While discussing the relative awesomeness of our hometowns with a friend recently, the proximity of “i” and “o” on the keyboard resulted in the statement:
“You should live where you live.”
I laughed it off as a simple typo…an ubsurd statement of the obvious. “You should live where you live”…yeah, that’s deep. But upon further reflection, it struck a chord with me. How many of us truly seek to intentionally live where we live? In the moment? Fully exploring the unique experiences in our own backyard? How many of us take advantage of all our current surroundings have to offer? Adapting as needed to make the most of our environment?
I love where I live…whether it’s a beautiful Minnesota summer day on the lake, a crisp autumn evening under Friday night’s lights, or even the occasional bout of -50˚ windchills and snowdrifts taller than me. And…I also absolutely love to travel. Few things make me happier than exploring new locales…experiencing all the sights, sounds, tastes, and history they have to offer. I discover things I’ve never experienced. I discover things that I want to try in my own hometown. Things I wouldn’t have considered if it weren’t for experiencing them elsewhere. To me, what makes these experiences so intriguing is the fact that many of them thrive under their own local conditions and environments in a manner that couldn’t be directly duplicated elsewhere…making them uniquely, distinctly theirs (think a slice of pizza in Brooklyn, jazz at Preservation Hall in New Orleans, wine in Napa Valley, a Chicago Dog while watching a ballgame at Wrigley, perusing the stacks at Powell’s in Portland, a cup of coffee in Seattle…). And while not every experience can be replicated directly, they provide me with the inspiration to attempt to fit them to my own surroundings. To try something new. To seek similar experiences at home.
Every visit to a new location makes me appreciate home all the more…not only because of all it already has to offer, but what it could offer. As happy as I am while exploring the world, I’m never happier than I am while enjoying a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or a local brew on my own deck. But, seeing what other cities have to offer sparks an interest in me to explore my own backyard even deeper. And doing so, I often discover local gems that are obvious to visitors, but hidden in plain view from my vantage point…Experiences that are adaptations of what I’ve seen elsewhere, but with their own local flair. Ideas gathered from all around, but molded to fit what home has to offer.
So…what does this have to do with education?
I have been fortunate to visit a number of schools across the U.S. over the past few years. Whether speaking at conferences, providing professional development, attending networking opportunities, preparing students for their AP Statistics exam, visiting a friend’s class, or chatting with 830 of my closest friends at the AP Reading, I have experienced a wide variety of classrooms, teaching philosophies, strategies, practices, and resources. Every visit has given me something to think about…Something to consider applying in our schools back home…Something to share with my colleagues.
Every experience makes me say, “Sweet! I want to see that in our schools back home!” Every discussion provides me with some little gem I want to place in action in our own classrooms. Every teaching activity I observe provides me with something I want to try with students and teachers. Every visit causes me to dig a little deeper to what is happening in my own backyard. And every observation gives me pause….
Pause…because not everything we observe elsewhere is easily replicated at home. Pause…because not every ‘best-practice’ can be duplicated directly in every school or every classroom. Pause…because not every BigIdea® innovation and initiative is as simple as “plug-n-play”. Pause…because rushing in to implementation will most likely end in disappointment and frustration.
Pause…because you can’t forget to live where you live.
The start of the school year is an exciting time. Armed with a toolkit of new ideas gathered from far and wide, you are (hopefully) ready to try some new, innovative, ideas with your students. As you seek to implement those great new ideas you got from your favorite blog, or classroom visit, or back-to-school inservice…Pause. Assess your current school and classroom environment. Ask yourself, “Self, what are our current strengths? What are our challenges and opportunities for improvement ?” Dig deeper in your own backyard. What hidden gems already exist that aren’t being experienced to their fullest? What amazing learning opportunities are occurring across the hall? Across your district? Across your personal learning network?
How can you build upon those in your own setting? How can you take those BigIdeas® or shared practices and make them fit your own classroom and your own students’ needs? How can you replicate those experiences with a bit of your own local flair? How can you make them distinctly, uniquely yours?
Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch. But I think there’s a helpful reminder in that typo’d phrase. As a learning leader, we should always seek to improve. We should always be looking for new ideas and great things happening elsewhere. We should always seek to innovate in our schools and classrooms . But we can’t forget to live where we live. We can’t forget that what works amazingly well in one setting, may not work perfectly in our own.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a try. We just need to adapt. Seek new experiences both near and far…Adapt them to your setting…Make them fit your students’ needs. Try something new. But make it yours.
You should live where you live.