Right now, amid the pandemic, the chorus of “get back to normal” is like a siren call to a past that we should no longer embrace. It has led us to the notion that we have to make a decision between the well-being and safety of our teachers and children vs. total economic collapse. That is not the decision in front of us. As a community of thought leaders and educators, let’s not be taken in by this. Let’s also understand that you do not need a title to be a leader.
Revolution does not start at the “top.” It starts at the grass-roots level by the people who know best, who are closest to the situation. In times of crisis and fear, people will clutch onto what they know. “The devil you know is better than the one you don’t” is a common justification for this. However, if you look to nature, you will see that cycles of birth and death are the norm. Destruction of the old is sometimes necessary to fertilize the ground, so the new growth can flourish. We are not so different. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard, but just because it is hard to create something new, doesn’t mean it is impossible.
“Revolution is not Destruction. It is significant growth and change. It is an opportunity to build an effective forward-thinking educational system.”
Revolution is not Destruction. It is significant growth and change. It is an opportunity to build an effective forward-thinking educational system, instead of being tied to leftover structures of the past. Sir Ken Robinson has been a thought leader on the paradigm shift needed in education for at least a decade. There’s a brief animation that brilliantly shines light on “why” the public school system struggles so greatly: Sir Ken Robinson
This year, our educational system was forced into a pause, and it is now being pushed to reopen, but we can seize the opportunity to launch a new normal that isn’t all about distancing and hand sanitizer. The new normal can also be about becoming more student-centered. We can advocate for larger educational budgets and better management of those budgets. We can dismantle barriers, instead of reinforcing old ones. We can create a new paradigm. It is time to shine a light on those teachers, school leaders, school boards, and organizations who are truly crushing it in education, so we all can learn from them, and then pave the way to create more. We need to re-align our support structures, and funding to truly educate all the children. We need to stop waiting for the titled “leaders” to make the decisions for us, and instead we need to rally our own collective voice and act. There is, quite literally, no time like the present.
The following steps are taken from a system I created to teach critical and creative thought. I’m sharing it as my way to contribute to the conversation about how to craft a new normal.
Here is my roadmap to the Education Revolution:
Step One: Deconstruct: We need to take apart our educational system and see what elements we have to work with, and what influences are at play. When you do that, you will be surprised at how many influences outside of education there are, with goals that have nothing to do with the children. We are influenced far more than anyone would like to admit and for far longer. The pressure to fit in molds, not only in our external life, but also in our internal thoughts, is extreme. When we deconstruct, we expose this. We rankle our skeletons and confront some of the painful limitations we have experienced when trying to improve education. This is when the lure of the “us” vs. “them” comes in. Don’t give into it. Go to the next step.
Step Two: Clear: Clear the decks of blame and understand that, during this exercise, it is all about you. You are the one who has the power, in this moment, to create anew. You can clear with kickboxing, a nature walk, meditation, working on a craft, and a hundred other ways that settle your mind and emotions. Anything that allows you to set aside the drama and disappointment works. Numbing it or hiding from it does not. Choose a healthy, deliberate way to clear.
Step Three: Analyze: Once you are clear, you are ready to dispassionately analyze. Question why there are so many influences on education? Ask why do we, and do you, believe what you believe about education? Why do certain structures, prejudices, and habits sustain? Really dig in to find the origins of the assumptions we have about education as a whole, and about your own. Let your inner three-year-old ask the perpetual “WHY?” Also analyze the connective tissue that exists between your favorite educational model, or idea for a new one, and what else is working out there. Resist the temptation to “yeah, but” the innovations or dismiss them as only possible because of the context in which they exist. Look closely and find the common links. What is the same about all the successful models of education (and check to make sure you agree with the definition of “success”)? What is driving the methods? What is the fundamental belief at work here? What is “a good education,” why do students need it, and how do we get it?
Step Four: Commit: Take your analysis and let it rest for a minute. Take a walk. Clear again if you can, and then consider what you believe in. Independent of your role and perception of your current ability to enact epic change, what is it that you believe we need to do in education. What does it need to look like at its core? What fundamental, foundational things does every human being need that education can provide? Pick three words that encompass this ideal. Do they resonate with you? Are they words you could say to yourself in the mirror without a “yeah but” or an eyeroll?
“Find your words and commit to them. Commit to focusing on bringing more of those three things to education in your corner of the world.”
Step Five: Choose: You now have a commitment to bringing that paradigm of what great education is to the world, so take a look at all the pieces parts of what you deconstructed about education. Choose what goes and what stays. We are often under the impression that we “have to” continue doing things that no longer work because the unseen “they” is mandates it. The thing is, we are now the “they,” so let’s make better choices. And in this exercise, you control the purse strings. Create from a place of abundance, not scarcity. The educational system has been financially neglected for so long, that it needs therapy. It needs to not only recognize that it deserves respect, but it needs to stand up for itself and demand it. In this exercise, we need to release the limitations, so we can see what great education really looks like, at its core. Only then, we can truly understand how to scale, and at what cost. If “educational politics” was one of the pieces you deconstructed and you don’t want it as part your educational dinner party, don’t invite it. That doesn’t mean others won’t try to bring a plus-one, but it’s your model, your dinner party, and it does not “have to” get a seat at your table. When you are serious about your commitment and back it up with choices that solidify it, you may be surprised at how many others share the same view that it should have no role in education, even when they are from different political persuasions.
Step Six: Challenge: Solicit feedback. Court contrary visions. Test your theories and involve the people who this impacts most: students. In writing a charter for a new high school model, I tested some of my ideas with my own children. At ten and thirteen, I was surprised at how savvy and aware they were of some of the underpinnings of the models. It should have come as no surprise at all, since they were immersed in an educational system their entire lives. It reminded me how rarely the student voice is invited to not only provide input, but also to impact change. Let the children challenge your models and spend time poking holes in it yourself. Take those three words you crafted and see how they fit with other models and methods you see working in education. Do they capture that common ground effectively? Are they in abundance or short supply? Is there refinement needed to better identify the core elements?
Step Seven: Adapt: Every effective system in the world, from nature to Tesla, embraces the idea that adaptation is necessary to thrive in an ever-changing landscape. If we fail to adapt, we fail to thrive. If your three words aren’t working, or if you only need two or one, adapt. Go back through the steps. If the words don’t feel right to you, it is due to an influence. It is often due to what you think you “have to” or are “supposed to” think and feel about the subject. Put that aside and uncover what you really feel. Pull focus on the core, over and over again, until it is something you are ready to shout from the rooftops.
Step Eight: Act: Share your discovery of what the core of a great education is often. In private conversation and in public forums, share your words and your commitment to establishing a new normal. Write blogs, tell your friends and families, bring it to work, call your senators. Just share it. The more you share your truth and the core of what you think will revolutionize education, the more ideas and action you spark in others. Remember, you don’t have to have a title to be a leader. Lead by sharing your ideas and your voice. No one needs permission to shine. Your actions can be even more powerful than your words. Wherever you are right now on the educational continuum, whether it is preparing to teach an online class, designing an educational facility, funding an initiative, creating a blended model for 2020, stressing over how to afford a safe and secure return to school, or directly advocating for change, how can you enact the very ideals you have come to hold as the core of a great education. If you believe that creativity is part of it, create. Model what you hope to see in the world. Do what you can with what you’ve got, where you are. Right now, like no other time in history, people are listening. By boldly bringing our own best and brightest ideas to the table around the future of education, we can ensure that real progress is made. Turn the conversation to what is possible and take even the smallest actions toward those goals. Others will be inspired to follow your lead, and then real change can happen. Real change is what Revolution is about.
Now that you have the roadmap to the Education Revolution, will you take it? Please take a look at some of these resources that are favorites of mine that might inspire conversation, spark ideas, and bring people together to become true thought leaders in the education space. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have initiatives to feature and ideas on how to advance these conversations. Frans Johansson’s game-changing book The Medici Effect provides story after story about how the intersection of fields, the space where ideas can collide, create profound innovation. This book was written sixteen years ago, and the game is largely still the same, but it doesn’t have to be. If you are having challenges with motivation in your students, do you only go to the educational forums and pedagogically-sound research? Again, good start, but have you read the business-minded book by Daniel Pink, Drive, which shares specific strategies for how to increase intrinsic motivation? Addressing equity is of utmost importance right now, and this group is leading the way: Equity by Design Please take a look at what our guests have had to say about the question if we are in an Evolution or Revolution in Education right now. Check out this particularly relevant article: “Preparing to Reopen: Six Principles that put Equity at the Core”. To dig into a treasure trove of thought-leadership on education, check out: Getting Smart For a deep dive into exploring an effective and ground-breaking model that provides gifted education to all students, check out the brilliant Michele Gregoire-Gill’s article in Psychology Today: Nurturing the Gifts of EVERY Child.