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Define the Future of Innovative Education

Prepare your school to lead, through change.

Gotta Get Yourself Connected, The Writings On The Wall

This post draws from my 15 years of experience helping organizations change. It also draws from my Ph.D. research.

Change or evolution is continuous and necessary for survival, and growth. In that, change brings life, resisting it heightens stasis. Never before are we realizing that on a global scale than right now.

This is the second of a series of posts that focus on education. It is designed to provoke and to allow you to ask of yourselves:

what is learning, how do we currently do it, and what does that say about our current beliefs? Are there new understandings available to us and by embracing these new understandings, what are the implications? What do we need to change and why? The same provocations should be asked of any organization.

The seemingly unquestionable idea that learning ‘requires teachers to act as teachers and students to act as students in face to face environments has been so deeply set into the ‘games of truth’ in which education has operated for centuries. This has resulted in driving schools further into isolationism and insignificance at a time when the rest of the world has been opting for connectivity.

The urgency of the current situation is that schools now have no choice other than to adopt the benefits of technology, opportunities that have been available to them for years, but for whatever they have been reluctant to embrace. As a result, schools are finally being forced to master appropriate technologies to connect in new ways. Ironically this is occurring at a time when the world is demanding isolationism.

Before reading this post take a few minutes to take a listen to this track. Connected by the Stereo MC’s

As a uni student, I used this track as my answering machine message, remember those?

Released in 1992, the song lyrics call out the old ways of thinking and offer up an alternative. There is also a dire warning for those who ignore the advice.

28 years later I am writing these posts encouraging the same approach as a way to open your eyes to new ways of seeing yourself and the world you exist in, and the possibilities that will emerge when you Get yourself connected, change and then do it again and again, and again.

Here are the lyrics. Sing along :-)

You gotta get yourself connected

The writing’s on the wall

But if your minds neglect it

Stumble you might fall.

See through you

We see through you

See through you

We see through you

Your dirty tricks

They make me sick

We see through you

Someone tried to open your eyes.

For those that can’t see see

A gaping hole called reality.

I’m going to get myself connected

I ain’t going to go blind

Do it again

I want to do it again

Do it again

I want to do it again

Cause something ain’t right

I’m going to do it again.

The world is currently facing a crisis due to the Covid-19 . Along with much else in society institutionalized education also is being dramatically disrupted. Schools are closing their doors but learning must go on. The obvious immediate challenge is for schools to change their traditional method of delivery.An immediate challenge is to move the learning process we once did offline into an online environment. But if that is all that is achieved we have done ourselves, our students and the broader public, a disservice. The more pressing challenge that our education system faces is how to return to a place of relevancy in society, to grasp the changes occurring all around it and to become a player in leading the change.

Within every problem lies an opportunity. The current crisis is a powerful moment where educators are being presented the opportunity to reconsider who they are, what they do, and why they do it.

Connect — Learn — Create — Change

In establishing my company we wanted to create a set of values that would underpin all our work. Connect — Learn — Create — Change was the simplest way we found to communicate that.

The presence or absence of these four factors has a direct correlation to the sustainability and growth or ultimate demise of teams, schools, organizations, companies, or any system. When I use the word system I am referring to complex adapting systems, or groupings that form a network.

How might we identify them in our schools and create conditions to enable them? Furthermore how might we rethink and redefine them?

While I have represented them as four separate elements, they never exist in isolation. Rather, they are woven into the fabric of one another, each continually reshaping and remolding the other, in a continuous circular dance.

Viewing each metaphorically as being interwoven opens up new possibilities for their rethinking. The metaphor values interconnectedness over individuality and embraces change rather than fearing it. This thinking is reflected in much of the new world.

As we connect through increased and more meaningful ways we learn. Learning is always a social experience. It is never achieved in isolation. We learn better together. Connected learning drives the amount and quality of what we create. Creativity is always a collective experience. Like learning it is never done alone. We create together to bring the change we want and need.

Much of the rapid change we have lived through over the last 40 years is a result of new insights into connectivity. These are bringing with it a worldview. A worldview is the collective understanding of how things work which then leads us to see what we can see. It is how we explain ourselves to ourselves, the world we live in, and our place in it.

For the past 300 years, reductionism has been the lens through which we have seen the world. Reductionism has shaped our beliefs of truth. It defines what we value and what we don’t. Simply put, reductionism believes that answers (or truth) are found by drilling down.

It is a worldview that tells us how we are to know ourselves.

But it is merely that, a worldview. The global shift towards connectivity is a direct challenge to that worldview. By embracing connectivity we are saying there is a different way to see the world and to know ourselves. Connectivity is replacing reductionism as a key driver for innovation, creativity, sustainability, and growth.

This is evidenced in our new understandings and uses for data. Almost every advance of technology in the last 5 years has connectivity as its base. New approaches have developed to product design and delivery by which agile approaches have rapidly replaced waterfall approaches. Also new approaches to organizational structures have emerged. Non-hierarchical and self-organizing structures are replacing command and control structures. These changes are also reflected in the widespread embrace of processes such as Design Thinking. At their core is connectivity which values empathy, listening, and change.

This new thinking is what is lacking in currently struggling industries such as education which finds itself within an older reductionist worldview. Evidence for this is found in its practices. These include the way in which assessments and grading is achieved. Currently the reliance is upon limiting and limited standardized tools such as transcripts, classroom management practices, the importance given to extensive pre-planning over flexibility, (lesson plans, rubrics, scope and sequences), structures, and identities framed within hierarchy, control, and a predetermined and limited ‘space to exist’ such as Superintendent, Head of School, Teacher, student.

Within this world view, we value the individual over the collective, an epistemology that leads to our believing we have the ability to be better by knowing more, mastering a linear flow of information, “command and control” leadership models over self-organization, order over complexity, absolutes over ambiguity, telling over listening. These practices leave education repeating history rather than preparing us for the future.

Drawing from complexity rather than reductionism, demands a mindset that values connectivity above all else. It values self-organization, openness, communication and feedback, ambiguity, messiness, creativity and innovation. It embraces continual change. This emerging worldview is what I am encouraging schools to embrace, especially if they are excel in these unfamiliar times.

In my next post, I will dive a little deeper into the “participatory culture of online connectivity”. Until then, here are some further concepts to consider.

In the current delivery of online learning, consider the implications for the practice that result in shifting our mindset to a connected one. How might we reimagine our identity of ‘teacher’ or “student” to that of co-learner?

Consider ways to allow the students to curate the content for themselves in whatever subject area is being taught. How might we use technology and online learning to put the students in the driving seat so that not only they learn but we learn together with them.

How did they find the content? How did they feel doing this? How might we enable the students to teach each other? Then ask the students what did they do differently? Does this now allow a rethink of some approaches? Did it improve anything? Did it create confusion? Why and what does that mean for the teacher?

Finally remember, continuous change through increased connectivity resulting in new knowledge is the driver behind the new ways of thinking. If that is so how might we embrace this and include it in our practices?

Please let me know how you are going. We had a number of wonderful schools contact us this week to share their stories of success and failure as they tried some new approaches.

Start small. Perhaps do it for half a day to start. Then ask did you learn? What did you see that you hadn’t seen before? What can you now change?

If you are looking for an example of a great educational project that embraces this way of thinking, I encourage you to take a look at a project being co-facilitated by UK educator and my good friend Alex Bell, ‘Link Online Learners’. Recommended by the OECD as one of their top 6 innovative projects to consider in the period of COVID 19, ‘Link Online Learners’ has student agency, peer to peer learning, and connectivity at its core.

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