There Go My Heroes Part 2: Jane McGonigal

If you’ve been reading my blog, or you follow me on Twitter, or listen to the pod, or have heard me speak recently (so basically anytime I’ve said something for public consumption) you would know that I am in a pretty reflective state these days. I am thinking a lot about my tenure as a teacher, about how I taught and my “style”. I am thinking about how I treated the kids and how I could have done better. I am thinking about the things I didn’t work hard enough for and about missed opportunities. And I am also thinking about how I got here.

A lot has changed for me over the last 18 months or so. But I honestly feel like my path was always leading me here. That path has seen a lot of twists and turns to be sure. I remember breaking down crying my first year because I was so tired. I was coming in at 6:30 and not leaving until 6 and it seemed a lot of the things I was doing weren’t working out. I was spinning my wheels on a few big assignments, and I was arguing a lot with the director of my school about the direction of the technology programs I was in charge of. It was a lot to deal with for a first time teacher, first time department head, first time curriculum designer, first time anything.

As I have been reflecting on everything I’ve done to get here I’ve also been thinking about the folks who helped me along the way. There are a lot of them. From the people who I worked with part time while I was trying to raise a family and go to school at the same time. To the professors who encouraged me and told me that my crazy ideas about video games may not be as crazy as they seem (who knew?) Obviously I’ve thought a lot about the sacrifices my wife and her parents made (we lived with them while I went back to school). We couldn’t have done it without them. I’ve also been thinking about all the educators who’ve inspired me, mentored me, encouraged me, amplified me, and taught me.

This is a series of posts about my educational heroes. This small group of people have had a HUGE impact on my life. The criteria to make it to this list is simple: Would I be doing what I am doing now, without them? If the answer is no, they’re on this list. I can also clearly explain WHY I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now without them, which is important when you’re writing a blog post, they say… I also have EVIDENCE for most of them, which is amazing. I can show you clear examples of them going WAY BEYOND what is expected to help me. That, in my mind is what a hero is. So here we go. These are in chronological order. I think that hones a good narrative for my career and this path I’ve been on.

Jane McGonigal

47c4501ee2d80e97b423129fe0db016a_400x400.jpg - Jane’s TED Talk changed my life. Jane’s book, Reality is Broken - Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World, changed my life. The TED Talk is engaging and so incredibly inspiring. It is delivered in such a fun, passionate way. The way she talks about games in that video to TED attendees is the way I talk about games. It resonated with me immediately. Her constant need to convince the audience that she’s not crazy in this video is exactly how I felt when I watched it for the first time. Here she was at TED, on the big stage, and still pushing against the tide. Her book is a masterclass in the case for using games more. Her work very much hit me in the same way as Kurt’s did. Once I was starting to find academic evidence about the use of games in school and was starting to actually, kinda, convince people, I started to get serious push back. This came in the same forms you generally hear still now: screen time, digital citizenship, bullying, violence in games etc. Jane reminded me that we don’t need to slow down playing games, we need to LEAN INTO IT. What she did that has really carried forward through the years for me is her thoughts on what she would call “the right hard work” I left a job I hated to go back to school. I was good at that job. I was successful I’d say, but I was also miserable. When I read Jane’s book I instantly understood why I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t doing the right hard work for me. I wasn’t doing the thing that activated my passions. I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do. I started to translate that to how we teach and it remains my mantra, my why, to this day. We need to bridge the gap between what our students do at home, and what they do at school. We need to engage them in the right hard work. When they do work that is fun and aligned to their interests, it doesn’t matter if it is hard or not, they will work hard and be passionate about positive outcomes. If we can just find the way to find the right hard work for every student, I honestly believe we can change the world. Jane’s work taught me that.

Jane, thank you for helping me to discover my own “right, hard work” Thank you for getting up on a stage and being willing to be laughed at to say we need to play more games, not less games. I believe it more now than I did then. Thank you for making the connection between what kids do at home, and what they do at school more real and understandable. You work has inspired thousands of people to connect the lives they live with the games they play. I can’t think of a better legacy than that.

Mike WashburnComment