I started reading a dynamic book over the weekend. Educated by Design by Michael Cohen (@thetechrabbi) is a fascinating book that I enthusiastically recommend. While I have only read about half of it, I have found so many ideas that resonate with me in the work that we are doing both in Design Challenge at North Rowan High School and with our renewal system in the Rowan-Salisbury Schools. One of the key idea that I am focused on currently involves what Cohen describes as functional fixedness. Fixedness, as described by Cohen is "the inability to use a known object in a new way." Fixedness, as I have processed, is a state of mind that prohibits others from finding new ways to do or use something.
I think that too often educators have "fixedness" so engrained in their being that we fail to innovate the learning experiences of our students. Further fixedness keeps us stuck in the cycle of status quo where we fail to consider new approaches that better serve our students. Many of us even actively fight to maintain the status quo because it is something familiar to us. We fail to realize the importance of "and" when hearing a new idea or use. Instead, we too often say "but." The conjunction used makes a huge difference in the future actions that we take. By using "and," we are able to rise about fixedness and consider a new and potentially better way. When we use "but," we continue to exhibit the symptoms of fixedness.
At North Rowan High School, I have previous blogged about how the box was not even considered when relaunching the school under the restart plan. Instead, the hard work was done by others who thought, considered, and reflected on what was needed to create authentic learning experiences for all students. Essentially, the concept of fixedness was suspended from use in the school AND this is why we have been able to create something truly innovative that better serves students. While we still have much work to go, I applaud the thought, effort, and reflection put in by those educators who sought a better way for our students. It has been such a difference for our students.
As our school system continues its journey into being North Carolina's first renewal system with "charter like flexibility", I want to issue a challenge to all other school's instructional design team (IDTs). The work that you are doing to redesign schools that serves all students by creating authentic learning experiences is the most important work that you will do as an educator. But that work will not be easy nor will be linear or clean. Instead, it will be challenging, messy, and beautiful. I encourage IDTs to be bold in designing schools that prepare students for the future. Further I encourage the IDTs to take the time to really think about and inwardly digest the various ideas and suspend fixedness from their work. Focus on what is really needed to ensure students are prepared for the future. This work is not easy but it is important. As you design your schools, eliminate thoughts and processes that limit the creative potential and curiosity of our students. Also, be prepared to take risks. Sometimes, when we innovate, others may not support or see the value in what we are doing. That, while expected, is okay. It is part of innovation. However, we cannot and must let the lack of support of others (an ailment of fixedness) limit our willingness to boldly create schools and learning experiences that propel students forward. And by all means, read Cohen's book Educated by Design to help shape your thinking and for inspiration.
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.