If you’re eager for change, every bit of information and every event represents an opportunity to learn, to grow and to change for the better. You hear some advice and you listen to it, consider it (possibly reject it), iterate on it and actually do something different in response.
On the other hand, if you’re afraid of change or in love with the path you’re on or focused obsessively on your GTD list, then incoming represents a distraction and a risk. So you process it with the narrative, “how can this input be used to further what I’ve already decided to do?” At worst, you ignore it. At best, you use a tiny percentage of it to your advantage.
How many of us have heard this phrase in presentations about the need for schools to move more quickly toward an uncertain and unknowable future? [yes, I've used it myself once or twice] How many of us have had someone show us this video from EDS?
Most of us don’t get to work in the Big Picture or New Tech or Envision schools. We don’t have the option of starting new like a charter school does. We don’t get to work within district- or state-created innovation zones.* Instead, we’re stuck with legacy structures, policies, facilities, personnel, and mindsets, all of which make it much, much harder to change how we do “school.”
So what CAN we do? Well, Clayton Christensen’s work shows us that the best way for an established organization to handle disruptive innovation may be to plant and protect seedlings based on different models and then grow its own replacements. And that gives us lots of internal options if we choose to exercise them as school leaders, even when we work in small systems. A great place to start would be to better nurture the change-makers that we already have in our classrooms: the teachers and students who want to push various envelopes when it comes to learning and teaching. If we’ve got educators and kids who are ready to dive deep into hands-on, technology-infused learning experiences that emphasize cognitive complexity and student agency, we should be doing everything in our power to support them. I’m amazed at how poorly many schools do at adequately supporting existing innovators. As Gloria Ladson-Billings said long ago, “Make sure the change people win.”
What else can we do as leaders? If we’ve got high-flying classrooms or schools, we can do a much better job of ‘infecting’ others with that positive work. We can carve out explicit structures and time and personnel that have the purposeful intention of fostering innovation AND connecting others to it. We can make it safe – and, indeed, expected – to take risks, to fail early and often, to engage in rapid iteration, to live in perpetual beta. We can give people permission to fail and fail again as long as they’re failing smarter each time. We can set up classroom observation rubrics and professional growth protocols and hiring criteria that focus on innovative work, not just traditional work. We can match action to rhetoric and identify concrete performances that let us know if innovative work is actually occurring. We can identify and remedy internal policies and decision-making that impede innovation. We can hold regular celebrations that highlight the innovative work that is happening. And so on…
As leaders, it is both our privilege and responsibility to create, nurture, and protect innovation within our school systems. And of course we need to engage in those efforts as thoughtfully and respectfully as we can. But we don’t get there with snarky resistance, nor do we get there by allowing such sentiments to dominate our internal conversations.
effective implementation cannot be done by making microadjustments to the current system. We cannot, for instance, install project-based learning as a new layer on top of the standard instructional approaches we have. We cannot squeeze real teacher development into three annual inservice days and a monthly faculty meeting. Each of the strategies requires us to rethink and redesign the whole system from the ground up and build it collaboratively.
And all of this has to take place while we continue to teach kids and continue to feel the relentless pressure from outside our walls for unfaltering and ever-increasing improvement. The risk associated with those foundational changes increases every year, and most schools have not been able (or willing) to risk the possibility of the unknown. When given the choice between something that has been at least moderately successful (the status quo) and something with no guarantees for improvement, we choose the safe route.
[T]he reformers are vulnerable. They are vulnerable to public exposure because the fact is that their harmful ideas have no public support once the public understands what they are up to. There is no public support for handing taxpayer dollars over to corporate interests and calling it “reform.”
The public loves its community schools and doesn’t want to see them impoverished by corporate raiders.
I am by no means anti-corporation. But I am against killing public schools just to line corporate pockets. There is a role for corporations to play in public schooling. But there needs to be appropriate oversight, checks and balances, and protection of the public interest. Right now that’s not happening near enough…
Saul Kaplan emphasizes in his new book, The Business Model Innovation Factory, that every day more organizations are finding that their ‘business models’ have run dry. This is challenging and stressful for leaders and employees since, as the book trailer below notes, most have been immersed in only one type of business model for their entire careers.
As is true for CEOs, so also for school superintendents and principals. Our inability to change our ‘business models’ may be the death of many schools (and universities) because new educational models are being created that are designed from inception for our new information, technology, learning, and economic landscapes.
Ray Bradbury perhaps said it best: “We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?”
Rethinking learning and teaching is being bothered by something important and real.
1650 was closer in spirit to the time we live in now than it was to 1450. The change was so enormous …but what was also clear is that there was never a moment where everybody said, “Oh I get it. This is what the printing press is going to do. Well let just do that thing.” It was 150 years of chaos and blood shed when people almost literally didn’t know what to think, right. It was perfectly clear that the printing press had broken a bunch of ancient institutions but no one knew what would replace it and you could never replace it even if you did know because those new institutions needed time to mature