“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.

Back to the Future?


photo credit: AMERICANVIRUS via photopin cc

This morning I read a thought-provoking blog post by John Bernia, “The Landscape has Changed, the Skills are the Same.”

In his post, Bernia argues that what many refer to as “21st Century Skills” are really no different than the skills that successful people in the past have needed:

If Doc Brown and Marty McFly were here to fly you “Back to the Future,” and we arrived in 1955, the skills and habits of successful people would be identical to those which are now cited as 21st century skills. Leaders and innovators of the mid-20th century had to solve problems, communicate and work with others.

Bernia concludes that: “The skills are not new. The landscape, tools, pace and communication medium are.” He calls upon educators to change our strategies by embracing  “the new landscape and tools” and remembering “that the skills that learners will need to succeed in the future are no different today than they were 58 years ago.”

His post really got me thinking about the essential skills and habits of mind that our students will need for their success and how they compare with those of the past. Are the skills really the same? Continue reading

On the moral obligation of sharing


photo credit: opensourceway via photopincc

I’ve been developing a personal learning network (PLN) through Twitter and online forums for the past few years. I found my initial forays into social media to be a bit disorienting. The flow of information was overwhelming. It was difficult to get my bearings. But, I stuck with it — dipping in, then stepping away, and then returning. I found it to be a process — at first I mainly “lurked”, viewing the contributions of others, then gradually I began to share and engage with others.

Through this process, I have discovered what Lyn Hilt (@L_Hilt) has referred to as “Effort In = Reward Out.” Along the way, I have benefited in real ways from the ideas, practices and insights shared by the amazing and thoughtful educators who are part of my PLN. Engaging with the work of others has nudged me to take risks, pushed me to think more deeply, and opened up new ideas for empowering students in their learning.

In the (tongue-in-cheek) words of George Siemens, these powerful learning experiences led me to conclude that “My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever!” Siemens’s piece challenged my thinking about PLN’s, in general, and helped me to think differently about the importance of my network and my place within it. Continue reading