Old Habits...Don't Seem to Die Part I

Last night our school PTA hosted an 80's retro dance.  Seeing this as an obvious opportunity to channel my inner Madonna circa 1983, I joined some friends at the salon to tease the life back into our hairstyles. 

While sitting in the chair watching an Indian woman born circa "the year I graduated from high school" completely butcher the required technique to maximize both the wingspan and the staying power of the sides of my hair, I found myself growing more and more frustrated.  Then it happened.  It all came flooding back as if there had not been a 20 year interval between that moment and the last time I tortured my hair in the name of fashion.  I started issuing instructions rapid fire, and in the end I commandeered the brush, hair dryer, and extra large can of aerosol hairspray so that I could show her how to tease out hair properly.  Once I realized what I was doing, I handed the equipment back to her, the trained professional, and allowed her to finish her task...or at least that is how I wish the events would have played out.  

In any case, I find myself sitting here the next day reflecting on this incident, mostly because I just spent an hour trying to rid my hair of a bottle of hairspray and a rat's nest of tangles.  But also because of two provocative reads that have inspired this series of posts.  I recently read the Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business (a must read if you haven't already done so). 

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

In this book, Duhigg illustrates why habits exist using current research and narratives in neuroscience, and then proceeds to discuss their potential for transformation.  Clearly the skill set involved in destroying my hair beyond recognition was habitual.  I guess doing something daily for an unmentionable amount of time will do that.  I was then sidetracked and started to reflect on the skill sets that I focus on daily with my students.  Some, I soon realized, are also unmentionable in light of the article that popped up on my Twitter feed this morning from Forbes:  "It's the End of an Era:  Enter the Knowledgeable Networker".  In this article, Ken Perlman discusses the end of the era of the knowledge worker.  He claims, "Today, no organization can hire all the knowledge workers it needs to cover every emerging need. Companies are generating exabytes of information. In 2013 alone, we’ll generate more data than we have in the previous 5,000 years combined. An individual or self-contained group of individuals may know all the vital facts of their field in this very instant, but the speed of change can make their knowledge obsolete in the next instant." 

Ring in the era of the knowledgeable networker.  Perlman describes them as, "...very good at what they do, and at the same time, do not pretend to know it all. They consider the entire puzzle, not just their own area of expertise. They’re integrative thinkers with broad interests and connections. They see how puzzle pieces fit together without needing to know everything about each piece – instead, they KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE and HAVE A LOT OF INFORMATION SOURCES." 

And this brings me to today's dilemma.  How are we as teachers helping to facilitate the formation of requisite habits in our students to produce a generation of knowledgeable networkers?  How many of us are continuing to foster the skills that support the habits and practices of knowledge workers instead of those that are specific to knowledgeable networkers?  And how do these skill sets differ? How many of us are guilty of checking the box of 21st century skill #159 after introducing it on only one assessment then proceeding to drill and kill to produce experts in our discipline?  What changes need to be made to our curricula to accomodate these new skill sets?  And with that I leave you with one last question that I posed to my 10th grade class the other day: 

"Ms. Newcomb had quite the hairspray obsession when she was your age. In fact, she used a bottle and a half of hairspray every week.  Each bottle contained 12 oz. of hair spray. The problem was that the hairspray caused a sticky layer of gunk to form on her bathroom sink and floor, so every 4 oz’s or so, Ms. Newcomb would have to clean the bathroom floor or her mother would threaten to stop buying her hairspray.  How many times did Ms. Newcomb have to clean her bathroom during her "big hair" years between 1988 and 1992?" 

Part II was posted on March 7.