The Province of Elegance. @GrantLichtman #EdJourney, Episode 11

From the concluding pages of Grant Lichtman’s The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned In School

Elegance is not the province of heroes. It is here for all of us who want to emulate those who we respect, to practice the skills required, and to work hard at it. We must use the tools we have learned, and learn to suffer failure but not defeat.

Importantly, elegance is not the sole province of those we respect or revere, of those who share our world view, political party, or side in battle. Elegance deserves our attention not because it is good, but because it is new, creative, and efficient … in other words, because it is better. And if we don’t keep up with what is better we quickly lose the game, whatever the game may be.

A few paragraphs later …

The skills of strategy are our tools in the search for elegance wherever our passion leads us. … We, too, can overcome difficult obstacles and find or create these unique opportunities that make our lives full, achieve our objectives, and, hopefully, fill the lives of those around us. The key is not wealth or armies, not background or advanced degrees, or even necessarily raw brainpower. The keys are willingness, preparation, openness to new ideas, and the diligent application of strategy.

And, still, a paragraph later…

…creational thinking, not critical thinking, should be our ultimate goal in education. Critical thinking is a skill that allows us to steer a valuable course through a known problem. It engages a problem-solving skill set but stops short of what is possible. If problem solving and critical thinking are the goals of education, the bar is too low. Creational thinking, the use of content while branching into the unknown, leads to the possibility of truly elegant solutions. That is where the bar needs to be, particularly in light of the challenges that lie ahead of us.

In our search for elegance, maybe we create something new, or understand something old in a new way. Maybe we fill in a gap of knowledge, fit a new piece into the puzzle of human experience that has been forming for over four million years. Maybe we fail but decide to try again. Hopefully the elegant solutions that tend toward good in the world surpass those that tend toward evil. If we succeed, as scientist, engineer, peacemaker, prophet, soldier, teacher, designer, artist, parent, or just someone putting one foot in front of the other each day in a complicated world, maybe we have become someone else’s hero.

It has been my pleasure to follow along with Grant as he has visited 64 schools across the U.S. on his #EdJourney. The windows into these schools have proven to be invaluable to my own hope, imagination, confidence, and creativity. There are many heroes in the schools that Grant visited, and I am most thankful that they opened up their schools and their practices so that we all could connect and learn with each other. What we create with these new connections and insights will make all the difference in the world. Such is our province of elegance.

What follows is the twelfth and final videocast interview with Grant as he concluded his twelve-week, 64-school, cross-country #EdJourney. We recorded the interview on Friday, December 14, 2012. On that day, of course, Sandy Hook Elementary School experienced a horrid and terrible tragedy. Our hearts, minds, thoughts, and prayers are will the people and families of Sandy Creek in Newtown, CT. Grant and I decided to move forward with the interview on that day for that is what we must all commit to doing – move forward and create the elegant solutions together with our neighbors.

In Atlanta – at Unboundary: @GrantLichtman #EdJourney, Week 9, Episode 10

This week, I enjoyed the gift of introducing my friend Grant Lichtman at Tuesday’s SAIS Lunch-n-Learn. He asked that I do so with the first three paragraphs of his introduction to The Falconer: What We Wished We Had Learned In School.

School prepares us to be successful. We aspire to be happy.
– Robert Landis, Falconer Class of 2001

We are not teaching our children, our students, and our co-workers what they really need to know. The lessons aren’t out there on some shelf or Web site. They won’t be found with more money and more programs to push more stuff in more different ways at our kids and our employees. It’s not about computer-to-student ratios, distance learning, high-speed links to the Library of Congress, or lecture podcasts. It’s not a pricey self-help guru claiming that his “new thing” is new, seven cookbook steps to success, or ten simple mileposts to make a million for your company.

Those tools help, but they are the dressing, like ornaments on a Christmas tree. We need to pay attention to the tree itself. Look at the people who invented computers, who designed the Internet, who overcame the Depression, who envisioned the best sellers, who challenged racism, who explored the ocean depths, who built the Panama Canal, who created the management-consulting firms that you hire to tell you how to run your business more efficiently. I want my children and my employees and my co-workers and my friends to exhibit qualities like invention, courage, creativity, insight, design, and vision a lot more than I want them to know the capitals of South America or the sequence of presidents and kings, fractions, computer science, art history, running a cash register, or throwing a football.

In short, I want us to spend more time teaching how to generate and recognize elegant solutions to the many problems facing our world.

School could – should – be more about generating and recognizing elegant solutions to the many problems facing our world. Content and skills could – should- be wrapped in contexts of citizenship, character, and caring. Not separate programs. Integrated programs. Systems programs.

What a pleasure it has been to help host Grant in Atlanta this week. After talking for almost two hours about the scope of educational transformation we envision at Unboundary, and after introducing Grant to the studio, we shot our weekly video interview – happily recorded not over Skype, but in the same room, sitting with each other.


Grant Lichtman’s #EdJourney Atlanta posts, thus far…

Archive for the ‘Education Innovation Journey of Learning’ Category

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: