Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Unsolicited Educon Advice

I saw the most amazing thing the other day while I was driving to work.  It was a grey and windy day as I was putzing along behind another couple of cars and I happened to notice something out of the corner of my eye.  As I rounded a bend there were three leaves gliding perfectly along the road in front of me, weaving in and out between one another as if they were completely choroeagraphed.  It was really beautiful to see them glide like this- just enough wind to make them glide, but not enough to lift them off the ground.

As I drove away I started to think about just how complex of a thing this was that I just witnessed.  The conditions had to be absolutely perfect- just the right amount of wind, coming from the right direction.  The cars in front of me had to be in exactly the positions they were in and moving the exact velocity they were moving to create the effect. The leaves themselves had to be an exact size and shape, and had to have fallen and been blown into the exact position they were in for this seemingly simple beauty to happen.  And I had to notice it (perhaps the most incredible part, as I've usually got "driving to work" blinders on)...

This seemingly simple thing was in fact an incredibly complex and delicate balance, working together to create something incredible that couldn't possibly be duplicated.  It is with this that I reflect on the Science Leadership Academy, led by Chris Lehmann alongside his incredible group of staff, students, and parents.

I've only been to Educon half a time, last year.  I say a half because the night after I arrived I came down with a stomach bug that just wrecked me and kept me away from SLA until the last half of the experience.  I'm by no means an expert, but I know an excellent group of staff and students when I see one - and of course SLA has this in spades.  But my advice is this- don't go into Educon trying to duplicate or "scale up" SLA back at your home schools.  You can't.  It won't work.

You see, a great school is very much like those leaves- a complex group of leadership, staff, students, parents, funding, resources, curriculum development, philosophy, support, politics, and timing in the community (and so much more).  You can't recreate a great school like SLA, no matter how hard you try- because you can't scale up people.  You can't scale up the precise environment they impacted their world within.

So what would I suggest you do at Educon?  First, keep your eyes open and notice the beauty of a great school.  Then, go into it thinking about how you can take the ideas shared, the work presented, the students you experience, and make these ideas your own in your school or school system.  Don't try to do school like SLA- try to mold your own school into it's own greatness and then work hard to make it happen!

I'm going to miss Educon and all my friends this week, as we are getting ready for our 3rd child, due in the next 2 weeks- I will miss you all and am really looking forward to reading the ideas presented.  Have fun and I'll see you soon, I hope!



Sylvia said...

Hi Steve,
I think your observations are valid - the complex and delicate balance of a good school is a wonder to behold.

However, I think the only reason we feel we can't "scale up" schools like SLA are that we misunderstand the term. Scale up does not mean duplicate, it never has.

You hint at it in your post - scaling up requires that we scale up the practices like student empowerment, teacher collaboration, and leadership that supports both. It's not good enough to copy the logistics, materials, or outward evidence of SLA.

I've written more about this misunderstanding of "scaling up" here:
'Big problems require small solutions'

Ira Socal has also written about this:
'If you say "scale up," you don't understand humanity'

But what a good reason to miss Educon! Congratulations on your baby.

Steve Johnson @edtechsteve said...

I'm with you Sylvia- it's possible that I should have mentioned that when I use the term "scale up" I mean the popular/wrong notion that seems so pervasive- the idea that you can take what one great school is doing and duplicate it at many others.

Thanks for pointing me to Ira's post- love his stuff and not sure how that one got past my radar. And thanks for the congrats on our upcoming new addition!