By Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

The TandemDavid and I were  out riding the bike today- the “stretch” (a tandem bike). It was a Christmas gift a few years back. Something I had always dreamed of getting as a child. I love the machine almost as much as I love my computer.

We rode hard for two hours. It’s weird, these days I always feel guilty riding my bike. It feels selfish or wrong, as there are 100 other things I “should” be doing such as: working in and building PLP community, writing, teaching an e-Course, or even cleaning house, playing with the dogs and visiting my grandson. In education we rarely have closure, you learn to live with it. But lately it feels like I am constantly running…running…running… and always behind . I mean I know I should be exercising and making time for me. I know there needs to be balance but there are so many deadlines and things I feel I should be doing on behalf of others. I wonder if you ever feel that way?

We always listen to music while we ride. Which works nicely with certain songs. It helps keep the cadence up. We try for 85 and as the stoker (I ride in the back) it is my responsibility to watch cadence and push us harder when we fall under 85. One thing most people do not realize is the stoker actually works the hardest on a tandem. I have people say to me all the time– I bet you love it on the back you can just quit pedaling and let David do all the work.  It doesn’t work like that. If one of us is pedaling–we both are.  I connect to the music and use it to help me push harder, harder and faster. Today an old Jackson Browne tune caught my eye. As the lyrics belted out I listened as if for the first time. Running on Empty. It was a favorite back in the 70s in high school. As I listened to the lyrics I was struck by how much I related to what Jackson was saying and how I saw an application in my life now.

Looking out at the road rushing
Under my wheels
Looking back at the years gone by
Like so many summer fields

In sixty-five I was seventeen
And running up one-on-one
I don’t know where I’m running now,
I’m just running on

Running on Running on empty
Running on Running blind
Running on Running into the sun
But I’m running behind

As I thought about running into the sun (both metaphorically and physically as it was 91 while we rode) I began to think deeply about being connected in learning communities both on and offline. I started mentally listing, as we pedaled, powerful learning statements to serve as guide posts for the connected leader/learner.

1. Community and network connections should have a purpose beyond sociability and harvesting of links.
Twitter has been described as the most powerful PD some people have experience in their careers. Randomly ask any group of folks who are engaging each other around professional conversations on Facebook or Google+ and they will all tell you that they learn amazing things from each other. But are they? Really? Or is what they are experiencing more aligned to emancipation. The knocking down of the classroom walls and the elimination of the silos teachers have been trapped in for years and years. Through communities and networks, educators have found each other and now they are using social media as the “new space” for their electronic teacher’s lounge. We are all giddy with the excitement of sociability and sharing “cool stuff”. It is powerful. It is contagious. But more importantly in my mind it is not too far removed from the same phenomena that our students are experiencing.

But has anyone really started leveraging their Twitter and Facebook connections as a means to intentionally impact the culture of their schools and districts? What are we doing with the links we are harvesting? Do we ever revisit the ideas shared in a hashtag driven chat and “do” something with them? Shouldn’t we be working together to make our thinking explicit? Working together to challenge assumptions and build shared knowledge? What if we took the collective knowledge gained by trying out these ideas in varying professional contexts and then brought what we learned back to the school community? Wouldn’t the result be professional conversations that could spur systemic change?

Transformation requires intense passion, a willingness to challenge the status quo (no matter what the fall out) and fierce resolve to keep at it and see it through– past the storming, all the way through to performing, where the transformation piece becomes “business as usual”.

Gotta do what you can
Just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it
With what you do to survive
In sixty-nine I was twenty-one
And I called the road my own
I don’t know when that road
Turned into the road I’m on

2. Learning communities thrive when they are built on action or co-created content
Change = action.
Sometimes the act of  writing and talking about the need to change dulls the urgency to change. The creation of documents and policies often creates an illusion of change that works against promoting people toward meaningful reform through action. We have to ask ourselves what we should be “doing” based on what we now know. What would it look like if the ideas were enacted? What strengths do each of us have that we can bring to the table? What should we create or build together? It is the act of co-creating something we care about that produces a sense of community and a sense of ownership.

One of the reasons Powerful Learning Practice does action research together as a community is because the act of co-creating brings people together around a goal and moves them to action. Action research allows teams of educators to decide on something important they can address that will shift culture back in their school or districts. Working through the process moves people past self efficacy to a shared identity and then to the building of collective wisdom from an appreciative perspective.

Rather than everyone just being social and congenial, educators who use action research toward a common focus find themselves co-creating and building a culture of collegiality. The shift in culture should include moving past simply providing *time* for teachers to collaborate, as teachers often do not know “how” to collaborate. Simply collaborating (socially conversing about change), does not provide the framework for concrete action toward change or improved student learning. Rather we should all be thinking deeply about what we should be collaborating about and how to leverage the strength in each of us toward that common goal.

Running on Running on empty
Running on Running blind
Running on Running into the sun
But I’m running behind

Everyone I know,
Everywhere I go
People need some reason
To believe

3. Leaders need to understand how to lead through a distributed leadership model.

As you develop your tribe on and offline– do you understand how to make the most of the skills, experiences, and wisdom in your group? Distributive leadership brings everyone to the leadership table (students too) and allows them to be the CEO of something. The trick is finding out what the something is exactly. Look to your community member’s passion. What are they good at? What do they know a lot about? Leaders should see themselves as capacity builders who care as much about helping teachers self actualize as they do students.

Communities should begin with a loose governance and a plan to evolve. Your framework of leadership should be loosely constructed so that it guides the way. Community leaders need to be working hard toward shifting the leadership to the emerging leaders within your community. Model yourselves out of a job. And have the action groups talk to each other and share what they are learning. Here is a great diagram I have been working on. It was inspired by the book From Silos to Systems by Kilgore and Reynolds. I am still working with how I would change their proposed model. But here is my draft thinking.

I don’t know about anyone but me
If it takes all night,
That’ll be all right
If I can get you to smile before I leave

Looking out at the road
Rushing under my wheels
I don’t know how to tell you
All just how crazy this life feels
I look around for the friends
That I used to turn to to pull me through
Looking into their eyes
I see them running too

4. Technology is an amplifier that can accelerate more students and teachers toward a wider reach and deeper learning.
Technology is not a cure all. It isn’t a silver bullet. It is, however, a great tool for connecting folks and providing powerful spaces for meaningful global collaboration. Where we miss it sometimes is not understanding that the learning is what we should focus on– not the tools.

Technology can be a canvas. We use use social media spaces to paint ideas and share beauty. But it is interesting to note that when we are painting we do not focus on the tools first — learning all about the canvas and then in 12 weeks take paintbrush 101. Rather we pick up the brush and start to experiment with the paint. We work with different media and we explore color. Our learning comes in the doing. And so it should be with technology. The magic of this technological revolution is not in blogs, wikis, and podcasts. Those mediums should be invisible and secondary to the learning, sharing, and co-construction that is happening in these spaces. We do not focus on the hammer but rather what we do with the hammer and how much value it adds when we use the hammer to build something.

I used to sit kids in front of a computer and have learners interact with learning objects contained within the software programs. Now I have learners sit at a computer and see it as a portal they pass through to connect with great minds from around the world who live on the other side. Who can we learn from today? What will we build together?

Running on Running on empty
Running on Running blind
Running on Running into the sun
But I’m running behind

What am I missing? What other powerful statements should we add to this list? Will you help me co-create this list we can all use as a guideline to our community building? I look forward to hearing your ideas.

Honey you really tempt me
You know the way you look so kind
I’d love to stick around
But I’m running behind
Running on
You know I don’t even know
what I’m hoping to find
Running behind
Running into the sun
But I’m running behind

9 Responses to “Thinking Hard While Running on Empty”

  1. Amber July 25, 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    You know how when you’re on an airplane and they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first, then help the person next to you? You have to take care of yourself first and foremost so you can be effective in helping and taking care of others.

    Self-care is not the same as self-ish. You’re not talking about lying on a couch eating caviar while your grandson cries in the other room and your dogs scratch at the door. Basic self-care is a birthright. Your clients, students, children, colleagues and friends do not want you to lack basic care (drinking plenty of water, stretching, moving your body in joyful exercise, eating nutritious food) to get any “business” things done or check off the next to-do.

    I guess I inherited some of those feelings and thoughts of self-care = selfish. Relaxing and sitting quietly never has come easy to me. But this past year I have slowed down, learned that it’s okay to relax, that the to-do list will always be there, and that I am more powerful, on-task, quick, and efficient when I am well-rested, exercised, fed, and nourished – spiritually, physically, mentally. Your mileage may vary but we’re a lot alike, so I’m betting you’d see some similar results. :)

    Take care of yourself. There is only one of you and we all love and need you! <3

  2. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach July 25, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    You–are the most precious child and as I have always told you– wise beyond your years. I am still striving to be Amber when I grow up.

    I love you.

  3. Laurie July 27, 2011 at 2:54 am #

    This is so powerful Sheryl! I like how you honor the twitter conversations as “emancipation”, and yet present a challenge to leverage that great body of knowledge to effect change. To “do something”. As always you inspire me with your clarifying, cut to the chase way of thinking. Thanks.

    • Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach July 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

      Thanks Laurie. So I am curious, if you could change one things in your local setting what would it be?

  4. Lynn McCartney August 18, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    I’m so excited – you are my “find” of the week. Thank you to Scott McLeod for tweeting the link to your blog. You write with such clarity on topics that I think about every day and it’s a delight to read your thoughts.

    I’m a follower for good now.

  5. Tony Baldasaro September 21, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

    Hi Sheryl,
    Your comments about Twitter continue to make me think and push my thinking. I have always valued twitter as a way for my voice to be heard, for connections to be made, and for alliances to be hardened. It may be the place where actions are born 140 characters at a time, but I think your challenge to all of us to leverage our connections to impact cultures is right on.

    As for your need to find time for yourself (or at least more bike rides with David). I continue to read more and more about the differences between introverts and extroverts in an attempt to better understand myself as an introvert. Perhaps the most important findings for me are the energy sources both rely on to recharge their batteries. For extroverts, energy is gained through the interactions they have with others. The more interaction, the more energy. Introverts on the other hand, gain energy from within and in order to harness that energy, they need time alone, away from work, home, other people, etc. I know, as an introvert, I need time by myself everyday and most often find that in exercise. Perhaps there is a introverted side to you that is craving that time away from PLP, home, etc? I would encourage you to feed that craving as often as possible.


  6. Deborah October 23, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

    Sheryl: I wandered in through la link provided by AllTop, and am glad.

    Being what I will refer to as a “displaced educator”, I have no classroom, school, district, organization with which to share my continuing expertise and learning about education (secondary and post secondary).

    I have posted through the Chonicle of Higher Education, which I am sure (she says, stuck in one of the stages of grief), was instrumental in my unexpected “exit” as an adjunct instructor at a for profit college. But I digress…

    To have recognized the lyrics of Running on Empty, and your accompanying comments, renewed my spirit. Thank you. As an avid researcher (and reader), I would often share my findings with my students, most of whom would cock their heads at me as if I had commited some heinous crime in asking them to access an article. But now I sound bitter, which is not my intent.

    When you ask what do we do with the links we find? I created activities, Power Point presentations, and topics of argument. I was energized, and so were some of my students. But not enough.

    Perhaps I had become “The Pretender” or was (am) I the educational romantic ( I wonder what could you do with Billy Joel’s, “And So it Goes”…?).

    Thank you for the insight.


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