Last week, I participated in our annual summer conference in beautiful Waterton Parks National Park. This event brings together senior administrators from 10 school divisions in southern Alberta as well as representatives from Alberta Education, CASS, ASBOA, ASBA and ASCA. It signals the beginning of the school year for us and provides an excellent opportunity to engage in thoughtful dialogue about education. This year’s format of open spaces and theme of “Designing to Engage” really highlighted the learning garnered from focused conversations. Over the course of three days, I was involved in numerous discussions around transformation.
I’ve written about transformation since I started blogging over a year ago. But, it was a sidebar conversation with a good friend and colleague from a neighbouring school division that prompted me to write this post. To paraphrase his comments, “Unless we begin to act now, we will continue having these same conversations for the next 10 years and nothing new will happen!” Change, evolution, and improvement are all words we use in the context of transformation and unfortunately they are not taken in as positive light as we would like. The bottom line however, is that no transformation will ever occur without ACTION! The saving grace is that most of our actions don’t have to be monumental in nature to be effective; they just have to occur.
As I prepare for my opening comments for our leaders on Tuesday and our entire staff on Wednesday, I want to ask what transformative actions we are going to engage in this year. Most school divisions have already made incremental changes in the last number of years but in general, educational change tends to lag because we try to hold on to the old while creating the new. It is difficult to innovate while walking in two worlds. This is well articulated in Clayton M. Christensen’s book, “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.” Part of the fear of letting go of the old is that it has generally served us well and in most cases has been effective. We are also suspect that the new “product” may likely be inferior at first. And finally, we are not sure if we or the general public are prepared to weather the implementation dip that is bound to occur.
With that in mind, I believe we need to create the mindset of building the airplane while we are in flight as illustrated by this short video. We’ve typically followed the mantra of “Ready! Aim! Fire!” Our current system of educational change continues to operate under that system. While we may be very ready for educational “reform”, we are stuck in the aiming phase trying to ensure that we get it perfect before we fire. And why wouldn’t we follow that 20th century method…we’ve all grown up and become accustomed to it. It is safe, requires little to no vulnerability and provides a great excuse to not move forward. Have you ever heard your inner voice say, “I’m just not ready to share this. Its just not quite right!” We can longer continue to stall in the aiming phase. We must begin to implement Michael Fullan’s strategy of “Ready! Fire! Aim!”. The firing piece is akin to the action required to start or forward further our transformation. The aiming part allows us to start to refine our actions through research and review. From the point of view of the video, the “firing” gets us in the air while the “aiming” ensures we build the right plane.
Building the plane while we are in the air requires us to be bold. We must be risk takers, willing to be creative and innovative. We must understand that failing will be a valuable part of the aiming process. We must be willing to look and listen, see and hear, watch and learn. Our bold actions will require well informed professional judgment and messy collaboration. It requires energy, enthusiasm and a passion for what could be not what is! It means that we must look inward and reflect on our current practices and our own attutudes with complete honesty. But most of all, boldness requires action! This year, begin building the airplane while you are in the air flying!