When they are ready

Professional learning isn’t a race and people don’t start their climb when others tell them to. Meaningful growth happens when learners are ready to embrace it

“U-Bhf. Rathaus Reinickendorf #I” by Alexander Rentsch https://flickr.com/photos/captain_die/8922803290 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

I see and hear a lot of vexed consternation expressed in EdTechie teacher circles over our colleagues who aren’t getting on the bus. People say their ignorant stubbornness is (at best) warped and self-serving. More cynical takes assert that their unwillingness to adopt cutting edge tools and skills that are powering the jobs of the tomorrow is hurting students and their successful futures.

It’s all very doomy, very gloomy stuff.

The problem is that these attitudes don’t help kids any more than the inactions that prompted them in the first place. In some cases, finger wagging at colleagues and shaming them for being on the wrong side of history may lead to people digging their heels in deeper, which only prolongs their journey of professional growth and delays their learners’ access to the very supports we are passionately advocating for them to receive.

…part of my holdout was less about the merit of adopting and more about not capitulating to people who thought it was their job to tell me how to live my life.

We’ve all been that guy

If we’re honest with ourselves, we can all probably think of a situation in which we were the ones resolutely going against a tide that we later joined. Personally, I don’t have to think that hard:

  • I didn’t “get” Radiohead’s Kid A album when it came out. I said it was unlistenable noise pollution and a huge mistake for one of the world’s biggest bands to suddenly produce such inaccessible music. Today, it’s one of my favorites of all time. [Shoutout to the campus newspaper editor who refused my album review and saved my misguided critique from being immortalized as part of my digital footprint.]
  • Between 1997–2003, I defiantly claimed “I’ll never own a cell phone” more times than I can count.
  • Ditto on the absolutism for “never” joining Facebook.

In the case of Kid A, I simply wasn’t ready for it at the time. I had to grow and mature as a listener. With cell phones and Facebook, I’ll admit that regardless of the reasons behind my initial resistance, part of my holdout was less about the merit of adopting and more about not capitulating to people who thought it was their job to tell me how to live my life.

Everyone eventually gets there.

I mention my tardiness in adopting cell phones, Facebook and a positive embrace of Kid A only to point out that I eventually came around. It just took until I was ready to do so.

Joe Young has a great blog post that describes professional learners as being Speedboats, Rowboats, Rafts and Rocks. The Speedboats are the enthusiastic early adopters. The Rowboats are right behind them, they just need a little support while the Rafts need a lot of support to keep up. The Rocks represent the resisters. As Joe points out, the force of the waters will eventually move all rocks a little downstream. I saw someone on Twitter add in that the water eventually smooths all rocks’ rough edges.

Some educators are early adopters. Others are eager to go with what they see works. A few will be late to the party for reasons ranging from resistance to not enough time. The important thing is that if it’s good for kids, just about everyone will eventually accept it. And that moment of acceptance will most likely come not when others tell them to but when they are personally ready to enthusiastically own opting in.

If we want to help colleagues reach that readiness, we are best to abandon pushing in favor of pulling. And even with pulling, sometimes the best way we can serve others is to do nothing at all other than let them know we are here for them, and happy to pull whenever they believe the moment is right.


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In addition to following Noah Geisel here on Medium, you can find him at SenorG on Twitter.

Lastly, if you dig that Creative Commons citation of the photo, I created it with Alan Levine’s handy dandy flickr creative commons attribution plug in. It’s free, easy to use, and can be added as a widget to your browser to automate the attribution process. It is available here.