The #1 Lesson I Learned When Going Back to School

While many of you may know that I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Global Executive EdD program at the Rossier School of Education at USC, many of you may not know why I decided to go back to school. 

For years now I’ve been speaking from the lens of an educator about education reform and what we should be doing to help prepare students for a rapidly changing world. We often speak about the future of work as if it is something that is going to come, yet the reality is it is already here.I’m fascinated, yet increasingly scared by a quote from author William Gibbons:

“The future is here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.”

Over the years I’ve become increasingly curious about what it is like to be a student in today’s world and this curiosity was the driving force behind motivating me to take the leap and go back to school. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over the past few years in working with schools and universities to redesign teaching and learning environments is that:

“cultures of innovation begin with a culture of empathy”

What are the needs of today’s learners? What do they have access to? What challenges are they facing? What opportunities lie ahead of them? What scares then? What excites them? The last time I was a student in a formal environment was 2006 when I was working on my Masters at UC Irvine. A lot has changed since then and one of my favorite graphics is this one below that highlights the technologies that did not exist ten years ago.

Technologies that did not exist.png

All of these emerging  technologies have created a landscape where I can learn anything, anytime, anywhere and with anyone. As someone who is incredibly active across multiple social media platforms, this has completely changed the dynamic of what I can do as a learner in a traditional learning environment.   

Last week marked the halfway point in my doctoral program (I know! I can hardly believe it, one year down, one more to go) and I thought I would do a one year reflection series, sharing the lessons I’ve learned being on the other side of the classroom, this time I’m sharing what I’ve learned from a student perspective. I’m a huge advocate of sharing your journey, the process and not just the end result and quite honestly I have not done the best job of sharing the incredible experience that I have had this past year at USC. I’ve learned so much, had an opportunity to take so many ideas and readings and connect the dots in a more meaningful way and above all I’ve had the opportunity to converse with an international cohort of students who have incredible stories that all highlight one core idea - around the world, from universities in Columbia to schools in Shanghai, everyone is trying to answer the same question, “how do we design experiences that prepare people for The Fourth Industrial Revolution?”

As society continues to debate this question, here is one lesson I’ve learned, perhaps the most significant lesson, that as a student you can start acting on now.

Lesson #1: Cultivate a Linchpin Mindset

For years I’ve talked about the impact reading “Linchpin,” by Seth Godin had on me as a professional who graduated during the recession. I talked about how I quickly learned that I had to find what qualities made me a linchpin, what value did I provide and what gaps did I see that could become opportunities for design. 

Seth Godin defines a linchpin as:

“somebody in an organization who is indispensable - who simply cannot be replaced because their role is just far too unique and valuable.”

Embracing a linchpin mentality forever changed the trajectory of my career and my ability to turn day to day work into masterpieces of art. It allowed me to go from daily searches to see what jobs were available online, to purposefully networking and working with people who shared the same values and mission I did.

However today as I get ready to defend my dissertation proposal, I’ve realized this work begins before we enter the world of work. Depending on how early you are in your academic journey you have anywhere from 12-16 years to reflect on what makes you unique, what value you bring and what you are excited to wake up every morning and do.  

Today’s social landscapes have created an opportunity to share work, ideas, opinions and connect with individuals across the world. No longer do you have to wait until a few weeks before graduation to begin applying to jobs on a job board. Rather you can begin with the end in mind.  Identify people and organizations or a pursuit of your own and work towards building the network, producing the content and sharing your story to help you get there. 

“The only way to get what you are worth is to stand out, to exert indispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about.”

You don’t have to wait until you graduate to start this work. It starts now. 

To follow more of my daily stories, join me on Instagram and Twitter - @AskMsQ

The Next Decade: #IGotIntoUSC

It's hard to believe that its been a little over a decade since AskMsQ was born.  I'm so grateful to my experience at the University of California, Irvine for my strong foundation in the social sciences and education.  Perhaps the greatest gift I received during this journey was learning how to design student-centered learning experiences using the Backwards Planning Model created by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe.  

The very nature of this models forces you to be reflective of the environment you are teaching in, the skills students need alongside content and what opportunities you can provide to help students demonstrate their learning in a way that is meaningful to them.  As a result, I was able to address the challenges of teaching in a world that is constantly changing, while embracing the opportunities that it comes with. 

While my educational foundation was strong, the economy I graduated into in 2008 was not.  I quickly learned, as many of you did as well I'm sure, that the traditional storyline of going to school, getting good grades and having a great job and stable future, just wasn't the case. After three years, three different schools and three layoff notices, I realized I needed to change my approach.  It was also at this time that I came across, "Linchpin," by Seth Godin, and here's a short excerpt that would forever change my life:  

“The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions and being managed. Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can. 

The job might be difficult, it might require skill, but it's a job.

Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it. Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people.
I call the process of doing your art 'the work.' It's possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that's how you become a linchpin.
The job is not the work.” 

This change in perspective, allowed me to begin recognizing gaps that existed that could become potential opportunities that would lead to new career paths within education. The most exciting of these opportunities being how do we redesign traditional learning experiences that allow students to ask questions, face challenges and solve problems.  This work allowed me to pioneer a 1:1 technology-enhanced curriculum program at Fairmont Private Schools and a 1:1 iPad initiative at the Keck USC PA program.  It was also this opportunity that allowed me to travel the globe as a consultant with EdTechTeacher working with schools to redesign learning with design thinking. 

The past few years have taught me three important lessons that serve as the underlying reason for pursuing the Global Executive Ed.D program at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California:

"Are we creating students who look for jobs, or students who will create their own."

Today's world has broken down the walls and barriers to what's possible and where it's possible.  However, to truly take advantage of these opportunities requires a different skillset and a different learning experience. 

"Cultures of innovation begin with a culture of empathy." 

To truly understand how we can create a culture of change we must understand the unique fears and motivations that drive people.

"When we begin with empathy, what we think is challenged by what we learn."

As global citizens the more we learn about one another, our challenges and our opportunities, the more we can work together to solve the most pressing issues of our time. 

Gordon Kirk said, "The PhD is to understand the world. The EdD is to change the world."

As I take a step back into the role of a student and think about my role in changing the world I'm excited to learn from some of the best in education and document and share the journey with all of you along the way. 

Together let's Fight On!