Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sharing and Taking Turns

(The following article is one in a series that I wrote for a distance learning-related blog I used to run circa 2008. For posterity's sake, I am reposting it -and others- here) 

Have you ever stopped to consider what your life would be like had you ended up in a different job (or career)? Have you ever stopped to think about the circle of influence you have, and conversely, the circle that influences you? It is really a combination of the two that guides today's musings.

I happen to be in one of those positions where the world of education meets the world of technology. This can lead to some very eye-opening revelations regarding the differences often seen between them. One that enters my mind foremost is that of sharing and taking turns. Generally speaking, in the corporate world, people do not share very often. If I were a peon at Wal-Mart or Axiom or Dell or Microsoft (or name any other large corporation), I might not share ideas I have because I might not be "allowed" to share. That is, my input would not be wanted and/or accepted, no matter how "right" I might be about the idea. Or, I may not share (or be allowed to share) because of fears of helping the competition get a leg up on my own company.

In contrast, I feel pretty confident that there is more willingness to share information in my position. Arkansas has 15 Education Service Centers, plus the Tri-District area of Little Rock. Each service center has its own personality, focus, and direction. In a way, each is its own company. Each of these facilities employs a Distance Learning Coordinator. While each center may have its own distance learning programs and initiatives in place, we DL Coordinators are open to sharing what we are doing with the other DL Coordinators. Why? It ultimately helps each of us. If I have an idea for providing interactive virtual field trips and another service center is already doing that, then I feel comfortable calling up the other site and asking for help in setting up my own program. Because we generally work well together, we often try to complement what the other sites may be doing, rather than compete with them. So, if one site is doing K-4th grade trips, then maybe I'd concentrate on 5th-8th or 9th-12th grade programs. It's a different atmosphere. I have become the de facto administrator of the K-12 distance learning curriculum portal. Does that mean "it's mine! All mine!" No. I am open to any of the other DL Coordinators helping out, offering advice and guidance. If one of the 300+ Dl Facilitators in the state had a suggestion, comment, gripe, or complaint, I would take that under serious consideration. Why? Because we are open to sharing, to learning, to taking what is in place and building on it in order to make it better.

I could easily sit on my "portal throne" and pretend that it is the greatest thing since the microchip, but what does that get me? A better question is: what does that get our customers? "Customers," you ask? Yes, we have customers – students, teachers, facilitators, DL Coordinators, superintendents, principals, legislators, parents, the communities at large… Without an open-ended means of communication and sharing of information and ideas, our programs can become stagnant, or worse, head off in directions no one really wants to go but heads that way anyway because no one speaks up about it. I welcome questions, comments, challenges to what I am doing. In a word, SHARING.

So, what about taking turns? Rarely have I seen corporations take turns. That is, can you picture Microsoft letting Google have its day in the sun without trying to find a way to bring in the clouds? I don't think so (please refer to Microsoft's latest foray into the online advertising business). I know I pick on Microsoft a lot. So, let's see… Say Target is offering higher-end trinkets than Wal-Mart. Does Wal-Mart let target do its thing? No. Wal-Mart starts buying higher-end trinkets in order to steal the customers (please refer to Wal-Mart's latest foray into more upper scale merchandise). In the corporate world, it is all about the bottom line, NOT what is best for the customers or their industry in general (sorry, but I cannot help but say "Vista" right here).

Another benefit of working in the capacity which I serve is that we get to pat each other on the back. We also will sit back, away from limelight, while another service center achieves great success in a new program or in growing an existing one. We generally take turns. This year, several service centers have started different projects (elementary virtual field trips, credit recovery programs, and others). The group, as a whole, applauds the efforts without immediately grabbing the idea and stealing the thunder of the center that initiated it. Each year, different DL programs come to the forefront while others remain out of the limelight, then the next year, different programs come forward. By holding regular meetings, communicating pretty freely, and sharing ideas, we all TAKE TURNS developing projects and achieving goals.

So, does this rosy picture have a dark side? Of course it does. There are bumps in the road. There are times when we may hold back on the sharing until a program or presentation is fully underway. There are times when communication breaks down, or a meeting gets heated. That is human nature. And, even if I am the only one who feels this way, I believe that at the end of the day, each of the DL Coordinators and their programs are better for it. We grow, learn, monitor and adjust following discussion and/or confrontation. The key to success and to moving forward, however, is that in the end, we are still SHARING and TAKING TURNS.

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