Confusing Teaching with Learning - Reflections on Ackoff's position on education and how it influences my own.
"Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth learning can be taught." - Oscar Wilde. I think it is critically important that we remember this and, perhaps, it is time that we either redefine what "teacher" means to everyone or change the word we use to describe the greatest profession in the world. The issue, at least in part, is that traditional education - the education we've had for 100 plus years - focuses on teaching, not learning.
Virtually everyone can understand Wilde's quote - most of what we have learned, at least the really important stuff, was done in absence of teaching. Teaching, of course, as defined as it has traditionally been defined and known as - a transmitter of knowledge; a deliverer of content through curriculum and lesson plans and scope-and-sequence while standing in front of kids and prescribing specific work and then testing them for what they have retained.
However, important learning - the learning we value most - is done almost entirely absent of the above approach. I didn't learn how to be a husband, a parent, a friend, or a co-worker by taking a class and taking tests. So - as Ackoff says, "the objective of education is learning, not teaching." (Turning Learning Right Side Up pg. 5)
Only recently have we abandoned the classical view of teaching - that conducted by Socrates, Plato, and Jesus - people who had something to say important enough for others to want to listen. Socrates was not a compulsory teacher - he was one who was sought out by those who wanted to learn from him. Teaching today has been bastardized by an industrialized training megastructure designed to take the humanity, choice, and richness of learning and teaching out of the equation. No more.
It is important that we continue to relentlessly redefine what it is to "teach" and to create the educational systems - its functions, structures, and processes - that ensure that true teaching can and will occur.
Response to Jason Glass post - beginning of potential article on understanding Wicked Problems -Trace Pickering, February 13, 2011
Another meaningful post that widens dialogue rather than narrows it. While I am encouraged that over the past few years people are beginning to discuss problems as sets rather than independent. We (the collective “we” in educational leadership) are beginning to understand that the nature of problems themselves have changed – we now are faced with wicked problems. As Harvard Business Review’s Jim Camillus has noted, “A wicked problem has innumerable causes, is tough to describe, and doesn’t have a right answer. . . they are the opposite of hard but ordinary problems that can be solved in a finite period of time by applying standard techniques.”
Such emerging understanding is helping us all to begin to understand that problems must be dissolved by working on them as a set. Creating a list and working on them one-at-a-time is a standard technique that can’t deal with wicked problems. So. . . we must do as you articulated – continue to work to bring into focus the set of problems we collectively face and the undesired future that failure to address the problems might lead.
We then must work constantly to create a clear and compelling picture of our desired future – one that dissolves our set of problems and brings into being that which we want. Man creates his future by design so we must understand how and why our designs produce the results they do. For example, it certainly appears that our current educational design’s capabilities produce about 80% proficiency at their best. Our design, then, must change. To do this we need to have a clear picture of why and what it might look like.
Design and systems thinking posits that compromise is a lose/lose proposition – where neither “side” gets what they want and everyone settles for less. I challenge all of us as educational designers (leaders) to think bigger – one of the most potent principles of systems thinking is the idea of multi-dimensionality – “the ability to see complementary relations in opposing tendencies and to create feasible wholes with unfeasible parts.” – Gharajedaghi. Opposing tendencies not only coexist and interact, but also form a complementary relationship. In essence, this means that a design can be made that creates a 3rd direction.
This, I believe, is our challenge. Jason, you are spot on – if people on both sides of this “ideological war” are focused on making sure the other side loses, we will all lose. I believe that all but those on the very fringes share the same goals and desires for education but we tend to want to create dichotomies when we move to the “how.” How do we begin speaking the language of “AND” rather than “either/or”? [Our political system could take a lesson from this - smart, caring people enter a system that encourages them to take sides and they end up working harder to make their side win and the other lose without realizing that we all end up losing]. -Trace Pickering
Perhaps the Problem is Our Inability to Solve the Right Set of Problems
Dr. Trace Pickering. First authored: December 6, 2008
A recent reflection on my 20 year career in education and business caused me to understand what the “old veterans” had said to me in my first few enthusiastic years in the profession: “Just wait a few years, kid, this idea will go away, will be replaced by another, and be replaced again by the first idea – only with a shiny new name. Nothing substantial or long-lasting will change.” As a young educator I just couldn’t imagine this – after all, the “new” ideas were exciting, engaging, and led by passionate, intelligent people that I wanted to be like. But alas, the old wily veterans appear to be right.
Why, then, do these seemingly great ideas continue to be recycled with little lasting impact? The only conclusions I can draw are that these ideas are educationally sound and full of common-sense. The ideas contained in Outcomes-Based Education, cooperative learning, site-based decision-making, standards-based education, research-based instruction, curriculum mapping, inquiry-based learning, the seven intelligences, authentic assessment, assessment as learning, quality tools, data-not-guesswork, brain research, distributive leadership, first and second-order change theory, Schools that Learn (Senge), essential content, core curriculum, “rigor, relevance, and relationships,” and Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe) are but a few of the major efforts and ideas that have recycled through the educational discussion during my tenure.
The problem isn’t that these ideas and practices aren’t sound but that we are, in fact, horrendous problem formulators. Note I did not say problem solvers – for that Americans are among the best in the world. Renowned iconoclast, Russell Ackoff states it this way, “We fail more often not because we fail to solve the problems we face, but because we fail to face the right problems.” (Ackoff, cite). How else might we explain the on-going, reformulated, cyclical solutions presented to education as the “fix” for the last several decades? Is it because we don’t know how to implement? That all it needs is the right name and the right champion? That perhaps we have finally gotten rid of those teachers and administrators unwilling to change and to try great new stuff? I doubt it.
So perhaps it is time that we learn how to formulate and attack our highly inter-related sets of problems rather than waste more time re-packaging non-solutions over every 10 or 15 years. This paper proposes both a rationale for adjusting our efforts in this direction and an initial roadmap for beginning to both better understand the problems we face and to better implement solutions that address those problems.
Traditionally there have been three approaches to problem solving in our culture at-large, and in education in particular. We traditionally define problems in one of three ways:
1. As a deviation from a known, assumed, or standardized norm, 2. As a lack of resources – time, money, information; and, 3. By defining the problem in terms of the solution we already have.
These are well-known and, in today’s world, significantly flawed approaches to problem identification. We’ll examine each in turn.
Defining problems as deviations from a norm. In dealing with socio-cultural systems – unlike mechanical or biological systems – it is difficult, if not impossible (and one could argue not desirable) to determine a norm in such a system. Think about how difficult it is to define a “normal” family, organization, or person. Such approaches to problem solving helps to ensure that the existing order of things remains intact. When the problem is “children who are not normal” as defined by IQ, behavior, or any other identified standard we are able to justify and reinforce the problem as the person and not have to confront the idea that the existing organization and conduct of formal education and learning might be more of the problem. Such an approach continues to be widely used, despite the fact that it often is accompanied by a suspicion that the system itself is the problem. (Ghara 126). Such a method of problem-formulation also allows us to create solutions free of context. If most schools don’t prescribe a core curriculum based upon a common set of standards or norms, then, irregardless of the particular context of the school or community, the problem can easily be identified – it is a curriculum that sits outside the “norm.” This leads me to share another Ackoff classic, “A curriculum is a solution to a problem that does not exist.” (Cite).doesn’t fit
Identifying problems in terms of a lack of resources is another common problem-identification technique. The universal constraints of time, money, and information are often identified as “the problem.” This is interesting because the problem becomes the identified solution. The most obvious examples of this method of identifying problems can be found in federal and state education legislation and policy. If schools fail to perform, it is because the problem is inadequate funding. If a child falls behind, it must be because the school didn’t have enough time with them so the problem is the 180-day school year. If groups of children don’t learn, then it must be because we don’t know enough about how to teach them appropriately. This problem-formulation technique, like the first, allows for problems to be defined without much regard for the context of any particular situation. Bureaucracies love formulating problems in this way as it helps to ensure their future viability. If the problem is always “not enough X” and the solution is “provide more X” then such systems can stay alive by trying to provide more and more “X.”
The third traditional approach to problem identification is perhaps the most difficult to see and the most obstructive to truly identifying a more accurate set of problems. When people and organizations define their problems by the solutions currently available to them they tend to re-create both their problems and the solutions to their problems again and again. This is exactly the experience that educators often feel as solutions are identified and applied to a problem that seems to fit the proposed solution. I read about the fascinating field of brain research and become excited with what I’m learning. I then frame many of the problems I perceive around the solution I know – brain research. Therefore, the answer to a better learning experience must be to provide an engaging environment that stimulates the various elements of the brain. In this example, I’ve just identified a problem based upon the solution I have available.
This approach – defining problems based upon already known solutions – is further cemented in by our profession. Our professional training equips us with a set of tools to ply our trade with. It is these tools that become our frame of reference. The old adage, “if all I have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail” applies here. So, as a professional, I assemble a set of tools over time to help me solve the problems of the day. In my quest for such tools I amass information about all different kinds of solutions – those I identified at the beginning of this paper. I then go out and seek out problems that fit the solutions I have.
The problem with this problem identification method is that in today’s world, ready-made solutions rarely work anymore. Problems have become increasingly complex and interconnected making pre-designed solutions – brain research, research-based instruction, authentic assessment, etc. obsolete and of little value when applied to a perceived problem in isolation from other possible solutions. After all, known solutions can only work with pre-defined problems – helping to reinforce a vicious cycle of identifying the same problems and same non-solutions over and over again.
It is time we learn and apply new methods and approaches to identifying the sets of problems we face in our world today. Problems are no longer neat and easy. They know longer yield to simple, disconnected, recycled solutions with fancy new names. In fact, it is quite likely that we have not faced the right problems in decades.
Defining problems utilizing the three traditional models described above not only helps the existing order to maintain itself but it helps to keep hidden the real problems faced by organizations – a set of problems found only in what Gharajedaghi terms the “2nd order machine.” The 2nd order machine reflects the often hidden and unchallenged assumptions and operating principles upon which the organization functions. Left uncovered and unchallenged, these assumptions and principles continue to operate and replicate themselves again and again despite significant effort, energy, and intellect to change from initiatives like the aforementioned like authentic assessment and site-based decision making. For example, if some of the underlying assumptions in the educational system include things like: adhere to the schedule; maintain order; and, avoid deviation from the set of norms then no attempts to package and re-package innovations like authentic assessment is likely to change those 2nd order machine operating principles. Why haven’t things like authentic assessment worked in schools? Certainly not because they are stupid ideas. Perhaps instead it is because the underlying system, replete with its set of unchallenged assumptions, is fundamentally designed to repel such programs and processes. What assumptions does authentic assessment make that might run counter to a system that abhors variation, demands control, and operates on tight and unwavering cycle times? In short – all of them! Authentic assessment is, in very general terms, a process that aims to provide the learner with authentic, messy, real-world tasks and a comprehensive assessment of the learner in that environment. Such a process demands significant variation in both length and intensity for individual learners. It is difficult, if not impossible, to construct real-world, messy experiences for students within a system whose 2nd order machine holds onto the unchallenged assumptions of reduced variation and tight controls and cycle times. It requires a monumental, on-going effort by committed individuals to implement authentic assessment effectively in a school with such a 2nd order machine. What often happens? After prolonged, heroic effort the teacher or school tires of the fight and the 2nd order machine once again restores itself.
If traditional problem identification approaches were used, one might conclude that if the system only had enough time or money they could develop better information about how to implement authentic assessment by providing professional development with their teachers. Since a commonly known solution is developing and utilizing a curriculum – it would make perfect sense that the problem was then a lack of a good curriculum with which to instruct teachers on effective authentic assessment. A curriculum would be built, money would be allocated, and time spent on teaching these teachers about why authentic assessment is so fantastic. But has the real set of problems been addressed? Hardly. Yet how many times, in how many schools across the country has this scenario played out with little variation? I’m afraid the answer is daily – and likely since before Sputnik blasted off into space.
Until we can accurately and openly expose the assumptions of the 2nd order machines in our organizations and hold them up for examination, we will continue to fail in our efforts to make any fundamental changes to schooling. But how do we begin to identify our real problems? Uncover and challenge the assumptions of the 2nd order machine? For one, by abandoning the tried-and-true, traditional approaches to problem identification. What we need is a new methodology for conducting problem formulation that is both easy to understand and easy to implement. What follows is an explanation of a “mess formulation” methodology designed by Ackoff and Gharajedaghi and which has been successfully applied in several educational organizations across the country – most notably in Connecticut, Iowa, Ohio, and Washington.
Write, talk, draw - cutting to the chase of how people learn.
My friend and colleague, DJ Corson, in teaching effective instructional practices, boils learning down to 3 simple words: WRITE, TALK, DRAW. SImple, memorable, powerful. Learning doesn't happen effectively without the interdependency and interplay of these 3 elements. I look at my own learning. Much of my job is thinking, creating, and implementing innovative practices and organizational tools. I'm often caught in my office working alone and find myself alternating between writing and drawing - diagraming, writing guides, etc. But I can only do this for so long before the urge. . . no - the absolute need - arises for me to share this with someone I respect. In short, its time to talk. This "talk time" increases my understanding significantly and helps me generate new questions and seek new directions. While talking, I often find myself and my colleague - writing and drawing together.
While there is much more to it - what if we required that teachers ensure that this happens everyday in their classrooms and supported them in seeking out strategies to get better and better at it? How do we, as educational leaders, invoke talking, writing, and drawing in our meetings and professional learning opportunities? How does that play out in your Professional Learning Communities? Your adminstrative meetings? Your work in helping parents understand the critical changes that must take place?
Want some great professional development in this area? Contact one of the greatest teachers I know: DJ Corson at email@example.com.
"A curriculum is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist." - Russell Ackoff
This is one of my favorite quotes. . .
Following the "Research" is like driving your car using the rear-view mirror.
Don't get me wrong - I find value in research. The issue for me is a simple one: research is contextual. Research, then, is largely conducted within the existing framework - the functions, structures and processes - of the current educational paradigm. We are at a point in history where I believe it absolutely critical and necessary to create and implement a new educational design. You can't continuously improve into something new - something new requires design or re-design. Research is about finding ways to improve within the current constraints and frameworks - great when you are actively trying to improve what you have. But what happens when we have a model we don't want anymore?
Research, even emanating from the old paradigms, can be instructive. Let's just be careful that we don't simply "follow the research." The game is new, it is uncharted, and we must create and design - sometimes without a lot of research. Research - most published today is already years old - is indeed like trying to navigate the road by using the rear-view mirror. A fairly safe bet on a straight and low-traveled desert road, not so easy when the road is hilly, twisty, and full of traffic - like the context of education we now find ourselves in.
An accessible environment, not instruction, is the chief factor for learning.
Paraphrased from Ackoff - tied to why VREP is such an important initiative and why the internet provides this "accessible environment" making "instruction" less and less a factor. So. . . what do we do if not be "instructors"?
The power of design in the learning process.
The power of design as an instrument of learning is almost completely overlooked by the educational system. . . it is in design that people learn what they want." - Ackoff. How do we get design integrated better into the experience of children at school?
A Successful Operation Yielding a Dead Patient.
Written in May, 2003 by Trace Pickering
“No Child Left Behind,” “Every Child Reads.” Such eloquent and clear and unrefutable position statements. These are beautiful concepts that all would agree are worthy and necessary. In fact, these are conditions we all minimally expect. However, underneath the rhetoric lies a set of implicit assumptions that remain largely unchallenged and, if left unchallenged, will produce counterintuitive results for our children and society.
The “scientifically-proven research” which spearheads the solution to America’s “learning problem” is beautifully conceived and, in its first arena: reading- is beginning to produce significant results. The research considers the contextual environment (size of school, community, makeup of students, etc.) and helps teachers implement appropriate strategies with fidelity. The operation appears to be successful. . . or is it?
Despite its beauty and apparent effectiveness there lies within this paradigm of NCLB and the demand for “scientifically-proven” research unchallenged implicit assumptions about the system of schooling and learning. Through the effective use of analysis we have solved a significant problem. The question is not whether or not it is a great solution- it most likely is- but whether we are solving the right problems. This research, and much of the other research in schools today assumes that by considering and dealing with one or even two functions of schooling, we have the best chance of improving and not leaving any child behind. The solution assumes that there exists a unidimensionality to the work. That is, that we can focus on one or two problems at a time, solve them, and then move on to the next one or two problems, and so forth until the system is “fixed.”
Those of us in education would be wise to consider that our work is perhaps multi-dimensional. Our solutions have always and continue to focus on the throughputs of our system- a specific reading program, a new set of textbooks aligned to the school standards, a professional development model which has all teachers focus on a single goal, etc. Our problems, we surmise, are contained within our ability to generate and disseminate learning to children and, secondarily, to the adults responsible for educating those children. Called “continuous improvement” it often means devising a new program, policy, or approach, attempting to implement it, looking at results and moving to the next problem as soon as things begin running smooth. As a result, we patch new programs onto an existing system ill-equipped to support it and optimize it. Teachers become frustrated as old programs they tried 20 years ago are re-circulated with a new name, updated research findings, and a new set of proponents. We continue to pour resources into this work expecting different results. Typically if positive results are obtained, they are not sustained. As soon as the focus and the accompanying resources and attention shifts away from the initiative, the pre-existing results return. We can no longer afford to patch new and recycled programs onto our current educational system.
Why “scientifically-based research” is necessary but not sufficient.
As I author this paper there is only one area of learning which qualifies as “scientifically-proven” and that is in the area of elementary reading. Wonderful research and exciting new approaches to teaching reading and all its nuances is now available to us. Teachers and educational service agency consultants are inspired, focused, and able to produce significant results. Meanwhile, NCLB extorts, no demands, schools to implement professional development around these teaching strategies. Early results in our area and across the country are encouraging. In Iowa, the state education department has even issued a “Professional Development Model” which suggests that the only professional development that counts is the kind that focuses every teacher in a given building on a scientifically-proven instructional strategy. This, of course, leaves only the few proven reading strategies as an option. Nothing in math, science or, according to the officials in charge of this “model,” general teaching strategies shown effective through meta-analysis by Dr. Marzano and others.
If scientifically-proven research is the magic bean in assisting youngsters to grasp and master the art of reading then we must work diligently to ensure that our teachers understand and can appropriately implement and evaluate these strategies with the children in their classrooms. But the issue isn’t with the research- education must do a better job implementing strategies founded in good research, rather its the notion that by patching up this one “problem” and then moving onto the next “problem”- math, for instance, we will provide lasting change to classroom practice, reduce the achievement gap and get every child who’s capable of reading to read and every child capable of doing math to do math, etc.
Professional development activity cannot simply be “patched” onto existing systems and be expected to create an order of magnitude change. It is my contention that we have gotten about all of the “slack” out of our current educational system that we are going to get. Since 1984’s “A Nation At Risk” schools have worked diligently to implement improvements and raise test scores. States who already were performing well showed little or no improvement. Ill-performing states are just now beginning to see test scores rise. Should we conclude that all our past efforts were ill-conceived and or poorly implemented or should we challenge the assumption regarding the system of schooling? It strikes me that year after year in educational publications there are many examples of wonderful learning occurring. However, like the instruction in the movie “Stand and Deliver” such wonders never quite become part of the school norm and culture. They tend to disappear with the instructor or after the particular team has been exhausted trying to maintain their gains. Perhaps something exists implicitly in the culture of the American school system that protects the status quo established nearly 100 years ago that few seem willing to expose and challenge. Schools need to expose their assumptions about schools and school systems and begin to construct new systems to manage all the things we’ve learned about learning in the past 50 years. A single system has a maximum capacity and the educational system has reached it. To illustrate, lets look at the John Deere 2-cylinder tractor. During the 40’s and 50’s the “Johnnie Popper” was a popular and effective farm tractor. Its engine had 2 large cylinders that provided a great deal of torque and power for its day. However, farms became increasingly larger during this time period and farmer’s demanded a tractor that could manage more and more acres within the time constraints of the growing season. Other manufacturers who were already using 4 and 6 cylinder engines in tractors could build bigger engines and meet the new farming demands. Deere kept making their 2 cylinders bigger and were able to create an engine producing between 60 & 70 horsepower and then ran into a problem. Given their current design structure- a 2 cylinder engine- they were unable to improve the horsepower output- given the technology of the day it became impossible to squeeze anything more out of their 2 cylinder design. They had a choice- keep tweaking their 2 cylinders or face the expensive and time-consuming proposition of redesign. This required revamping their production lines, revamping the look and size of the tractors and introducing a whole new line based on a 4 or more cylinder design. The result? The most famous, popular, and successful tractor of all time- the John Deere 4020. Deere’s redesign and subsequent introduction of the 4020 made John Deere the unquestioned industry leader- a place they firmly hold today.
School systems have been trying to tweak and grow its 2 cylinder beast for better than 2 decades now. The public school system and subsequent structure put in place in the late 1890’s has reached its maximum potential. The time has come to redesign. In fact, if one were to use test scores as a gauge, particularly in Iowa and Connecticut, one would have to conclude that the slack in the Iowa school system has been taken out for quite some time. Other states, like Texas, are rapidly gaining on states like Iowa and Connecticut because they had more system slack to take up. Sticking an “Iowa Professional Development Model” on top of an already burdened system and telling schools that they will have one building goal and every teacher in the building will work on scientifically-proven strategies (i.e.- reading) not only flies in the face of substantial research regarding the power of choice in people’s lives, but will further suboptimize the system. Reading scores will improve as other important academic and social areas will stagnant or worsen. Once reading is abandoned as a primary goal scores will soon return to their previous levels. Not because the implementation was flawed, not because the teachers don’t see the benefits, but because the system isn’t designed to sustain such change. While school buildings scramble to align to a single, albeit worthy, goal they will begin to immediately suboptimize their system. While reading scores are bound to improve on the ITBS and ITED- the Iowa state norm-referenced test- the other areas of a student’s academic life will be ignored or at least not qualitatively dealt with. What is to become of science, math, social studies, health & wellness, art, industrial technology, foreign language, writing, and music? They will play second fiddle until reading is stabilized. Then it will be onto math- assuming they have “scientifically-proven” research at that time- and then, once that’s fixed- science. Social studies and the “encore areas” of health, physical education, music, art, and industrial technology will be largely ignored because there are no nasty national and state sanctions for poor performance in these areas. The name of the game is maintaining a federal funding stream and the score is kept by a school’s reading, math and science scores. Nor is it in system redesign. However, the only schools who will succeed in achieving the NCLB goals in 2013 are those that redesign their systems. Try as nobly as we might, we won’t get 1000 acres farmed with our “Johnnie Poppers.”
But what happens, half-way through the intensive focus on mathematics, when the reading scores again begin to slip? Lack of focus, resources, and continued uni-dimensional professional development approaches will logically lead to such an event. Teacher retirement and movement will require a constant need for on-going training and support. But wait, the Iowa Professional Development Model won’t tolerate such a plan. Dr. Jamshid Gharajedaghi teaches that our future state is implicit in our current reality. Our current reality clearly demonstrates that through our insistence on patching and considering the world of schooling to be uni-dimensional we will return relatively quickly to our current state- inconsistent student performance and ever more dissatisfaction with public schooling. Our 2 cylinder tractor still can’t farm 1000 acres no matter how many gizmos and new parts we put on it. To think otherwise is to not understand and appreciate to power of the system.
Reform tends to assume that the best way to improved student performance is through fixing, improving or introducing new ways to generate better learning results. This is a “product” focus. Our product is students who are learned. We work hard to introduce construct standards, find new textbooks, devise new approaches and strategies for the classroom. All have great promise, all work in some settings, and most, if not all, fail to produce lasting results and change the nature of the school or the system. Why? These are fantastic, well-conceived ideas and practices devised by some of the brightest people of our day. The solutions to the problems we’ve identified are appropriate and effective. The problem isn’t the solution- the problem is we are failing to solve the right problems.
Schools are socio-cultural systems. Everyone in the system has the power to decide. Principals can decide on who is going to teach what, what curriculum will be offered, how the day will be structured, etc. Teachers decide how and what they will teach and for how long, they define what “success” looks like in their classrooms, they determine how much effort to put into this year’s initiative. Students decide how hard they are going to work, how much they will learn, how engaged they will be, and whether or not they are going to do their homework or try to pass the test. Parents decide how much to support or denigrate the school. If all of this choice and free-will is happening every moment in a given school, why do we continue to insist that if we only get good at a teaching strategy, or have a better test or adhere to a clearer set of standards, or work in teams, or purchase that one kick-butt piece of enterprise software that we will have a lasting, positive impact on student learning and achievement? We’re all fools if we believe that any of those things will make the difference.
There are so many interdependent variables in schools that we can’t “fix” one thing without it affecting- positively, negatively or neutrally- another. In order for an organization to be successful, its leaders must not only manage the throughput processes (the steps taken to produce a learner) but also the way in which decisions get made, the way new learning is created and disseminated through the organization, how people feel a meaningful sense of membership to the organization, and how conflict is managed. We are dealing with a system of free-willed people. These people which to belong to an organization which both meets their specific needs and allows them the opportunity to contribute to something larger than themselves. They must clearly understand what they need to know to function effectively in the organization. They need to be able to manage conflict appropriately and they need to know how decisions get made- both the decisions within their control, within their influence, and beyond their influence and control. Does having every teacher focus on the reading goal address these issues? Hardly. In a system designed to effectively manage the interactions of these major parts, such a reading program could not only be implemented but made a part of the cultural fabric of the school- staunchly defended as “the way we get kids to read around here.”
Re-design is not easy, not fast, and not inexpensive- in the short term. Schools must have courageous leaders who are willing to open up deeply-rooted cultural assumptions about schooling in their community and challenge those assumptions. If they stand up, they are still correct assumptions in today’s context. If they fail, they must be exposed as no longer appropriate and discarded publicly. For example, schools should challenge the assumption that 36 high school credits equals an learned individual. They should challenge the assumption that grades are acceptable indicators of student learning and progress. They should challenge the assumption that teachers are only needed 190 days a year. They should challenge the assumption that kids and parents don’t care. They should challenge the assumption that every employee in a category is worth the same amount of compensation. They should challenge the notion that to move up the pay scale you have to become an administrator.
Finally, schools must examine their purposes and clearly define structures, functions and processes which best enable them to produce a highly learned individual and then have the courage to implement the design and continue to approximate its implementation, constantly examining when the system has reached its maximum potential.
The Grant Wood Interactive Design Center stands ready to assist learning organizations with this task. Only the bold may apply.
-Trace Pickering, May 30, 2003
 professional development research- while not “scientifically-proven” suggests that the most effective professional development is achieved through the arbitrary classification of a school building