Saturday, April 26, 2014

If it ain't broke, don't fix it

I recently was in a meeting where persons keenly interested in education were discussing some of their ideas. I won't go into great detail about the context of the meeting, but some topics related to innovation in the classroom came into the conversation. One of the individuals, who by the way is highly educated, made comments that challenged some of the innovations being promoted in education. In more eloquent words than this, the individual clearly communicated, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The speaker then went on to explain that his "traditional" education served him quite well, and if it was good enough for him, it would certainly serve his own children quite well.

Anyone who has served in education for any length of time has heard comments like the ones I've shared, often from parents or other stakeholders responding to something new or different the school might be trying. I want to to examine some of the underlying assumptions of this line of thinking. First of all, there is one way I can find immediate common ground with this idea. I don't believe education is broken, at least not from what I am able to see daily in my school and schools in my area. I think there are many dedicated educators doing wonderful work. But that's where my agreement ends.

Even though schools are not the failures often portrayed in the media, and even though we have amazing teachers doing amazing work, we must continue to change. In fact, I would argue we need to accelerate change. Our world is changing faster than ever before. Just one example--14.7 new words are added to the English language every day. Our language is a reflection of the world changing around us. The graph shown reveals just how much our language has changed in the past 60 years or so.

But even in the face of incredible evidence that everything around us is changing, we still have many who resist change. Unfortunately, teachers, principals, and other educators are sometimes among the change resistant. I think that's often due to the fact they feel change is something that has been done to them, that they have not been included as a voice in the change process. Too much of what teachers have been asked to change has been pushed upon them without an opportunity to be truly innovative and forward thinking in a way that promotes ownership of the new practices.

So I came across this photo on Twitter, and it made me very curious about who said it.

The quote is from Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. She was an early computer scientist and according to my reading should probably be recognized as much in the field of computer science as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. I must admit I'd never heard of her. But my reading has revealed she was an extraordinary thinker and innovator.

Since we know as educators we are preparing students for today and for the future, we must not get caught in status quo thinking. Instead we must adapt, innovate, and change to meet the needs of students. Admiral Hopper has inspired me to continue to lead change in my school and when necessary to break with tradition and comfort. To help others find the courage and inspiration to try new ideas, I must give them the support and freedom to make it happen. There are many reasons why change is difficult and not every change will be successful. But we must press on and examine everything we do to make sure it is best meeting the needs of students.

CBS did a piece on Admiral Hopper. I would encourage you to watch it.

Grace Hopper: She taught computers to talk

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