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Learning at its Best

Invisible Stories: From Rockstars to Jam Sessions

Originally posted at Stories from School AZ (a local blogging co-op)

The Need for Story

I’m watching a Forty-Niners game on a late Sunday morning when someone posts a Facebook video comparing the social networking service to chairs, basketball games, picnics and other deeply human experiences. Minutes later, I look up at the television and notice a Google Chrome commercial about a young woman going to college and communicating with her dad. As the commercial progresses, the audience realizes that her mom has died and that Google has helped facilitate their healing process.

In both cases, the technology companies aren’t selling an audience on a service, platform or feature. Instead, they are telling stories. Not even big stories. Small stories. Humble stories. Human stories. They’re reminding us that in an age where we have the world at the palm of our hands, we’re still tethered to one another.

Neither service is claiming to fix anything. It’s not Shamwow. It’s not Ronco. There aren’t any rock star celebrities promising that we can become sexy. Instead, they’re suggesting that somehow their technology can be a part of the very social fabric that we weave together collectively.

The Rock Star-Superman-Shamwow Story

It has me thinking about stories in education. Currently, we are enamored with the rock star narrative. (Which is a bit odd, because kindergartners aren’t all that great at crowd-surfing teachers and eighth graders struggle when the teachers asks them to cheer for an encore) We are waiting for Superman (creepy, both for the tights and the x-ray vision).

This rock star narrative assumes that most teachers are basically bad, that the system is essentially broken. It’s the assumption that we need 55 Rules to fix our classrooms. It’s the belief that Bill Gates,  a man once known for broken Windows, will fix a complex social system. We’ve been duped by Khan artists selling snake oil and pseudo-reformers who fire principals on national television. On occasion, we honor teachers with awards and accolades, but mostly we assume that we need Supermen and rock stars and magicians to transform the system.

We Need to Become Visible

I can blame mainstream media for vilifying teachers. However, so much of what I see within the education community is for each other. We’re sharing resources. We’re explaining what works. We’re telling stories. I have a whole community of teachers who I consider to be true friends. I can celebrate without it feeling arrogant. I can be vulnerable without feeling judged. We collaborate on projects. In other words, while the rock stars make it on the concert circuit, there is a beautiful jam session happening between teachers.

While the rock stars constantly selling a story, the jam session artists are telling a story.

It’s collective. It’s human. It’s humble. That’s why the public needs to hear the jam session narrative. They need to see that there are more powerful, humble things happening in classrooms than anything Superman could conjure up. Action figures may be exciting, but it’s the first twenty minutes ofUp! that move us to tears and cause us to rethink what truly matters.

It’s for this reason that I believe in blogging and social media, not just as a method to reach fellow teachers, but as a way to speak to a larger audience. For all the talk of humanity and story-telling that the Facebook video advertises, the truth is that most of my Facebook experience is memes and political rants. As teachers, many of us have platforms like Facebook where we can tell  the jam session narrative.

But here’s the critical thing. The jam session narrative only works when it’s real and humble and honest. True, we need share what works, but it’s easier to believe in “what works” when someone is vulnerable about what fails. The world is worn-out from auto-tune. They want something real. And the only way to move away from the rock star narrative is to admit that we aren’t rock stars.

The lingering question I have is: How do we invite more people to the jam sessions?

About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


7 thoughts on “Invisible Stories: From Rockstars to Jam Sessions

  1. John ~

    I find myself looking for your posts to the coop; they often resonate with me in important ways. Today’s post is no exception. You ask, “How do we invite more people to the jam sessions?”

    I’ll respond by throwing this out for consideration and consumption:

    By design, the jam sessions you refer to, in my view, are exclusive.

    That’s right. The people who could take the jam sessions to a whole new level can’t get a ticket. I agree we have little need for another Superman, rock stars, or magicians to transform the system. But we don’t need an audience, either. Not really. That only serves to make new rock stars. What’s needed is a bigger band. If we look over the walls of collegiate credits, credentialing, endorsements, certificates, and licenses, we can see a whole new world. The only way to become part of THAT world, the world young learners will inherit, is to tear down those walls! Tear down the walls? But, why? It’s simple, really. If we want a jam session to remember, it seems to me we should play with the folks who write the songs.

    Thanks again, John, for the many insights and ideas you share with us. I, for one, appreciate them. I appreciate what you are doing, and I appreciate you.

    Posted by Jack King (@DrJackKing) | October 17, 2012, 12:17 pm
  2. John, I have been struggling through some of the same thoughts about spreading what we are doing. I almost had a national TV show come to my school to do a piece on our election project. I was very excited but it fell through. I had good motives of wanting my students to get a chance to share their voice about politics and to show off PBL as a way to “do school.” I also think we need to get a bigger audience when we are doing something authentic in our classes to oppose the standardized testing message.

    On the other hand I can not deny that I also seek some personal recognition for the project. I want to build connections that could lead to other opportunities for me later. I truly want to be humble, but I also know that we need to market what we are doing to try and change the conversation of what a quality education looks like. Staying balanced is so hard…

    Posted by Michael Kaechele | October 17, 2012, 7:13 pm
  3. It’s all about trust, engagement, and communication, John. In some comments I’ve posted to blog commentaries that you might have seen, I have championed what I’ve called local Education Communities – broad groups of engaged citizens that dialogue to identify, understand, and develop what the late Stephen Covey called Better or Third Alternatives. The alternatives are ones accepted by all involved as better than any positions championed at the start. In the process, the trust will be developed and through communication and initiation of efforts developed, the number willing to engage will increase. AND the broader involvement will insure broader support for the resources needed to implement and sustain [and refine] the efforts of the community in support of educators’ efforts.

    Posted by jcbjr9455 | October 17, 2012, 8:49 pm
  4. John, how do you and your group of teacher-friends share your stories? Daily, weekly, monthly. Is that the advice you could give others? (Jen @

    Posted by Jen Wike | October 18, 2012, 3:19 pm
  5. John (and everybody else),

    This is the question that’s been pushing me for the last couple of years – and what’s going to drive my research and activism for the near future. It’s a hard question, especially if we’re talking about ways that we can help teachers and students be heard at the policy level, not just at the level of social perspective (although I think they go hand-in-hand).

    If anybody’s interested, I’d like to take this conversation further. I have some ideas, and I’d like to hear yours too. =)

    My email:

    Posted by Carey Applegate | October 21, 2012, 12:29 pm
  6. John-

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. Your ideas and questions have me wondering about how students and the work that students do can “invite more people in.” When student work is public and has intrinsic meaning and relevance I feel like it can have meaning to larger communities and can spark larger conversations.

    Posted by Joshua Block | October 24, 2012, 9:22 pm


  1. Pingback: In Retro Cite (weekly) « A Retrospective Saunter - October 28, 2012

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