Garvey Berger (2019) says “The complexity of the world requires that we understand the greys, that we resist black-and-white solutions, that we ask different questions about unexpected and tangential options. But alas, we humans are built to simplify and segment, and it goes against all of our natural pulls to take another person’s perspective or to see a system in action.”
At a recent hui I attended with regards to assessment and qualifications someone said “We need to start this conversation about valuing different measures,” and someone else replied “ With respect- why are we still having this conversation? Some of us have been having this conversation for many years. The conversation should be resolved by now, yet we are still talking about the same stuff twenty years on.”
What we actually need to do is to ensure we are having the conversations with the right people or all that happens is we become an echo chamber. There are groups of educators out there who know we need to do more than just change the practices and pedagogies in our schools and classrooms. They know we need to change the way that success is measured. But until that gets changed system wide there will continue to be conflict, suspicion and tension at every level of the system.
Until systemic change and embracing of different measures of success become mainstream these educators are fighting against a system too big, even in New Zealand, for small groups to make but the smallest waves and impacts.
The advent of flexible learning environments and the change in practice this has required for some has been both a help and a hindrance. It’s made us aware of different pedagogies and practices possible. But those being judged the most successful in these environments are those that still measure up against the old measures. The measures that just simply aren’t the most appropriate measures for the world going forward, in my opinion anyway. The message, both implicit and explicit is we can only change our practices if we still succeed with the old measures.
As a profession, at every level of the profession, we need to put the past aside, embrace the uncertainty and complexity that represents the world we live in today and be prepared to live in that grey. At every level of the profession we need to be able to stand back and look with new perspectives at a system that was designed for another time and the measures that support this.
One of the biggest impacts on me over the last 6 months has been understanding a theory that the wise Mary Chamberlain shared with our leadership team. (Cant remember the original reference sorry.)
She told us about this triangle where you have a vision for learning, the operational capacity of the school and the authorising environments. Like any three legged stool if one of those corners of the triangle is lesser than the others the stool can flip right over.
We talked about how our vision for a new way of learning oozes out of every pore in our school, from the people to the environment to what is said, to the actions seen, but that this could all fall over if we don’t get those authorising environments at least giving us enough space to continue to develop our operational capacity without compromising our vision.
Yet recognising that the system and everyone that represents it is part of our authorising environment presents challenges.
How do we ensure that those in the system, often technically our superiors, are prepared to acknowledge the grey, when they operate themselves in an environment of strict balances and measures? How do we influence the operational capacity of the system to live in complexity rather than the certainty of clinical measures of success. How do we allow a less risk averse system to develop? How do we influence enough to ensure those tasked with moving the system are reading deeply and widely and prepared to look from different personal perspectives?
While support networks on social media like twitter and groups like #disruptED are absolutely valuable, and have kept me going in this battle again and again, over time the energy and momentum goes unless we can get the right people into those conversations. In the last twenty years I’ve seen some great people and excellent educators come into those networks, contribute greatly for a few years and then disappear into oblivion or give up on the system all together and leave as their efforts for reform and transformation struggle to gain momentum outside of their small sphere of influence.
As the Garvey Berger quote at the beginning of this blog says “as humans we are preconditioned to simplify and segment.” It seems the more complex the world becomes, the more the authorising environments in our system, both school based and government based are trying to simplify, procedurise and segment our learning and our responses into controlled measures that disregard the complexity of our environments and the future.
Living and being okay in the grey is not celebrated or encouraged and is actually disincentivized and criticised at all levels of the system we find ourselves in. Collective voice is needed to challenge this.
We need to invest serious attention to looking at our schooling systems from different perspectives before they become completely irrelevant to the future for our young people. And we need to leverage the collective power of the people within the system to influence those authorising our system.
“In the long run, we will neither need nor want professionals to work in the way that they did in the twentieth century and before.”
Berger, J. G. (2019). Unlocking leadership mindtraps: how to thrive in complexity. Stanford, CA: Stanford Briefs, an imprint of Stanford University Press.
Susskind, R. E., & Susskind, D. (2017). The future of the professions: how technology will transform the work of human experts. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.