Information Wants to Be Free

A cybernetic male elf standing atop a floating platform overlooking a sprawling metropolis, city alive with shimmering lights, interconnected sky-bridges, and stream of floating cars, elf's body adorned with lit glyphs harmonizing with the pulsating lights of the city, Photography, shot with a wide-angle lens with a focal length of 35mm

This summer, as part of my doctoral work, one of my courses focuses on leading organizational change. The text, Leadership and the New Science, offers a challenging perspective on leadership.

While we normally think of organizations as well-structured, curated entities, the author here delves into fields of quantum physics and chaos theory, positing that the structure of an organization only becomes apparent after being constructed naturally, after the chaos.

Yes, it’s different. But I’m enjoying the perspective, particularly when thinking about public schools and how we just keep trying to organize teachers and students into neat little groups that fit into certain categories.

Hint: that don’t work. Period.

Forgive my foray into Kentucky speak.

Information was the topic of a recent chapter and how it influences organizations. Or, perhaps, how it builds organizations, giving life to them.

Below are some thoughts I shared with the group:

“In a constantly evolving, dynamic universe, information is a fundamental yet invisible player, one we can’t see until it takes physical form. Something we cannot see, touch, or get our hands on is out there, influencing life. Information seems to be managing us”

Wheatley, 2006, p. 96

For most of my life, I’ve been a dealer in information. Whether it was teaching amateur performers how to harmonize in a small church choir, training employees and salespeople, teaching middle school math students, or writing articles, videos, tweets, podcasts, etc., for people worldwide on technology and education topics, I’m an information dealer.

Information, above all else, wants to be and should be free. At least, that’s what people who are smarter than me have said. Stewart Brand brought this concept into being in the early years—the very early years—of the digital age. At the first Hacker’s Conference, then again in his 1987 book The Media Lab, Brand declared, “Information wants to be free” (Brand, 1987; O’Leary, 2009). This thought became a slogan for the early hacker community (no, not those hackers, the good kind), placed forever in Hacker Ethics (The Hacker’s Ethic, 2001).

The Internet, at first a connection between 12 universities to share resources and information (High, 2018), became the democratizing force of the modern world. Over several decades, the internet has made it easier and faster to access vast information and knowledge from anywhere in the world (Castells, n.d.).

But what does this have to do with organizational leadership? Every organization communicates, and what they communicate, in its simplest form, is information.

As Wheatley (2006) discusses, information is a fundamental player in every organization, including schools (p. 96). In my experience, communicating information to every stakeholder is essential for a well-functioning school. Communicating with all stakeholders builds trust, transparency, and a positive school culture. When school leaders effectively communicate with students, parents, staff, and community members, they can keep everyone informed about what is happening inside the school and create a sense of belonging and ownership (Gurganus, 2019).

When I think about the flow of information in schools, I think back to Wheatley’s (2006) words on the Colorado River finding more than one way to reach the ocean (p.18) and how schools are finding new ways to share information within the organization as well as with the broader school community. I can only think that, as we get better at sharing information, our schools will continue to improve, and our discussions about what is equitable for all students will help guide education into a bright future.

References:

Brand, S. (1987). The media lab: Inventing the future at MIT. Viking.

Castells, M. (n.d.). The impact of the internet on society: A global perspective. OpenMind. Retrieved June 11, 2023, from https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/articles/the-impact-of-the-internet-on-society-a-global-perspective/

Gurganus, R. (2019, May 7). Reaching the masses: Communicating with all stakeholders. NASSP. https://www.nassp.org/2019/05/07/reaching-the-masses-communicating-with-all-stakeholders/

High, P. (2018, March 26). The father of the internet, Vint Cerf, continues to influence its growth. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/peterhigh/2018/03/26/the-father-of-the-internet-vint-cerf-continues-to-influence-its-growth/

O’Leary, B. (2009, October 20). 75 words. Magellan Media Partners. https://magellanmediapartners.com/publishing-innovation/75_words/

The hacker’s ethic. (2001, November 30). https://web.archive.org/web/20011130010117/http://hoshi.cic.sfu.ca/~guay/Paradigm/Hacker.html

Wheatley, M. J. (2006). Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world (3rd ed). Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.


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The Connected Educator Book Summary

The Connected Educator is more than just someone that uses technology in the classroom. The connected educator is a lifelong learner, ready to adapt and use the tools available to improve their practice. They embrace new ideas and viewpoints throughout the connected world. Through the development of connected learning communities, the connected educator can improve their practice, encourage the work of others, and build an ever-changing repository of shared knowledge to benefit the education community as a whole.

BECOMING A CONNECTED LEARNER AND EDUCATOR

As educators of 21st-century learners, we must embrace different models of learning and connectivity that are native to our students. Learning happens for our students in a connected world. The same should hold for educators. Collaboration between educators of diverse backgrounds and levels of expertise allows for creating connected learning communities: an amalgamation of communities of practice, professional learning communities, and personal learning networks. Connected learning communities provide the same benefits as the three aforementioned communities but on a scale not previously achievable due to the connected tools available today.

BUILDING CULTURE THROUGH COLLABORATION

Conversations with a community of practice can lead to deep, connected learning. Learning as a connected educator is important to connect with global educators in a globalized world. Educators can make learning relevant for themselves and their students through communities of practice. The focus of connected learning is on a collaborative culture that includes having a shared vision, shared values, and opportunities for inquiry.

Magnetic Connections
Magnetic Connections by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC-BY 2.0

DEFINING THE TOOLS FOR CONNECTING

In the past, connecting outside of the classroom was relegated to professional development opportunities and conferences that only a few educators attended. With tools like Twitter and Facebook, teachers can participate in groups and chats based on grade levels, content areas, teacher leadership, and more. Bookmarking and sharing sites such as Diigo and Wakelet allow teachers to curate resources around any topic and share them with the larger community. Blogging tools like Blogger, WordPress, Squarespace, and more allow teachers to reflect on professional learning with a worldwide audience.

BUILDING COMMUNITY THROUGH CONNECTIONS

Educators must have a plan and purpose for how they will build their personal learning network (PLN). Tips for getting started creating a PLN include:

  • Begin with one tool and add others when comfortable.
  • Establish a consistent username across all networks.
  • Find a mentor to help along the way.
  • Choose well-respected and familiar educators, see who they follow, and select connections from their list.

Educators assume roles and responsibilities in a PLN: linking, lurking, learning, and leading. Linking and lurking involve staying on the sidelines and being reluctant to share thoughts. Learning and leading members are frequent users who share ideas and help shape the community. The learning and leading roles should commit to bringing those linking and lurking into action.

people doing group hand cheer
Photo by Dio Hasbi Saniskoro on Pexels.com

SUSTAINING COMMUNITIES

While forging ahead in new connected realms, it is important that educators work to sustain these communities and foster growth. Through appreciative inquiry, educators can sustain the initial work begun in newly connected virtual communities by focusing on their strengths and asking “what if?” to explore possibilities. Community members can keep a positive perspective on what can be accomplished using the 4-D model of appreciative inquiry: discovering what they feel the group is at its best, dreaming about what it would be like to see those discoveries happen, designing the community to make those dreams happen, and fulfilling the destiny for the community by implementing those designs.

TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADERSHIP THROUGH CONNECTIONS

Transformational leaders collaborate, encourage connected learning, and believe in distributed leadership. Distributed leadership is shared throughout the school by many people to strengthen the community. To shift to transformational leadership, traditional leaders must let go of control to move forward. Distributed leadership requires having a shared vision and shared responsibility in problem-solving. In a connected world, solving these problems includes making online connections with experts to inform ideas. Being connected allows teams to collaborate outside of the school day in a shared space.

CONNECTIONS TO LEADERSHIP

Being a connected educator goes hand in hand with teacher leadership. It is important in leadership to be an effective communicator and collaborator, which are also important aspects of being connected. Connected educators build their personal learning networks, or communities of practice, to continue professional learning and build connections outside of their school community.


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References:

Hord, S. M., & Sommers, W. A. (2008). Leading professional learning communities: Voices from research and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Nussbaum-Beach, S., & Hall, L. A. (2011). The connected educator: Learning and leading in a digital age. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.