James Veitch is a stand up comedian who most notably shares about his escapades against spam emails and the challenge of unsubscribing from an email chain. In his 2016 Ted talk titled "This is what happens when you reply to spam email", James shares the hilarity of his conversation with his counterpart, Solomon. Within the talk, James suggests to Solomon that they should use code words for the conversation that they are having. He writes,
"Solomon, I spent all night coming up with this code;
Lawyer: Gummy Bear
Bank: Cream Egg
Legal: Fizzy Cola Bottle
Claim: Peanut M&Ms
Documents: Jelly Beans
Western Union: A Giant Gummy Lizard"
According to Veitch, Solomon took on the code and used it in future emails which made a very entertaining mad-libs experience.
I bring this example up because as I dive into a conversation about being a #catalyst, there are certain buzzwords that are going to be flying around. I could take on Veitch's technique and adapt code words that can cover up the buzz words to make this post feel more comfortable, or I can write specifically to the conversation at hand...becoming a better leader for change within your school, business, organization, club, etc.
Our first stop is understanding three concepts.
1. Be a #Catalyst
2. Consider Growth Mindset your new best friend
3. Take the leap instead of accepting things the way they are
Be a #Catalyst
When you initially think of the definition of a catalyst, you might shift your thinking to high school chemistry class. The catalyst is the element in the reaction that causes the initial change. If you think about a match, the action of striking the match against a rough surface is the catalyst to cause the reaction to create fire.
To be a #Catalyst means jumping into action. People who are catalysts can see new opportunities or goals and inspire movement in that direction. A #Catalyst is not a boss, but anyone willing to start the conversation of innovation and lay out a path for positive change. The mindset of a #Catalyst is one that sees the world as puzzles. Some puzzles are solved, but most are always just missing a few pieces. Now you could be like aunt Bess and simply take scissors to the piece that is closest to what you need. Making it fit "good enough". Or, you could consider a new and better puzzle that would create an entirely new opportunity. A #catalyst is an innovator. Simon Sinek wrote in his book Together is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration,
"Innovators are the ones whose dreams are clearer than the reality that tells them they're crazy"
Innovation is one piece of being a #Catalyst and it's important to note that it is not a simple task. In order to make the dreams that Sinek mentions in his quote come to reality, there are many iterations of work that need to take place. A #Catalyst is an innovator, bringing dreams to reality and making everything around them new and better. This is not done overnight, rather it takes commitment to the end goal, willingness to take a chance, see it flop and figure out what can be done for the next time around. A #Catalyst is not done, they are continually tweaking the end result, crafting it specifically to what the dream is in their minds eye.
To be a #Catalyst you have to take every cliche about leadership and change and blend it together into a new smoothie of innovation and change.
Growth mindset is a concept discovered by Carol Dweck, published in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Without getting really technical about the concept of growth mindset, I simply thing of it as not settling with good enough.
A "good enough" teacher has used the same worksheets, schedule and curriculum over and over for years and years. They are accessing their resources in the yellowed pages of 1982 while they organize the multitude of packets that students will be filling out over the next few months of "school". A "good enough" teacher fights tooth and nail against innovation and growth. They try to poke holes and be the squeaky wheel on any new strategies or concepts that is going to bring effective, practical learning to their students.
I believe we all are a "good enough" teacher in some form or fashion. We have the worksheet, lesson, or test that wraps us up like a warm blanket on a winter morning. It's a safe place to use those ideas because they are "good enough". They won't challenge the status quo of the teachers around you, it won't challenge the students to higher order thinking. It will provide some guidance to pass the test, but any outside connection to real-world is iffy at best.
Growth Mindset: Don't be Good Enough... Be Beyond Exceptional. Find new ideas, try new strategies, embrace the wisdom of your students and see how THEY would approach a standard or objective. Recruit them to be instructional designers of your course to have ownership of the awesome.
Take the LEAP
As humans it seems to be against our nature to take the leap out of our comfort zone unless we are triggering the fight or flight part of our brain. If we are in a place of comfort, we shut down and coast. The proverbial rut holds us tight and doesn't let go. Sometimes you have to do something extreme to take the leap.
Ultimately, to become a #catalyst, you need to embrace the spark, take the leap, and any other cliche that could change the way you approach your teaching.
This is going to be fun!
Taylor currently serves as a Coordinator of Innovative Learning for a mid-sized school district in Texas. He is a speaker, writer, and coach for all who are in conflict with the status quo.