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On heroes and mentors #lrnchat #edtech #uoltech (with thanks to @nancyduarte)

June 5, 2011

A good few years back when I came to the UK from Romania following three years in university, I was tingling with excitement at the thought of being able to see quite a few of my heroes in person. After a few years of national prizes back home in my favourite subjects – English and Romanian – and some other related adventures, I’d gone to university to read English and French and had come to think highly of quite a few writers in the field of translation studies who were working in the UK.

So you can imagine how much I was looking forward to my first conference where I could see (and, if nerves allowed, talk to) these superheroes of mine. What is more difficult to imagine is how disappointed I was when I started to realise that my heroes might have been academic superstars, but they did not seem to be very nice, friendly, approachable people (or at least not to folks they didn’t know).

Ever since then, a rather strong dislike has been creeping inside me for artificial superstars – and those of you who know me are well aware of how well-disposed I am towards consultants who always know better than you, are slick and full of hot air, and end up looking like pathetic little machines incapable of relating to anyone and anything, but with a big, checkbox-filled script that they need to go through with you in detail. With a little bit of effort, I have noticed that I can quickly reverse-engineer their so-called life-changing ideas and products and demonstrate that they are not actually that special, but rather a whole bunch of plagiarised stuff crammed together and relying on the others’ ignorance to survive.

So what’s this got to do with #EdTech, learning, etc, you may ask? I reckon it’s got everything to do with everything out there (but I can only use a few hashtags in my tweet, so I chose the ones I am passionate about). One of the few people I have grown to admire a lot lately, Nancy Duarte, put it extremely well in her second book – resonate. She’s mainly talking about presenters and audiences, but to me this applies to life in general and how we interact with others (an audience of one is a start for bigger things):

“ You are not the hero who will save the audience; the audience is your hero. […]

Changing your stance from thinking you’re the hero to acknowledging your role as mentor will alter your view-point. You’ll come from a place of humility, the aide-de-camp to your audience. A mentor has a selfless nature and is willing to make personal sacrifices so that the hero can reach the reward.

Most mentors were heroes themselves. They have become experienced enough to teach others about the special tools or powers they picked up on the journey of their own lives. Mentors have been down the road at the hero one or more times and have acquired the skills that can be passed on to the hero. – Duarte, N (2010) Resonate. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p.20)”

There you have it: beautifully and eloquently said by one of the most creative persons I have come across, and, most importantly, in a way that resonates deeply with me (and I expect with others, too). It’s a strange, but also wonderful feeling to read a kind of confirmation about something you have been intuitively trying for a while, not completely sure it will work in your workplace, but confident in your heart that it’s the only right thing to do.

My wishes for colleagues working in education, learning technology and instructional design? That we stop parading our superior knowledge; that we stop bombarding students with information and we start challenging them in relevant ways; that we stop falling in the traps of manufacturers flogging us tech that will “revolutionise” learning and teaching; that we stop pretending to other people that what we know and do is way beyond what their little brains can comprehend; that we are not afraid to let our guards down, admit imperfection, invite the learners in, connect and care about them, and show them how to become independent and powerful rather than worry that we will then lose our jobs and starve; and that we are good people connecting with other good people who will not think twice about lending a hand when needed.

My wish for the world? That it grows wise to internalise it can do most things with time, dedication and hard work; that it really does not need to cultivate “heroes” without substance or relevance; and that the only thing worth striving for is to become a mentor in your own right showing people the wonderful (although not easy) world of tolerance, hard work, and appreciation for the small things in life.

What do you think? Drop me  a line if this resonates (or not) with you, too.

  1. Marcus Hill permalink

    Dragos your comments resonated with me! They also reminded me of Parker Palmer’s book “The courage to teach” (Jossey Bass 1998)in which he compares the prevalent ‘objectivist myth of knowing’ where experts parade their knowledge to unworthy amateurs, with what he calls the ‘community of truth’ in which, if my understanding is right, ‘knowers’ share their understanding about the subject openly, freely and communally with one another. Giving out in this way encourages mutual exchange and a growth of all we know.

    • I love this, Marcus: now I have another good recommendation for a book – thank you. I like the concept of the “community of truth” (no small thing now that I think about it, as truth can be a tricky one ;)) and I can’t wait to read more about it and then speak about it (or rather invite you to lead the discussion and then contribute to it) in our regular chillout brainy sessions.

  2. Thank you for your post. I really appreciate your thoughtful words.

    • I feel I should do a(t least one) follow-up, Nancy, as the more I get into the book, the more it resonates. I have come across a whole bunch of super cool tips and I’m only on page 67. Finding the case-study analyses extremely thought-provoking and (you probably won’t believe it but I’ll say it anyway), reading about ways to try and find out what makes your audience tick and about painting them a motivating picture of “what could be” has got me to a short and catchy (just how modest am I?) pitch for a meeting in 30min. Looking forward to seeing how much it will work because it’s still overnight and not a proper preparation… Anyway, I guess this is my way of saying “Thank you” with a bit of meaning rather than “Your book is awesome, Nancy, you’re so cool” 🙂

  3. I love waking up to flattering comments like this. Sets the tone for my entire day!!!! Thanks.

    • I assume this means going into work whistling and hugging your staff out of the blue 🙂 Or maybe starting to work on another book 😉

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