Have you ever been in a situation where you weren’t sure how to start a conversation with the person next to you?  I’m always a little nervous when I travel that I’ll be in those situations.  Thankfully, I’ve learned that it doesn’t take much to get a conversation going.  The difficult part lies in keeping the conversation going.

Conference season is in full swing for educators everywhere, and I’ve been noticing a trend: people are great at introducing themselves and surface level conversations.  But getting people to go into depth about their situations, good and bad, is difficult.  People clam up.  It’s as if they don’t want to spill the beans for fear of either being judged or being copied.

My question is: so what?

We live in a web 2.0 world that is all about sharing and interacting with information.  With this in mind, so what if people copy your ideas?  If the information is worth sharing, let them copy it.  They will soon find that copying without adaptation is folly.  Instead, you’ll have a common thread of information that is then molded and reformed for various purposes, helping everyone move forward.  This is what innovation is all about!  If you’re afraid of being judged – so what?  People are always going to judge others’ work.  But the good thing is that if your district is struggling or your work is not the “bright new star”, there are ways to make it better and others can help you do that.  So open yourself up and have those deep conversations – they can only lead to good things!

A great example of this in education is the Lincoln Center’s ICI Conversations.

These conversations are all about how to improved education and build innovative, creative and imaginative learners for the 21st century.  People gather from all over the country and the world to compare notes, so to speak.  They talk about what works, what doesn’t, and they ask questions.  They probe others for their insights into how to implement processes that will allow our students to be open to a world of possibilities.  These conversations are critical to moving our educational practices forward.

I heard a great reflection several weeks ago from Heidi Hayes Jacobs.  She explained that back in the late 1800’s, a group of 10 people got together and decided that the educational system in America should be 180 days so that people could go help with the work on the farm in the late spring.  They decided that there would be 8 subjects and that classes would be 45 minutes because that was what shifts were like in the factories at the time.  Since then, our school schedules haven’t changed.  So we are teaching 21st century skills in a 19th century structure.  It’s time to rethink this program!  Yet, how are we ever supposed to do that if we don’t invite the opportunity for these creative conversations?

The next time that you are at a meeting, a conference, or even just sitting in a doctor’s office, talk to the person sitting next to you.  You can learn from any experience and any conversation – you just need to be open to participating in the process!