What if you were starting a school? Part I, @GrantLichtman #EdJourney, Week 8, Episode 9

If you were going to start a school, then what traits and characteristics would you make sure that it possessed? This is the question that I asked Grant Lichtman in this week’s #EdJourney video cast.

After processing the video and making it ready for the blog, I realized that our conversation today stayed near the large end of the funnel – the general ideas. So, I’m anticipating that next week we’ll dig a little deeper into this same question and reveal some specifics about the programs that Grant might insist upon should he start a school based on the insights he is gathering from more than 60 school visits across the country.

Grant Lichtman’s blog, The Learning Pond…and the #EdJourney posts.

Step 7: Failure and Redemption. @GrantLichtman #EdJourney, Episode 8

In “Step 7: Failure and Redemption,” near the end of The Falconer, Grant Lichtman wrote:

“What is it that you want that you have failed to attain?”

“Clarity. A unified theory. The sense that, after a full life of trying, I got it right.”

“To truly consider yourself a warrior,” says Sunny, “you must set your personal bar very high. If the challenges are not great enough, you either must raise the bar, or cease to consider yourself a true warrior. Guaranteed success means you have set the bar too low. Things like clarity and a unified theory…I would say those are fairly high bars.

“At some point, you are going to fail, not at a simple task or at solving a problem. You are going to fail in your fundamental goals, your belief system, your moral foundation, or your self-view. It is an inevitable result of setting the bar higher and higher.

“But failure, as you have taught your Children, is inevitable in your own model. You cannot be more perfect than the people you encounter every day. You may be able to set higher philosophical goals or more complex personal challenges, but you cannot escape failure.

“So for your model to be complete, there must be a last step, one that recognizes the inevitability of failure and allows us to move on towards our goal of happiness. The question is, for you, how can you overcome this feeling of failure? What will allow you to step back into the ring and try again?”

Mr. Usher gazes deeply at his friend without blinking. Sunny has never seen him this intent.

“If I knew the answer to that, I would not be in this funk.”

“I will answer it for you then,” says Sunny. “You need to know that you have both the right and the responsibility to try again. This is your redemption. This is the warrior’s redemption: another chance; the chance to be wrong in what we do, but right in the passion with which we try.

“Redemption comes from trying, despite the sure knowledge that you will fail.”

I continue to be convinced that whole schools must adopt an experimenter’s mindset…a mindset of trial and error that leads to long-term growth, but with some inevitable short-term frustration and angst. We can model persistence and life-long learning by striving to find those uncomfortable places where deep learning occurs.

In this week’s #EdJourney video-cast interview, Grant Lichtman and I explore a few questions related to this school-wide searching, exploring, and self-evolving.


Grant Lichtman’s The Learning Pond

Step 5: Solving Problems @GrantLichtman #EdJourney, Week 6, Episode 7

How might we discern if we are facing a problem, and if we are, what the problem is? In Grant Lichtman’s book, The Falconer, the chapter entitled “Step 5: Solving Problems” finds Mr. Usher and his class on a camping trip – an outing. As the class hikes Clear Creek, the trail suddenly ends.

“Mr. Usher,” he called cupping his hands around his mouth,  “the trail has stopped. There’s nowhere to go. What do we do now?”

Mr. Usher walked up to the end of the trail, and the Children gathered around him. He looked ahead at the rocks and the mountain.

“Well, you’re certainly right,” Mr. Usher said. “The trail has stopped. What do you suggest we do?”

We don’t know what to do,” Andy answered. “You’re the teacher. Tell us where to go.”

“We’ve never been here before,” added Felisa. “How are we supposed to know which way to go?”

“I’m ready for your suggestions,” said Mr. Usher. “I’m not at all sure that there is any one best way to proceed here. Who has a good idea about what to do?”

Later in the chapter:

Aaron (who you will remember had never been camping before) hugged his knees and looked up at Mr. Usher, worried. “If you knew the trail would end, why did you bring us this way?” he asked.

“I didn’t know the trail would end here. In fact, I’ve never been up the trail this far. If I had been along the trail before, this would be a pretend adventure, not a real adventure, and you’re all old enough for a real adventure on your summer Outing. In real life we don’t always know what’s going to happen next. We’re already doing exactly what one should do when one first faces a new problem. We’re sitting down calmly and thinking things out clearly. We should never rush at a problem or shoot off in the first direction that presents itself. Usually, doing nothing for a little while is a pretty good first step.”

The Children look puzzled and a little doubtful, as if they weren’t sure how doing nothing could help them whatsoever.

“So now that we’re thinking clearly,” continued Mr. Usher, “we need to decide if we really have a problem, and if so, what is it?”

I’ve read and re-read The Falconer several times. If you frequent this blog or know me beyond this virtual thinking space, you know that this book is an important one to me. I return to this section of this chapter often. It “bothers” me – in a good way, I think, but it bothers me.

There is a balance to strike. The class has a day supply of food remaining. They can’t simply think and talk the problem without acting. Yet, they probably should not just charge off in a direction, or worse yet in several different directions without some team discernment.

Isn’t this where many of us education folks are living right now? Where does our known trail of school end? What paths and trails will we forge next? How are we working together as a school to decide what our problems are, what we will decide to do next, and how we might make the journey together – as a team, not just as many individuals independently searching? Is our trail issue in schools one that can be solved over 10 years, or is the issue more pressing and immediate?

What is your school doing to discuss the trail you are taking next? How are you gathering voices and deciding on action…not just talk or directive instruction from a formal leader?

In this week’s #EdJourney video cast episode, Grant and I explore this thinking a bit further…


Follow Grant Lichtman’s #EdJourney on Twitter and on his blog, The Learning Pond.

Link to blog post that contains resources mentioned in this week’s #EdJourney video cast episode: HBR article “Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?” and Eddie Obeng’s TED talk.

Step 4: Finding Problems, @GrantLichtman #EdJourney, episode 6, week 5

If there was a place along our path where my own students, year after year, wanted to stop, take a timeout, and really argue, it is right here. Our training and intuition both scream at us: “Why do I need to go looking for problems? Enough problems find me on their own!” Our educational system is firmly grounded in the concept that problem solving is the key to winning the game of life and that our daily encounters with the world provide us plenty to solve, thanks very much.

So I will tell you what I used to tell my students at this point: the central failure of our entire educational system is that we provide canned material for students to solve and expect them to return to us the correct canned answer. That is not how real problems occur that need to be solved. If we, as parents, teachers, and bosses, want our children, students, and employees to become more than robotic transponders of our historical and cultural ethos, we must teach them how to find their own problems in their own ways. Take a few more steps around this bend, and it will make sense.

So begins The Falconer chapter entitled, “Step 4: Finding Problems.” Through his #EdJourney, Grant Lichtman, author of The Falconer is engaged in his own problem finding. At this juncture of his search – the end of week 5 – Grant has identified a trend and pattern among those schools that seem to be more readily engaging the processes of educational innovation.

  1. Innovating schools appear to have a person that functions something like a C.P.F. – a chief problem finder. In many cases, of course, this person functions on a team, but the job of “Director of Innovation” (or similarly titled) possesses time and space and opportunity to engage deeply with the processes linked to The Innovator’s DNA: 1) observing, 2) questioning, 3) experimenting, 4) networking, and 5) associating.
  2. Innovating schools appear to have more balance between content-centric curriculum and context-centric curriculum. Innovating schools put students and faculty – but particularly students – in the position of problem finder. Students at innovating schools tend to have more opportunity to choose projects, propose problems they’d like to explore, participate in the “real world,” and practice the habits of mind related to problem finding. They are expected to be “directors of innovation in training.”

Innovation does not just happen. Schools curate for innovation. How are you curating for innovation at your school?

Featured posts from Grant Lichtman’s #EdJourney…in week 5:

Self-Awareness & School Change: @GrantLichtman #EdJourney, episode 5, week 4

From Grant Lichtman’s chapter in The Falconer entitled “Step 2: The Boundaries of Subjectivity and Objectivity.”

Sun Tzu says, “So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.


Acceptance that something is possible opens a lot of doors to creative thinking.

Most recently, Grant’s #EdJourney blog posts on The Learning Pond have touched repeatedly on schools that voluntarily invite regular reviews from visiting colleagues – schools that practice vigorous feedback looping and self-awareness. On another thread, Grant has been reporting on a series of schools that are rethinking and/or abandoning the AP (Advanced Placement) tests. Our week 4, episode 5 video-interview below concentrates on these stories…