Category Archives: risk taking

Blogging as a Professional – Jan. 28th #saskedchat

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Blogging as a professional

The January 28th #saskedchat explored Blogging as a Professional.

Now, there has been a great deal written about the benefits of blogging and many connected professionals who do a great deal of blogging will attest to the benefits. Teachers who have a classroom blog discuss the many benefits to the process of blogging for their students.

As someone who has blogged off and on for years, I started my first blog in 2007, and have averaged about 50 posts a year for the past few years. Like many educators, two things with which I struggle are consistency and topic choices.  These were two of the topics that participants discussed during the #saskedchat on January 28th.

Consistent Blogging

Like many educators, finding time to “add” blogging to my own schedule was very difficult. In discussing blogging with other educators, this is one thing that often comes up. Many of these educators actively participate in online communities are indeed “connected educators”. However, the practice of blogging has not become a regular part of their routine.

One of the things that I have learned that in order to consistently do anything, you have to approach it from a positive mindset and be prepared to do some hard work.

It’s like any new action item you want to do whether it be exercise, eating healthy, quitting a bad habit or just being better organized, there is a process to that you need to develop to be successful. I have read a number of those “Do It Like Successful People Do It” whatever the “It” might be. Each person had a different way of approaching their goals, tasks, daily routines, etc. but what seems to be consistent in the literature is:

1. Plan for it.

2. Make it part of your routine

3. Say “NO” to something else

4. Set yourself up to succeed

5. Check on your progress, adjust, and move forward

Something else that consistently is discussed is to follow your own path.

Todd Henry talks about this in his books The Accidental Creative and the follow up Die Empty when he discuss Periphery Paralysis. Too often we get sidetracked by what others are doing or saying we should do instead of looking at what we are doing and focusing on our own creative works. We forget to look at our own strengths – many of us begin to doubt our strengths. Instead, in a world that is filled with constant bombardment of information, we begin to lose our own sense of self as we are asked to do more and more of what others deem is important. To avoid this paralysis, you need to focus on your work and building your own body of work not someone else’s.

So, how do you go about blogging as a professional? Well, from my many false-starts, limited bursts of consistent blogging and experience, the process I would suggest looks something like this:

1. Decide if you really want to make this part of your routine. Maybe it’s not the right time for you and that’s okay! You can’t follow the path of others – you need to walk your own. If you feel it is a good time to add this to your routine, move to the next step.

2. Ask yourself why you want to blog. What is your personal mission statement and how does blogging help you fulfill that mission? This can help to focus you as you begin. This isn’t a “One Mission for Eternity” thing, you can decide to change your focus later on but what is driving you to blog? Even if this is an assigned task, what will focus and ground you? Why do this?

My mission “To relentlessly pursue supporting educators to develop creativity and innovation in the classroom through connecting, developing relationships and effective professional development.” Part of this mission is to continue to assist teachers to connect through #saskedchat and other formats and connect them with other amazing educators locally and globally.

3. How will you make it part of your routine? What will you do make time to write your blog? What might you have to change to make this work? In his book The 5AM Miracle Jeff Sanders explains that you don’t have to get up at 5AM but rather it is about

 the abundance of opportunity that presents itself when you live each day on purpose.

In the book, Jeff outlines The Ideal Morning, The Ideal Evening and the Ideal Week. In each of these, you purposely set out what you will do with the time you have. Remember this is if the week were “Ideal” but it does get one thinking about how to allocate time and what you are doing with the time you have each day. Blogging shouldn’t be an add-on. Instead it needs to be part of your routine. This leads to the next point.

4. Write consistently. Whatever you decide, every day, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, every Saturday morning, it’s up to you. What I have learned is that if you are able to consistently “ship your work”, as Seth Godin  suggests we should, then do this consistently. Consistent writing will help you to improve as a writer. Give you specific deadlines and goals to work towards. It will also help you to move to the next stage.

5. Write about what matters to you. Your topics need to be find their voice through you. There are all kinds of suggestions for the ideal length of all things on the internet and specifically for the length of a blog post.  My suggestion is to keep it shorter to begin with and work at finding your space. Include graphics and links but don’t over use these so they break up what you are trying to say.

6. Topics – this is an extension of the last point. I often thought I would have trouble finding topics. However, after reading Become an Idea Machine: Because Ideas Are the Currency of the 21st Century by Claudia Azula Altucher I began to keep a log of different ideas. I have a small notebook that I use to jot down ideas for blog posts, and anything else that pops into my cranium that I carry with me all the time. I then transfer these to a running list of blog ideas that I have – I’m up to over 100 ideas. I started with the writing examples from the book and then began to add my own based on what I was reading or watching or discussing. Short on ideas? Check out James Altucher’s post The Ultimate Guide to Becoming An Idea Machine for inspirational places to look for ideas.

Blogging shouldn’t be a chore. If it is, then maybe you need to reconsider your “why”. Or maybe you haven’t found something that you can run with yet. I know I needed to schedule it into my day, prioritize what I was doing and get rid of a few things. Becoming effective is different than trying to be efficient. When I was looking at doing things from an efficiency point of view, I would add small tasks that I could get done quickly and efficiently but I wasn’t giving myself time to do “deep work” as Cal Newport describes the work we do when we focus on a specific topic and delve deeply into it.

You might have to say “NO” to something or examine what you are doing and decide that things need to change. From experience, adding it to an already full day without planning and developing a routine doesn’t usually work. Instead, like making a decision to live a healthy lifestyle instead of “dieting”, there will need to be decision that you make and routines that you need to change. It might take a while and you might experience a few setbacks – I sure have! Don’t let these discourage you. When that happens, reassess where you are, what went right and what went wrong. Make alterations and get back at it!

I look foward to hearing about you blogging and any ideas you have for incorporating blogging into your professional, and personal, life.

#saskedchat July 30, 2015 – #tlap

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It was another amazing #saskedchat tonight. Dave Burgess dropped by at the start of the chat to get things going. @MrALongstaff and @brettReis then took over and guided the #saskedchat ship through a great chat focused on Teach Like a Pirate. The participants had some great ideas and suggestions for building relationships with students in order to develop rapport and trust. Take a look through the archive for some great resources and fantastic ideas!

Let’s Talk about the Learning … not the grading

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Toss the grades.

Get rid of grades.

Learners don’t need grades.

Throw out grades.

Over the past few weeks these statements have flittered across my twitter feed.

Many teachers I know are shifting and changing how assessment is done in their classroom. Many teachers I have worked with have already made this shift and are moving on. Although it may be something that isn’t common, it definitely isn’t new.

Fixing Grading 

Ten years ago now, the school division I was working in began to move away from letter, percentage and other similar forms of grading in K – 8. Ken O’Connor’s book A Repair Kit: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades  began a conversation about changing grading practices.  Removing zeroes from assessment, allowing for flexible deadlines, creating rubrics and exemplars for students, providing formative assessment throughout the learning experience, Student Led Conferences, digital learning portfolios and online reporting were some of the shifts that took place as teachers moved away from traditional grades. It didn’t mean tossing report cards or jettisoning the use of tests but it did mean that teachers had to shift away from traditional grading practices, alter their assessment practices and shift away from testing.

Along the way, some teachers resisted, arguing that grades provided rigour and zeroes were a necessary as an incentive for students who didn’t hand in work. They resisted adopting a different mindset. Parents and students were also resistant – this wasn’t part of their worldview of school and learning.

Resistance Is Futile

Over time, those teachers who were resistant began to make changes to their assessment practices  by changing their teaching practices and adopting such practices as peer feedback, self & peer assessment, formative assessment, and continuous feedback. This became the standard mode of operation as teachers shifted their teaching practices and restructured their planning. This happened through supporting and encouraging teachers through various PD experiences including division-wide inservice, conferences and developing PLC’s in schools. School leadership was a vital component of making a shift and helping to develop new cultures of learning in schools.

As a teacher, I have given very few tests over the past 15 years. My classes were project/inquiry based with a minimal amount of lecturing. Final grades were a combination of student/teacher  input in senior classes while any middle years classes used a totally different approach to reporting on outcomes. This was not unusual for many teachers I have known who began to shift and integrate technology in the classroom, adopting

As an administrator, providing teachers with the necessary supports so they could transition from the traditional system was important because my own transition was supported through my own PD and learning. In the past 10 years I have worked in two schools were there were no letter/percentage grades in the K – 8.  In grades 9 – 12 percentages were still provided at the end of the semester as they are required but assessment and reporting practices shifted to adopt continuous feedback throughout the learning experience. Project Based Learning and Inquiry were used by many teachers with formative assessment being provided on a continuous basis. Rubrics and feedback were used in all grades as was the use of digital portfolios. But assessment was not the focus – learning was.

The Future Has Arrived

For many teachers I work with, the shift away from traditional assessment began years ago.  Students and parents have access to online information about student progress, online portfolios are shared with parents with regular updates of student work – they are developing a Portfolio Lifestyle as outlined by Jeff Goin – discussions about learning focus on growth and development not on grades. Student Led Conferences and Celebrations of Learning are opportunities for students to share their learning. Conversations revolve around improvement, learning from mistakes, support and growth. Marks are only discussed because of the need to provide them for reporting in grades 9 – 12. Formative assessment is part of every classroom with teachers using various tools to develop and improve the feedback and discussion that they are having with students.

This isn’t something to look forward to because it’s already been done –  across whole divisions – successfully. The grading practices have shifted from the “test for mark” system to continuous feedback where formative assessment is incorporated into the planning, continuous access to growth is provided parents through online portals and portfolios, and testing is not the norm. Granted it’s not everywhere but it isn’t just a few random teachers who are trying to make change – it’s what all teachers are expected.

In making this shift, the discussion about education needed to change. Trying to convince people to change their worldview about grades and grading is very hard if that is where you begin the discussion.

Reward Risk-taking Not Failure

In the podcast the Accidental CreativeTodd Henry explores how creativity can be developed and cultivated. In his recent interview with Ron Friedman, they discuss his latest book The Best Place to Work. One of things that really struck me was the idea that many people and companies say they want people to be risk-takers and innovative yet they don’t reward people for being risk-takers and innovators. Instead, the pervasive climate of efficiency and the bottom-line continue to dominate the workplace. In schools, we hear the same thing. We want students to be innovative and take-risks but instead of focusing on creating the optimal space for doing this and developing a story for students to be risk-takers and innovators, we continue to discuss the same bottom line – assessment. The thru-line of the story is not risk-taking or innovation – it’s assessment and reporting.

Changing the story to allow for teachers and students to be risk-takers and innovators requires a change in mindset. It also requires that the focus of schools be learning where risk-taking and innovation are the focus of the story not the assessment. Maybe throwing out grades eliminates the punitive assessment practices but it still focuses on assessment. To create a climate for risk-taking and innovation, a focus on learning as a whole is critical to helping to change the mindset of people – a new story where risk-taking and innovation are central to the learning needs to be told.

Talk About the Learning

Many people have a fixed mindset when it comes to grading and grades. In other words they have “a set of beliefs or way of thinking that determine’s one’s behaviour, outlook and mental attitude.”   It’s part of their cultural worldview and, as Seth Godin points out, getting people to change their worldview is very difficult – it’s admitting they’re wrong.

In my experience over the last 10 years with shifting mindsets and school cultures away from traditional practices, talking about grading and grades is the least effective way to create a shift. Instead, talk about learning.

When you discuss learning, it’s leads to a discussion of including and using formative assessment, the effective use of digital portfolios, the focus on taking risks, making mistakes, creativity and development, the use of differentiation for all students and the use of maker space/genius hour/inquiry/problem based learning.

It allows the conversation to examine the different skills that people will need in the future and how these skills are built into learning through the use of collaboration, peer-assessments, continuous formative feedback, differentiation and the opportunities for redo’s where learning isn’t finite but truly life-long. Talking about assessment and grades misses out on the important part of the story – the learning.

Change the Story of School

Many people have a very static picture of school. Too often I hear/read about students still in desks, where rote copying off the board is the norm and weeks of standardized testing take place every year. Honestly, I have no idea what that is like. My own transition began 15 years ago when I removed the desks from my grade 7 classroom and began to explore Inquiry Learning. I quit giving finals 10 years ago when I once again began teaching senior Social Studies and PAA classes. My own experiences reinforced that talking about grading and grades was beginning with the wrong end of the learning story.

As an administrator, changing the story of what happens in school is important. Connecting parents with classes and the school via social media  allows parents to see that the story of school and the story of learning are changing and changing for the better for their children. Helping parents and students who were use to the traditional forms of learning and assessment is essential in helping a school culture transition. Telling a different story allows people to see themselves in a new way within the storyline. Without telling a complete story, but starting with assessment and grading, people are disconnected from the changes taking place in classrooms and the school, imposing their own story of learning which is incompatible with the changing story of assessment.

I Wonder….

My work with teachers and their stories of connection and change through connecting online make me more appreciative of the need to listen to the stories that people are telling about school and learning. In a world that is hyper-focused on assessment and grading, the story of learning is a by-line when it should be the headline. For decades the focus has been on test results, so much so that the current educational environment seems to rarely focus on the learning – it’s all about assessment. Maybe it’s time to change the story…..

…. what would happen if learning and development were the focus of discussion rather than assessment and changing grading?

….. why people continue to only tell a small part of the learning story with a focus on the end instead of the journey?

…. what would happen if teachers were asked to focus on learning and innovation as much as they are being told to focus on assessment and assessment practices?

….. what if the assessment rhetoric shifted to focusing on learning, risk-taking and innovation?

5 Ways to Empower Educators

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Ever feel totally empowered? Like you could do anything? I know that when I feel this way, I sure can get a lot done, more than I thought was possible when I began.
When I’m not empowered?
I’m disengaged from the task or problem that I’m working on. Now this happens for a number of reasons – I’m tired, I don’t feel well, I’m confused and don’t understand what I’m suppose to really do. However, when I was a teacher, one of the biggest reasons: I knew that whatever I suggested would go unnoticed.
I remember when we were asked as a staff by our principal to come up with a different supervision format since many of us were dissatisfied with the current system. We had morning meetings, did brainstorming and came up with several different options which we presented to the staff only to have the principal make a suggestion and then go with that suggestion. Totally disempowered! Total waste of time. Disengaged.
Disengaged to empowered
My recent post dealt with disengagement. One of the stats that I found stated that 70% of teachers report being disengaged at work. As I thought about this and wondered why teachers are disengaged?  I reflected that maybe it wasn’t that they were disengaged but feeling undervalued as professionals, and like our group, were not being given the opportunity to lead and use our talents. As Liz Wiseman says in The Multiplier Effect – Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools 

Multipliers know how to find this dormant intelligence, challenge it, and put is to use at its fullest. …. They are genius makers. They know that at the apex of the intelligence hierarchy is not the lone genius but rather the smart leader who also brings out smarts and capability in everyone around him or her.

Too often teachers are told what they need to do, what they need to teach, how they need to teach it. People visit their rooms and critique their performance. That’s part of the problem, it’s seen as a performance. Yet most teachers I know see teaching as their calling, it’s their vocation in the traditional sense of the word.
Jeff Goins in his book The Art of Work explores people finding their calling – finding their place. If you listen to teachers, you soon get that they were meant to be in the classroom with children. They’re calling is to help students. However, in an attempt to make schooling more efficient and learning more standardized, teachers are being left out of the learning discussions more and more.
Empower the Teachers
So, how can an administrator shift this to empower teachers within the school? Below I present five ideas that might help empower educators which, in turn will help them to feel engaged in the work they are doing.
1. Provide each teacher with a reading budget. Each month. Encourage teachers to read. Share what you are reading. Exploring beyond the traditional educational reading is good – and have them share – each month at a staff meeting – in groups do a book sharing.
2. Have TEDstyle talks every month. Each month have teachers give a TEDtalk about something they are doing in their classroom or something they are learning about. Don’t know what at TED talk looks like, check it out here.  If the teachers need some resources:
3. Have teachers share.  A blog post, article, or something they read on twitter or Pinterest. Have each teacher share with other teachers about something that really resonated with them. Again, this can be done at a staff meeting in groups. Don’t know where to start with blog posts? Here are a few suggestions to get started:
Teach 100 – a list of international educational blogs. There are more than a 100!
Now, you might not want to limit this to blogs but also add in Youtube videos and Podcasts. Some great non-education podcasts that I recommend include:
ReadtoLead Podcast – Jeff Brown
Accidental Creative – Todd Henry
This is Your Life – Michael Hyatt
The Moment  – Brian Koppelman
7 Levels to become a Greater Influencer – Ryan Eller and Jerrod Murr
The Big Shift – Bill Baren
The Portfolio Life – Jeff Goins
Live Life Zoomed – Pam Moore
Beyond the To-Do List – Erik Fisher
Freakonomics Radio – Stephen Dubner
4. Have teachers visit the rooms of other teachers. Find time to have teachers observe other teachers. As an administrator I had the privilege of visiting many classrooms and my own teaching improved because I was able to learn from the teachers. Why not allow teachers to learn from one another through observing each other teach? Start out in your own building but see if there are other schools interested in sharing and co-operating to do this.
5. Have teachers lead staff meetings and other presentations. Have teachers talk about the successes and growth that is happening at the school. Give them opportunity to lead by supporting their ideas and letting them lead projects and groups. Don’t just leave this for those who volunteer. “I’m not very good at…….” is an invitation for you to support. “What is holding you back from being successful?” will show that you are interested in them being successful.
I don’t think any of these are difficult to do but I do think that each of these will  help to empower teachers as professionals. I wouldn’t suggest doing them all at once! I would also suggest that, as an administrator, you lead by example in doing these – give a TEDsyle talk, share your own blog or blogs you read. Also, give teachers the gift of time to do these – teach their class once or twice before they give their talk, find ways so they can visit other classrooms, nudge them to lead the staff meeting or presentation and help them prepare for it. If we are truly concerned about the level of student engagement then being concerned about teacher engagement should also be a priority. Rather than engaging teachers in specific agendas, empower them to be leaders, using their talents and abilities to share and grow together with other teachers.

No, We Don’t Want You

Rejection.

It’s a hard to accept.

According to Jia Jiang and his work on rejection,  it touches us deep inside and causes pain that is equivalent to being struck, like a slap in the face. 

Most of us get the advice to make a plan for our success. 1 year, 3 year, 5 year, 10 year. Each year we are suppose to revise, reflect, make adjustment and move on. But what if our plan runs into the Rejection Roadblock?

What does Rejection do?

I heard about Jia Jiang’s 100 Days of Rejection story through Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative Podcast episode Confronting Rejection In Life and Work. Later, I listened to Jiang’s interview with Jeff Brown on The ReadToLead podcast. In both interviews, Jiang describes how his fear of rejection almost paralyzed him from going out and chasing his dream of being an entrepreneur and how his wife really pushed him to not quit but keep going. In the 100 Days of Rejection, Jia purposefully seeks out rejection in order to become better at dealing with it.

Rejection as Learning and Change

“Sorry, but you’re just not what we’re looking for.”

In a four year span I heard that phrase, or something similar, over 30 times in my attempt to obtain a central office position. Yeah, that’s a lot of interviews and most people when they hear that comment

“Why keep trying?”

I also believe most people think “What’s wrong with this guy? There must be something wrong with him.”

That’s what I began to think too! There must be something wrong with me.

This is exactly what Jia says we do with rejection, we make it about us when it really isn’t, it’s about the other person. I recommend you listen to the interviews and check out the website.

The first couple of times I heard that I had been rejected it was really, really hard. At one point I decided that I wasn’t going to try any more, rationalizing that I didn’t have the skills or ability for such work. Compounding this was my battle with depression into which I would plunge after each attempt. I knew I wanted to do something different but was getting nowhere. Climbing out of depression became harder and harder.

Like Jiang, my wife supported me and encouraged me to continue. Without her love and insistence, I wouldn’t have faced my fear of depression and sought help. Eventually I tried again, only to meet more rejection. I began to wonder what was happening during the interviews. Was it something I was doing? Was it my answers? My experience? My suit? What?  I began to ask for feedback. What where two or three things that I could do that would help. I received some great feedback at times. Others times, not so much.

As Jia Jiang points out, we take these rejections as affronts to us as individuals and, usually, we try to avoid such pain, avoiding any chance that we’ll be rejected. As I did more interviews and went through the process it helped me to become much more reflective and honest about my own strengths and weaknesses but, more importantly, what I really wanted to do. I came to realize that, in fact, it was time to do something different.

Maybe’s It’s Time to Quit

Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt book, Freakonomics, is an interesting mix of economics and seemingly miscellaneous and unconnected phenomenon. Their podcast – Freakonomics Radio – hosted by Stephen Dubner, is a continuation of this exploration. The Upside of Quitting explores why people will stay in a job even though they don’t like it and why people who seemingly have a great job quit. They examine whether “Quitters never win and winners never quit” is really a good thing to be telling people when it comes to a job, if quitting just might be a good strategic choice and a good plan, and most importantly, how our past investments keep us where we are.

To help us understand quitting, we look at a couple of key economic concepts in this episode: sunk cost and opportunity cost. Sunk cost is about the past – it’s the time or money or sweat equity you’ve put into a job or relationship or a project, and which makes quitting hard. Opportunity cost is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else – something that might make your life better. If only you weren’t so worried about the sunk cost. If only you could …. quit.

For me, having put a great deal of time and effort into the sunk costs for education, I didn’t think there were any other options for me. However, over time I realized that all I was doing was limiting myself if I continue to knock at only one door. Through a series of events, I found myself in a position where I decided I needed to give myself a push to make change. So, on May 4th, 2013 I sent in my resignation even though I had no other job nor was I certain what was to come. Instead, I was going with the “gut feeling” that such a move was going to be the beginning of a new and wonderful adventure.

Quitting isn’t for everyone but it is for some people. Too often, as both Jiang and Dubner point out, we limit ourselves because we are afraid of rejection, of failing, of looking to other options and not trying. We are afraid of people saying to us

“Why would you do such a thing? I could never do that, it’s too risky. What about you pension?

Like so many, I was working in order to put in time so that at some date in the future I could retire and start living and doing the things I wanted to do. By stepping out of the rut, I pushed myself to look at life and what I was doing from a new perspective.

It’s Not Easy to Fail

FAIL –

First

Attempt

In

Learning.

I imagine many people have seen different versions of this. Or heard that schools and teachers need to be risk takers and innovators in environments of trust and safety. It’s easy to say –

“Take risks. Fail fast. Be innovative”

It’s completely another to actually take risks, “fail forward” or innovate. That’s hard. Really hard. Harder than most people will let on.

Seth Godin in Icarus Deception discusses how our Lizard Brain, that portion of the brain that developed for survival, is still keeping us from taking risks because risks are scary, lead to failure and failure leads to pain which is to be avoided. It’s easy to say we need to take risks and be risk takers but, in reality, many people would rather stay in a situation that was not doing them any good rather than venture into the unknown and change. Recent studies show that approximately 60% of employees worldwide are disengaged from their work but many stay where they are rather than make a big change. Like Jia Jiang, fear keeps many people from striking out on their own or taking risks. In a society where playing it safe is the norm and taking chances is for a few select who are brave enough , suggesting that schools, places that have traditionally been slow to change and embrace innovation, do an sudden about face and becomes places of innovation, experimentation and embrace failure as learning is a tall order.

Yes, there are teachers who will embrace these concepts and a few schools will begin to blaze a trail of their own but without a titanic shift in the worldview of parents, many who are reluctant to allow their children to face too many negative experiences in their childhood, schools are in tough.

Tell A Different Story

If we want schools to be places of innovation, risk-taking, and experimentation where “fail forward” (whatever that actually means) is acceptable for students and teachers, then the stories of school must change. The current hierarchical system inhibits people who are innovators and risk-takers, both students and teachers, through policies of conforming and norming. If our stories are still similar to what they have always been about learning and school, how can things be much different?

I Wonder….

My experience is that most teachers were pretty good students. The story that comes from school is very similar to what it has always been, to what the story was for them as students. As someone who hasn’t had that story, even my story as a teacher wasn’t similar to other teachers. Is it possible to change this story?

…. how we can change the story that is told about learning that will embrace risk, failure and change?

….. if people who call for more risk and change fully understand what they are asking of people in schools?

….. if we don’t change the story we tell about learning whether innovation and risk-taking can ever be part of a majority of schools?

…. if people who ask others to be risk-takers and change agents have ever faced their fears of rejection or know what it takes to step boldly to the edge of possibility and look around?