Thursday, December 27, 2007

Process Re-Design, Part I

I had a great Christmas. I realized a few things, saw my son explode with joy over the least likely gift, spent some quiet time with my wife, and had one of the most meaningful and perfectly timed conversations with my uncle.

Everyone should have an Uncle Bill like mine. He was an executive for various corporations for over 30 years, specializing in systems, which, during his time, meant that he was in charge of initiating change in process design for production and data analysis. He was the guy who brought computers to your parent's or grandparent's office and redesigned their jobs.

On Christmas day, after everyone had left the house, we sat down while my daughter snored on my chest, and we talked about change, and why it doesn't make great bedfellows with workplace harmony. Just some light holiday banter, right?

That conversation, coupled with what I've been reading lately have pointed me towards some new ideas, ideas that I am going to use the next few days of quiet time to figure out.

Last week, Barry Bachenheimer, a fellow New Jerseyan, came to some realizations after thinking about professional development in his district. His aptly titled post, "Everything You Know is Wrong," expressed a desire that we are going about helping our students and teachers in the wrong way if we offer them traditional methods to learn and grow. If you have given a workshop lately, what was expected of you by your audience? What did you deliver? For me, I have tried to move away from "sit and get," and more towards "here is what you can do, here is the way to get started." Lowered attendance and more requests for "specific activities we can take with us" have given me pause about the state of where we are professionally.

Barry advocates an idea, and I will gladly catch that grenade and chuck it farther:

For many teachers who are late adapters of technology and whom it is a struggle to get them to use digital tools to foster these ideas, we shouldn't bother. I would argue it might be more important for them to effectively develop critical thinking, cooperative learning, and analysis skills for their students with paper and chalk rather than do it marginally with a SMART Board and a laptop.

Uncle Bill and I spoke about where your change comes from, who you target and who you tacitly neglect in the interest of the greater good. In an era where we are so focused on time, do we have it to spend on those that are not willing to accept change? I am more inclined to agree with Clay Burell, in his comment on Barry's post:
When I look back, I don't see much to be proud of in education over the last decades. But maybe that's just my own student experience speaking.

My problem is, I don't see change happening quickly either. I don't like the view behind or ahead.
Where was the engagement in my education? Identifying with Clay's student experience, the engagement came when I was with a teacher who cared about their craft to push boundaries and ask me to think originally, as scary as that was at the time. Do educators who don't push themselves to grow professionally, at least a little, have that ability to reach students?

While we sat and talked about resistance to change and how my role will be defined, Uncle Bill gave me this advice: "Your job is to make it better for those who are yet to be in your charge, not to make it acceptable for those currently in your charge."

As believers in educational change, who are we working for? The students and teachers of today, or the students and teachers of tomorrow?

Image credit: "[re]design," from Kate_A's photostream

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Barry Bachenheimer said...


Good questions. Wish I were there to chat with you and your uncle.

As far as what to be proud of in education, I think there is a lot. We still live in a democracy with elected leaders, freedoms, travel privledges, (and besides the occasional out of control parent at a hocket game or road rage incident) a civil society. I think the cause of that is school. I think people read the news, watch media, and want to know more as a result of parenting, natural curiousity, and school.

I went to high school in the mid-1980's. I barely used computers. (I did some logo on old Apple IIs) However, I can think of a few teachers (Maybe 4 out of the 30 or so that I had) who inspired me, made me think, and instilled a love of what they loved. It had nothing to do with technology, but their passion for what they taught, authentic learning, and most importantly, pushing me to do something that I wouldn;t necessarily done on my own at that age.

I see that as one of the purposes of school that can;t be accomplished online or by yourself: doing things that at age 15 that I would never do on my own, but had some benefit as an adult. Examples: reading Chaucer, learning about mitochondria, perfecting a golf swing, working with special needs kids, studying Melville, or analyzing art.

I think part of the continual conversation will be if any of those skills from 20+ years ago have any bearing today, and if they don't, what should we be "pushing" kids to do?

Happy New Year!


Michael McVey said...

Thank you for the kind words about my LeaderTalk post today (Swimming into Change). Having uprooted the whole family and moved 2,000 miles back as close to Canada as they dared go, you might say every day I am living deep and profound change. Every slight success and degree of added comfort with my new life makes me feel more alive and more animated.

Enjoy the kids while they are small. My own is verging on teenager-hood and I'm strapped in for that wild ride. :-)

Michael McVey

Patrick Higgins said...


In light of the news from Pakistan, thinking about the country we live gives us a lot of reasons to be thankful for here, and proud to have helped build through our role in education.

Those experiences you mention--the things you would not have done on your own--were very similar to my own. The authentic learning situations I was placed in were the result of teachers who truly loved their subject matter enough to teach it in a Catholic school for much less than they could have made elsewhere.

The skills we learned in those environments have brought us, in some way, to where we are now. As for their relevance in twenty years, I think any type of critical and expansive thinking will serve us right.

Happy New Year to you and yours as well.

Kim Cofino said...

I struggle with this myself - the tools do not make the teacher, yet how often are we investing in shiny new toys only to have the teaching (and the thinking) remain exactly the same? I guess it's easier to develop a "visible" solution (like new technology) than it is to try to "teach an old dog new tricks."

Your post reminds me of one of Alan November's comments at the Learning 2.0 Conference in Shanghai last September:

He was telling the story of how Plato (I think) wanted to push the education system forward. After trying unsuccessfully to implement change, he finally realized that the only way he could really change the system was to wait for everyone else to die because the only hope for a new way forward was with the younger generation....

Patrick Higgins said...


I enjoyed the Plato story, and I often think of things that way when I get lip-serviced by teachers who do not want to push themselves to shift their practices.

We've been looking at new toys for the past few days here, and that thought has crept into my mind: what good is this if the teaching doesn't change? New technology will be obsolete so quickly now, that the teaching behind it and the content itself has to be what sells the the students on participating in it.