School change is so much harder than I thought! When I did my doctoral research on school innovation and created a hands-on learning school-within-a-school in the 90s, I had no idea that I’d spend the next few decades making tiny changes. Changes that often rubber-banded back to the traditional model when I moved on.

After starting a school, writing a guidebook on it, and spending the past year highlighting innovators on the Education Evolution podcast, I see the same challenges as I saw early in my career.

So I’m pondering how to look at this phenomenon in new ways. Besides creating a collective and summit (which you won’t want to miss!) with other innovators, I have been exploring two aspects on the back end of change.

Behavioral economist and friend, Melina Palmer, helped me see the human psychology aspects of change. Be sure to listen to my anniversary podcast, Episode 56, to hear her wisdom yourself! Two takeaways:

  • Our human mind is primarily ruled by our subconscious. The subconscious mind is processing 11 million bits of information a second and our conscious mind is processing 40 bits during that same second.
  • Having biases toward what is familiar and our herding instincts have kept our species alive for centuries.

So much of what we do is based on stuff that might not even be at a conscious level. I know I am drawn toward bright colors and colors influence what I buy and my overall mood, without me consciously thinking about it. And if we survive by doing the known, school models different from what I grew up with or what I think will help my child get into college could be summarily ruled out. Double ouch! But we can use this information to frame the changes we want to create.

Recently, Lindsay Y. Burr was a keynote speaker at the NWAIS heads conference. Her explanation of polarity thinking was a HUGE wake-up call for me. While I’d used appreciative inquiry with schools in the past and value many parts of our established school system, I was guilty of “problem/solution” thinking. Not everything is a problem to solve. When I get into that mindset, I don’t see that some situations are complex interdependent dualities to be finessed and not fixed.

Polarity thinking master Barry Johnson explains it with the example of breathing. Inhaling vs. exhaling is never an argument. We know we need both to work together. The same is true for school continuity and transformation. We need aspects of both. Holding this paradox in mind is tricky.

I realized I was treating educational change in the same either-or manner that upsets me when I see it in our country’s political landscape. Another ouch! But the good news is, I can use this frame with our EdActive Collective. Here is the school continuity/transformation polarity map I created*.

school continuity/transformation polarity map

Lindsay kindly hopped on a call with me to go deeper. She helped me understand the full cycle and see how the polarity thinking process builds allies and disrupts the debate.

  1. We start with a common GPS (greater purpose statement) and the polarity—our deepest fear if we don’t align with our GPS.
  2. We define the upsides and downsides of both polarities. This helps us take from both polarities and avoid falling into the downsides.
  3. Then we define and take action steps.
  4. We also note early warning signs (as “bumpers in the bowling alley”) to keep us from sliding too far into either polarity.

So my goal, as a lifelong learner, is to bring more polarity thinking into my Education Evolution journey! I want to make sure we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater or draw lines in the sand that alienate and shut down options. Transforming our schools is too important to get caught up in debates and disagreements! Join us at our June EdActive Summit and add your power to our movement!

* Thank you, Robert Jacobs and Lynnea Brinkerhoff, with Barry Johnson