Saturday, November 22, 2008

Orders of Change

I was thinking about orders of change yesterday while I was stuck in a traffic jam during the middle of the day. I escaped to a side street by nudging my car across three lanes of stopped traffic to make a right turn. I was somewhat pleased with my relatively nimble escape. Three other cars, in front of me, had also taken the road less travelled. They all turned left at the first traffic light to return to their intended direction. But I cleverly proceeded to the next traffic light. That’s when I started thinking about orders of change. To wit:

Experiencing the problem -- Stuck in traffic
First order of change -- Get off the thoroughfare to the side street
Second order of change -- Take the second alternate route

But then it occurred to me that I hadn’t made any change at all. I got out of the traffic jam, but I didn’t do anything to help alleviate the problem of congested auto traffic. Talk about quick fixes. Do I ride public transit frequently? Do I push for more video conference meetings? Do I join a monastic order?

Education leaders like to talk about second (and third) order change. Meanwhile, we quietly return to tracking, and we test all kids more. We jump from Reading First to RTI. We work in PLCs. We make decisions based on data (whatever that means). We get document cameras for every classroom. Maybe some of these are first order change, although they mainly feel like taking the sidestreets to me.

What would second order change look like? Focusing our learning standards on mastery of skills rather remembering and comprehending content? Ensuring that every learning experience is premised on authentic student engagement? Insisting on rigor rather than coverage?

To create powerful learning that prepares kids (and adults) for their future, we need to rethink the entire framework and culture of school. That is going to be difficult even to conceive, much less to do. But it’s the only way.

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