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Shift Happens. (Even in Schools?) | Ecology of Education

Shift Happens. (Even in Schools?)

On a recent field trip, neither my students nor I was at threat of being eaten alive by a t-rex.

Why, despite ruling Earth for nearly 80 million years (even longer than Wall Street barons), are Cretaceous period animals not regularly chowing on our gizzards?  Things change.

Scientists have suspected this for some time.  In fact, a growing body of geologic evidence seems to support the theory that things today are not the same as they were 200 million years ago. (Many even suspect tomorrow will be different than today.)

Surprisingly, this idea of “change as constant” is not yet an accepted norm. (Though it comes as no surprise to anyone whose visited any number of schools in recent years.)

In a recent post, titled “Constant Transformation is the New Norm”, on his “Innovation Insights” page on Harvard Business Publishing, Scott Anthony writes:

There are still some executives who are waiting for things to return to “normal.” It’s not going to happen. Constant change is the new normal.

Um. . .correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t “constant change” been the norm for quite some time? Sure, there were (and will be) periods of relative stability, but these are often preceded and followed by periods of growth and transformation. Nothing stays the same forever.  This hold true in both geologic and bi-pedal time.

So, why is this news? How can such a scientifically accepted norm make it onto a Harvard blog geared toward innovation? Why is this an emerging trend worth writing about by someone with such an impressive resume in innovation? Surely business executives were aware that things change. What’s so different now?

Pace.

Despite vain attempts by the learned and powerful to keep things as they were, the digital domain is disrupting the old standard, rapidly.  Such meteoric growth is transforming how businesses do business, and should affect how schools administer schooling.

While the key to success is to adapt to the new landscape, the strategies for doing so are not so clear cut.

Toward this end, Mr. Anthony offers 3 points of advice:

1. True transformation starts with a deep understanding of the severity of the problem.
2. Transformation requires being outside-in, not inside-out.
3. Space is the only way to avoid the “sucking sound of the core.”

While specifically geared toward businesses, reform minded education trailblazers would do well to take notes on these points, because they offer insights for being on the leading edge of transformative change in our nations schools.

  1. True transformation starts with a deep understanding of the severity of the problem. In education’s case, it must include a deep understanding of the severity and variety of the problems.  Too often measures are put in place based on a single problem, as in addressing an important issue, such as the achievement gap, while neglecting or exacerbating others. Leaders would do well to think system-wide before instituting scaled-up standards that solve one problem at the cost of creating others.
  2. Transformation requires being outside-in, not inside-out. Innovation is born out of a novel combination of knowns.  Facilitating the innovation process necessitates drawing in elements/people/knowledge from outside the organization.  Education’s deeply rutted top down hierarchy maintains the inside-out approach by limiting inputs.  As a result, much of the “reform” appears much the same as before, just more of it. More standards, more tests, and more hoops to jump through. Yet, beyond the school walls there is a shift in how people are interacting with knowledge and each other, and an even larger shift in the behavior of the global economy. Looking for meaningful and lasting transformation requires that education leaders broaden their inputs from outside the economic interests of the lobby-sphere to include ideas and influences that develop life long learners.
  3. Space is the only way to avoid the “sucking sound of the core.” In an interview with Blogging Innovation, Mr. Anthony describes the “sucking sound” this way:

Most companies excel at managing innovations that extend their core business. They struggle with innovations that run counter to their existing way of operating. Then, the greatest enemy lies within. We call it “the sucking sound of the core.” A company’s core systems and structures “want” an innovation to conform to what a company has done before, not what is necessary for success. The sucking sound makes innovation slow and complicated. To break the sucking sound of the core, companies need to make sure they have a “safe space” for innovation, and that senior leaders actively step in to break standard operating procedures when required.

In many ways, charter schools represent the laboratory of the education institution, the Skunk Works of sorts.  However, as testing and accountability systems become increasingly standardized, the sucking sound at the core threatens to pull any innovation in the public school system toward the previous norm. Continuing to develop and support the relative autonomy of charter schools will help to ensure that our education system has room to explore new and compelling ideas.

Change is not the new norm, but we would do well to act as if it is.

It is the one thing we can count on.  In fact, it is the only thing we are sure our students will face as adults.  Preparing them for adapting to change must be our top priority.  If we are truly bent on normalizing our nation’s schools, we must find a way to standardize diversification and differentiation.

Image: National Geographic

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15 Responses to “Shift Happens. (Even in Schools?)”

  1. October 29, 2009 at 1:57 pm #

    "Change. The *NEW* Constant?!" New post on Eco of Ed http://bit.ly/2UFX5c #edreform #charterschool #edtech

  2. October 29, 2009 at 7:00 pm #

    "Shift happens. (Even in Schools?)" New post on Eco of Ed. http://bit.ly/2UFX5c #edreform #innovation

  3. October 30, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    "Shift Happens. Even in Schools." Principles in Transformation for schools | Post on Eco of Ed http://bit.ly/2UFX5c #edreform

  4. October 30, 2009 at 5:04 pm #

    RT @JasonFlom: "Shift Happens. Even in Schools." Principles in Transformation for schools | Post on Eco of Ed http://bit.ly/2UFX5c #edreform

  5. johnmcgeough
    November 3, 2009 at 6:16 pm #

    There is in fact no normal. I love the comment about executives waiting for things to return to normal. Almost everyday I hear my colleagues commenting about the current conditions in education. My attitude is to simply say this is just what is normal today. We have to learn how to deal with it. If we are unable to deal with it education will become the next great extinctiion.

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  12. January 20, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Why you haven't published more of your brilliant writing still escapes me. I know how lucky those kids are in your classroom, but those who can experience even samples of your writing for your profound thoughts and beautiful style are also in for a treat!

  13. January 20, 2010 at 9:18 pm #

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