Lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons #Unboundary7pt0

Some of you know that I am a stack reader. Well, some beautiful serendipity happens occasionally in my routine of stack reading. Recently, such serendipity occurred while I was exploring “illusions” and “it’s all invented.”

For my birthday, my close friend Mary Cobb gave me a copy of Richard Bach’s Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. I’ve made my first, quick pass of the book, and I took a short page of hand-written notes. I put the book and the notes in a stack with Rosamund Stone Zander and Ben Zander’s The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life, which another close friend – my teaching and learning partner – Jill Gough gave me in January 2011, and which I was re-reading for purposes at work.

In Illusions, Bach wrote about a return of the Messiah as a airplane pilot who spends time with another airplane pilot who provides rides to midwesterners for about $3 per 10 minutes. In the section of the book I am currently re-reading as part of the meta-stack on which I am concentrating now, the Messiah is explaining to Richard that life is a series of illusions. Skeptical of such a philosophy, Richard bucks the thinking, and the Messiah takes Richard to a movie – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

“Richard?”

“Yeah.”

“Why are you here?”

“It’s a good movie, Do. Sh.” Butch and Sundance, blood all over them, were talking about why they ought to go to Australia.

“Why is it good?” he said.

“It’s fun. Sh. I’ll tell you later.”

“Snap out of it. Wake up. It’s all illusions.”

I was irked. “Donald, there’s just a few minutes more and then we can talk all you want. But let me watch the movie, OK?”

He whispered intensely, dramatically. “Richard, why are you here?”

“Look, I’m here because you asked me to come in here!” I turned back and tried to watch the end.

“You didn’t have to come, you could have said no thank you.”

“I LIKE THE MOVIE…” A man in front turned to look at me for a second. “I like the movie, Don; is there anything wrong with that?”

“Nothing at all,” he said, and he didn’t say another word till it was over and we were walking again past the used-tractor lot and out into the dark toward the field and the airplanes. It would be raining, before long.

 

I thought about his odd behavior in the theatre. “You do everything for a reason, Don?”

“Sometimes.”

“Why the movie? Why did you all of a sudden want to see Sundance?”

“You asked a question.”

“Yes. Do you have an answer?”

“That is my answer. We went to the movie because you asked a question. The movie was the answer to your question.”

He was laughing at me, I knew it.

“What was my question?”

There was a long pained silence. “Your question, Richard, was that even in your brilliant times you have never been able to figure out why we are here.”

I remembered. “And the movie was my answer.”

“Yes.”

“Oh.”

“You don’t understand,” he said.

“No.”

“That was a good movie,” he said, “but the world’s best movie is still an illusion, is it not? The pictures aren’t even moving; they only appear to move. Changing light that seems to move across a flat screen set up in the dark?”

“Well yes.” I was beginning to understand.

“The other people, any people anywhere who go to any movie show, why are they there, when it is only illusions?”

“Well, it’s entertainment,” I said.

“Fun. That’s right. One.”

“Could be educational.”

“Good.” It’s always that. Learning. Two.”

And the exchange goes on, even more brilliantly.

Now, in The Art of Possibility

Indeed, all of life comes to us in narrative form; it’s a story we tell.

 

Experiments in neuroscience have demonstrated that we reach an understanding of the world in roughly this sequence: first, our senses bring us selective information about what is out there; second, our brain constructs its own simulation of the sensations; and only then, third, do we have our first conscious experience of our milieu. The world comes into our consciousness in the form of a map already drawn, a story already told, a hypothesis, a construction of our own making.

 

It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework of meaning that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.

And, then, as illustration, the Zanders utilized the famous nine-dot puzzle.

As you may or may not know, the puzzle asks us to join all nine dots with four straight lines, without taking pen from paper.

Nine-dot puzzle, Art of Possibility, p. 13

The solution involves untethering our minds from some inferred systems constraints and drawing outside the boundaries.

Nine-dot puzzle, Art of Possibility, p. 14

And the Zanders concluded the chapter this way…

The frames our minds create define – and confine – what we perceive to be possible. Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view. Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear…. you can shift the framework to one whose underlying assumptions allow for the conditions you desire.

So, if you’ve read this far…God bless you. And what’s my point?

When I talk of school and education to many people, I think they unknowingly enter the nine-dot puzzle or ask “Why are we here?” But to me, school and education – the 3.0 versions – can be solved by thinking beyond the unintended boundaries of the dots…by creating a new movie of fun and learning. School 3.0 could involve a family of sorts including business, social innovation, and education. The lines that solve that puzzle may be discovered by re-imagining the boundaries…by creating a new script for the next story.

A few more quotes from Illusions, to close…

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.

 

Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.

 

A cloud does not know why it moves in just such a direction and at such a speed. It feels an impulsion…this is the place to go now. But the sky knows the reasons and the patterns behind all clouds, and you will know, too, when you lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons.

___

Works cited:

Bach, Richard. Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. [New York]: Delacorte, 1977. Print.

Zander, Rosamund Stone, and Benjamin Zander. The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. New York, NY: Penguin, 2000. Print.

Unboundary 7.0

This morning, at work, I was am a part of something very exciting. We are actively and purposefully transforming.

Cover of handout at Unboundary everyone meeting 10.9.12 9:30 a.m.

 

After almost twenty years as a professional educator based in a school, I am three months into a new venture as an educator at a transformation design firm named Unboundary. Well, technically, we are now “Unboundary 7.0.” We were Unboundary 6.5, and before I even knew of Unboundary we were Unboundary 6.0, but now we are Unboundary 7.0.

I’ve written about this version software nomenclature before. Here are two, sample posts that shed light on this methodology of being purposeful about changing, evolving, and improving as an organization.

Not too long ago, on a morning walk with Lucy (my dog), I re-listened to a podcast from Daniel Pink’s Office Hours. On the show, the guest explained that progress is achieved by a recipe of creativity + discipline. Interestingly, the guest shared that we actually have very little problem with creativity – we are humans and we are inherently creative. Where we struggle is with discipline. For a few years, I have felt drawn to Unboundary, partly because of the organization’s purposefulness about practicing the discipline of intentional transformation and continuous improvement (kaizen, in Japanese – a concept I write about often here).

Part of re-versioning ourselves is about developing a genuine clarity about who we are and what we do…

We are a strategic studio that enables organizations to transform.

 

We see transformation as purposefully designed change.

 

The need to transform can be triggered by several things – new leadership, a significant innovation, lackluster performance, or a competitive threat – but it always involves recognition of a new, greater possibility.

 

Enabling transformation is the best but often hardest work of leadership. It requires helping others to see, believe, understand and act on that greater possibility.

 

Through unique experiences helping some of the biggest and best known companies through significant periods of transformation, Unboundary has developed a unique combination of strategic thinking, communication design, and enablement workshops.

 

We’re a boutique-sized firm with well-developed methodologies but few rote processes. We work in a dedicated, immersive way with a handful of organizations, always focused on creating something significant.

 

What is our purpose?

 

Enabling organizations to act on what matters in important periods of transformation.

This is what my next chapter is all about. Education is indeed in an important period of transformation. With this team at Unboundary 7.0, and with our co-authors and partners, we will strategically design next possibilities for Education 3.0, which we believe is forming at a confluence of business, social innovation, and education.

Image in handout at Unboundary everyone meeting 10.9.12 9:30 a.m.

Such a confluence also locates where Unboundary sees ourselves…geo-transformationally. Perhaps that is something of the core that I love about these people and this place – we practice what we preach. Or, we transform ourselves to better teach. We learn by doing, and we do by learning.

Recently, Jonathan Martin asked me in an email to share more about what I do at work at Unboundary. What a fabulous suggestion and invitation. I plan to do more of that sharing and storytelling. Often we find our voice when we tell stories that feel important and intriguing. I believe I am a part of such a story.

Making reality a school. #IDreamASchool

If school is meant to prepare students for real life, then why doesn’t school look more like real life?

This is the primary question that has kept me research-busy for the past seven to ten years, at varying degrees. Of course, there are countless corollaries that spur me to sidebar explorations, integrated component searches and implementations, and related co-primary investigations. For example, during my middle-school principalship, I concentrated significant efforts to studying and orchestrating professional learning communities (PLCs) as a foundational structure and ethos for the way we worked. If the world at large is moving to more collaborative ways of working, then our educator workforce should operate in such paradigms and methods, too. (Of course, 25-years of research from public schools helped enormously!) By becoming a more formalized professional learning community, we blurred some of the lines between “school” and “real life,” and we enhanced the ways in which we worked as team problem solvers and educational designers – for the benefit of ourselves and our students. What’s more, we were able to empathize more genuinely about what we were asking students to do when we asked them to collaborate.

One of the most important and critical co-primary investigations in which I continue to search is How might we transform school to look more like real life?

As schools explore sustaining (tier 1 and tier 2) and disruptive (tier 3) innovations, one strong way to transform schools into more life-like analogues is to reconsider the traditional departmental structure. Typically, schools sub-divide into departments called “Math,” “Science,” “History,” “English,” etc. Curriculum tends to be categorized by these departments and divisions – by subject-area or topic. Often times, silos develop…sometimes intentionally, but more understandably in unintentional ways.

But what if we re-imagined curriculum to be more about the issues and challenges that we face? What if we had departments like…

  • the Department of Energy
  • the Department of Justice and Equity
  • the Department of Education
  • the Department of Health and Human Services
  • the Department of Environmental Sustainability

Liz Coleman’s call to reinvent liberal arts education

Through project-based and problem-based learning, students in K-12 education could engage genuine issues, concerns, opportunities and possibilities. Whereas the traditional departments – math, science, history, English, etc. – have been used to segregate the disciplines, with a newly devised departmental structure, the traditional subject areas would continue in importance and vitality, but they would do so as lenses co-ground into the same optic glass.

Imagine a Department of Energy in school. Student learners could explore and work in the fields of energy research and investigation, and they could employ mathematics and statistics as lenses through which to understand energy – math in context. They could hypothesize and experiment as genuine scientists working to discover the emerging, integrated sectors of biofuels, solar energies, and other non-fossil-dependent sources – science in context. They could research through lenses of historian, anthropologist, and sociologist, and they could write persuasive and expository pieces – humanities in context. They could examine the economics and psychology of energy consumption – interdisciplinary human studies in context. Design and visual prototyping could play an integrated role – industrial arts in context.

Context should inform content and cognition. And student learners deserve to gain practice with “the app for that.” We know that athletics require much practice, but the athletes regularly have opportunity to apply their skills and development to “real-life” settings called games. We know that musicians require much practice, but the instrumentalists regularly have opportunity to apply their skills and development to “real-life” concerts and performances. When do student-learners regularly have opportunity to apply their content learning and skill development? A test is not a game or concert. An essay for a teacher is not a game or concert. Contributing to a blog about experimental energy sources is more like playing in a game or concert. Designing alternative-fuel engines is more like playing a game or concert. Partnering with local businesses, NGOs, universities, and other co-creators of our energy future – such experience most certainly is comparable to playing in the games or concerts of real life. Surely, we don’t really believe that students should wait for application until they are finished with formal schooling. Surely, we can devise better responses to the age-old question, “When will I ever use this?” Student-learners could be using their imaginative, developing understanding now.

Compassion should also inform content and cognition. The world needs problem finders and solutions makers. Todays students care more deeply about the world than I think my generation cared when we were in elementary, middle, and high school. By engaging student-learners in real-life, problem-based work, we could essentially connect the millions of students like batteries in a series to light the solutions to some of our greatest challenges in society. Business and non-profit could become involved in more integrated ways with education so that a symbiosis of efforts would build self-reinforcing and sustaining capacities – innovators guiding future innovators for for a more dynamic and productive future.

I am not just theorizing and hypothesizing. The type of real-life schooling described above is already happening in many places. Kiran Bir Sethi’s Riverside School comes to mind. Bob Dillon’s Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School comes to mind. Project H Design comes to mind. Whitfield County Schools comes to mind. Geoff Mulgan’s Studio Schools come to mind. Projects at High Tech High and Partnerships at Science Leadership Academy come to mind. Even in my own personal experience, I co-piloted Synergy 8, a non-departmentalized, community-issues, problem-solving course for 8th graders. One group of four boys organized a job fair for residents of English Avenue and played a major role in helping people secure jobs. Other programs at Westminster, like the Summer Economics Institute, Philanthropy 101, Dr. Small’s Research course, and the Junior High Leadership Experience Advisory Program come to mind.

.

And just this week, I heard Brittany Wenger share in her TEDxAtlanta talk about her experience creating an artificial intelligence app to help more accurately diagnosis breast cancer. However, she did reveal that only about 10% of the project was supported as actual school work. The kind of work and contribution that Brittany Wenger is making could BE school.

Business leaders understand the inter-related, interdisciplinary nature of real-world problems and issues. Consider Michael Moreland’s explication on his SEEDR website:

No single discipline or sector can drive meaningful progress alone. To meet the most intractable challenges, we built SEEDR as a vehicle for next-level collaboration, building bridges among industry, philanthropy, government, and academia worldwide. We value wild multidisciplinary, cross-sectoral work and if you share our passion for global development and thirst for learning the languages of technologies, causes, and cultures, we want to work with you.

– http://seedrl3c.com/team

Does our world possess high-quality activists and efforts geared toward making the world a better place? Absolutely! Do these people come from our existing schools and educational institutions? Of course. However, I believe there is a realization gap. The type of interdisciplinary and cross-sector work that Moreland espouses above could be significantly enhanced with innovative thinking and implementation to transform schools into more “real-life” organizations. We could realize an amplification and acceleration of problem solving by activating our schools as more contributory blends of practitioner-based learning labs. With the proper attention to pedagogical and instructional master planning, I can imagine many scenarios in which content knowledge and cognitive accountability would only be enhanced. In other words, I challenge the typical rebuttal that students would loose content-knowledge attainment chances by working in the ways suggested above. Numerous researchers and practitioners are finding otherwise…especially as they focus more on what is learned and retained, instead of what is delivered and taught.

To summarize several of the points discussed earlier, and to introduce a few not detailed above, I believe that a number of advantages could come from re-organizing school departments in such ways that make school more like real life:

  • Student engagement would improve, as school studies became more relevant and contextual. Attendance issues could improve. In the current state of testing, assessment performance could rise, as shown by people such as Kiran Bir Sethi.
  • Testing could be re-balanced, even replaced in cases, with performance-based assessments that are more realistic and aligned with those performance assessments encountered in the “real world.”
  • The 21st century skills, particularly the 7 Cs, would be more purposefully and realistically integrated into the school day. The practice would better match the games and concerts.
  • Curriculum would move to curricula vitae – “the course of life” – as learning goals and objectives aligned more authentically with the challenges facing our societies and world.
  • For-profit business, government, and non-profit organizations – spokes of a wheel, in some ways – could be connected through the hub of education. Innovation could breed innovation as social entrepreneurship and education became more intertwined and interrelated.
  • Students could experience more giving and contribution as an eventual norm in schools, instead of school being so focused on what students get during their school years. Yet, students would also gain tremendously as they experienced more of a powerful mixture of cognition and affective domains.
  • The issues we face as a human race could be addressed in a solutions-based manner with amplified and accelerated attention from and with schools…schools working more in partnership than in precedents with real-world problem solvers.

Of course, such a move to organization around Departments of Energy and Departments of Justice and Equality could strike fear and trepidation in school administration and faculty and parents. Transitions and transformations could occur in a number of ways. Schools could invest more in master planning. Schools could experiment with a mini-test of such a department with those teachers, students, and parents who were interested and willing. Or wholesale changes could be bravely attempted. In fact, many of our new-school startups are exploring just such re-imagining and re-organizing.

What are your thoughts? Where are the opportunities? Where are the challenges? Do you know of more examples, exemplars, failed prototypes, and not-yet-realized possibilities? How might we think together on such multi-tier innovation in schools and education? I would appreciate your idea, links, questions, and insights. It’s going to take many of us working together to make reality a school.

[This post was cross-published on Connected Principals and Inquire Within on 9.28.12]

To #Unboundary

Unboundary
(n.) strategic design studio, located in Atlanta, GA, which helps companies “define their purpose and pursue significance.” [from the Unboundary web site]

(v.) to remove limits of an area, subject, or sphere of activity [adapted from Apple’s spotlight definition of “boundary”]

In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

– Eric Hoffer

As you walk into the former Atlanta-roundhouse space that is now inhabited by Unboundary, the Eric Hoffer quote greets you near the door. This is a door, in fact, that draws me in; this is a door that greeted me daily during my sabbatical (see two of many sabbatical posts here and here); this is a door that will mark my coming and going much more frequently beginning on July 15. Through this door, Hoffer reminds me that I am, indeed, in times of profound change, and he reminds us all to be learners embracing change.

During my almost twenty years as a professional educator, and certainly during my almost nine years as a school principal, I have found myself immersed in countless discussions concerning the pace and nature of change in our world. In the most recent years, I have concentrated my efforts to be one who enables and empowers schools to maintain pace with this never-ending change, so that we might help people of all ages serve and lead in our changing world.

Joining the conversations and communities on Twitter and other world-connecting blog media, I have similarly surrounded myself with hundreds and hundreds of professional educators and others who are contemplating and implementing school change so that schools remain deeply significant in an age defined by ubiquitous access to information and learn-anytime-anywhere technology. In so many conversations, both those that happen online and those that happen face-to-face, it seems that we educators are striving to unboundary the areas typically referred to as “school” and “real-life.” During her TED talk, Kiran Bir Sethi beautifully espouses the notion of blurring the lines between school and life so that students can be infected with the “I can bug” and realize their ability to make a positive difference in our world – not when they graduate to their real life, but now, because now is their real life.

On September 19, 2011, I announced that the 2011-12 academic year would be my last as principal of The Westminster Schools Junior High School. I took a leap of true faith. Then, I began to piece together and design a potential next chapter of my educational career as something akin to an innovation strategist and synergist for 21st century school change and development. In the months of October, November, December, and January, I benefited immeasurably from the wisdom, questioning, advice, and guidance of about two dozen individuals who graciously engaged me in countless conversations about how to create a job serving as a hub to the various spokes of this learning-in-the-21st-century wheel. To each and every one of you – THANK YOU! And to my wife Anne-Brown, BLESS YOU for your faith and support, and thank you for being the first and foremost of this tribe who helped me discern my next steps.

As of Tuesday, February 21, I officially have my new, dream job…my next chapter…my ideal, “plan A” role that will allow me to continue and to expand my service as an educational leader in these times of profound change. In his announcement to the Unboundary team, president and chief executive Tod Martin explained my future work in the following way:

Bo joins us in a hybrid role. He will be integrated into existing client work, particularly in workshopping, and will also play an instrumental role in expanding Unboundary into a new arena. Over the past year, you’ve heard me talk about the vision of us developing new kinds of clients — other than corporations — where our skills at transformation design would be valuable. One of the “new kinds of clients” we’ve talked about is education. Bo will help lead our efforts to build a practice and develop clients in education.

Already I am indebted to the visionary leadership of Tod Martin and to the team that he has fielded at Unboundary. So much synergy potential exists at the crossroads of corporate leadership and educational innovation, and I believe that Unboundary works at this exciting crossroads. Likewise, I am forever grateful to Westminster for eliciting and developing in me the vision and the skills that this fine school declares for all learners in its community – to serve and lead in a changing world.

To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?
– Katharine Graham

I do love what I do, and I feel that it matters greatly. I am excited for this next chapter, to which I take a great deal of learning. Yet, I dare not consider myself learned. I am a continuous learner, and I intend to do all that I can to serve and lead in this changing world – to play my role on the team that strives to define purpose and pursue significance.

Our children – our leaders of today and tomorrow – deserve nothing less.