It’s Time to Explore New Ways of Doing Things
“We are now in turbulent, “stormy” times. If we try to hunker down and play it safe, we are going to be destroyed. These are the times that demand bold, innovative action. We have to find new and better ways to serve our customers [students], ways we never even imagined existed.”
“The challenge is to drag ourselves out of our nice comfortable little boxes that we know so well and explore new routes, new ways of looking at everything, new ways of doing things. It feels safe being in that cozy little box we know so well, but it is dangerous.”
“...the individual or the company [school/school district] in the most danger is the one that doesn’t change, the one that tries to “play it safe” by staying in the harbor it knows so well.”
Innovation in Education
When the above quote is read in the context of K-12 education in 2018 and with just two clarifying terms in brackets, this quote appears to be a call to action to move away from the status quo at a more rapid pace and determine more innovative ways to meet the needs of today’s learners. At the end of this post, I will reveal the actual source, date and context of the quote.
K-12 education is in the midst of a wave of changes. Innovation is now the buzzword as schools are considering and trying new ways to become more innovative. But, what does innovative really mean? In North Dakota, Senate Bill 2186 was passed in 2017 to encourage local districts to create an innovative education program. Grand Forks Public Schools then created an Innovations Committee, including students, to reimagine how learning could be even better for our students.
Other than some pockets, K-12 education is an institution that is deeply entrenched in a teacher-centered culture. Within the teacher-centered culture, pockets of innovative and learner-centered practices are taking place. But, system-wide shifts towards a more innovative culture have been elusive. So how does a greater shift occur to reimagine schools that work better for our students and their future?
A Ship in Harbor Is Safe, but That Is Not What Ships Are Built For
“A ship in the harbor is not always safe. And besides, that really isn’t what ships are built for. They were built to discover new trade routes, new worlds. They were built to be used. And besides, it’s a whole lot more exciting and more fun sailing them on the open sea than just sitting them on a little harbor. And what’s life about anyhow, if not to venture forth and expand our horizons?”
The students on the GFPS Innovations Committee have provided thoughtful insight for a more innovative educational experience. As students lament on the current system, phrases such as “get through,” “play school,” and “knowing what to do to get the grade” should be acted on immediately. Our students know what safe is all about. They are more interested in relevant and active learning experiences. K-12 education has played it safe for too long, so it’s time to move the ship out of the harbor and navigate it to new routes and worlds of student empowerment.
Navigating the Ship
How do we get there? Where is there? According to Will Richardson, leadership is imperative. “It’s the difference between leadership and management. Management is making sure the ship runs smoothly and we don’t get into any big trouble or head for the the rocks. Leadership really is saying we have to keep the ship moving. We have to constantly navigate. We have to constantly try to figure out what a better path is or what a better course is for whatever destination we are trying to get to. The work of leadership is to keep redefining the destination. That requires a learning culture and not just a teaching culture.” (Modern Learners Podcast #39 – Using Adaptive Change Methods to Revolutionize Education)
But it is not just the school leader that is responsible for the course and destination to reimagine more innovative learning opportunities for our students. Teachers, staff, and students should all be empowered to be navigators on this journey as well; to find and create better and more innovative routes. We are all responsible for the innovative culture we create in our classrooms, in our schools and within our district.
It’s Time to Leave the Harbor
Reimagining education means leaving the harbor, charting a new course, and navigating as a team to a new destination. Let’s discover new routes, new worlds and new opportunities for our students to explore. For far too long, education has been about safety; keeping our students in the “harbor” where it is safe and making our students all fit into a very similar box. While at the same time, our students are asking for more agency in their education. Let’s create the conditions necessary to allow our students to leave the harbor, with our navigational guidance, to chart their own course. As education is reimagined, let’s find ways to allow our students to discover new routes and worlds which more appropriately prepares them for their future. Let’s discover and be open to new ways for education to be a joyful adventure for all students.
[John A Shedd, an author and professor, first coined the quote “A ship in the harbor…” in 1928, in his book Salt from My Attic. In 1995, office supply corporation Quill CEO Jack Miller made a presentation to his management group. Miller laid out the vision and strategy through the year 2000, including doubling the size of the company. The quotes in this blog are taken from Jack Miller’s speech to his management team. Quill Corporation was acquired in 1998 by Staples, Inc. for approximately $685 million.]