Alright, we trust that you’ve had a week of Spring Break relaxation. You’re ready for this; in last week’s blog we wrote:
Times have changed. In fact, public schools are now in second-order change, which creates a new way of seeing our work and demands new learning through new systems (see Robert Marzano’s Two Types of Change for schools; it’s not light reading, but if you’re an educator, knowing the demands of second-order change might help you understand the intensity of our current climate and why it’s so scary and exhausting). Also know that second-order change demands creativity and deep problem-solving, processes that require stepping away from work and reflecting on how to best proceed.
Not sure what second-order change is? Answer the following questions with a simple yes or no. Keep the new national learning standards in mind (if you’re into a challenge, you can also consider the new grading practices, new assessments, new teacher evaluations, and increasingly rigorous graduation requirements for seniors). But we think considering the Common Core Standards poses enough challenge:
- Is the new work a logical and incremental extension of teachers’ and administrators’ existing work?
- Will it take minimal effort to change our teaching practices to carry out the new standards?
- Can the innovations happen with the knowledge and skills that exist among faculty and administrators?
- Is there common agreement that the innovation is necessary?
Educator Robert Marzano designed these questions to help us understand the severity of change. If the change or innovation is considered a break with the past, conflicts with present norms and values, requires new knowledge and skills, requires new resources, and may be resisted because not everyone understands the innovation as necessary, then we’re in second-order change. Sound familiar to anyone associated with public schools and with recent newspaper headlines? We think it’s very clear: public schools are facing drastic changes with very little time and resources to respond to the changes. On the other hand, if your answers are “yes” to at least three of the above questions, you’re lucky–you’re facing first-order change and are likely puzzled by the angst your colleagues are currently gnashing their teeth against.
We’re not arguing against the innovations of the Common Core. The need for the standards came from the gap between college admissions and college readiness, including complaints from employers that high school graduates don’t have the knowledge and skills to succeed in work. Currently, the U.S. has the highest college drop-out rate in the world because many students are under-prepared for college coursework. The new standards answer the growing gap between high school graduate readiness versus college and career readiness. We think the new standards are the right answer at the right time.
However, we think it’s imperative to understand drastic change, however important and right it is, demands creativity and deep problem-solving. Author Robert Fritz explains that it’s tempting to treat all change the same, as if educators were “well-trained mice in a maze.” However, drastic change requires abandoning formulaic problem solving. Fritz writes, “From the orientation of the creative, the only rule of thumb about process is not to have a rule of thumb” (The Path of Least Resistance, 1984). But don’t let that freak you out–that’s not where we’re going with this post. Fritz does have a process in mind, but it’s going to take courage.
In fact, we think it’s time for a pep talk from our favorite inspirational speaker, Edna Mode:
Yes, we are immersed in mind-boggling changes in our public schools, and it’s scary and overwhelming at times. Still, we need to remember that we’re creative, innovative teachers with amazing colleagues and resources. Teachers can help close the existing gap between high school readiness and college and career readiness. The new standards focus teachers on the right work at the right time to offer students real opportunities beyond high school.
Next week we’ll look closer at Robert Fritz’s work in paying attention to and nurturing our creative processes. Fritz makes it clear: creativity is a human concern; it belongs to all of us. We believe it’s essential to become aware of and to apply our creative processes to access the deep problem-solving that our times demand.
It’s a misstep to underestimate the changes we face and to simply apply our normal, rule of thumb solutions to them. Innovations fail time after time with that method (and we have the track record to prove it). Keep this proverb in mind: “A vision without a plan is just a dream. A plan without a vision is just drudgery. But a vision with a plan can change the world.” As teachers facing daunting change, our best option is our own creativity and innovation, and as we begin to trust our creative processes, we can begin to model that trust and courage for our students.