Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Learning Can't Wait

The more I think about new initiatives and changing education, the more I believe that Dan Weiden got it right.

In August of 1988, when there would have been a high degree of likelihood that I was sporting acid wash jeans and a styled perm, the aforementioned Mr. Weiden coined a phrase in his work as a Portland advertising executive.  You might have heard of it...

"Just Do It"

From that point forward, the words "Just Do It" became not only the key branding phrase for Nike, but a part of the English lexicon forever more.  When you close your eyes and say those words, you can probably envision the font in which the phrase was written and the little black Swoosh right below it.  How many t-shirts did we own with those three words emblazoned somewhere on the front or back?

I believe that now more than ever in education, we need to adopt a "Just Do It" philosophy.   For a variety of reasons too numerous to list, we seem to be suffering from an insatiable desire to ensure that any new initiative, program, or philosophy that we are even thinking about trying is both foolproof and battle-tested to a level of imperviability that rivals kevlar or kryptonite.  We feel like we need to find the correct timing in the future for us to unveil a new idea so that we maximize the 'wow factor' and minimize negative exposure.  Or that we must determine the exact point at which the percentage of supporters is likely to outweigh the naysayers by a wide enough margin.  Or to discover the moment during the year when people have the correct mix of enthusiasm, energy, and separation between writing report cards, submitting improvement plans, doing budgets, getting ready for standardized tests, holidays, and the last full moon. And please make sure it falls in the correct block during the rotation, because we have hit period four three times in the last four months.

My point?  People are always busy--in fact, we can't even say we are busy anymore, we have to out-do each other with our descriptors of busy.  Wildly busy.  Crazy busy.  INSANELY busy. It seems the more bleary-eyed, disheveled and haggard that we can look while doing our work and the closer we can get to the lunatic fringe of frenetic activity, the greater status we feel we have with our colleagues.  Schools are busy places; they should be.  Schools and classrooms should be thriving, and filled with meaningful and significant events that are rich for students and educators alike--they should be insanely busy.  Budgets always need to be managed, staffing needs to be done, exams need to be administered, and there are always projects to finish and deadlines to meet.  And when we throw all of this stuff into our Google Calendars, one fact becomes clear and immutable:  there is no perfect time to start anything.

But there is one other clear and immutable fact, and it comes from Saul Kaplan (@skap5), founder and "Chief Catalyst" (love that) at the Business Innovation Factory in Providence, RI.  He said something that resonated with me (especially as a father of two young children in the school system) when I was at the BIF Conference last September:

A decade is a terrible thing to waste.

Wow.  How right is that.  He and his team at the Business Innovation Factory pleaded with the organizations they work with to "get off of the white board and on to the real world".  To "go from napkin-sketch to prototype". To "stop studying it and just do it".

A couple of years ago, I was having lunch with colleague and friend Chris Kennedy (@chrkennedy), the highly-regarded and forward-thinking Superintendent of the West Vancouver School District. One of the things that I always have admired about Chris is the fact that he still gets into classrooms and teaches students about digital literacy and future skills.  So I asked him "How do you do it?  How do you find the time to get into classrooms when you are the Superintendent?".  He looked at me and said "I want to be in classrooms with students, so I make time for it.  It's a choice.".


But let's quickly dispense with the false dichotomies that inevitably will follow.  So does that mean that we should do everything?  No.

Say 'yes' to everything?  Nope.

Chase after every initiative?  No, that would be inefficient, irresponsible, unsustainable, and make us INSANELY busy.

We have to work within the box that we live, and manage the parameters that we have.  There is likely no more money (my next post will be about how to create money out of thin air, BTW).  There are only 24 hours in the day.  These are obstacles that we can't push to the side--we must embrace them! (Sounds a lot like 'Frugal Innovation')

But Chris's comment underscores something that is paramount for me:  we must choose what we want to do and DO it.  And I believe that we help ourselves to do this by following four steps.
What will students say, do  and write?

  1. Co-create a vision for your learner (this could be a student, teacher, support staff member, administrator, or even a parent in the community)
  2. Co-define what they would be saying, doing, or producing when they are demonstrating this vision (as in this image from an improvement plan that gets right down to specifics.)
  3. Determine your learner's current reality through observations by a team of educators that provide specific, descriptive, and non-judgmental feedback relative to your vision using a network-based approach like Instructional Rounds (and come to the Rounds Institute in Kamloops in April with dozens of other fantastic educators!)
  4. Co-design potential solutions knowing that while they might not be perfect and they might not work the way you thought you would, that you will learn about the learning taking place in your building, regardless.
  5. Follow what Saul Kaplan says: "get off of the white board and on to the real world", "go from napkin-sketch to prototype", and to "stop studying it and just do it".

Because learning can't wait, our students can't wait, and neither can we.