Recently, I had the privilege of visiting a school that shall remain unnamed – the penultimate visit in an eight-part series that is examining consistently strong performers across a network of schools. Last week’s school was filled with joy and rigor in a way I truly haven’t seen in many other places, and I felt the need to share one of its many nuggets of wisdom: the exaltation of the nerd.
Our team was struck by the way the school has embraced and appropriated the idea that being a nerd (excelling academically, finding an academic passion, and diving deeply into the inner workings of one’s content area) is the most desired state for both staff and students. Teachers spoke of nerding out in their content areas, enjoying the glory that a deep exploration of Norse mythology or quadratic equations can bring to both adults and children. Leaders spoke of backwards planning from an end goal of developing students into “cool nerds” and of the desire to infuse rigor with real joy – not in the sense of disconnected games and competitions, or unrelated activities involving art supplies or dubious pop culture references – those are distractors that so often find their way into classrooms when we talk about infusing joy in learning. Instead, they spoke of the joy being in the rigor itself – that the sense of accomplishment and pride when finally solving a difficult problem or producing the perfect sentence to express exactly the argument in one’s head. This school has proven that when this kind of nerdiness is celebrated and consistently recognized, adults and students are happy to come to school each day, invested in the work of teaching and learning, and, ultimately, show higher levels of achievement.
The idea of finding, digging into, and then sharing a passion with others was at the heart of the school’s culture, and it made me reflect on what it is that I most enjoy about working at SchoolWorks: being surrounded by fellow education nerds. Folks here are smart, insightful, passionate professionals who have an immense knowledge and experience base upon which to draw, and who enjoy the process of learning, collaborating, exploring, and connecting. Just as I learn something from each school I visit, I walk away from each collegial conversation with more knowledge about effective schools, strong teams, and teaching practices. I always want to have more time to pick the brains of those with whom I go on visits or sit next to at staff meetings.
It’s worthwhile to constantly let our nerd flags fly, and to celebrate the opportunities we have to get embarrassingly excited about a new study we read or a great practice we’ve seen. I’d like to challenge us as an organization to be more open about this kind of sharing and to more regularly circulate thought-provoking articles, PD opportunities, and new contributions to the field, so that we can continue to nerd out together. After all, that’s why we’re here: to exalt the nerd!