By Mitch Weisburgh and Angela Maiers
Note, this originally appeared in a shorter form on the TES Blog.
Why do over 500,000 people follow Seth Godin on Twitter, read his blog, attend his courses, and buy his books? Because Seth Godin knows how to live a powerful life by helping others live powerful lives.
As educators, that’s what we all strive for as well.
The two of us were privileged to attend “Seth Godin live in NYC, a full day Q&A and tribal gathering” on Saturday, December 10, 2016. It was awesome, an awesome day. Personal coaches, entrepreneurs, educators, writers, people from all walks of life got up and asked, “Here is where I am stuck in my life, how do I move forward” while Seth used his genius and experience to provide direction.
There was a little bit of all of us in every question, and here are five lessons we can all learn from.
You need to destroy the perfect before you create the impossible
The record industry was perfect. Composers wrote. Artists performed and recorded. Publishers published. Radio stations played. Distributors distributed. Record stores sold. Consumers bought. If you wanted to listen to a particular song, you either bought the album or borrowed it from a friend. Everyone knew their role, and everyone played along. There wasn’t much you could do to improve the system.
Music is still being composed, recorded, published, played, distributed, and purchased today, but that old system is completely destroyed. Now, you can listen to virtually any song that’s ever been recorded. You don’t have to buy an entire album to listen to a song.
There are many cases where you can’t improve things at the margin; you have to make a complete break with what has been working in order to create something that is better. Sometimes you need to change a rule that everyone assumes can’t be changed.
What are the things in your lives that can be incrementally improved, and what are the things that need a break from the past?
Reassurance is futile
The problem with “you’re doing a great job” is that you never get enough. We hear it, but then, we start questioning, “did she really mean that?”, “why didn’t he say something more forcefully?”, “why did she only say that once?”
You can’t go into anything meaningful expecting positive reinforcement externally, and if you do, you’re probably not going to stick with it long enough to succeed. If what you want to do would get you applause from the beginning, it would have been done already. Solving problems, making changes, is hard.
For you. And if you’re an educator, for your students as well.
What works? Accept that whatever you’re trying to do is not going to work. But do it anyhow. Learn. And then do something else that’s not going to work. Repeat until something works.
There are no answers to nontrivial problems. Answers can only be seen in hindsight. Something worked, therefore it was the answer.
Educators mold students every day. Do we give students the mental toughness to forge on knowing that what they are trying to do will probably fail? Each of us can create safe-to-fail environments in our classrooms and schools.
People want to do what people like them are doing
Peer pressure is for kids. And it’s for all of us.
You want to inspire a group of people to help you solve a problem? You want students to want to learn? You want students to do well on a test? You want people to read your book, blog, or follow you on social media?
You need to develop stories that others can and want to repeat. And the subject of the story needs to be people like us do things like this.
The story is the way we communicate to make things happen. People repeat stories that resonate. When Oklahoma teacher Sharon Ricks has her students make stories about elves, and then comes in to class dressed like an elf, what do you think her students will be talking about to their friends and parents? When eduvangelist Kevin Honeycutt talks about the ornament that he is wearing that was designed and 3D printed by one of his students, what do you think people go home talking about? People like us do things like this.
How are your stories inspiring others to tell others that people like us do things like this.
Your brand is not a logo
Who are you to yourself and others?
You don’t start with a look and then try to build a tribe of followers. You start with a promise that you keep. A brand is a promise that you make so that when people see it they know what to expect.
A look or a logo is just a shorthand way for people to remember the promise. Are you the teacher that makes the French Revolution come alive? Do you bring challenging fun challenges to class? Are you the person who takes a special interest in others and makes them feel special? Do you help teachers find fun, instructive challenging activities for their students? That’s your real brand.
When you take a stand to matter, and you back it up with your actions, and you develop stories about your stand and your actions, and others tell those stories, you’ve established your brand, you’ve found your tribe and you’ve allowed your tribe to find you. Then you can move the world.
What’s the promise that students see when they see you? What’s the promise that other educators see when they see you?
People don’t underperform, they’re just not enrolled
People do things because they tell themselves that people like them do things like that.
Students aren’t completing their homework? Students aren’t learning the material? Teachers aren’t adopting the new technology the district bought? You have to overcome the inertia of people continuing to do the same things they always have.
People tell themselves stories all the time: of what they deserve, how hard they work, what they can accomplish. They are not underperforming, they are enrolled in different scripts. You can’t modify those stories by fiat. There are so many different things vying for the attention of your students and colleagues, you’re just one more.
You have to get their attention. You have to invite them to trust you, and they have to enroll themselves in working for your shared goals.
Create purple cows; get their attention. It would have been much more straightforward for us to say that you should get their attention by being remarkable, but none of you would remember that. But a purple cow? That stands out, it grabs attention, it starts a discussion, it’s memorable.
Here are two questions to ask yourself as you enroll others to outperform:
- What purple cows are you using to make yourself memorable?
- How do you engage once you have attention so that students or colleagues are enrolled in your stories and vision?
Seth Godin’s closing statement was inspiring.:
We can’t just choose to fit in
We can’t just choose to be better, faster, bigger
We must choose to matter
Most of us chose education because we wanted to make a difference. We chose to matter. We hope that this short article has given you a few techniques that you can take back to your lives, your schools, and your students to make the difference you aspire to. Please share your thoughts and suggestions with the #Choose2Matter hashtag.
About the authors
|Mitch Weisburgh advises EdTech companies on strategies to reach more students at Academic Business Advisors, and helps educators to share practices that work at Edchat Interactive.||Angela Maiers inspires students and educators to make a difference through Choose2Matter. She has spent more than 20 years working in elementary, middle, and university settings as a teacher, reading specialist, coach, special programs facilitator, and university professor|