R(apid)Evolution

I’ve often made the mistake of thinking of revolutions — technological, political, economic — as events where a massive change occurs at a specific point in time and space, as if you can throw a dart and land at the exact point of ‘revolution’.

This is when I have to have a conversation the Twitter part of my brain, the shallow one where ideas are only considered briefly, and remind it to look more deeply.

Revolutions are in fact not a single point in time but a series of events, a confluence of factors, issues, motivations, personalities, capabilities, and, quite often, random acts of luck or chance. They do not happen in an instant, even if we remember it that way (or if the victors choose to write the history as such.)

In terms of educational change, this is perhaps why so many initiatives that aim for ‘scale’ don’t achieve it. It fails to acknowledge the many tiny steps that each school community — and the sub-communities within them — must take to achieve the larger goal. And then to transplant an idea from one context to another, even with largely the same cultural, demographic and philosophical positions, will find it might need to take root and grow in a different way.

Take the redesign of learning spaces as an example. There are so many environmental, psychological, social, emotional, biophysical and other factors that affect how we interact with the environment that it’s immensely difficult to isolate the impact of space as a factor in learning. (And the definition of ‘space’ is in and of itself problematic, considering the number of elements, influences and possible contributing factors that make up a ‘space’.)

To fully utilise a new space for learning and teaching, it’s not good enough to build a shiny new facility. It’s not even good enough to give teachers the preparatory professional development in the months before the new facility is built. Rapid evolution must take place on an individual level, a team level, a school level and as a whole community. Parents, students, teachers, leadership, everyone who has a stake in the success of the learning that takes place should understand the purpose of the new facility, not just it’s key functional features.

Schools and systems perhaps do not need revolution in the sense of a cataclysm that fully overturns the status quo — that’s too much disruption and will likely cause use to throw babies out with bathwater. What they need is rapid evolution. A clear pathway, a series of steps, digestible chunks that allow all stakeholders to move along and achieve milestones.

This is exactly the same as change processes in many types of organisations and communities. We might dream big but it’s rare that a blind leap of faith will include everyone. It’s more like the City2Surf marathon held this week in Sydney — a whole bunch of people with different skills, talents, motivations and goals running generally in the same direction. We need to be conscious that although some people will sprint ahead, many will not. Some may require significant help. Some may not even see the race because of the people around them. When we are so highly interconnected within organisations, it’s simply not good enough to tell people to catch up. It’s a collective effort.

Does your school community have a clear and robust understanding of the ‘why’ behind the space? Has your school gone through a period of rapid evolution? Or was there a revolution? How did that go?

Like what you read? Give Matthew Esterman a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.