Nudging, tugboat style

by | Apr 3, 2012

Attending the National Afterschool Association annual convention this week.  I’m always excited to be surrounded by people who are passionate about education–educators who care, who strive to learn, who want to connect.  In fact, it was interesting that at breakfast this morning, I was reading a blog post by Gerald Aungst about how 21st Century educators are metaphorically like a tugboat.  They should remain humble, connected.  Tugboats are not flashy, fast.  Instead they connect to others, nudging them at precise points toward a particular location.

At the key note address this morning, I became a little distracted from my earlier reading.  The ballroom looked like a concert arena.  As Billy Joel’s Pressure pounded through the room, a prerecorded voice sounded over the loudspeaker:  “Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready for a speaking event that is bigger than the Lone Star State itself?”  I’m not kidding.  It’s go big or go home around these parts.  But as everyone settled in, the noise dissipated, and everyone watched as a tall yet unassuming man made his way upstage–Jim Harris, MSW, Ed.S. .  In striking contrast to the earlier intro, Jim appeared to embody what Gerald Aungst blogged about.  Humble, a promoter of lifelong learning, Jim painted his presentation with Walmart stories and held our emotions (and our attention) in the palm of his hands.

Jim Harris is an advocate of what he calls “The Law of the Nudge.”  Specifically, he claims that most change happens in small, incremental shifts.  Therefore, as educators, we should look for moments, not miracles.  Noting these small shifts keep us energized, keeps burnout and learned helplessness at bay, both for us and for our students.  Certainly, this fits with the tugboat analogy for larger administrators, as well–nudging, easing our organizations, our teams in the directions they need to be, all the while being transparent.  Moments, not miracles.

I struggle with being a tugboat.  I can see the vision of where I want an organization to be (often 10 or more years into the future), and I want that reality to happen RIGHT NOW!  I want to fix–and fix fast!  But often, what I need to do when leading, consulting, educating is to focus on that vision, savor the smaller moments, and nudge.

My hope is that this week I’ll connect with many of the educators who were inspired enough by Mr. Harris’ presentation to tweet and retweet about it all morning.  I look forward to sharing  our thoughts about what it actually means to be a 21st century educator.

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