I wrote this for one of Carol Starin's FIVE THINGS EXTRAVAGANZA'S at the 2005 CAJE conference in Seattle. I am happy to find that I still think it is relevant. I do think that in the last six years I have found at least five more things, but let me share these first and invite you to share some of your own! Shavuah Tov!
- Create Purple Cows – In his book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable, Seth Godin discusses the need for businesses to distinguish their products and services by making them stand out. To prove his point, he gave away copies for the book to people who e-mailed Fast Company Magazine. My copy arrived in a purple and white, ½ gallon milk carton.
What can we learn? We need to use and create materials, projects and activities that WOW our students. Our 5th graders prepare a presentation on their Jewish heroes. We let them determine the medium, so long as they are not merely reading from a paper. So now we get web pages, power point presentations, videos…
- Watch for the Tipping Point– In The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell describes “a new way of understanding why change so often happens as quickly and as unexpectedly as it does. For example, why did crime drop so dramatically in New York City in the mid-1990's? How does a novel written by an unknown author end up as national bestseller? Why do teens smoke in greater and greater numbers, when every single person in the country knows that cigarettes kill? Why is word-of-mouth so powerful? What makes TV shows like Sesame Street so good at teaching kids how to read? I think the answer to all those questions is the same. It's that ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics.”
What can we learn? We need to be students of the culture in our classrooms and schools. Do behaviors by both students and teachers correspond to the values you are teaching? Are we teaching “Thou Shalt Not Steal” using pages photocopied from a textbook or music from a cd that was burned from someone else’s copy of an album? Do we reward tardiness be recapping what latecomers missed (and punish timeliness by making those students sit through it again)? Do we schmooze with colleagues at the back while students are singing or praying or dancing with a “specialist, or are we singing, praying and dancing with our kids, modeling the behavior?
- Design Matters – Go to Fast Company and read about why design matters. The articles range over a variety of businesses, from the cap on a detergent bottle to cell phones to Old Navy Pajama Bottoms to OXO Easy Grip kitchen tools to architecture and beyond. In each case, they discuss how the design of the product or its packaging influences how much people like the product.
What can we learn? How much attention have we paid to design in our classrooms? The walls, the layout of the furniture, the materials we distribute and our lesson plans all send messages to our students. What message do you want to send: “I’ve been doing this so long that I don’t need to plan anymore” or “I want this to be as fresh and interesting for me as it swill be for you!” “Yeah, we’re all stuck in a nursery school room, just grin and bear it?” or “You know, if we paint the ceiling tiles as a class project or create bulletin board that will be hung over the nursery posters when we are in session, we can really create our space among the toys!” Oh, and spelling and grammar do count for teachers, both in the classroom and in progress reports.
- Spread Idea Viruses –Seth Godin’s The Idea Virus takes The Tipping Point a step further, suggesting that ideas can be spread like viruses. “At the core of any ideavirus are sneezers – the folks who tell 10, 20, or 100 people about some new thing, and whom people believe. There are two basic kinds of sneezers: promiscuous sneezers and powerful sneezers. Promiscuous sneezers are folks like your dear Uncle Fred, the insurance salesman. You can always count on Fred to try to "sell" his favorite ideavirus to almost anyone, almost anytime. You know what Fred's up to when he starts to pitch whatever it is that he's onto now…
Compare that with the influence of powerful sneezers. Go back to the early 1980s. The hat business is near the end of a decades-long downward spiral to total irrelevance. Each year has brought worse news, with one manufacturer after another going out of business, and most towns left with one haberdasher – if they're lucky. All of a sudden, in the midst of all of this dismal news, from out of nowhere, a hero bursts onto the scene: Harrison Ford. Carrying a bullwhip. Wearing a hat. Like the Marlboro Man, Indiana Jones had an enormously positive impact on sales of Stetson hats. Why? Because Harrison Ford is cool, because he has the influence to set style, and because his appearance in a movie in which he wore a fedora coaxed millions of men who wanted to be like him into buying one for themselves.”
What can we learn? Who are the “vectors” – the students who tend to spread the word? Which are promiscuous and which are powerful? The ones who spread everything will keep your idea (say for a special class project, or a tzedakah recipient) out there in front of everyone, and you can enlist their aid. The powerful ones need to be won over, but when they pronounce their support for your idea, it will become reality. We began our retreat program as an idea virus, using one kid to infect another, until most of the kids were going. Then we used those kids to convince the next group to go using younger siblings. Of course, your idea needs to be a good one! Go Fast Company (again) for a two-part article by Godin on the idea virus.
- Bring the Curriculum to the Student – In his seminal work My Pedagogic Creed," John Dewey said "I believe that the only true education comes through the stimulation of the child's powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself...The child's own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all education. Save as the efforts of the educator connect with some activity, which the child is carrying on of his own initiative independent of the educator, education becomes reduced to a pressure from without... If it chances to coincide with the child's activity it will get a leverage; if it does not, it will result in friction, or disintegration, or arrest of the child nature." (First published in The School Journal, Volume LIV, Number 3, January 16, 1897.)
What can we learn? Okay, Dewey was a teacher not a marketer, but he understood how to draw lessons from the students’ perspective, which is the trick that all good marketers have mastered. So what are kids interested in? If you teach 3rd – 5th grade, check out a show called “The Fairly Odd Parents.” It is the hottest show on cable and your students watch it (or it was in 2005. What do you think is hot right now?). And Sponge Bob Squarepants. And some of them like magic cards and Lindsay Lohan (clearly the mojo has moved to the likes of Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, etc). If we know where they are spending their time, we can make better connections. The movie Mean Girls is full of opportunities to teach Derekh Eretz!(Still true, but there are other newer aawesome films!)