Moving From “Why” and “What” to “How”

There is nothing like deep discussions with thoughtful colleagues to solidify a key idea.  Yesterday I got to hang out via video chat for an hour and a half with Bo Adams and Tim Fish, two of that unique group of educators who can both “think big and do small”: develop theory and deep understanding through daily practice.

A key takeaway that I suggest my readers really stew over:

A decade or more ago, conversations about “why” change school were just starting to gain traction.  For all practical purposes, that train has left the station.

Over the last 5-7 years there has been increasing refinement, narrowing, and focus on “what” K-12 transformation means. I believe the “deeper learning” syntax and models capture most of what we want great learning to look like in the years ahead. That train is leaving the station.

Now we are designing and putting into practice “how” we transform schools. The process won’t come from the Department of Education, a big publisher, a college school of education, or a think tank.  The process is actually underway right now at leading schools and will be accelerated by greater connectivity amongst innovation incubators:

  • Individual schools where leaders allow risky prototyping of non-traditional pedagogy without the guarantee that they will succeed
  • Amongst consortia of schools that are developing elements of this transformed education paradigm
  • By informal back channel groups of educators and non-educators largely connected via social media.

Five years from now is too late to recognize which trains have left the station to to get on board those that are now building up their collective steam.

6 thoughts on “Moving From “Why” and “What” to “How”

  1. David Jakes

    Hi Grant:

    I agree completely that its time for “how.” Education talks too much about what should be.

    I’m stuck on your first bullet point. Two words stand out for me. 1) allow and 2) risky.

    Regarding the first, “allow” certainly suggests permission and authority and control. Is there another way to promote innovative thought and practice beyond having to operate in a culture where innovation only occurs if there is a gatekeeper present to “allow it?” How will organizations shift from a command and control structure to something that is more organic? What does an organizational culture look like where the desired for innovation doesn’t have to be approved? Perhaps I’m reading more into the use of that word. But, allow seems to be too much old-school.

    Risky: I think both educators and leadership shy away from anything labeled “risky.” It’s just not part of the educational DNA double-helix. Might you consider “strategic risk” which assumes that there are organization support structures that do not limit, but nurture, guide, and amplify? I’m thinking educational incubators here that take the very best ideas of educators and help them be successful and ultimately scale towards wide-spread adoption.

    Just a couple of thoughts. Thanks for the post.

    Sincerely,
    David

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Thanks, Jake, and I pretty much agree on all points, and perfectly OK to parse words to see if they are bring used appropriately. In a perfect world, “allow” would not have to be part of the equation, but at most schools, such permission, empowerment, and even expectation pretty much do have to be given. We just are not “there” yet in most schools. And, yes, “risk” is a loaded word, and your use of “strategic risk” may be the right clarifying syntax. Thanks!

      Reply
  2. Garreth Heidt

    Grant, David,

    I agree that there’s a natural aversion to risk in most people, especially in teachers. But, semantically, do you really need the word “risky?” If you are “prototyping…non-traditional pedagogy” it sort of implies risk. Calling it out seems like an unnecessary intensification of the act.

    I was reading John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas’s New Culture of Learning and I’m wondering if there isn’t a way to address the issue David brings up about “allow.” Thomas and Seeley Brown note that their new culture of learning is tied to a learning-based approach rather than teacher-based approach. In a teacher based approach, “the culture is the environment.” In the learning-based approach, “the culture emerges from the environment.”

    Thus, rather than the word “allow” would it be any better (and I realize this might alter the scope of the observation, Grant) to say “leaders cultivate environments where the prototyping of non-traditional pedagogies, without the guarantee of their success, is a natural outgrowth of the teachers’ and learners’ presence in the school.

    A bit clunky, but if we’re “just not ‘there’ yet,” in terms of leadership transformation, keeping the language of the traditional hierarchy isn’t going to help that transformation happen any faster, is it? If we’re not there yet, and if Wittgenstein is right and the limits of language represent the limits of the world, then surely we have to change the language if we want to change the world.

    Or, to quote Joseph Campbell, “If you want to change the world, you must first change the metaphor.”

    Just some ideas. I’m always trying to synthesize the countless ideas floating around the world of education these days.

    Thank you both for your work.

    Reply
    1. Grant Post author

      Thanks, Gareth; I agree with both of you that schools should discuss these terms, and that discussion will help them grow as innovation-change oriented organizations!

      Reply
  3. Kat B. Liu-Asomua

    On the notion of risk: I personally tend to think it’s our responsibility as professionals to reframe that concept. To me it’s far more risky to continue on with antiquated practices, particularly for those in our society who are most vulnerable. (I can think of a range of examples throughout history where carrying on with common practice was far more risky than moving on to innovation, but I’ll leave it up to you to come up with your own examples of those analogies.)
    As professionals it is our responsibility to form the basis of any innovation on research and evidence. (And then intelligently and empathetic ally applying them in context) This serves the dual purpose of covering our backsides on a simple level, but also ensuring there is rigour and quality in what we propose and implement. I also believe that it is time for education and educators to become more dispositionally oriented and skilled in using Applied practice theory and proper action research methods in our practice in order to help document and evidence and data collect our successes and findings as well as our challenges and reiterations . Following that, becoming more collaborative sector is also key to changing perception of risk and innovation to embracing evolutions and bettter to best fit models of learning . @asomuakat

    Reply

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