The Chaotic Arrow: Musing on the Importance of Perception in School Change.

Thursday’s blog post from George Couros got me thinking, as normal.    Take a look at it, especially at the line drawings for what constitutes “Success.”

 These doodles are true enough (you’ll also find the squiggle as the Design Squiggle ) to the pathways we perceive as leading to success and the meanderings that actually do.  In that, the straight arrow stands as a warning to the pretensions of linearity that typify most of our endeavors at schooling and its reform…STILL!  (I mean, come on.  We talked about this back in the 80s, 60s, 20s….)

Anyway, George has written another great post for teachers and teacher leaders.  If we are thinking of change, at whatever level, be it one teacher in the classroom, or one building, or a district as a whole, let’s admit to ourselves that our narrative will not trace the unwavering flight of an arrow.  That’s as illusory and destructive as the notion that time itself is an arrow.

MissLandsatFeatured-300x336Instead of an arrow, the change in which we engage will more resemble the narrative of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the great, muddy, messy river at the heart of the novel.  Change meanders,  ox-bows, turns back, crosses itself, confuses, drifts, gathers.  It is at once powerfully beautiful, and powerfully frightening.    And so the question for innovators in schools is really how do we make all of the learners (students, teachers, admin, support staff, etc.) floating down our own great river of change, education, understand and honor that the trip will rarely…should ever…be as straight and efficient as a line?

Answers to that question are complicated by the fact that any talk of change breeds fear, and that fear stems from the perception that something (comfort, safety, status) will be lost when we change.  This is especially true of districts like my own which label themselves with that perennial deflation, “We’re good enough.”    The real answer to how we get all learners on board the riverboat to effective change is that we need to help them shift their perspective.  If we can do that, then “fear” is replaced with “conviction,” “risk” with “opportunity,” and “failure” with “learning.”

shiftBut shifting perspectives is difficult.  It takes a willingness to see one’s self differently and an understanding that we are the only real engines of change.  It also takes a willingness to accept one’s power and its attendant responsibilities.

If we are to start shifting perspectives, we can hardly start in a better place than two simple questions.  “Why are things the way they are?”  and “How can we make them better.”  The first question opens us to an understanding that the built world is born of intention, that all the objects, experiences, apps, and systems we have made are responses to solving problems, and some of them do so better, with more focus on an understanding of the users than others.  The second question reminds us that we are the creators, the agents of change.  It empowers those who have forgotten their power and enlightens those who never realized they had it.



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