Radically Different

I read a really interesting post yesterday titled Redefine “Better” by Will Richardson.  The quote above was mentioned in that post along with Richardson’s thoughts about why we don’t need “better” in schools and what we do need:

  • We don’t need better assessments; we need different assessments that help us understand students as learners and constructors of their own ongoing education instead of knowers of information and narrow skills.

  • We don’t need better teachers; we need different teachers who see their roles as master learners first and content guides or experts second.

  • We don’t need better schools; we need different schools that function as communities of inquiry and learning instead of delivery systems for a highly proscribed, traditional curriculum.

-Will Richardson

I read this and was intrigued but not surprised.  It’s why the bumper sticker on the back of my car doesn’t say “Make School Better” but “Make School Different” (Thanks, Phil Sharp – you can get yours here).  In my mind ‘better’ sounds like polishing what is already there and I would hope we are all getting to the point where we realize that the way the majority of school is structured hasn’t changed since school began.  We don’t need a polished up version of that, we need something different. 

I then read a post by a teacher.His son is heading off to the University of Colorado at Boulder. Titled The Times, They Are A Changin’ this post focused on the way in which ‘college’ was being introduced to freshman and their parents including an outline from the College of Arts and Sciences that explained the behaviors they were hoping to sharpen in their students over the course of their college career.  The list was impressive in that it was very much process oriented rather than driven by product.  Not a list of papers, tests, assignments to be mastered but a list of skills, attitudes and behaviors to be cultivated:

  • Develop critical thinking skills

  • Deliver effective oral and written communication

  • Hone research and organizational skills

  • Learn to look at multiple sides of an issue

  • Apply reasoning and logic

  • Make time to meet goals and complete projects successfully

  • Heighten self-confidence

  • Heighten self-understanding

  • Refine analytical skills

  • Acquire critical reflective reading skills

  • Improve numerical skills

  • Work productively and in teams

  • Cultivate sensitivity to individual and cultural differences

From a presentation by Peter J. Freitag

So I then went back to the Harvard Business Review article Declare Your Radicalness  which, in addition to outlining why we need to do so, gives four pointers on how this might look in a manifesto for creating something different:

Seek The Roots

This requires a paradigm shift – radically different thinking that challenges traditional ideas.  Look at how school has been “done” and then do something completely different. Not a little something. A BIG SOMETHING. This may ruffle some feathers and have people raising their eyebrows – great!  You are clearly on the right track! Keep going! When we started The Passion Project at school, the idea of our fifth graders taking the morning to do some running training, get aviation lessons or help out at a Bird Sanctuary caused many a raised eyebrow – school outside of school?  By the end of The Passion Project, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do – to utilize the community in the education of a child. Sometimes what was thought ‘radical’ really isn’t that bad.

Reorient The Branches

Once you have your radical new ideas, how are you going to bring them to life? I thought about this as I was planning on how to start the coming school year with my new fifth graders.  The night before I was to meet with them on their last day as fourth graders, I began to draft the same old welcome letter that I have churned out for the past 16 years of teaching.  And then I stopped.  I was wanting them to know school would be different and yet a letter printed on yellow school bus paper was the radically different way to do that? Instead, I gave them all a QR code that linked them to my online letter embedded with warnings, assignments, and (optionally) requiring a video camera for completion. I didn’t have to tell them school was going to be different – they figured that out themselves.

Reimagine Fruition

What is the point of your new idea? And how will you sell it to the massess? And how are you making sure that it is just not the same old thing, gussied up?  I do wonder about that last one.  I like my warning letter to my fifth graders.  I just have to make sure that what follows isn’t a slightly polished version of everything we know about school, but something that really lives up to the hype of being different. No pressure….

Seed The System

I love this one.  The article states that “for an idea to be radical in human terms, it’s got to seed a system, nurture a thriving jungle of human interaction”.  Nurture a thriving jungle of human interaction. I couldn’t think of a better byline for a school if I tried!  Welcome to our school – a thriving jungle of human interaction.

So, where to from here?

Here is my plan for being a radical teacher:

  1. Buy the bumper sticker.  If it is on your car people will see it.  If they see it, they will associate it with you.  They will then start to expect it and you need to deliver!
  2. Read Stop Stealing Dreams. It will fire you up and will also give you background on how school was structured so you know how to make it different.
  3. Try something different – and expect for not everyone to like it.
  4. Explain why you are doing what you are doing – you are a professional! Share your why with the parents of the kids you teach and watch them climb on board.
  5. Do something that scares you a little, everyday.
  6. Start from within your own classroom – not everyone is on the same path of radicalness as you are!
  7. Exceed expectations. 
  8. Outsmart or…
  9. Care MORE

Our goal?  To Make School Different. 

Stand out or fit in.

Not all the time, and never at the same time, but it’s always a choice.

Those that choose to fit in should expect to avoid criticism (and be ignored). Those that stand out should expect neither.

~Seth Godin