Even as I write this I can’t believe that I am doing it because it means that I have to admit that I was moved and even inspired by something that Ashton Kutchar said. His upcoming movie JOBS may turn me around like Leonardo DiCaprio’s career has but still, he is the guy who made Dude, Where’s My Car!!
This is why I was surprised to hear his speech at the recent Teen Choice Awards. Take a look at the video above as it is only 4 minutes but is actually really good. It made me think about a few things but three things in particular:
- The idea of no job being beneath you and one thing leading to another.
- The concept that you need not accept things just because things are the way they are.
- My own biases and how I almost missed this talk because of what I thought I knew.
1. I love what he says about how he has had lots of jobs and that they lead to other things and that “Opportunity looks a lot like work”. This may be a new anthem for me. I tire of people coming to me and complaining about how they are not given the opportunity or how the breaks have never quite fell their way. I have always told my teachers that “Create demand and supply will follow”. I use this to say that if you create demand for something and then go to admin or a superintendent and ask for funding or help, you are much more likely to get it than if you simply say that you will do something as soon as you are given something. I add to this saying with the idea that “opportunity looks a lot like work”. I like the idea of starting something and then going to those that have resources and saying, “I got this far without your help, imagine what I could do with it!” The opportunity comes about because of the work that you have already done and I hope that I can impart that message to my staff throughout my career.
2. I like his reference to Jobs and his idea that you need not accept things as they are, just because they are. In the Jobs biography that I read, it is referred to his “reality distortion field” in that he thought he could simply create his own reality and ignore that which he did not like. This caught up to Steve Jobs in regards to his health but it served him well as he truly did start a revolution that has seen a complete change in the music, publishing and computer industries. I like it in regards to education because I think that there is just so much that is assumed to be permanent. There are so many practices and norms that are seen as sacred but I truly believe that not only is this not the case, but is in fact quite dangerous when talking about the needs of our 21st Century Students. I think that true professionals have to question and really ask why are we teaching this, or demanding this of our students. I was as guilty as anyone as I was an english teacher that demanded the most useless thing I can probably imagine: the formal english essay. I am not saying that the genre of the essay is useless, (hard to do when I am writing an essay now!), but the way I taught it was disgusting. The hamburger essay with three body paragraphs, intro and conclusion. Really?!?! Literally I am shaking my head as I type and feeling guilty for what I did to those kids. It was only when I broke from that and had them write in different ways about different topics, that I really saw what they thought and knew. Before I was at best seeing how well they could regurgitate what I said; at worst how well they could plagarize.
I want to impart to my staff and my students that the education system does not have to exist the way it has for 200 years. It can and probably should be changed. It may not happen over night or all that easily and that is where I can harken back to point number one as the opportunity to change will look a lot like hard work.
The last thing that Kutcher’s speech did for me was to cause me to confront my own prejudice. I almost ignored the tweets that I saw saying that the speech was worth watching. I almost allowed my pre-conceived notions of Ashton (Chris) Kutcher to cause me to miss this great opportunity for growth and learning. I have to keep this in mind when working with my staff. It is far too easy to make assumptions and decisions about people and then lose the opportunity to learn from them. I have to be open to ideas and allow them to become part of my thinking process. One quote I love if from Robert Heinlein who says that, “I never learned anything new from someone who agreed with me”.
It is so tempting to surround yourself with people of like mind and ideas but as a leader I have to look for ways to get as many perspectives as possible. I would love to hear some ideas about structures that would allow this and for ways to get these conversations started but in the meantime I guess the simplest thing to do is to simply shut up and listen to people. Even if there is no chance of changing my view, an opposing one can help to sharpen mine. There is much to gain from an opposition.
In the end I am very glad that I took the 4 minutes to listen to Ashton Kutcher and look forward to Jobs. I will probably not give Dude, Where’s My Car? a run on Netflix but I will look for opportunities to put some of his ideas into action in my school.