“If we’re not squirming, we’re not learning.” #edjourney

“If we’re not squirming, we’re not learning.”
— Grant Lichtman, EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education


Recently, Scott McLeod in a post to his Dangerously Irrelevant Blog argued that “We Need Schools to Be Different.” Simply put, the industrial model of education no longer fits our current reality. There is a significant disconnect between the realities “out in the real world” and what our students experience every day in school. 

So what is keeping us from creating different kinds of schools that will prepare our students to tackle the challenges in the world as it is today (and will likely become in the not too distant future)? In his post,”Do We Need a Startup Mindset (In Education)?”, David Culberhouse points out one barrier — our tendency to avoid taking risks:
We live in a time when taking risks is not as much an occupational hazard, as it is an occupational necessity.  As they say, “no risk, no reward.”  And yet, we try to shield ourselves from these risks with plans, policies, and strategies that promise assurances and guarantees.

To make sense of unrelenting changes, we resort to the comfort of the familiar. In doing so, we stand in our own way. There may be a false sense of security, but alas, this approach will not move us forward. 

As we often hear, “change is hard.” Or is it? In his new book, EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education (Jossey-Bass, 2013), Grant Lichtman challenges this claim head-on. He acknowledges that “change brings displacement and even grief; it takes a long time; and all of that is Ok.” But, Lichtman asserts the “displacement” and “grief” that change stirs up are not the same thing as “hard.” He urges us not to confuse the two:

Change at most schools is not hard; it is uncomfortable. Sometimes it might be very uncomfortable for some people. It can be messy, complicated, and tiresome. Uncomfortable means making some tough decisions. But using the excuse that we can’t change schools because ‘it is hard’? — well, we need to get some perspective on the difference between hard and uncomfortable.

It is the messiness and uncertainty that makes change so profoundly unsettling and yes, down right uncomfortable. We usually interpret this discomfort as a sign that we are doing something wrong or that perhaps, we should retreat. Part of this skewed sense of perspective lies in our expectations about the process. Many of us think that success is a straight line from the inception of a “great idea” to its implementation.
What success looks like

Here’s the rub. Growth and discomfort often go hand in hand. One does not happen without the other. Staying in the comfort zone of the familiar, rarely, if ever, yields growth. It is only by looking squarely at our practices, asking deep questions, and challenging our long held beliefs, that we stand a chance of creating the different kinds of schools that Scott McLeod describes.
A while ago, I came across this graphic (Thank you, Tony Borash @tborash via @poida). While it is intended to be used by teachers to guide their work with students, I think it also applies to the work of educational leaders who are grappling with the change process in school sites and systems.

IMG_0157We can easily reframe these questions to apply to adults working within the educational system. Which ‘zones” are you (or your staff) generally in? Where does the most learning occur?
There is little doubt that we are in the midst of monumental change. As we explore, experiment, fail forward (and backward), facing discomfort head on and working through it are essential parts of the process. Walking around it or staying put are no longer options. It is that simple. When we step out of our comfort zones into the unknown, we will squirm. And, we can create possibilities for deeper transformation.