With Purpose

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the idea of failure as it relates to learning. Over the past little while there have been a number of posters, posts and other social media examples of the poster above. It does seem to fit. However, after listening to the interview with Liz Wiseman author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter on Read to Lead podcast with Jeff Brown, one of the things that stuck with me is that the comment about Failing and how it’s important to focus, not on the failing but the learning and the growth.

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Failing might be part of the process of learning but it’s important not to focus on “failing” but on learning and growing. So, although I understand the main idea when posters, such as the one above appear, I think it’s time to shift the discussion away from the “failing” and move it to the one of learning as continuum that requires us to reflect when things don’t go right and then, with purpose and focus, move forward. In fact, to not see this as failure but to create an atmosphere of improvement where mistakes are part of the process – there is no fail.

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More than just not giving up

I’ve always been an occasional fitness person. This means that there are times when I really focus on training and what I eat. It’s been a yo-yo thing for most of my adult life. Now, I didn’t give up and I didn’t ever stop trying but I wasn’t being successful either. I was failing because, really, I wasn’t learning anything since the same thing would happen. As I drew closer to another birthday milestone, I decided that it was time that I figured out how to make this a consistent and be SUCCESSFUL. Yes, I picked myself up again but in all honesty, this was getting “old”. So, what has to change this time? What do I need to do differently?

Planning for Success and being Productive

Yes, we all have set-backs. Some are more serious than others. As I examine writers and people who are willing to talk about their success, one thing that keeps coming back again and again is that they learned from their setbacks by being focused and taking time to examine what it is that happened, what they needed to change, where and to whom they could look for support, how what they did wasn’t successful plus what they could control and what they couldn’t. It became apparent that these people were purposeful in what they did, used reflection as a key part of moving forward, focused on what they could control, as limited as that might be, and then planned and monitored what they did.

The other thing I noticed is that they quit being “busy” and became “productive”.

In her second book, Liz Wiseman focuses on education – The Multiplier Effect – Tapping the Genius inside our Schools . Although I haven’t read this book, I’m intrigued by

Using insights gained from more than 100 interviews with school leaders, The Multiplier Effect pinpoints the five disciplines that define how Multipliers bring out the best across their schools.

With so many different movements competing for attention in schools, wading through all the different discussions can be, well, exhausting. The impact of Social Media has compounded that as more and more individuals seek to gain attention. I agree with George Corous that we need to have innovators, teachers and students, in the schools. One way, I believe, is to shift from being “busy” and focus on being “productive” – focusing and reflecting on learning and, yes, the mistakes and missteps but not stopping there or just trying again, harder or having a “no failure” attitude. That’s one reason I believe that ePortfolios of some type are essential for everyone involved in education, students and teachers, as a way to help them monitor learning and be purposeful, not busy.

George points out 4 reasons why innovation in schools today is different:

1. Access to one another – The power of social media is not in the sharing of information but the connection to one another.

2.  Unlimited Access to ideas – Now though, we do not only have access to practicing teachers and educational thought leaders (who are not only researchers, but are present in every aspect of the field), but we also have access to a huge amount of people outside education at our fingertips.

3. Schools as a whole need to get better –  If the world is asking for people to be innovative and think differently, schools can no longer shape students to all think the same.

4. Schools can see what other schools are doing – Now with so many educators sharing what is happening, there is (and should be) a pressure to do create better learning opportunities for our students.

These are powerful. They create significant opportunity for change. But, if like my attempt at fitness, there is no serious look at the foundations to making these changes, many schools, and I dare say teachers, are doomed to repeat over and over as they are “busy” trying to move forward. Busy does not equal progress or change. It may appear that way since everyone is “exhausted, doing their best, trying new things, changing, being creative with time” . However, in looking at those who are successful at learning from their mistakes, none of these appear in their discussions. Instead, they talk about “passions, energy, focus, feeling productive, connected, collaboration, creativity”. In schools, I believe, there is a mistaken connection that equates busy with progress and change. What’s next? Make no mistake, there will be something because that is how people make a living – creating the “next”.

Busy to Purposeful

When people ask me about ePortfolios, one of the first questions is “What platform or program do you recommend?” My response usually takes them off guard “What is the purpose of using them?” I then proceed to a discussion about  “Who will “own” them? Will it be school-wide? Class based? Subject specific? Will it be longitudinal? How will that work? What are the different policies in the school/division for sharing, access, data? Who will see them? Why do you, as a teacher, want to use them? What is your own beliefs about learning?” It’s not the tool – it’s the learning and the relationships. There are so many different tools that can be used but they each have a slightly different aspect to them which may affect if you can use them or not. But, it’s about the purpose.

Like my own fitness programs in the past, I chose something based on “the reviews and recommendations of others.” This time around, I had to decide first, what was my purpose for this program? Given my, ahem, age, what do I want to accomplish?  I needed to be serious about this if, this time, I didn’t want to fail, to burn myself out, injure myself and end up picking myself up again. This time, I needed to plan for success, use what I have learned from my past failures by seriously reflecting, being honest about what went wrong and adjusting my expectations for where I am today. I needed to shift from being “busy” to being “purposeful”.

Innovation with a Purpose

Education is changing. Depending on who you talk with about this, it could be for the better or the worse. As more and more teachers connect, collaborate, and share, there are more and more opportunities which adds more and more to sift through. In watching teachers through different chats, there is appears to be more “initiatives” that are available for schools all suggesting to bring what is needed to learning and students. I believe no more than ever that teachers need to set aside being “busy” and focus on being purposeful. What does this mean? Well, that will depend on who you talk to and what their philosophical, epistemological, and pedagogical beliefs happen to be.

I don’t believe there is “one way” as all schools and teachers will be in a different place. But instead of rushing around, trying, failing, getting up, rushing and redoing the cycle over again, schools and teachers need to shift and be purposeful knowing that what they decide now will not be able to sustain them indefinitely. Instead, regular and purposeful reflection will be needed and adjustments will have to be made in order to maintain progress with feedback from all participants, students and parent included, necessary to successful growth and progress of learning. Hopefully, like my fitness program, what the school looks like today will be nothing like it will look like in the future – it will be healthier, stronger, energetic, passionate and filled with purposeful optimism about the future.

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I am a husband, father, son.... I am currently working on my PhD in Education - Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is teacher professional development and social media integration. I have a beautiful, supportive wife who has been my partner for 28 years. We have 8 wonderful children who are amazing individuals. Together, we are exploring the world around us, sharing our stories, and enjoying the journey!


  1. love the idea of going from the shift of busy work to productive work.

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