On Being A #Unicorn

I am a parent involved in education reform. I am on twitter (@artlaflamme), and I participate in education chats on twitter, in which I am often the only parent / non-teacher. I’ve been to two edcamps (), and at each one there was one other parent / non-teacher (although one was the head of a PTA.)

People ask me what the hell am I doing, wandering into all of this. I tell them to treat me like they would a unicorn at a buffet: assume the unicorn knows what it’s doing, and go back to your own business. Because it’s true. I might be uncommon, but obviously I’m not in distress or in need of being saved. I’m at least uncommon, at best ahead of my time.

At first, I didn’t think it was that uncommon for a parent / non-teacher to be involved in any of this. “Come join us on Twitter, we’re going to talk about [fill in the blank] for an hour.” Good topics, great people. Not just good topics, but important topics that merit deconstruction and effort, and people putting effort and thought into them, in constructive, lively, and even comical and entertaining discussion and debate about them, and were thought provoking. But as my exposure grew, to more people on twitter, to different chats, to more topics – I began to see more and more teachers, more and more administrators and more and more principals, and few to no other parents / non-teachers.

And then I went to #edcampPDX in Portland, Oregon. I felt completely at home, with the people, the topics, the discussions – but at every turn, every session, everyone seemed stunned to see a unicorn. That was awkward – to be at ease someplace, but to be out of place at the same time. We would be in a session, in some in depth discussion, and people would ask, “And you’re not a teacher?” with such convinced skepticism. As if I were in the closet about being a teacher. At #edcampNJ, where I led a session on leadership, mentoring and professional development, I was doubly confusing as a parent / non-teacher at an edcamp, and as one leading a session. Never mind that I had been to another edcamp just 7 days prior, on the other side of the country – that was less impressive than just the fact that I was a parent / non-teacher at an edcamp leading a session.

But I have no reservations about being a unicorn. None.

There are needs in education reform about which I care greatly. And there are topics in education reform to which I can apply things from my career in the Army, my experiences across all facets of my life, and the capabilities I have developed through both nature and nurture.

As an example, I care deeply about the Big Three of Leadership, Mentoring and Professional Development. All of these carry over from my Army days, but all of these also carry over from my road to becoming an Eagle Scout, too. Education does not have leadership figured out correctly. Education absolutely needs to reform how it is applying coaching and mentoring. And education needs to pull its head out of its ass on personal and professional development, in large part in conjunction with leadership and mentoring.

If you ever want to hear me really engage on education reform, talk with me about of one these. Have coffee and a bagel with me. Reach me on Google Hangout. Write long-form (i.e. not twitter) and go deep. These are Big Ideas topics.

But I also care about more philosophical concepts, like the eternal debate of work-life balance, versus just having a life balance. I really thought this debate had been resolved, because in the Army, it all but has. Not so in education – where people still talk about work being separate from life, somehow, and the need to have balance in your life on one hand, and balance in your work, on the other hand. To which I obviously say Poppycock. Helping the education reform itself to the point where even something like this isn’t debated, is going to take time and involve a lot of things, and I love multi-faceted problems like this. Solving this is the best kind of Rubik’s cube.

And as one last example, I am currently struggling with how new teachers are brought into the profession of teaching. I am comparing this ritual to that of the Army, and my aperture is different than that of many in education. It’s obviously not working; new teachers are in a fight in their first year, to not quit. In that year, it’s about survival, about not drowning. That is nothing like how new leaders, new Sergeants, new Officers start off in the Army. The scope of time is different, the roles and responsibilities are very different, the tools and techniques used are so different. Education needs to look at how junior teachers – not just first year, but junior teachers – are integrated into the profession, and grown. I am mesmerized, as if by one of those Billy Bass devices, why education can excel at growing and teaching youth, but can’t do the same with junior members of their own tribe.

These are examples of the things that keep me engaged. This is why I remain a unicorn. Education reform needs outsiders who aren’t married to the process, and who aren’t married to the outcome. I am completely free to speak my mind, to ask questions, to poke and prob, to eat anything at the buffet. No union rep will ever put me in my place, or try to dress me down. Obviously, I know what I’m doing. Let’s get back to the business of education reform, and stop asking why the land-narwhal is hogging all the croutons.

8 thoughts on “On Being A #Unicorn

  1. I suppose to could, Maureen. And with my current plan taking me onto campus to teach college, if I dive more into this, I might just find myself drawn more and more in that direction.

    But here’s the thing: to teach education, and to teach teachers, you have to be a teacher and an educator. You have to be an insider.

    Take a look at this job listing at Portland State (http://bit.ly/1BhiYn4). Teachers and educators are incestuous. You have to have a M.Ed or PhD in education only, in order to move up the ranks, and those are only taught by others who have similar M.Ed and Ed.D degrees.

    There’s no deviation allowed. None.

    So, I might be lucky and find a school that thinks I’d be a good fit to teach a class, or some classes – but with a BA in Poli Sci and an MS in the Dark Arts, I am going to be viewed as anything but qualified to teach teachers unless I went back to get M.Ed and Ed.D degrees.

    Which is stupid. Because by that point, those things that make me awesome now – as an putsider, as one who approaches things from a different perspective, as one who holds different values, as one who is not a part of the process or the outcomes – will be lost just by having gone through their process to get their degrees.

    For people who spend their lives in school, sometimes educators can be kinda dumb. This, as I see it, is an example.

  2. You make valid points but how can things change? Also, have you heard about any states that have God mentoring programs for new teachers? As a former teacher I’m curious if you heard comments form educators regarding their standardized state testing? Personally that’s what ruined teaching for me. The constant focus on practice scores and all the data “gained” from it.

  3. Sounds like it would be easier to break in as an “expert witness.” Certainly the youth you have worked with for the last 20 years are not much older or more mature than the youth in our schools. Your perspective would make a good workshop.

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