Blog Catalytic Conversations

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I’m being serenaded by the sounds of my oldest son’s video game, soothed by the sight of my daughter playing on the swing set outside, and amused by the antics of my youngest. You see I’m home after making my usual August tour of education institutions, speaking at convocations, opening staff development weeks, and leadership workshops. I’ve been to K-12 districts, community colleges, and universities on this go around, jumping from Tulsa to Tampa, from Illinois to Indiana. I’ve also visited more Walgreens and CVS drug stores in more states than I care to remember. No toothpaste allowed in carry-on bags, remember. Because I’m finally home after thousands of miles of travel, this entry won’t be that long. But, I do want to share a quick observation about a common cluster of questions that came up in working with faculty across K-20, and from whom they came. In my town meetings and Q&A sessions, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the challenges and opportunities facing the world of education. Teachers, reachers, and leaders alike seemed eager to rise to the challenge of swirling students, global social networks, and rising insight initiatives. There is an almost overwhelming acceptance building surrounding the fundamental overhaul our education system is undergoing, and deep interest the shape it might take. What was unique, however, was the reaction from cohorts that usually remain either quiet or contentious. During these dynamic dialogs, there is almost always a contingent of faculty and staff that wait patiently as we “consultants” do our thing. Some are polite and quiet, just waiting for it to be over; while others like to throw bombs in the forms of observations and/or questions just to see how you might react. It’s just part of the process. However, this time, there seemed to be something different going on. I got the sense that many of the folks that often fall in these camps were engaging in a different way. They were asking hard and heartfelt questions. Questions they might not usually ask. Things like: “Okay, I’m interested in these technology tools; but how am I supposed to find the time to take try these new things? I’m already buried under paper grading and advising. I’m serious, if I was going to try one thing, what would it be?” “How am I supposed to support a ‘culture of evidence’ when our technology systems won’t even spit out a clue . . . much less evidence? I really do want to know if we’re making a difference, but I don’t control the information I get. How can I change that?” And there was a different tone. I didn’t get the sense that these where excuses for not changing in the forms of questions—which is often the case. There was a somber seriousness in these sentiments. These were veterans who really wanted to know what the risk/reward ratio would be, what the right strategies might look like. I tried to be as responsive as possible. I noted the reality that there was real work to be done to get our systems in line to enable the “front lines” to meet rising student expectations. But I also noted, the great news that when it comes to ideas for where to start, it’s often nice to be “the second mouse to the cheese.” And if you’re willing to honestly look, there are models all around. We just have to be open to trying, to putting our proverbial toe in water. This little observation about the questions and questioners could easily be an artifact of these August engagements. However, it just may be that we’re approaching a critical mass. Maybe we are reaching the Tipping Point in the coming overhaul of our educational system. Maybe the policy and practitioner worlds are finally beginning to align around fundamental ideas of access, affordability, quality, and engagement. Maybe were on the verge of an exciting decade of dramatic change, where even the most caustic cynic will carry the transformation banner. Or, maybe, listening to my oldest son, watching my playful daughter, and laughing at my littlest boy is making me just a little too hopeful. Maybe.
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