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BFTP: In praise of pragmatists

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past.  Original post March 27, 2007. I've been working on a talk I'll be giving at MACUL next month based on my Teacher's Technology Manifesto, wondering how my pragmatic side that is very evident in the talk will go down with the visionaries in attendance.

Easy to do is easy to say.

Earlier this week I gave the talk  "If You Think You Can Do a Thing." The presentation's focus is on assessing and changing teacher attitudes toward technology, arguing that attitude plays a major part in any change effort.  (I know, 'Well, duh!")

One of the points I try to make comes from Geoffrey Moore in his book, Inside the Tornado. He neatly divides people implementing new technologies into visionaries and the pragmatists, and suggests we need to work with each group differently. He writes:

Visionaries are intuitive

Pragmatists are analytic

Visionaries support revolution

 Pragmatists support evolution

Visionaries are contrarians

Pragmatists are conformists

Visionaries break away from pack

Pragmatists stay with herd

Visionaries follow their own dictates

Pragmatists consult with colleagues

Visionaries take risks

Pragmatists manage risks

Visionaries are motivated  by opportunities

Pragmatists are motivated by problems

Visionaries seek the possible

Pragmatists pursue the probable

After years of living in denial, I am coming out of the closet here. Yes, friends and family, I must come clean. I am a PRAGMATIST.  Perhaps I was once a visionary, but having worked with real people, contended with real technologies, and been employed by real schools for the past 30 years, I am now a full-fledged pragmatist.

pragmatist.jpgAnd instead of being ashamed, I am proud! We pragmatists should hold our heads high. Sure, it's exciting to hear those exciting pointy-heads pontificate about how things "really ought to be," but putting vision into practice is where we pragmatists shine - where the vision is practical, of course.  And when it actually makes sense and if others are doing it. Of course the chance of success must be pretty good. Oh, the change must be demonstrated in other schools to have actually improved kids or teachers lives.

I would argue that making something work in th real world on a broad scale takes as much or greater genius than thinking it up in the first place.

In a recent School Library Journal article, Will Richardson uses an innovative teacher as an example of how using tags within can facilitate the collaborative problem solving process. Visionary! Very cool! But when I demonstrated to a group of teachers this week, one excitedly raised her hand and asked, "Do you mean students could store their research paper bookmarks there so they keep them even after the tech director re-images the lab?" Pragmatic! Very cool! Bless her big practical heart.

Let's hold our heads high, fellow pragmatists. We're doing good things. It just takes us a little longer.


Oh, bonus:

"My education was dismal. I went to a series of schools for mentally disturbed teachers." Woody Allen.

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Reader Comments (4)

First of all, I will be at MACUL and look forward to hearing you there. I find Geoffrey Moore's characteristics a bit simplistic. Whenever we divide something into two camps I think this happens. It is very possible to be both visionary and pragmatic and often at the same time. I think that is how I would describe myself. Sometimes I am more one than another in a given situation.

For example visionaries can be analytic and consult with colleagues just as much as pragmatics. They can be motivated by both problems and opportunities (which is often just semantics or viewpoint for the same situations). Taking risks and managing risks is also mostly a matter of perspective for the same actions.

For example I teach in a PBL school that just opened this fall. We also use standards based grading. I think we do many things that might fall in a visionary approach. I am visionary in what I see possible for my school. I also am pragmatic because although I personally would like to eliminate testing and grading altogether I know that is beyond my power.

On the other hand when I look at education in general in this country I would be much more pragmatic about the chances of rapid changes that we are making. It is easier to be "visionary" on a small scale such as an individual classroom or school, but much harder to scale up the larger the organization.

I also think it is important that "visionaries" still are teaching. Those who are no longer in the classroom or working with students risk becoming pie in the sky types. This is one reason I admire some one like Doug Fisher for example who is implementing his ideas by still teaching (just to give one example). That does not mean that I think there is no role for those not still in the classroom, just that there is a danger that they should be aware of and should take means to study and be involved in actual classrooms.

February 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike Kaechele

"I would argue that making something work in the real world on a broad scale takes as much or greater genius than thinking it up in the first place."

Thank you for this simple yet powerful statement - I intend to store it away and remind myself of it in the future. I do not consider myself a genius, but I do believe that hard work and strong intent has made me and will continue to make me a good teacher.

February 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

You are my hero! Fellow pragmatists unite. It isn't that we aren't moving forward. It's just that we are moving slowly enough to minimize the desertion rate. Mind you, I could probably find second gear.

February 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGwen Martin

Hi Mike,

I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

We have a college in St. Paul with the motto "Creating Practical Visionaries." I've always kind of liked that. And yes, whenever we divide the world into two type, we are over simplifying. On most things people are on a sliding scale.

I also worry about the "pie in the sky" types. One reason I keep the day job in the public schools (although not in the classroom).

Say hello at MACUL. I'm looking forward to it.


Hi Kenn,

I suspect you (like me and most of us) have flashes of genius everyday. Don't discount them.


Hi Gwen,

I believe change does not have to be unkind - and in our hurry to make a difference, it often is.

There's a second gear?


February 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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