Thursday, December 12, 2013

Do We Have Time To Be Cautious?

The improvised carbon dioxide scrubber aboard Apollo 13.
This morning, I stumbled across a very compelling video, called "Future Learning - A Short Documentary" (embedded at the bottom of this post).  Every couple of weeks, I find myself needing to see a clip like this to get re-calibrated and to take me 'outside of my school' in terms of my own thinking.

Within this quick movie, there were a number of snippets that resonated with me.  One of the most poignant bits was from Ntiedo Etuk, CEO at DimensionU, who described our current education system as having a "prove it before we put it out there" mentality in terms of what works or what does not in schools for kids.   This really made me think.  In a time when we are asking people to innovate, discover problems, and find divergent and sustainable solutions, I agree that often times we take on an arm-chair quarterback, "prove it to me, THEN (maybe) I will believe it" approach to new ideas.

I am guilty of this as well:  I have always felt that part of my position is to (as I call it) "see around corners" in terms of anticipating possible problems prior to their occurring.  As a result, there are times when I am more tentative and cautious than perhaps I should be when it comes to innovative solutions to issues that we might have in our school.  Yet each of has and will continue to encounter problems to which we don't have the solution.  Furthermore, the answer may just be something that is something so distal to our comfort zone it is nearly inconceivable for us to imagine.

Last Thursday evening, I watched the movie Apollo 13 for the first time.  Although I am a movie buff, this was one that I had simply missed for all of these years.  What a great film, and of course, one of the most gripping scenes in the movie was when the crew aboard Apollo was in danger of dying from toxic levels of carbon dioxide.  With only a very short period of time and three lives hanging in the balance, a group of engineers at NASA had to find a way to create a square-shaped carbon dioxide scrubber fit into a round hole using only the materials the astronauts could access on a space ship.  There were no other options.

While not nearly as dire but perhaps easier to relate to, the evening following my screening of Apollo 13, I was travelling with my family by car to Penticton.  Along the way about an hour into our journey, the engine light in our car lit up and the vehicle started to hesitate.  As luck would have it, this happened at 4:45PM on a Friday, just the perfect time for any tired and hard-working mechanic who was ready to go home to their family on the weekend.  Groan.  Two hungry kids, a car full of stuff, and my wife and I limping the car to the nearest mechanic;  we were in full problem-solving mode.

Of course these examples were very different in terms of the magnitude of the stakes (life or death versus the family being on time for dinner with friends), but in each of these situations the participants had an urgent situation where there was an immediate need to generate ideas that could lead to a solution.  Some of the ideas might be 'way out there' and zany, but the situation dictated that (to quote the movie) 'failure was not an option'. The more ideas, the better, and right now is not soon enough.

In Apollo 13, they gathered all the material that would be available to the astronauts on the space shuttle, bounced ideas all over the place, and finally came up with a solution that worked.  It had to work.  In 'Birk 13', we quickly thought of who we might need to call, where we might need to stay, which of the things in our car were essential and not-so-essential to take with us, and what we would do should we not make it to the automotive shop.  We brainstormed ideas, thought about who could help us best, made a couple of crazy suggestions, and landed on a solution--just like anyone would.  We problem-solved, and in the end it all worked out.  It had to work out.

Bearing these examples in mind, when I reflect upon why we tend to be more of cautious when it comes to innovation, or worse, be the arm-chair innovator that sits back and fires shots at the innovation balloons that pass by, I think the answer might be quite simple.  We are cautious and critical when we have TIME to be cautious and critical.  When time is of the essence and when the situation is urgent, we tend to welcome any and all ideas en route to a solution.

In my own position, I want to make the best decisions that I possibly can for our school given the information that I have available to me at any given time.  However, if I want to model and create and environment that doesn't require us to "prove it before we put it out there", I have to try and balance 'making the best decision with the given information' with an urgency to look at things in new ways because I may not HAVE all of the given information from down the road.  There are times when I have to compress timelines, get everyone together, ask the shortest question possible, and trust the idea that we will solve the problem.  We have to solve the problem.

And taking that to a macro level, in education, do we have time to be cautious?  Or is it time for us to implement some radically different approaches the learner, the curriculum, the tasks that we ask children to do, and all of the people that educate our young people?

Take 12 minutes and watch this video.  I am betting it will challenge your thinking much like it challenges mine. And I am thinking that we don't have time.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Pal,

    First, great bit -- and you're right: Just because we aren't facing life and death circumstances in education doesn't mean that we can't move forward with change. Our stakeholders -- particularly the kids in our classrooms -- definitely aren't going to stand patiently by while we think through new models of education.

    But more importantly, I hope you are well and happy! Sending you only the warmest of holiday wishes!

    Rock on,


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