Are you learning as fast as the world is changing? In this insightful HBR article, Bill Taylor wrote:
In a world that never stops changing, great leaders never stop learning.
Eddie Obeng made this passionately visual in his TED talk – “Smart failure for a fast-changing world.”
Obeng provided a picture of injecting green dye into a pipe of faster and faster moving water until the turbulence created can actually be seen. Then, he graphed what happens when the pace of change outstrips the rate at which we learn.
What we call “schools” exist in this world of ever-quickening change. What “green dye” are you using in your school so that the pace and nature of change is more visible…more tangible and discernible?
When I was a school principal, a support I provided for nearly a decade, I thought the best green dye I could inject was providing time for faculty to be together – a meta-goal advocated for in Carrie Leana’s “The Missing Link in School Reform.” Together, we implemented and improved on a few practices:
- Peer visits – we committed to at least two peer visits a year. Many practitioners, especially those who really strived to improve, made sure that they exceeded the minimum.
- PLCs – learning from 25 years of research and practice in public schools, we built a system that created job-embedded R&D time for faculty. In the model we created, participating faculty spent four 55-minute periods a week together so that they could do things akin to what David Creelman described when writing about the architect Christopher Alexander as Eishen campus near Tokyo was designed and built. Just like Alexander employed a short-cycle, iterative-prototype mix of design-and-construction so that architecture could inform building and building could inform architecture, the PLCs together designed instruction and assessment, built the constructive lessons with student-learners, and debriefed how to improve the design for the next phase of building.
The infrastructure contained some additional parts and pieces, and this infrastructure facilitated learning at a rate and pace that more closely matches the rate and pace of change that we are experiencing in schools – from technology, globalization, and knowledge about the brain, just to name a few influencers.
My best work, which I did not do alone – I had tons of collaborative help, was simply to make it easier for faculty to work together. Individual learning remained important, too, of course, but the traditional silo-ing traits of school were broken down so that necessary and essential co-laboring and co-learning could occur more often than at sporadic lunches or happenstance encounters in the faculty lounge. The get-togethers were made intentional, purposeful, and systemic.
My next arc of learning and educational support finds me at Unboundary, a transformation design studio. As Polly LaBarre is calling in “Help Us Innovate the Innovation Process,” we are working to design and prototype something currently called “pedagogical master planning.” Essentially, we are deconstructing the campus-master-planning process, and we are re-imagining it as a metaphor or framework to architect and engineer a strategic-design method for systematizing and enhancing the core purpose and radial functions of a learning/teaching community. It’s a next generation of strategic planning. Like Christopher Alexander’s methods with Eishen, pedagogical master planning will involve a short-cycle, iterative-prototype, dynamic responsiveness. Like the PLC’s ethos and structure, pedagogical master planning will systematize the parts and pieces of the whole – not to make the system rigid or slow-moving in complexity, but to respect, leverage, and amplify the interrelated and integrated nature of real systems.
At a time when change continues to quicken, we must design learning systems that can keep pace – or even outpace – the rate of change in the world. Master planning for such learning systems will necessitate a series of shifts from strategic planning to strategic design…design that serves as a green dye to make the intersections of change and learning visible, harness-able, and enhanceable.
Important to remember the very real lessons of fluid flow: at any velocity, and even without obvious obstructions, the flow develops turbulence, much of which is modeled (was the model for) Chaos Theory. We think we can reduce chaos by reducing obstructions in the pipe, but that is only true to some extent. Chaos is going to happen, and of course is beautiful if we embrace it rather than try to design it out. This is where real science and systems thinking can and should come together, as I am sure you are doing at Unboundary! How lucky to be able to think of this stuff!
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