Anybody else out there have a long commute? Mine really gets to me some days. Fortunately, podcasts keep my brain fed and me from being on the news when somebody ignores the rules of the road. I recommend the latest batch of podcasts I stumbled across called The Masters of Scale. Reed Hoffman, one of the creators of LinkedIn, interviews successful entrepreneurs about how they got started. Smart people. Successful people. Ever heard of Air BnB, Facebook, or Apple? Each of the founders of these companies started with a small idea and wanted it to grow. Each founder had to learn how to take their little sprout of an idea and scale it bigger for the masses. Sound familiar? Teachers often have ideas that they want to bring to their students. We stumble onto a nugget of an idea online or attend an event that sparks our passion and fires us up. We get an idea that shows us a glimpse of the positive impact we can make on our students. Have you ever had a seed of an idea sprout in you, but you’re not sure what to do with it? How many of us stop watering our ideas and see them wither in the hot sun of everyday responsibilities or critical colleagues?
Mark Zuckerburg, founder of a little company called Facebook, had a motto when the company was starting out: move fast and break things. He decided that getting his imperfect product out there for users to actually interact with and get real-time feedback from was much better than waiting for it to be polished and pretty. He knew that if he waited too long to put his product out that somebody else would beat him to it. Reed Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder goes so far as to say that if you wait to release your product until it’s ready, you’ve waited too late. Do you have a new idea that you want to implement for your students? When are you going to move? Are you worried about your imperfect product? Are you waiting until you understand ALL about it before you try it out on your students? What if you just…tried something? Trust me, I get it. The fear of inadequacy, the stress of an unknown student reaction, and the judgment from our colleagues or administrators can be paralyzing. Just imagine if Steve Jobs had waited to release the iPhone until he thought it was in its final form. We would have all missed out on the product that has revolutionized communication around the world. What are we on now, the iPhone 8? Are people furious when a new one comes out? No, people practically foam at the mouth for Apple’s next big idea.
So what does that mean for us as teachers? A teacher committed to improving his or her students’ language learning experience must act like an entrepreneur improving his product. As a teacher, what is our product? We are. Let me say that again. Our professional self is our product. Our brand is directly tied to the improvement of our product. We can attend events and PD, but, in the end, we’re going to learn what we want to learn. It’s up to us to put effort into improving our teaching and we need to move fast, as Mark Zuckerburg urges. Take that seed of an idea and feed it. So, you try an activity and it flops. Oh well. The students may hate it. Your administrator may come in at just the wrong moment. Your colleagues may complain about the noise. So what?! You learned something about your product. Tomorrow you’ll try something else and become iTeacher 2.0. Next time, you’ll become iTeacher 3.0. As long as you’re moving forward, you can’t do it wrong. Even if you don’t move fast, just move. Try the new idea. Ask for feedback from your students. Release, reflect, revise, and repeat. Move.
In order to move fast, we’ll have to be willing to give something up in order to do something new. It is impossible to add more into our professional lives without editing something out. What are you going to break? We always have a to-do list, but we should also have a to-don’t list. What’s on your to-don’t list? Stop being afraid of opinions? Stop eating lunch with negative colleagues? Stop working alone? Stop saying yes too often? Stop working harder than the students? Stop grading everything?
Let’s give ourselves permission to try something new and edit out what is holding us back from getting that idea started. Your students need you to improve your product. Learn, make mistakes, celebrate success, and move forward. That idea of yours just might work. So, go ahead: move fast and break things.