The crucial social divide today is between those who feel the core trends of the global, information-age economy as tailwinds at their backs and those who feel them as headwinds in their face.
Scott applies this observation to education:
We have a majority of schools and leaders and educators and policymakers for whom the rapid changes around us feel like strong headwinds, negative forces that continually buffet them in the face. Technology that expands access to others… An ever-shifting, complex, hyperconnected information landscape… The ability to learn whatever we want at any time, in any place, on any path, at any pace… Global economic competition and cooperation… These are all seen as dilemmas. As problems that must be managed and minimized. As destructive challenges to retreat from, often because of a deep longing for a nostalgic yesteryear that was simpler, easier, and allegedly ‘better.’
And then we have the minority of schools and leaders and educators and policymakers for whom the rapid changes around us feel like tailwinds at their back, propelling them forward into unique opportunities to rethink education and do better by kids. These are places that are diving into the constructive complexities and emerging with new beliefs and new mindsets and new practices. They are finding ways to enable deeper thinking and greater student agency and more authentic work – and utilizing digital technologies all along the way to help facilitate and enhance these new forms of learning and teaching.
I have often asked myself what exactly it is that determines whether one is a headwinder or a tailwinder? Scott's column resonated with me especially this week at work as we encountered some implementation hiccoughs in new initiatives that are designed to "facilitate and enhance ... new forms of learning and teaching." Any problem - difficult login processes, slow Internet speeds, incidents of student technology misuse - are rallying points for the headwinders. "I told you this stuff wouldn't work. You can count on paper and pencil and textbooks and lectures every time. The student devices are simply a distraction to real learning."
And there don't need to be many tailwinders raising their voices to make it seem that they represent the majority.
What I try to remember, and I hope Mr. Brooks and Dr McLeod also remember, is that as an officer on the boat, I may view the wind quite differently that the sailor on deck. Snug in the wheelhouse on the bridge, the winds may not seem as strong. Cutting into that storm to shorten the voyage seems the smart and brave thing to do. Yet to the deckhands who will be buffeted by rain and gusts that threaten to push them against a railing or even off the boat, the officer's courage may seem like foolishness.
I always try to remember that I am rarely the adult in school most directly impacted on a daily basis by the decisions I make, the initiatives I support, the vision I espouse. Even having that understanding, that empathy, is not enough. It is also a leader's duty to make the winds of change as manageable as possible without turning around and heading home. I try to ask myself have I:
- Clearly stated the "why" of any initiative? Is this simply change for the sake of change or is there a genuine need that this initiative will meet? Can I present evidence that the change is effective?
- Provided the adequate resources necessary for implementation? If there are insufficient funds for support, replacements, repairs, backups, training, etc. I don't want to even consider a new project. Johnson’s Antibiotic Law of Educational Change: If you can’t afford the whole cure, don’t even start it.
- Tried to control the pace of implementation? Has the program been tried in smaller numbers of classrooms with fewer teachers and students impacted? Can the project be rolled out in stages? I get a lot of heat from the "you can't leap the gorge in two bounds" gurus, but I have alway espoused building a bridge over the gorge rather than trying to jump the damn thing anyway.
- Tried to acknowledge the pain of change? Do I actually listen? Do I look for the good intent my resistors? Can I find ways to solve some of their problems without actually changing course? Do I visit buildings on a regular basis and talk to staff members? Do I recognize the need to morn when some things go away?
- Recognize when a change course or speed may be necessary? Are there adjustments in an initiative that will get the same results without quite so much angst and not be to prideful to make them?
One of my favorite definitions of leadership has always been that of coach Tom Landry who said that leadership is getting people to do what they don't want to do in order to accomplish what they want to accomplish. What haunts me is how we can help our teachers become more effective, serve all our children better, and make our communities stronger by seeing change as a tailwind - all while not letting anyone get swept overboard.