Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Are we herding cats or a climbing team?

I have been thinking this summer about the work we do together with teachers, wondering what metaphor we can adequately use to describe it.

Recently, I have written about the boot camp metaphor. Another metaphor I have repeatedly heard through the years is one about herding cats usually accompanied by this video. I've always been uncomfortable with this metaphor. It essentially communicated a rivalry, one person the lone cowboy/cowgirl trying to herd a group of individualistic animals that do not want to go. The herding cats metaphor must go because it does not recognize the expertise and capacity of teachers. Instead of herding we should be leading, guiding and showing the way.

In searching for a metaphor, I reached mountain climbing teams. It is a metaphor that works for me to describe what we do as educators and what we do in TechEDGE. Just to be clear, I am not a mountain climbing fanatic. In fact, I am quite wary of heights. What I've read and watched led me to a perception of what mountain climbing might be, and it is this perception that guides this post.

When I work with teachers we go on a journey together. This journey is much like climbing mountains:

Goals: Each journey has a goal, a peak. But once a team reaches the peak there are many others that suddenly look possible.

Teams: Each team has its personality. We work together to define goals and divide the tasks. We get to know each other well, creating a friendship stemming from shared experiences. We support each other since we are all tethered. There are pitfalls and many moments we just want to get off the mountain. Only when we work together, supporting and motivating each other can we make it to the top.

Leadership: I serve as a guide, I know this and other mountains more than many so I can support the climb. I sometimes lead but many other times I just sit back and let others lead, gain confidence until some of them go ahead and lead their own expeditions.

Work ethic: Climb one mountain at a time. It is arduous at times, exhilarating at others. The important lesson is to reach the goal and look down on the path you took. It makes a lot more sense than mountain hopping, where each school year you start on a new mountain before you finished climbing the last one.

Emotions: Every mountain inspires fear and excitement. Those are not mutually exclusive but instead both useful. Excitement motivates while fear keeps us from attempting things we should not. At the same time, those two must be in balance. Too much fear and we never attempt the climb, too much excitement, and we all tumble down.

It is important to remember to document the path and the achievement. Most of all it is important to celebrate once we reach the top. Not because we are done, because we have accomplished something significant.

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