Slack Perspective

I just read an essay by Zach Whalen, Associate Professor at the University of Mary Washington. It’s called Notes on Teaching with Slack and I recommend it to teachers who aspire to be thoughtful about the ways they use online tools to organize and enrich their offline, face-to-face classes.

First off, I like the fact that Whalen is modeling reflection and doing some of his thinking right in the middle of his experiment with Slack.  He’s not saying that he’s completely sold on the platform, and he’s not claiming that his text offers all the answers for teachers considering Slack for their classes.  He’s airing his thinking in a productive way.  And, beyond this, he makes a very important statement that should guide all online practice in schools.

As I replace things I did elsewhere with things I can do in Slack, I must consider now whether those things were worth doing in the first place. Just like any other platform or tool that becomes part of my teaching, any incidental design choices can become accidental pedagogy, and the reverse may be true too.

I’m now thinking about my use of online tools and wondering how often choices that I have made — or that others have made for me when they established default settings for the tools I use — have led to “accidental pedagogy.” I’m wondering how much an “accidental pedagogy” sends signals to students about what I value, about success in my class, about learning, about what it looks like to be engaged in my class, about what writing is or isn’t, about what it means to be a student in my class.

Incidentally, I also like that Whalen admits that part of the reason he likes Slack is because it’s fun.  This fun causes him to be excited to log into the system in the morning . . . and sometimes inspires him to work into the night.  This makes me think about how often we adopt platforms or tools in school that are neither fun nor easy to use.  Thoughtful pedagogy matters; joyful work matters; maybe Slack should matter in our schools.

I’ve got a lot to think about thanks to Whalen’s eloquent, honest essay.


Awake at the Wheel

Many good leaders that I know excel in upholding process year in and year out.  This requires discipline and stamina . . . and even grace.  They make sure past precedence is upheld, and they never lose sight of the people involved in decisions and their consequences.

On the other hand, the top one or two leaders that I know are the ones who are brave enough — and awake at the wheel enough — to break with precedence and tradition from time to time.  They have seen a certain model worked through enough times to recognize when it simply will not do.

Making It Up as We Go Along

One thing I love about the world I live in is this:

On a Sunday morning, I can sit down with my son and daughter to talk about music.  A few minutes later, we can pull out our family iPad, open the Garage Band app, and play around until we make a few songs.  Then we can send those songs to my phone right before we need to leave for a trip.

In the car, instead of listening to the radio (like I used to with my parents), we can connect my phone to the car’s stereo and enjoy the songs that we made — together, after breakfast — earlier that day.

And when we do turn on the radio a little later, my kids say, “we could make that song” or “we could do better than that” or, best of all, “I wonder how they made that sound . . . let’s figure it out when we get home.”

Such simple magic, unavailable for much of my own life, makes me happy.