I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the notion of a safety net and how it can be applied to the work we do as educators. The seed was planted last month when #daredeviledu teacher Lee Martin tweeted about the importance of having a safety net when taking risks. (See video below.) If you know Lee, and I can only profess to know him through social media, you’ll know he clearly fits the mold of risk-taker. He moves the needle in education, unafraid to take on new challenges that push conventional thinking, while encouraging others to come along for the journey. Next month, I’m looking forward to sitting down with Lee when he keynotes an event at a local TVDSB school.
Anyway, that’s Lee. I want to briefly reflect on something more personal. Right around the time Lee tweeted about his safety net, I was presented with an opportunity to do something that, to be honest, still sends shivers up my spine when I think about the scope of this endeavour. The ECOO Board of Directors (Educational Computing Organization of Ontario) recently cast their vote to not only allow me to be a member of the Board of Directors, but to be the Bring It Together (BIT) Conference Co-Chair. Although all of the work going forward will be a team effort, I am the lead ECOO contact for planning the 2019 BIT conference. All of the sudden, Lee’s message really began to resonate. I needed a safety net if I was going to push forward with this opportunity.
Fortunately, I have a safety net. My safety net consists of various members in my professional learning network (PLN). In fact, Lee is very much a part of my safety net. We’re both not risk-adverse, so when ECOO Past President, Doug Peterson, and current President, Peter McAsh, challenged me to put my stamp on BIT, not only did I reach out to Lee, but I connected with more than a dozen others who are also part of my safety net. I shared a Google Form with these individuals for the purpose of getting their input as past BIT attendees and presenters.
When I first started reflecting on the notion of a safety net, I didn’t really think creating a Google Form and sharing it with a bunch of educators really qualified as a safety net. When I think about a safety net, I think about a tightrope walker or a trapeze artist in need of a safety net just in case of a slip up. Surely, this doesn’t apply to my situation; these individuals aren’t going to save me if I make miscalculations in regard to conference planning. Therefore, wasn’t I just asking for a favour?
On the surface, maybe, but after some reflection, it became apparent that I was seeking more than just a favour, and that Lee was alluding to something that needs to be appreciated in a much broader context.
Viewed in this broader context, a safety net is a metaphor for confidence-building when risk-taking is involved. It’s about knowing you’re not alone because you’re surrounding yourself with others who are also not risk-adverse, even passionate about stepping out of comfort zones. There’s reassurance in knowing that you’re not alone; you’re not siloed, but part of a deeply entrenched community of mutually supportive individuals. I have resounding respect for the people that comprise my safety net; I highly value their opinions and often seek their feedback. My safety net isn’t there to catch me if I fall, but to prevent me from falling in the first place.
These reflections will no doubt find their way into my presentation next month at Western University’s Faculty of Education where I have been asked to speak to pre-service teachers about the importance of professional learning networks. I look forward to sharing my perspective, and maybe even becoming part of their safety nets as they begin their journey.