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Reflection, fear, and the status quo

It's been awhile since I've blogged. Turns out being Associate Superintendent of Iowa's 2nd largest school district is a bit time consuming. I'm loving my new job and the opportunities the district and community are giving me to transform education. I'm busy helping our community and district have deeper conversations about learning and what "school" needs to look like and be. As I hit my 100th day mark in this new job, I'm taking a bit of time to reflect on some of the things I've been thinking about and been presented with as of late. First, and this is somewhat of a 'derp' comment, it has become rather obvious to me that the professionals able to survive and thrive in these exciting and turbulent times have one gift or skill separating them from the pack. They are highly reflective - about their practice, about the system they're in, about their contributions to the problems and solutions, and about themselves as learners and hum
Recent posts

The Two Faces of Change

Watching the annual legislative session and the political posturing by the groups and people in power I'm constantly struck by something my doc chair said to me almost a decade ago now. "Trace, we are in an ideological war that's just as contentious as the one that birthed Newtonian science and the mechanical age. Make no mistake, the current Newtonian view of the world will not go down without a fight." He couldn't have been more right. A constant struggle for me is finding ways to assist people in bridging the gap between the old way of organizing and changing the world and the new. I find almost everyone I meet cognitively recognizes that things are different. They can use the words correctly but many struggle to recognize the implicit and cultural patterns they continue to apply to the problems we face. The beauty in all of this is that almost all are incredibly passionate and bright. It took me a decade after I was first exposed to this way of thinking a

Why Educators Need to Become Members of Their Local Entrepreneurial Community

I just returned from ThincIowa in Des Moines- a two day gathering of entrepreneurs and creatives who learned and connected TED-style. By day two I was hit with one of those revelations that send a shock through your system - a moment in time when disparate pieces of thoughts, information, and understandings converge. In short, if educators don't nurture and develop a new eco-system to allow new learning environments to arise, we will continue our frustrating (and I fear ultimately fruitless) struggle to create new systems and innovations inside old and worn-out organizational constructs. So, here's 2 initial thoughts: All great ideas start out as weird. In times of massive change and disruption doing the seemingly obvious and well-refined is likely to make little difference. I'm talking order-of-magnitude change here (10x better than we have now). Steve Case spoke this week about how AOL was an idea so far outside the realm of both conventional wisdom and the evidenc

You Can't Continuously Improve Your Way Into Something New

The Total Quality Movement and the notion of continuous improvement has made significant contributions to business, industry, and education. Continuous improvement enables organizations and individuals to maximize the potential of a given product, design, or desired outcome. But what happens when that product or design is maximized to the point of diminishing returns? What happens when the desired outcomes and needs change so dramatically that they call into question the very thing that has been the effort of continuous improvement? Those who continue to hang onto the notion that they can "continuously improve" themselves out of the mess their in find themselves continuously frustrated and increasingly obsolete. In short, when there are dramatic shifts in context and direction, continuous improvement becomes a feckless and expensive dead-end. But it doesn't have to. Combined with the notion of design thinking, continuous improvement can once again be called to action and

From "Consumer-Oriented" to "Producer-Oriented" Learning (and schools)

I'm excited about the future of education. The problems we face as a nation, state, and community are seemingly intractable and the decisions made by Newtonian government structures and processes seem to make things worse. Despite all of this, I believe in the American people and the leaders - education, community and business - who understand we must transform education to remain viable. As I continually search out easier, simpler, more direct ways of expressing what is meant by "tranforming schools" I've come across the concept of "producer-oriented" schooling and learning. I can't say exactly from where it came, although I know I am certainly not the originator. Perhaps it was in my renewed conversations with my mentor and friend, Al Rowe or perhaps it was a collection of ideas from multiple conversations and readings. As Steven Johnson says, "an idea is not a single thing. It is more like a swarm." Where Good Ideas Come From. The Natural Hi

Leadership in Times of Transformational Change

While my reading list continues to outgrow my ability to get them all read, I continue to find myself drawn back to Russell Ackoff. Yes, I know - I'm a social systems junkie. However, we are working on and in social systems and so I return to social systems design to better understand how to lead and influence the education system - my area of passion. I think a lot about leadership and what it means in an age of transformation -when it is no longer about reforming or improving our systems but changing their very essence. Perhaps it was this bias in my thinking that caused one of Ackoff's quotes to jump off the page: "Inspiration without implementation is provocation, not leadership. Implementation without inspiration is management or administration, not leadership. Therefore, leaders must be both creative, in order to inspire, and courageous, in order to induce implementation." (A Systemic View of Transformational Leadership). Inspiration: rather than persuade, dem

A Tipping Point in Our Patterns of Thought

Most of us have heard variations on Einstein's quote but I bet few have seen what he actually said/wrote and that is this: "Without changing our current patterns of thought we will not be able to solve the problems created with our current patterns of thought." As Russell Ackoff points out in a May, 2004 address, "Everyone I talk to agrees with this statement although almost nobody understands what it means." So what does it mean? Most educated people feel like they can solve problems and they would largely be correct. As Jamshid Gharajedaghi once told me, "Americans are the greatest problem solvers the world has ever seen - they can solve anything they are tasked with. The problem is this: the are among the worst at formulating the right set of problems!" As I've thought about this and observed people's behaviors over the past 7 or 8 years I believe both Jamshid and Russ are correct - most people don't really know what Einstein means and