In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the factors that lead to the explosion of an idea or social behavior. He specifically addresses three types of people who make things happen in society. Gladwell calls them connectors, mavens, and salesmen. While he doesn’t discuss these terms in relation to education, his ideas translate well to our profession. Let’s first consider how Gladwell describes the people who make things happen.
Connectors know lots of people, in fact, they seem to know everyone. They have an instinctive and natural gift for making social connections. They know lots of people by occupying many different worlds, subcultures, and niches. Connectors are curious, self-confident, and energetic.
Mavens are knowledge accumulators. Once they discover something they want to share it with everyone. They want to educate and help. They have a message to share with anyone wise enough to listen. To be a maven is to be a teacher and a student.
Salesmen are persuaders. The have an innate ability to convince you that what they are selling is worth buying. They use verbal and non-verbal communication to bring people around to their way of thinking. Great salesmen sell you things you didn’t even know you needed.
Mavens are data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are the social glue. They spread the message. Salesmen get you to “buy” the idea.
If we see ourselves as connectors, mavens, and salesmen, we can turn the tide of school reform in favor of those who actually work with children. If we resolve to become connectors, mavens, and salesmen, we can spend more time on the things that matter to students and their learning. Let’s co-opt Gladwell’s ideas for education and redefine them.
Educational connectors attend conferences and collaborate with educators from all content areas and levels. Educational connectors know that their professional knowledge depends on their willingness to share ideas with others. They spend time spreading the word when they uncover exciting ideas.
Educational mavens see learning as a lifelong process. They take personal responsibility for learning as much as they can about their profession. They are both teacher and student because they recognize what they don’t know. Educational mavens are voracious readers. They wake up at night and write down ideas that come to them in their dreams. You’ll know that you’ve met an educational maven because they exude passion when talking about anything that is related to teaching and learning.
Connectors and mavens are often one and the same. Salesmen are a different breed. They have a knack for communicating ideas in ways that leave the average person in awe. Educational salesmen are unique beings. When I think of educational salesmen I think of Todd Whitaker, Annette Breaux, Dave Burgess, Eric Jensen, Michael Fullan, Daniel Pink, Peter DeWitt, Adam Saenz, Freeman Hrabowski, Chris Lehman, and Kate Roberts. They are just a few of the educational salesmen who always leave you wanting more. They contribute to their profession by “selling” you on the value of what they are truly passionate about.
Imagine what would happen if each of us resolved to being educational connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Are we so caught up in the day to day management of our positions that we are unable to contribute to the greater good of our chosen profession? School leaders often remind their teachers that they can’t work in isolation. That’s advice they need to internalize. The principalship can be a lonely position. Principals who see themselves as connectors, mavens, and salesmen increase their individual potential. That can only be a good thing for their schools and their students.