Archive

Author Archive

Growing complex

April 23rd, 2012

I am on the long flight home from a series of workshops and classes in Boston: at Harvard, at Children’s Hospital, with world-class coaches and consultants. In each of these places, the idea of complexity looms large—not just because I bring it along, but because it’s already there.

I ask my participants about the increasing complexity in their lives and give them time to think about it. They erupt in a storm of talking. Their lives are more complex on every dimension: there are more uncertainties to watch, there are more interconnections among the parts, there are more players in each of the realms, some in person, and some virtually. Everyone has a story of the way their work is increasingly international, from the 20 countries represented in my class at the Kennedy School to the students who have never left the US but are connected to people around the world. The swirling together of uncertainty, diversity, and change leave these people–graduate students, doctors, teachers, and leaders at the top of their careers—all a little dizzy and confused.

While there are no key competencies easily named in these many places, these folks are thinking hard about participating and contributing in a more complex and global reality.

How is it, though, that we can grow better able to deal with complexity? And, if this increasing complexity is puzzling and unsettling these adult learners, what might it be doing for the students in classrooms around our country?  Might it be that woven through each individual challenge (whether it’s finding the problem as Sue writes about or inviting a friend over after school) is a growing demand for our participation and contribution in a more complex world? And would we adults—who are dizzied by the complexity around us—be able to help prepare young people for this uncertain future?

My daughter came home from her year 10 class with a furrow in her brow a few weeks ago. “My teacher told me today that we are preparing for careers that don’t even exist yet!” she told me, frustrated. “How on earth are we supposed to plan for that?”

How indeed. It may well be that helping all of us develop a greater facility for complexity and uncertainty is a core piece of 21st Century education. As you think about your experience as a growing and changing adult, what has helped you get better at that?

Dealing with complexity, Workshop 2012 , , , ,

Dark and disruptive methodologies

March 29th, 2010

We’ve had a group interview now where some of us inside NZCER who blog here talked about the different ways this blog space shifts our thinking about what it means to conduct qualitative research. One of the key issues that arose was about purpose, about what our purpose was for being here, what your purpose is for showing up, and why we might want to do research differently in the first place. Rachel has already blogged about the purpose of this website (and used the cool idea of “cognitive surplus”). The thing the focus group left me wondering about, though, was the purpose of educational research in general and the ways that blog spaces like this one could be a disruptive and potentially frightening innovation in the world of educational research.

This website-and the conversations that are happening at NZCER because of the website and because of the AERA paper—opens up the possibility for people that there is a new thing afoot, a new way of doing and thinking about research. For some folks (like Rachel, as you may have noticed) that’s a thrill, a buzz, a fun ride. For others (maybe like me?) it’s a curiosity, a thing that is interesting and a little scary, a roller coaster ride with more than a hint of danger. For others of our colleagues (including presumably some of those we haven’t talked to about it at all), there’s more than a hint of danger. For those in the third category, this way of thinking about research –even imagining that we might call this research in the first place—puts cherished ideas and practices at risk, and just might bring down the whole show.

For people who are in the second two categories (nervous but curious and straight-out-worried), this way of thinking about educational research dismantles many good things—and maybe creates ill-advised risks. These folks (which admittedly sometimes include me) think that educational research is untidy enough already—we have all these different perspectives to understand, the messy world of learning and growing—we hardly need to go searching for new challenges! And, let’s face it, it took us YEARS to learn to do research in the first place. Some of us are still paying off our student loans (ok, me again). We took our training seriously and we worked hard to be researchers, and now we have this website where the boundaries get blurred and you can hardly tell the researchers from the researched (and in this project, you can’t tell at all).

There’s a way this reminds me of the “disruptive innovation” idea from Clayton Christensen, that truly reforming innovation has to disrupt and unsettle the entire enterprise.  He says (on his website): that disruptive innovation:

describes a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market’, eventually displacing established competitors.”

A key example is the way personal computers totally displaced the enormous mainframe computers and drove those who were successful to the bottom of the food chain. In an established market, those who are already successfully in the inner circle tend to remain successful until the disruptive innovation climbs in (think regular phones to cell phones, Walkmans to i-pods). Then the new guy, with the new innovation, knocks the old guy off the perch.

The idea is that those who are currently successful get complacent, tinkering their way toward a better and better product rather than reimagining the whole enterprise.  In this way, success actually diminishes innovation and limits the scope for what could be possible. The new, disruptive folks make use of new technologies. They imagine new customer groups, people who were not served in any way by the original product or service. In rethinking the whole idea, they create new markets and new products which are often less sophisticated but are more useful in their own way. Could educational research be like that? Could shiftingthinking.org be a disruptive force?

Is this blog meant to be “selling” educational research, in chatty, blog-bites, to a whole new set of “customers”? And what does that mean for how we think about what we do? What does that mean for the fact that now anyone with a computer can engage with our findings, our analysis, our careful thinking? What does it mean to us that we put thinking out there before it’s even gotten very careful yet? (Or that some of us feel comfortable doing this and some of us don’t.) What is the purpose for the upmarket educational research, conducted by people with years of training, which leads to thoughtful, reflective, carefully-produced products (= journal articles, research reports, occasional resources)? What is the potentially disruptive purpose of the research we talk about in this space? Do we want to build on what has come before or dismantle it?

In the focus group, one of us talked, in moving and lovely ways, about having shiftingthinking.org and its publish-then-filter activities challenge old ways of thinking about and engaging in research. Even more, it challenged “Everything I would have believed for most of my life.” That person was open and engaged with this task, but still, that challenge is a big ask. What are we gaining by asking researchers to reconceive the enterprise? In what ways does educational research need to be disrupted? And in what ways are we losing something precious by changing the way we think about and engage in research?

AERA paper due in just over a week. Your comments are helpful constantly.

Shifting research , , , ,

Wondering what’s next

March 8th, 2010

Ally and I have finished up our current round of data collection on the Teachers’ Work project, and are just trying to decide what might be next for us. We thought maybe we’d bring some of our questions and our thinking to this group to see if anyone else wanted to think alongside us.

When this project began, we were interested in how teachers made sense of their work, especially how teachers who were interested in 21C ideas made sense of it. We wanted to know how real teachers were thinking about what 21C education might be, how they were teaching in their schools, how they made sense of having ideas in the first place. We’ve done some of that, decided other bits were too big, and been confused and enlightened along the way. Now we’re trying to figure out what might be next for us.

We’re interested in the way that individual teachers make sense of their context and their aspirations for the future, and we’re interested in how that sensemaking actually shapes the context and what is possible for the future. We’re interested in how leaders shape their school contexts—and are shaped by them. We’re interested in where the power lies in the system—where the shifting thinking could be most useful, most likely to make a big change in the way kids experience teaching and learning.

The question for us now is: what’s the question for us now? We know that we have not found answers to this big question about leverage points, and we know that very many other things are already known about teachers and how they think and work and schools and why they are so hard to change. But given all that we know, what would be useful for us to explore together? What’s the key missing question?

Now, Ally and I enjoy theory enormously. But this is a practical undertaking we’re discussing here. We want a practical way to understand how schools can change, not a theoretical model of how change might possibly happen. Usually if you’re a researcher and you want to understand something practical, you need to go out and look at something. We’re not aware of schools that have really made it in this regard, schools that everyone knows have transformed teaching and learning so that younger people and older people (inside and outside the local school) experience a different kind of education. You readers might know about those schools, and might be able to say, School X has totally transformed. We’d like to hear from you about School X.

What we’re more familiar with, and we’re guessing you’re more familiar with, are schools that are trying to change. We could name dozens of schools with fantastic older and young people, who are trying to reshape the way teaching and learning and schooling happens. We know of communities where this is contentious, communities where this is invisible, communities where this is deeply supported. But all the ones we know would say that they’re on a journey, that 10% or 40% or 60% of the students/teachers/community members are on board. But we don’t know anyone who has arrived, and we don’t know anyone who isn’t fighting madly along the way.

So, if there are no models to say “this is where we’re going,” we can’t research those.  Indeed, what Ally and I think might be true is that we’re on a journey for which there is no “arrival,” no 100% on board.  We’re moving into an unknown future, trying to take a whole bunch of people who care a lot about schools along with us, and we don’t really know where we’re going. This makes for a tricky research question.

We wonder if you might help. We have an unresearchable question like: “How do you support yourself and others to move into an unknown future?” Now we wonder what questions you have about this whole topic that we might be able to engage with in order to figure out how we’re thinking about things and what we might do next. This is a question that needs a lot of heads thinking together for us to ask just the right question. Will you lend us your head, your questions?

Future focussed issues, Shifting research, Shifting schooling, Teachers' work , , , , , , , , ,

Blurry lines

February 22nd, 2010

Rachel has been writing about our AERA paper and project, and she’s been thinking about how we came to be at this place as a collective—you and me, all of us here at NZCER, all of you who were at the conference, all of us who blog or read or lurk or comment.

I’m thinking today about the methodological implications of what we’re doing here, about what it means to conduct and share research this way.

Some of you who read and write here have been participants in our research projects. Some of you have been researchers. This website means that suddenly, all of us are both—part of the research (into this grand experiment) and also part of the researchers. This makes for rather blurry lines, as Rachel has written about in the ethics blogs. It also makes for blurry lines in the methodology.

When I was a grad student learning research, my teacher (the brilliant and fantastic Reba Page) talked with us about the ways our question and our data collection and our analysis plan all needed to link up and connect our ideas together in a coherent package. We weren’t to make the mistake many researchers (still) make where we had a research question, a favourite research method, and a favourite analysis theory or method which were unconnected to one another except through us, as though we picked them from three different hats. (It always reminded me of those little board books my kids played with, where you could get the head and shoulders of one animal, the midsection of another, and the legs of a third—all now creating an entirely new creature.) This is no easy feat, or else everyone would do it. It has the researcher as a thoughtful composer of the research, intentionally layering on one piece after the next, being sure each instrument is in harmony and each contributes to a rich and satisfying—and trustworthy—piece of research.

What we are finding now as we play with this new kind of research is that it’s more like inviting a whole lot of people to a jam session than composing a concerto. Here we have much less control than we had once. We go public with our research questions at the beginning, and others begin to shape them with their questions. Is this the research design stage or are we already collecting data? We go public with our initial analysis, and others start to reanalyse—sometimes even those who were research participants in the first place. When one of your research participants begins to add new categories to your codes, is that more data or is that analysis? And is that research participant now a research partner in a different way? What principles or techniques do we use to choreograph the whole performance of the research?

All of this means that the typical pieces we’ve long thought of as research stages—which yes, we always knew weren’t iron clad or utterly bounded—are more fuzzy than ever. We used to know when data collection was (mostly) finished and analysis and drafting of outputs had begun. Now we put those initial ideas out (does that make it an output?) and others comment (does that make it data?) and we rethink and reshape (more analysis!). The filter-then-publish world has some great benefits in its clarity.

Of course, even before the internet, some people were wrestling with these issues. When I was in grad school, we published Reba’s sophisticated and courageous piece of research about what happened when she reported her findings to research participants who might not like what she had found (Page, Samson, & Crockett, 2000).  Still, Reba kept control of the process—it was hers—even as she shared that control with others. How do we negotiate control with you in this blog space? How do we share with you things you might not like to hear? How do you tell us things we might not want to hear? (And how do we do this in an international setting which is also still mostly the intimate New Zealand society where we may well know one another in several different contexts?) How do we stay courageous and help you be courageous too (and how can we en-courage each other)? And what does this mean about power and the creation of knowledge and what is good and trustworthy research?

See, I don’t know the answers to these questions, but together we can play with them. Or maybe you could add new ones. I’m not sure what phase of research this is, but it does seem to be helping to shift my thinking about research…

___________________________________

Page, R., Samson, Y., & Crockett, M. (2000). Reporting ethnography to informants. In B. Brizuela, J. Stewart, R. Carrillo, and J. Berger (Eds.), Acts of Inquiry in Qualitative Research. Cambridge, MA Harvard Educational Review.

Shifting research , , , , , ,

Future focussed issues (liveblogish)

November 4th, 2009

I’m blogging from the Future focussed issues stream: Josie, Rachel, Bob Frame, Stephanie Pride, Billy Matheson,  Fiona Beals
I’m trying to follow in Rachel’s footsteps on this but I have to say that she’s set a really high bar.
Josie is introducing people and letting us know about the ways the future focussed issues are running through the curriculum and asking what they mean:
Sustainability
Citizenship
Enterprise
Globalisation
She wants to know whether these are the most important words-these are the ones found in the curriculum.

Rachel talks about the research project she and Josie are running at NZCER. These future focussed issues aren’t well enough explored in education and so they’re looking outside education at what she calls:
“Self-generating knowledge building networks for knowledge building, learning and change.” Rachel plugs the future-focus issues space on the blog.

How do we describe these four issues—separate? Interlinked, stacked on top of each other? Or with sustainability as the big idea and the other ones all a subset of that?
She quotes Bob Frame who said something like:
In one way, these words are just empty signifiers. They are something which each individual populates with his or her own meaning: Who is using the word and why.

Bob Frame talks about what sustainability means to him from his many years of study.
For him future generations underpin: “Will our institutions act as an anchor or a sail?” Sustainability is a mindset. Critical issues—not just climate change but a perfect storm of other issues too which are interconnected.
Sustainability: of what? Of who? And why?
If we all do a little, we’ll get a little: we need to do something big.

Bob says we need to get some “early adaptation to new equilibriums”.
Now Stephanie Pride is talking about how important the both/and is now: if we want to have skills for sustainability, we all need futures capability. We need to figure futures capability—futuring—into everyone’s world. Needs to be distributed like literacy and numeracy across the whole population. Have to learn by doing, understand complex systems and your own values inside them, how to make decisions with other people. Educators have to be in the front showing how this works.

Can’t take these as content knowledge—we won’t make the changes.
Every day, all the time, every teacher needs to model adaptability and futures capability! Yikes! How will we do this!

But Stephanie says that teachers are already doing this—it’s not a NEW thing. Only connect (great line, from Howards End, I think). Connect to the way you already do all these things and just run them as a stream through everything. I think this idea about future-thinking as a new core competency is really cool. Now we have to figure out how to do it!

Now it’s Billy Matheson’s turn. “Layers of belonging”. Billy says that if you don’t help young people deal with belonging as a central issue of citizenship you’re missing it. Talks about becoming indigenous again: “Indigenous people to the planet” (he’s quoting William McDonough Cradle to Cradle)

Billy will share 4 layered models: from either/or to yes/and
The world can be simple, complicated, or complex: we need all three of these but need to be able to discern between these layers and move from one to the next—and to act on these layers, have simple, complex, and complicated conversation.

Model 2
Layers of time:
Fashion
Commerce
Infrastructure
Governance
Culture
Nature
Billy tells us that the top two are so much more easily accessed than the others.

Also of scale:
Universal
Global
National
Regional
Local
Billy asks: Why is our democracy so stuck at the local level?

How to we shift into a chapter that holds both the individual and a new sense of connectedness (maybe like what Keith was talking about yesterday?). Talks about the “Obama-model” of taking the skills we learn in the community and using them in larger and larger scales.

Then he shows a beautiful “diversity fern” (I’ll try to get a picture of this up at some point). How do we find the learning space necessary to cultivate the genuine experiences of cultural diversity?
Billy asks:
How do we develop “civic hardware and social software that holds this wonderful diversity”

Fiona Beals: Tells us that the thing that blew her away here was running into her biology teacher. She tells her personal story—that by the time she reached high school she was in bad shape. That Biology teacher made a big difference for her. Then later Jane Gilbert helped her get a PhD.  Lots of connections at this conference for Fiona! She understood that what was wrong in her schooling wasn’t the teachers or the people but the way school happened.
In order to be future focussed, I need to be outward focused. Need to grab people’s passions and turn them to good.
Futures focused education started with development education. We can not only learn about these countries but can learn from these countries.
How many of you take technology for granted—how many people actually write code? Or ask: what else can I do with my phone? In the developing world, people go into their cell phones and write code. In Africa they’ve been using cell phones for banking since the 1990s. This is a great example of global education.

Fiona is starting to take out the world “developing” to describe countries and talking about the word “majority” because people living in poverty are actually MORE of the world than not and we should start to understand that.

Rachel and Josie about E4E
The moral issues about E4E very important (some people say it’s E$E). Josie and Rachel have found that peoples’ experience in school is really local and maybe moves beyond a focus on the difference between education for enterprise and education as a social good. Still, they think that distinction is really important to talk about and understand, and they’ll help people do that in their longer session (which I can’t go to—bummer!). These all look SO good! Lots of food for thought here.

(I’ve also learnt that I can’t imagine how Rachel does this!)

Conference: November 2009, Future focussed issues , , ,

Thinking Tool 1: Transitions: Neutral Zone

October 28th, 2009

Last week I wrote about the ShiftingThinking tool of understanding transitions, and about how mourning what we’re leaving behind is so important (you can read about Endings, and about the tools in general in past posts). Today I’d like to write about the second stage of William Bridges’ Transitions: the Neutral Zone. I think that maybe this is the most helpful part of the theory, a part that has supported and sustained me though the major changes in my life, and has helped me support and sustain clients through the major transitions for them. For me, the idea of the Neutral Zone is a thing to hold on to when so much else that you might hold on to has dropped away.

A view to the Neutral Zone?

A view to the Neutral Zone?

The Neutral Zone is a place where we can’t see where we’ve come from and we can’t see where we’re headed. I think about crossing the Rimutaka Range from Wellington into the Wairarapa. There is a long and windy and car-sickness-inducing time where you can’t see the Hutt valley and you can’t see the Wairarapa. You’re just winding around, hoping it won’t snow or rain and that the children don’t throw up! There is beauty in the Neutral Zone but it is a wild, untamed beauty, an uncomfortable place where you can’t find a clear idea of what’s next for you.

The Neutral Zone is like the liminal spaces at the edges of landscapes, where one thing turns into another. There’s the marsh that separates the meadow from the river, the rocky shore where the sea hits the land. Some life is designed specifically for these liminal places, and my children and I take great delight in searching for this life as we wander around the edges of New Zealand. There is new possibility in these spaces which are neither here nor there, neither the sea nor the land.

Loving the liminal zone

Loving the liminal zone

But for us humans, the Neutral Zone is a place of discomfort, a place where the water splashes up over us enough to keep us damp but not enough for us to warm in the sea. It is the place where you know that you do not want to be a lawyer anymore, but you have no idea what you want to be. You do not want to be married to her anymore, but you also don’t want to be not married. You have mourned the loss of the lovely sense of power and control you’ll have to give up for these new forms of teaching, but you have no idea, practically, what you’re moving to in the end or what schools will look like.

The comfort of knowing about the discomfort of the Neutral Zone is the reassurance that every transition has this uncomfortable time, and that the time is generative, is like the spring weather which we’re grateful for when the hills turn neon green and our broad beans grow faster than we can tie them up. You might not enjoy days of rain, followed by showers, turning to the south on Thursday. But you know that the rain will end and the sky will be washed clear and turn cobalt blue, that the wet spring will give way to a drier summer and that the seasons will move with some consistency into the future (or so we hope).

Our changes into a new way of having school will have this uncomfortable feel as well. When we begin to give up–really give up—old ways of teaching and learning, we’ll have a time of trying things out and feeling unsure about them, feeling a qualified success or a horrible failure. From my perspective as a researcher and a teacher, I understand that this time must come. From my perspective as a mother of school-age children, I would love it if the time had come 15 years ago and we could have worked out the bugs already.

So we’ll have to help other people understand about the Neutral Zone too, understand about the richness of the transition, about the great benefits in terms of creativity and growth as well as the concerns over not really knowing what’s next. The danger of this period is not, actually, that we’ll get stuck in it forever (which is what it feels like when you’re inside it). The danger is that we won’t spend enough time in it, that we’ll leap out of it toward any new beginning at all (in relationships we call this “on the rebound”) or that we’ll fall back into the past because the Neutral Zone is too uncomfortable. And it all feels too hard anyway. We need to support ourselves and one another in the exciting and unsettling Neutral Zone, to hold fast to our dreams for the future, and learn like mad. It’s only then that we’ll make it through to the other side transformed and stronger and better than we were before. In New Zealand, you should know this better than any other country. Here you’re on the edge of the world, with a country that has landscapes that move from desert to mountain to sea in the blink of an eye, with a culture that blends and changes and shifts and attempts to find the creative and beautiful space that exists as Maori and Pasifika and Pakeha and other cultures bump up against one another. So here in New Zealand, we should be more prepared to step off into the wilderness, to get off the road and walk in the bush. We know about uncertain weather and seasons and heat in a valley which turns to snow on the mountain. Bring supplies for you and a friend and plenty of layers because the weather is uncertain, but let’s not let that stop us. Let’s take the plunge.

Conference: November 2009 , , , , , ,

Thinking tool 1: Understanding Transitions: Endings

October 23rd, 2009

As we talk about school change, and as we sometimes write about the changes to structures and societies that will unfold over the next years, we can’t forget that each piece of school change is about shifting the thinking and practice of all the people inside the schools, that societal or educational change is the result of millions of individual choices by thousands of people around the world. And that making those millions of little changes is super hard.

Ultimately, we have a guess that the very hardest part of shifting our thinking towards new ways of teaching and learning for the 21st Century is not the changing of practice but the necessary changing of minds. It seems to me that teachers and principals don’t simply need to change what they do, but who they believe they are. In order for a focus on key competencies to really blossom, teachers and principals may need to think in knowledge in new ways. If teachers and others think about knowledge in new ways, they have to think about their very role in new ways. And often teachers and principals—like many others in helping professions—are so strongly invested in their roles that they actually are their roles. As one teacher I interviewed told me, “My job is like my identity; if I don’t do this well, who am I, anyway?”

A beautiful ending. What loss are we mourning?

A beautiful ending. What loss are we mourning?

So the question isn’t just about how do we change our practices but how do we change our minds about ourselves?

If we’re really going to shift our schooling, I think we need to spend as much of our time on the meaning of the change as we do on the content of the change.  One way is to recognise some of the stages of change. William Bridges, in his groundbreaking book, Transitions (the 25th anniversary edition was published in 2004), points out that we often don’t pay attention well to the different stages of making a change. The first stage Bridges points to is the idea that we need to focus on Endings before we can even begin to deal with what’s next. After Endings, Bridges names an often-neglected phase: the Neutral Zone. Finally, only after we’ve spent time inside the Neutral Zone will we be able to come to a place of New Beginnings.

I thought today I’d just talk a little about the Endings phase, because we need to think about what we’re giving up before we can move on more fully to where we want to be next. Bridges says—and many others who have come afterwards support this—that people tend not to focus enough on the endings, for fear of getting stuck there or giving into sad emotions. But Bridges tells us that without at least some space mourning what we’ve lost, we will not be able to move to a better and new place. The mourning is about fully recognising what we have given up, which is the first critical step. I wonder if we could give some of our time over to missing what’s lost before ploughing ahead to what’s next.

This raises a question in my mind about whether we should try and spend some time in this blog thinking about what we’ll be mourning about the loss of 20C education if we move toward ending of the way things are now. I wonder whether we need to mourn the loss of teacher-as-expert and content-knowledge-as-knowable and the kinds of certainty that we had in the past. Because even if we know that the old ways aren’t working anymore (and even if some wonder if they ever really worked to teach all the students), there will still be parts of who we used to be as teachers and principals and educators that we may be sorry to give up.

I wonder what those parts are for readers here. What parts of your job or your role do you think are at risk in this move toward more 21C ways of teaching and learning? Which of those changes feel like a loss to you? What are you most afraid you’ll have to give up in order to progress along this path?

[This piece is updated and revised version of one which was located for a few weeks on the NZCER Curriculum Conference blog space.]

Conference: November 2009, Shifting schooling , , , ,

ShiftingThinking tools

October 20th, 2009

Ok, see I’ve promised that the thinking tools that we offer at the ShiftingThinking conference will be the best that I can find, which has me pouring over books and past presentations, and working with most of the conference organisers and the Act I cast to figure out what it is that would be most helpful—in the smallest space—for you to hold on to and be able to use, not only at the conference but into the future.

So there’s lots of evidence, from a whole lot of different places, that change is super hard, that shifting your thinking is, for a whole lot of reasons, NOT what your brain and body and our society are wanting you to do. In fact, we know a couple of cool things from brain studies about this.

Our brains pass right over novel data, or refigure it to be less novel and more familiar.  We ignore things in personal ways (like the you your friend ignores all the ways her partner treats her badly and focuses only on the three ways her partner treats her well) and in big systemic ways (like the way scientists ignored the hole in the ozone layer and figured the data that showed the hole was just wrong).  This means that while there are some things that humans are great at learning, unexpected change is not something we’re wired to go toward.

Thinking about learning as something our brains push against is sort of a bummer for those of us in education, and thinking about change as something our brains resist is a bummer for those of us who work on organisational change. Ah well.

In education, we’re really used to the swinging of the pendulum, which is like a kind of change, and it can seem (and certainly did seem to me as a teacher),  like the fad of the day would swing us one way until there would be some backlash, and then we’d swing the other way until there’d be backlash in that direction. And we could carry on like that for, well, forever it seemed to me.

But with all this swinging, nothing is really shifting—we’re just getting kind of car sick.  Teachers tell me all the time that the fads come and go but nothing really changes. But there’s lots of agreement with lot of people that in fact, we really need things to change. What tools could we use so that we could stop swinging and start shifting, start tipping over into a new space?

Imagine this basin, and that you have a marble that you’re dropping inside it:

one basin

one basin

You can imagine where the marble would go, right? You drop it in at the top and it swings back and forth and back and forth, and eventually rests on the bottom. This is NOT an unusual experience for us, eh? Swing one way, swing the other way, finally settle near the middle. The story of most great change initiatives I’ve seen in education and in organisations.

So the question is, how do we get the marble up and over the edge of the basin and into a whole new basin?

over the edge?

over the edge?

How can we stop just flipping back and forth up the sides of the one we have, and begin to move in a whole new direction?

If you pictured the marble, you’d imagine that you couldn’t just DROP the marble in, because if you did that, it wouldn’t have enough energy to make it up and over the hill to the next place. You’d have to THROW the marble in, hurl it, and see what happened next. The thinking tools are supposed to help us all do a little throwing of ideas into the basin with such newness and force that they might slip over the edge and into the next place.

So really, it’s the crest of the hill we need to talk about, and it’s the power to get us over the crest that we need to find. Let’s see if these thinking tools can help.  I have a handful of tools in mind and I’ll try to blog about them in the next week or two before the conference (have you registered yet??). But I’m wondering now what changes you’ve seen in your life and how they’ve actually worked with the energy to tip the change over into the next place. Any advice for the rest of us rolling marbles?

Conference: November 2009 , , , ,

Delicious, dastardly dilemmas

October 6th, 2009

At the ShiftingThinking conference, we’ll be thinking together about the various things which get in the way of our transition to the future of schools and schooling. Our read of the 21C school literature shows us that if we’re really going to invent schools for the new millennium, we’ll face changes in all kinds of different ways. We’ll have to really think through issues like:
•    Purpose: What is the most important purpose of schooling in the 21C? What current purposes are you willing to give up?
•    People: Who are the people in these learning spaces and where do they come from? How are the older people qualified/grouped and how do they interact with each other and the younger people? How are the younger people qualified/grouped and how do they interact with each other and with the older people?
•    Process: What happens over the course of the day? How is the day defined and organised?
•    Place:  Where does this thing called “school” happen?
•    Content: What is the learning content of schools and how do people engage with that content? How do we know when people have mastered that content? Who gets to decide what the content is?

We’re guessing that from this set of questions, a set of dilemmas will emerge. You could take just about any question from the above list and imagine that people might have very different answers to them—and that those differences might expose competing commitments right down into the fabric of our society. On this rainy school holiday day, for example, one of the core purposes of school seems to me to be: Get the children out of the house and in some supervised activity where they’re not bored all day and driving me crazy! Now, in my life as a teacher and an educational researcher, I would never put “child care” on the list of major purposes of school. But if I am really honest, in my heart-of-hearts I have to say that I know that if the “child care” component of schooling were absent, that would be a big problem for me as a mom.

At the ShiftingThinking Conference, we’re going to be looking at some of these core dilemmas and why they’re so hard to change (see my thinking about one issue here). We’d like readers to contribute what they see as some of the most difficult and intractable (and thus most interesting and important) dilemmas which face us in the Shift to 21stC schools and thinking!

Conference: November 2009 , , , , , , , , , ,

Dilemmas and diversity

October 5th, 2009

Those of you ShiftingThinkers who have been paying attention to the conference page will see that we’ve recently put up the descriptions for the first day of the conference (that’s Act II to those of you participating right now in Act I).  This description includes a hint about “thinking tools” which are a collection of theories that we’ll talk about and then use to talk through the content in the four main talks of the day. We’ll use these theories as tools to talk about gaining traction on actually creating and sustaining new ways of teaching and learning and schooling on the second day as well.

The thinking tools are the ones I find the most helpful as I work to support folks to gain real traction on changing their practices—which turns out to be just about the hardest thing in the world to do, even if you really really want to change.  People have been writing about the difficulty of change for as long as people have been trying to change, and while we’re getting a lot closer to understanding the psychology and sociology—and even the physiology of change—it’s still a pretty hard thing to do.

One key reason about this is that with big changes, we’re often managing core dilemmas that reach into the very heart of our identity. Take the issue of diversity, which organisations and schools have been wrestling about for as long as there have been organisations and schools. The first step towards change tends to be for people to agree that it’s important for those who are different to have the same opportunities and advantages of those who are currently in power.  As probably all of us are aware, that move can take some years to achieve. Once we’ve achieved it, though, it would seem that now all we need to do is figure out the mechanics; we know what we want and now just have to go about getting it. Alas, it’s not so easy as that, as we can tell from the struggles we’ve had to make sense of these differences through history (and why New Zealand, which was the first country to give women the vote, still has unequal pay for equal work).  Is it just the mechanics of the thing keeping us back? If we understood how to make it happen, would that be easier?

Well, er, no. Look at people who want to stop drinking or smoking. They know how not to drink and smoke. And they may even be convinced, seriously in their heart-of-hearts, that their habit is killing them. So why don’t they make the break, get the patch, check into a detox centre? One key reason may well be because they would have to give up a piece of who they are if they were to give up this thing which is killing them. Giving up their way to relax, to unwind, to be with their friends, to find comfort and peace or happiness. Giving up comfort/ peace/ happiness—this is a big ask.

And often, to get gains even that we all agree might be the best outcome for the most people, some of us have to pay this kind of comfort/ peace/ happiness price—to get good things for us all. To get pay equity, for example, many many people would have to give up some piece of their salaries (because it is likely true that for women’s salaries to rise some, men’s salaries would have to decline some). This is not only monetary loss, but a loss of what money can symbolise:  security, pride in our work, proof that we are appreciated or valued.

Similarly, for us to act as though we really believed in diversity, not just make space for the occasional ceremonies and assemblies, but to actually transform schools to be spaces where every type of child would thrive, we would necessarily have losses. We’d have to give up some measure of comfort and understanding, we’d have to have an in-between time where things were different, we’d have to give up our traditional and comfortable ways of thinking about achievement and school success and probably even school curriculum and content. Teachers and parents and students would all be unsettled by this transformation and there would be some times when it felt like it was all a terrible terrible mistake. So while (nearly) everyone would sign up to the value of diversity, for many of us, the actual cost of it turns out to be more than we can take. This is generally true of every difficult change. We need new ways of thinking about how to make sense of the potential for loss and risk.

It isn’t all loss and risk, though. Often what we seek in trying to find a new way of understanding these core dilemmas is a third way, where neither side wins out over the other but a synthesis of the two come together to create a whole new option. Todd Pittinsky at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, is one of the many people looking for some alternative to the dilemmas of living with difference. He urges a move away from the “tolerance of diversity” (which brings with it a variety of costs and gains) to something he calls “allophillia”. Allophillia is a love of the other, a love of that which is different from us (check out an article about this here).

This love stuff sounds pretty good at first, but even third way spaces are fraught with difficulty. Love, as we all know, is itself risky, involves giving up a sense of who we are and what our future holds. These losses, like the others in this blog, are big ones. And at the same time, love can also be pretty fantastic—the payoff, like so many others in this blog, is also significant. If allophillia is the promise land, though, it may well take some years of wandering through the desert for us to find it.  The journey from where we are now to where we want to be next is a journey of uncertainty and confusion, of discomfort and fear, of loss and anxiety. It is our hope, though, that if we stay together and think and work hard together, the promised land will be sweet. What do we need to pack for the trip?

Conference: November 2009, Shifting schooling , , , ,