“Social science studies show people often feel the disruption or mess is getting in the way of their ability to complete the task, while in reality, their discomfort is actually helping them reach higher.” Tim Harford
It is a time of great opportunity and challenge for schools. In many schools, leaders are embracing the need to rethink all aspects of education in an effort to equip students for the world they live in. In our middle school, we are in a process of disrupting education. As I have documented a bit on this blog, in recent years, we have radically rebuilt our assessment system, implemented a 1:1 laptop program, adopted Google Apps For Education, built a Makerspace, and, next year, we will launch a new block schedule that has a daily Personal Learning block for all students, coupled with a stronger commitment to the Arts, Creativity and Design. Each change has begun with intensive reading: books, blogs, and academic articles, followed by critical questioning of our current practices. We articulate where we want to go, and then engage in the complex process of getting there. We invite all faculty voices into the conversation and encourage teachers to take the lead on new ideas.
This process, like any learning we would want for our students, is messy, iterative and complex. We are often required to challenge deeply-held practices, and reimagine traditionally successful ways of doing things. Sometimes the obstacles seem insurmountable. Occasionally it appears as if we will need to compromise student needs for contextual, cultural or systemic realities. Now and again conversations become heated. Somehow, we manage to find solutions we hadn’t previously envisioned as possible, because of dogged determination. Harford is spot on when he talks about the discomfort aspect of disruption, and sometimes it can feel downright painful.
There is a school of thought that suggests that professional collaboration should be carefully structured and abide by certain conventions. Truth be told, however, in the intensity of these messy conversations, such considerations must take a back seat to the centrality of doing what’s best for students. This does not mean that our conversations are not respectful, but we prefer the dissonance of challenging conversations to the sometimes contrived collegiality of being nice to each other. We share candid opinions of one another’s ideas, we interrupt each other, we freely offer our perspectives. Attempting to adhere to a list of conversational rules, would actually inhibit our conversations. If we consume energy monitoring the ways we interact, we sacrifice the authenticity of that collaboration. As we try to avoid making each other uncomfortable, we miss the discomfort of reaching our highest level of work.
There are no norms for disruption. The messiness, the discomfort, that’s where breakthrough happens.