School Innovation Trajectories: Steep Curves or a Quantum Step?

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School Innovation Trajectories: Steep Curves or a Quantum Step?

Hitting a moving target is all about aim, velocity, and trajectory.  When NASA fires off a satellite to intersect with an asteroid, they need to accurately calculate where that little rock will be a few years from now. If they are wrong in those calculations, and if the satellite has booster rockets, they can make course changes, but those changes are radically more difficult the closer they get to the rendezvous point.

As I am digging deeply into what the future of “school” holds 20 years in the future, I am thought-mapping likely trajectories of innovation that will get us “there”.   A few weeks ago I scratched out a cartoon, and sent it to my favorite edu-artist, Jolina Clement, who kindly made it look great!  Feel free to copy and share.



Here are the lessons.  Schools have not changed a lot in the last 40 years…have not really had to.  The future of what “school” is going to be in the next 20-40 years is so dramatically different than what it is today, that the trajectory required to meet that future is much steeper than even leading edge schools might be thinking.  Many are going to miss the target by a wide margin, which means they will be out of business.  Others are going to wait, hoping that the rate of change in the world slows down, which is a horrible bet, and then have to kick in their booster rockets, making change at their school even more uncomfortable than it needs to be.

Yes, this cartoon is broad-brush, but I am putting together a more detailed argument, and of course I could be wrong. At the “good” end, such radical change might be 40 years out, not 20. On the other hand, some very smart people think that the changes impacting education in the next 20 years are going to be so dramatic that the trajectories of innovation become a step function, not even a steep curve; they describe a quantum leap similar to that of an electron instantaneously leaving a lower state of energy for a higher one.

It is time to stop looking at the horizon. School leaders have to start looking beyond the horizon. That is where I am focusing now. Would love to chat with you about your vision out there!

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  1. Garreth Heidt April 12, 2016 at 11:49 pm - Reply


    Your post reminded me of the work of another change agent I know, Arnold Wasserman:

    If you’ll click on the “orange paper” linked to on the above page, you’ll get a sense for the work Arnold is doing and has done (most notably in Singapore) with shifting school systems and infusing more design and design-based methods into curricula. He’s an extraordinary designer, having won numerous awards and he’s rather visionary when it comes to education.

    I heard Arnold speak at a design symposium held at the Henry Ford Institute (the school attached to the Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI), and I was lucky enough to share a cab ride with him to the airport, picking his brain the entire way, discussing school, design, non-linear/dynamic systems, and a host of other things.

    Designers like Arnold and change agents like you are really of very similar mindsets and cognitive methods. Perhaps you’ll be able to find something useful in Arnold’s work for your own vision of the future.

    As well, you might check out the work of the Design Learning Network, its founder, Doris Wells-Papanek, and another consortium looking to move design inspired change in schools,

    • Grant April 12, 2016 at 11:53 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much, Garreth; I will take a look and follow up!

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