On Friday I asked a series of big why questions:
Why was I unhappy, or dissatisfied, or less than completely delighted with my work in a factory-model school for the past few years, even though the work was “good” by many measures and we were using the collaborative co-creation model? Because the work of the Latin Family felt so misaligned with the work of the larger institution.
Why did it feel misaligned … or why did I feel misaligned? Because factory-model schools and districts, especially when they’re under stress and pressure from Greater Powers Yet, default to a hierarchical individual model of learning, leadership, and organization (in Richard Elmore’s terms), but my preferred model is somewhere between what Elmore would call distributed individual and distributed collective.
Why do factory-model schools default to a hierarchical individual model? Because that’s how they were originally designed 120 years ago. Are they likely to change? No. Why do I prefer those other models? I just do; that’s a big part of who I am, and I don’t want to change. So am I likely to change? No.
That’s where I stopped on Friday. But I couldn’t really stop there, could I?
Why would I want to continue working within a hierarchical individual model when there’s such misalignment with the ways I want to work … and the ways I do my best work?
Fear of the unknown and clinging to the status quo are the only reasons I can think of … and those are terrible reasons! Besides, the status quo isn’t what it used to be “back in the Good Old Days when teachers were revered” … and despite the fervent wishes of Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y that I know, those mostly-imaginary Good Old Days won’t be coming back anytime soon. The handwriting is on the wall for a whole bunch of institutions designed to solve 20th-century problems with 20th-century processes … and not because those processes or problems are inherently bad. It’s just that in a world of hyper-abundant, freely available information, nobody really needs an efficient, centralized place to distribute pre-packaged knowledge … and if you don’t need a place like that, you don’t really need the textbooks, the “student desks,” the interactive whiteboards, or the rest of the infrastructure, either.
The innovators and early adopters, to use the language of diffusion of innovations, figured that out quite a while ago. And when I read Facebook postings and talk with folks I know whose children “aren’t a good fit” with batch-processing forms of education, it seems the early majority is starting to follow.
Why, then, would I want to stay inside structures that are a poor fit for my skills, my heart, and my soul, especially when it seems those structures are withering away? I don’t have a good answer for that question!
What do I want? To build joyful learning communities, in other words, to be part of some distributed individual and distributed collective learning networks … to help them form, to help others form them, to change the world of teaching and learning fundamentally so that learners are more central and we teachers take our proper role of helper and guide, not hierarchical authority figure. To build learning environments where classroom management isn’t needed because everybody respects everyone else’s needs … and is aware of those needs … and is willing to honor others’ needs because those others, in turn, will honor their needs. To make something like the environment my own children experienced at the Really Excellent Preschool all those years ago, but for all ages and stages of learners. To help to build a world where fixed labels and categories are unnecessary because the default assumption is that everybody will be able to reach his/her full capacity … and because we the teachers, from where we sit, have no idea what anybody’s full capacity actually is. To build a world where always grouping by birthdate for learning seems as ridiculous as grouping by height or grouping by hair length or grouping by eye color. To help communities that got written off amaze and stun the folks who wrote them off (and, quite possibly, amaze and stun themselves in the process) by what they can demonstrably do and achieve.
The great thing I realized this weekend, as I read the rest of Simon Sinek’s book Start With Why and re-read Guy Kawasaki’s remarkable book Enchantment, is that in a distributed environment, you don’t have to build it yourself the way a hierarchical model requires. With a clear sense of WHY, a general sense of WHAT, and some ideas about HOW, you go and find others who share the WHY, and you work together as a joyful community to refine the WHAT, the HOW, and the WHY. By building WHAT, WHY, and HOW together, you actually answer the logistical, tactical questions of who, when, and where.
It’s only scary because it’s so different from the hierarchical model we’ve known and (reluctantly) embraced for so long.
I’m not sure exactly what the next steps will look like, but I now have a much clearer sense than I did even a few hours ago. When the WHY is sufficiently clear, I’ll be able to find the rest of the team WHO will help with all those other questions.
I wonder exactly who and where they are, and I wonder what other amazing discoveries await in the days to come!