Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Recipe for Being Disruptive in Education by Questioning Everything

"What today's disruptive world requires are everyday Gallileos, who ask their own versions of: What if our assumptions are wrong? How would that change how we think and what we do?" Bill Jensen, Disrupt! Think Epic. Be Epic
 "We are in the midst of a massively disruptive era, where most every system or rule for how we do things has been, and will continue to be, up for grabs," writes Bill Jensen in his book Disrupt! Think Epic. Be Epic. This same era is bringing massive disruptions to they way we do public schools too. According to Jensen, in this constantly disruptive age we live in, we have three choices basically:

  • We can be extremely proactive. This means we ask the questions no one else is asking or willing to ask. These are the inventors and entrepreneurs who will be the causes of the next wave of what Jensen calls "innovative disruptions."
  • We can be mainstream proactive. People who do this actively question most every "system, structure, and rule" placed before them. They choose the ones they will ignore. According to Jensen, they work around or change their lives according to these that they ignore.
  • We can be reactive. These are the people who accept most everything handed to them. According to Jensen, they "hold on for dear life, waiting for the personal disruptions to subside."
As an institution, I can't help but wonder whether the education bureaucracy values those who are reactive rather than those who are extremely proactive when it comes to disruption or anything else. In 24 years of education, I have learned that the education bureaucracy does not like individuals who ask questions or individuals who disagree with "the program." Jensen uses the analogy of Galileo, who questioned the current geocentric system, but paid dearly for it. His questioning of current beliefs cost him his freedom. There's something in bureaucratic institutions like public education that abhors questions and that moves to stifle them.

But according to Jensen, if we really want to be ahead of the disruptions, then questioning we must do. He suggests that this questioning begins with ourselves. "In a world of constant disruption," he writes, "if you can't examine yourself on a regular basis and come to radically new conclusions about your role and what value you add and your strengths and weaknesses, it will be extremely difficult for you to examine all the status quo rules and structures that surround you." We must engage in this constant self-examination to be proactive in a disruptive world. We must maintain a "healthy dissatisfaction with the status quo" if we are going to be proactively disruptive as well. We must ask tough questions.

In today's world, with all the education "reforms" swirling about us, there is ample opportunity to ask tough questions. We can't accept every new set of standards, new technology implementation plan, or new instructional fad without question. I can't help but wonder that perhaps our education system got into its current state because of a fundamental unwillingness to ask tough questions. What we need to do as 21st century educators and school leaders is to "Question Everything" as Jensen calls it. Nothing is immune and nothing is off-limits for questions. According to Jensen, the following are more true today than ever:
  • "Solutions to today's most wicked problems and biggest opportunities will come from asking the questions no one else is asking."
  • "You can only ask the questions worthy of pursuing if you're willing to also question your own deeply held assumptions."
  • "Everything is up for grabs. Respect the people involved...Question everything else."
We can only tackle our most challenging problems in education right now by asking the questions no one else is asking. For example, the questioning of the effectiveness of the Common Core Standards, our obsession with standardized testing, and many of the other reforms on the table is not heresy. It is as it should be. These reforms need to continually be subjected to hard and continual questioning. Too often, the education bureaucracy has chased these kinds of policies, only to find out years later, they did not work as intended, because no one continually asked the tough questions.

We live in a disruptive age in education, and the bureaucracy that surrounds us as educators is working in overtime to try stifle questioning and examination. That is one thing our education system has done extremely well. But, if our public system of education is to survive, it must embrace those asking the tough questions rather than dismissing them. It must realize that no questions are off-limits. 

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