/or actions that result from the implementation of a law of rule that the makers of the law did not expect (link here)

--unintended consequences (sometimes unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences) are outcomes that are not the ones intended by a purposeful action (link here)

--actions, particularly those taken on a large scale as by governments, may have unexpected consequences. These “reactions,” may be positive, negative or merely neutral, but they veer off from the intent of the initial action (link here)

How does this apply to the Abecedary of Cape-Wearing? Here is my thinking (and the thinking of these folks that wrote this cool and totally geeky book)...  Superheroes dwell exactly in the middle of a world of large-scale, high impact, life-altering change. They save lives, lasso meteors, thwart world domination. Even the smallest action in the world of a superhero is... well... super. It is a super action that leads to a super consequence. 

When my kidlets and I were in the throes of discussing what makes a superhero, they noticed that all of the truly heroic superfolks wrestled with their own powers at one time or another. At first they scoffed at this idea--why would Superman even pause for thought if he could do all of those super things?  Why didn't Batman just stop with the tortured-soul act and get on with it? What could possibly have possessed Hal Jordan to even consider NOT becoming a Green Lantern?

One of the kidlets had a big thinking thought, "Because sometimes people died."

Big thinking silence ensued. What if your heroism killed people?  Is it worth it? 

"Yes, if it saves other people."
"What if it kills the wrong people?"
"Is it ever worth it if someone dies?"
"I bet you still feel bad even if you didn't mean it."
"It doesn't matter if you meant it or not--it killed people."

And they looked at me for the answer--hoping I could wrap it up in a nice package that would feel better than the abyss of uncertainty that was, at that moment, staring them in the face.  They waited... I waited...  realization dawned on their spongy brains. There is no right answer to this question. Large-scale actions lead to large scale results--a spider web of consequences that can't be planned or controlled. 

After this conversation the lovies were subdued for a few days. They noticed unintended consequences for their decisions more and more. The learning on this one was deep and personal. I wasn't sure if they would make the connection, but I didn't want to make it for them--this was deep learning and not to be rushed.

About a week later the light shined down--they were reading about Martin Luther King Jr in their social studies class. I heard them arguing as they walked in to my room,

"He was a pacifist. He was peaceful."
"But people got hurt and maybe died."
"He didn't mean for them to do that though. It wasn't his fault."
"He gave speeches and told them to take action--he should have known."
"How could he know what would they would do?"
“That’s what you have to do when you make big decisions. You have to decide if it’s worth the consequence.”

And lo' the light shined down as they made the connection.

"Hey Boss, this is that law of the consequences thing!”

Why yes my dears... yes it is.

In education we must be aware of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Our words and actions have power. We may not be able to control each resulting ripple, but it is our responsibility to think it through, consider it, be intentional in our work.

What are your thoughts about the Law of Unintended Consequences?  Where does it apply to your work, your planning, your best hopes?

Monday, December 22, 2014

[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] K is for Kal-El
Back in the day, my wee little students wrestled with a big question. 

What is a superhero?

Their conversations during the various phases of this discussion were awe-inspiring. They thought deeply about heroism, super-heroism, humanity, the forces of good and evil, and their own belief systems.

Each time they thought they had a clear answer to the question; another facet would rise up creating more layers of questions and fewer answers.  One of my favorite unanswerable questions that came from this ongoing discussion was:

Is Kal-El a superhero?

Kal-El was a boy on the planet Krypton without special powers. Due to a brief ride through space, and  a shift in gravity, he was graced with incredible strength and some laser vision and became what we know as Superman. But as Kal-El—is he a superhero?  If one characteristic of a superhero is that she or he have super powers, can we count Kal-El? If we can’t count Kal-El until he lands on Earth and becomes Superman, can we say he is a superhero?

The beauty of this question for my students at the time was the possibility of either answer.

If Kal-El was superhero because of his potential on another planet—then aren’t we all superheroes just waiting for a new planet?

If Kal-El is not a superhero and Superman is—then doesn’t that mean we can all be come a superhero if the right things happen to us? Are we all just waiting for the right circumstance to reveal our powers?

If Kal-El isn’t a superhero and Superman is likewise NOT a superhero—then what does that mean for the definition of superheroes? Can we honestly say that Superman is not super-heroic? If we cannot, then what is super-heroism exactly?

Surprise, surprise, I am applying this teaching and learning. My students loved the idea of superheroes. They loved the idea that they could be a Kal-El  waiting for a new planet, or a Bruce Wayne waiting for the right technology, or a Peter Parker in need of a mere spider bite to unleash their amazingness.  Superheroes show us our potential to be amazing. Just add enough strength, enough flexibility, enough learning, and KaBlam!  Superheorism all around.

This speaks to the eternal hope of possibility we need to have for ourselves as teachers and for our students as learners.

Why not believe that it is possible?  Why not believe in the possibility of what we could be rather than focus on the limitations of what we’ve been told we are?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

[An Abecedary of Cape-Wearing] J is for The Justice Society of America

Thanks to @shelley-burgess, @drjolly and the #satchatwc Saturday morning Twitter chat, I am determined to finish the Abecedary of Cape-Wearing within a year of having the brilliantly foolish idea of starting it. That means I have 17 letters to finish in 24 days. That's... (4 plus... 7… carry the 2...) a gabillion times more letters than I did previously. So wish me cape-wearing luck! Click here for letters A-I.

J is for the Justice Society of America. The JSA is referenced as the first team of superheroes in DC comic books—introduced in World War II alongside the All-Star Squadron.  In case you’re curious about the history and the subsequent link to the currently-known JAL, the video below is pretty interesting:

I’m especially fascinated by superhero teams. I love watching strong characters with vastly different skill-sets work together to beat the baddies. There is always some sort of struggle—struggles about leadership, struggles about membership in the team, struggles about which baddies to fight and how—that’s the nature of a team. They always prevail in the end, though. And end up caring about the team as a whole more than their individual needs (almost always anyway—click here for a video of Batman going rogue with the JAL).

Teams of cape-wearing teachers have the same struggles and the same successes. Incredibly talented adults come together for a common purpose—to prepare children for success. The methods for achieving that purpose are varied and each path is full of pitfalls, but teams of teachers always prevail. While it is sometimes difficult to work within a team of such intensely caring, radically different, super-powered colleagues, the success achieved by a team of cape-wearing educators far out-weigh the successes of one individual.

Who is in your superhero team? How do you combine your powers to beat the baddies?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

[Throwback Thursday] A Memory

I was Google-chatting with my sis this morning and had a remembery that gave me new perspective on the work I do today.

Waaayyyy back in 6th grade (think early 80's... acid wash jeans...leg warmers... neon sweatshirt with "Frankie Says Relax" emblazoned on it....) I experienced a pivotal social moment. Didn't we all?

I went to a small school in a small town. There were about 80 kids in my grade. Most of us started in Kinder together and would graduate together down the road. New kids were either celebrities or pariahs. M. was a celebrity. She was related to a D.--a popular kid, and she had a commanding presence. She had style, she had sass, and she was exotic. The girls in the three 6th grade classes followed her around, hung on her every word, did her bidding. 

I hung out on the fringes--feeling like I should want to be in the mix, hampered by shyness, and not sure I wanted to be a full-on lemming. I watched, smiled when I was supposed to, and worked very hard to appear that I belonged there while I decided if I did. If the weather was acceptable (i.e. not frozen or hailing), we were outside. The group would go en masse to the furthest edge of the school grounds--as far as we could go without being called back. M. would stand in the center and hold court. At about that time each day the high school vocational classes would have to walk near us to get to their next class. Social norms would dictate that high schoolers walking by a gaggle of 6th grade girls would have the upper hand. They didn’t. M. was that good. One boy in particular struck her as a target and she honed in.

I remember that he walked alone--separate from the rest. He shuffled by each day with his head down. M. didn't like his hair or the way he walked. She altered the words of "Wild Thing"--directing us all to sing along with her as he walked by. I remember the boy put his hood up and tried get further away. This happened for a few days and I watched Wild Thing shrink and try new ways to avoid us each day.

This was before the tragedies of school violence reminded us to teach kids about diversity, bullying, and well… basic humanity. I'd spent my elementary years struggling with a bleeding heart sense of empathy--I knew it wasn't cool to care and I was trying to do what was socially expected as I entered middle school.

I lasted about three days.

On the day I sealed my fate, Wild Thing had his sweatshirt hood up, his hands in his pockets, and he was slinking along at the furthest edge of the walkway. M- called out to him to take his hood off, to come closer to hear the song, to dance for us. I heard my own voice say:

"Stop it."

There was a deafening silence. A sea of 6th grade, blue-shadowed eyes turned toward me. A few girls took a step back. 

M: “…What did you say!?”
Me (much less forcefully): "I said stop it… that's mean."
M: "You stop it! Don't be bogus. Sing the song."
Me (seriously doubting my choice): "I just think it's mean..”
M (turning her whole powerful self toward me):  "If you say that again I'll make everyone stop talking to you forever."
Me (after a pause where I heard audible gasps and considered my own mortality): "…I...  don't care. Stop it."
(shocked pause): "That's it. Get out of here. They’ll never talk to you again."

And they didn’t. She was true to her word. The girls of the 6th grade avoided me for most of that year.* I had a lot of time to doubt my decision. There was no undoing it, so I don't know if I would have if I could have. 

And here I sit today--the Director of Student Services for a small school district (though over ten times the size of where I grew up). Apparently I knew exactly who I was that day. My over-empathetic heart decided for me that it was worth the fight to protect those that had a raw deal. I chose my side and while I didn't remember that until today, I see now that I am exactly where I intended to be.

Do you have a pivotal moment you may have forgotten? One that gives you a new perspective on where you are today?

*Lest you think I was entirely solitary, H. moved into town a few months later and was labeled a pariah due to her braces and her odd personality. We became friends of necessity.