A Note from Josh: Take A Small Step

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When we talk about the “spark of small steps,” what does that look like on the ground? What does the phrase really mean in the lives of educators and their students? For the past five years and over 12 epic Ted Dintersmith visits to Hawaiʻi, and through countless projects, programs, podcast interviews and WSCB/MLTS events, I have seen these “small step sparks” up close and personal. Here is an example that might inspire you.

Recently, I participated in a truly remarkable “small steps” program designed through a partnership between the Hawaiʻi State Teacher Fellows, HawaiiKidsCAN, and Teach For America Hawaiʻi. It was called We’ve Got You. Typically events put on by these kinds of partnerships take months to develop and can be complicated to execute. In this case, a “spark of an idea” led to something altogether different: An agile and nimble program put together quickly and apparently seamlessly.

A list of teachers, many from the Hawai’i State Teacher Fellows program, were paired with community members – government, nonprofits, business, community projects – generally active in our public, private and charter schools. Picture two rounds via Zoom where these pairs (in some cases, one on two) had 20 minutes to take some small steps needed to begin to build a relationship. Educators had 10 minutes to present a “problem of practice,” then 10 minutes to receive feedback. The pairings were intentional and inspired.  A few pairs involved possible funders paired with educators looking for small grants to support their “small steps towards big change,” as Ted Dintersmith likes to say. 

In the first round, I was paired with Nicole H., a young middle school educator at a public school on Maui who is using podcasting to develop student voice and communication skills. Given I am the host of the What School Could be in Hawaiʻi podcast, this pairing worked very well. Nicole and I could have talked about her project for hours!

In the second round I was paired with Charlie C., a young private school educator who is working to bring joy to learning math, not just in his classroom, but everywhere. In effect, his project is about “what math could be.” Charlie and I had a blast and I was able to connect him to our 2022 State Charter School Teacher of the Year, a math educator who shares the same goal. After these two rounds the 15 pairs assembled in the Zoom “main room” and debriefed their sessions and the many “spark of small steps” presentations experienced by the group. Readers, you cannot imagine the energy generated during these 60 minutes. It was…astonishing, and all I heard was: Yes, we can!

In the months and years to come The Hawaiʻi State Teacher Fellows, HawaiiKidsCAN, and Teach For America Hawaiʻi will do a series of these events, generating even more energy, kickstarting even more educator-community relationships and fueling more small steps by curious educators wanting to get better at their practice. Who benefits? Everyone benefits, but more than any stakeholder, it will be kids in schools who benefit from all the sparks and small steps, many of which will develop into bonfires of innovation, creativity and imagination. 

And so, educator friends, I encourage you to be bold and take that small step towards student-driven teaching. Your students, be they elementary, middle or high school, are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to express their natural curiosity and dive into inquiry.

In another example of small steps leading to big change, I was asked by the Hawaiʻi Association of Independent Schools (HAIS) to do nine (!) breakout sessions at this year’s virtual 13th Annual Schools of the Future Conference. I know, I’m insane, but this was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the What School Could Be in Hawaiʻi podcast series. In each of these nine sessions I paired two, former podcast guests, had them listen to each other’s episodes (in advance), take notes, and then, during the breakout, have a 45-minute collegial conversation highlighting each other’s innovations educator themes. It worked like a charm and a huge amount of energy was generated over three days and these nine breakouts.

What was the original small step? I work part-time at Apple in Honolulu. One night three years ago, just before we closed, a friend who happens to be in media stopped by to say hello. We struck up a conversation and discovered we both wanted to start a serious podcast. I had the mission and vision: Interviews with creative, innovative and imaginative educators across the Hawaiian Islands. My friend had the the technical expertise and a partnership was born.

Three years later, the What School Could Be in Hawaiʻi podcast is in its third session and has garnered over 27,000 downloads in over 70 countries. And, best of all, I have begun a new partnership with the director of the HAIS Schools of the Future conference. Deanna D’Olier. At both the 12th annual (2020), and 13th annual (2021) conferences my podcast guests have led the way towards what really happens to student engagement and learning when educators, and education leaders take the small steps that lead to big change.

So here is what I’m learning: Take a small step outside the box. Just do it, then reflect, rinse, repeat. Ask a fellow educator to coach you and just keep going!

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