Disruption and Stability

There is no doubt that our country’s schools need to change.  Many of our classrooms are locked in a one-size-fits-none approach and we often repeat the past, whether it works or not.  It’s frustrating.  It makes you want to pick the whole education system up and shake it violently, like coins stuck in a piggy bank.  In response to this frustration, we see new teaching and learning approaches brought forward.  Many are described as “disruptive”.  In fact, sometimes there is disruption just for the sake of disruption.  It probably makes the person doing the shaking feel better.

“Disruption” and “Stability” are often presented in a zero-sum model where increasing one diminishes the other.  Stereotypically, it’s the old school network administrators that want everything to be “stable” and the education technology leaders that want to “disrupt”.  I get it.  Here’s the thing, though.  It’s not a zero-sum game and we need both for our students.

Our Best Learning Experiences

Some time back, I participated in an ice-breaker exercise in which we took a few minutes to tell the story of the best learning experience from our own lives.  This is a good exercise, and one I highly recommend.  It can focus a cross-functional team on the work because everyone has an experience to share about learning, not about teaching or curriculum or technology.  If you do this, almost without exception, people will tell you a story about great learning and it will have nothing to do with the iconic classrooms in our minds.

Look beyond that neat outcome and you will find deeper enlightenment, though.  Hear their stories and listen for a distinguishing feature of their tales.  Was the learning event related to a disruption in their life or when stability came to their life?  While in a group of 8 people doing this exercise, I first realized that it was 50-50.  About half of the stories were about a disruption in their lives and half were when things stabilized. 

Positive Learning Expressions

A couple of months later in a bigger experiment, I tried this with my team of 100+.  Before a team meeting I asked them to, Think about a positive educational moment in your life and then describe it clearly, and briefly.  140 characters or less, to be exact!”  Then, I shared the results back at our team meeting.  Sharing the stories, even anonymously, had a profoundly positive effect.  Again, it was almost exactly 50% of each.  Here are some samples:

“My second grade teacher praised my handwriting in front of the class. Her special recognition motivated me to do my best on all of my work.”

“I received a more well-rounded educational and cultural experience by being a Michigan transplant.”

“My dad's job made us relocate a lot. When he got a promotion and I didn't have to change schools every year, my grades improved.”

"Before Mr. Smith, computers were something for me to game on. After him, I programmed one to play Jeopardy. The rest is history."

“I quit football my freshmen year, the next year, 1st day, my coach had my gear already set out and said he was expecting me. Always give 2nd chances.”

Lessons Learned

After sharing the stories, we discussed the power of disruption and stability, and we might be bringing our own biases in subconsciously.  I know, here we are at the same place again.  Learning is personal, and it needs to be treated as such.  For example, a kid moving from school to school can either find doors opening or find it to be a difficult journey.  Teachers are the ones who are in the best position to connect with kids and know when to push, pull, support, or back off.  They know how to put challenges in front of kids that allow them to learn more than math, science, social studies, or language.  All I’m saying here is that the right technology, which is highly affordable, can be used to enable any of those purposes, and that’s what I find magical about working in our schools today.  That, and occasionally finding that stability is disruption, as in the example given where the coach knew just how to best use the football gear.


Kevin Schwartz serves as the Chief Technology Officer for Clear Creek ISD, home of 41,000 students, NASA, and the Latitude 2 Learn 1:1 tablet computer initiative and he brings 20 years of experience in K-12. He is also Chair of the Texas K-12 CTO Council and actively serves on the CoSN SEND and SmartIT committees. Kevin is a frequent presenter on a broad range of education technology topics and is a consultant to school districts that seek transformational changes in learning through technology.   

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