Monday, May 30, 2011

David Truss :: Pair-a-dimes for Your Thoughts » Broken or Transforming

Broken or Transforming?

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Please comment. You can also subscribe via RSS or e-mail, and then send a tweet this way too. Thanks! ~Dave Truss

"Zhuangzi ~ (Image is in the Public Domain, artist unknown)"
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly,
fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly.
I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou.
Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again.
Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly,
or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

Education is NOT broken.

Let’s start using language that is constructive rather than counterproductive. Let’s use models based on questioning, innovation, and learning rather than complaining, alarming, and whistle-blowing. Our language shapes us and what we do. Try as we may, we do not find peace through a war on terror; We do not mend relationships with litigation; We do not ‘fix’ schools when we use a ‘broken’ model.

I understand why outstanding and outspoken educational leaders like Chris Lehmann say it is broken. I understand the need to create an urgency for change. Things move too slowly. But language matters. The metaphors we live by shape us.

When there is a transformation happening it doesn’t necessarily look good on the ‘outside’. There is a transformation happening in education… and it’s exciting, and filled with potential. If you were to classify the state of a caterpillar as it transformed to a cocoon, you might say it’s broken… even dead, but on the inside of the cocoon there is an incredible amount of promising changes occurring.

Let’s face it, what we want for our children to gain in schools is different than what the factory model of schools was designed to deliver. So why measure success based on the old model? Shall we put our children back into rows, have them memorize the content of the curriculum and fail them when they can’t sit still while they have their education delivered to them by one-way delivery of content from the authority in the front of the room? No.

Imagine having track and field judges, with their stop watches and measuring tapes, judging rhythmic gymnastics… Imagine having higher order thinking skills and in-depth portfolio studies measured with standardized tests based on a curriculum ‘a mile long and an inch deep’.

Here is a ruler… I want you to measure how I’m feeling right now.

When I see school leaders coming together and sharing ideas about moving our schools forward,

…I see a transformation of leadership.

When I see educators speaking out against standardized tests, and joining in to abolish grades,

…I see a transformation of assessment.

When I see students connecting to other students around the globe and collaborating in shared learning spaces,

…I see a transformation of practice.

We are far more innovative when we are in a ‘creating’ rather than ‘repairing’ mode.

Broken language: smashed, shattered, fragmented, splintered, crushed, snapped; in bits, in pieces; destroyed, disintegrated; cracked, split;

Transforming language: change, alteration, mutation, conversion, metamorphosis, transfiguration, transmutation; revolution, overhaul; remodeling, reshaping, reconstruction, rebuilding, reorganization, rearrangement, reworking, renewal, revamp, remaking;

Stop accepting the idea that a schools can be broken:

“If we change the vocabulary and consider schools as learning environments, however, it makes no sense to talk about them being broken because environments don’t break.” (Thomas & Brown)

Stop fixing schools and start creating the schools we want to see. Follow along as educational leaders develop school-wide plans to create learning environments in classes and in schools that are innovative, in line with what technology permits at this time, and flexible enough to adapt as new technology and concepts emerge. Contribute to the conversation about how we can bring all interested parties into an authentic conversation about how a collective ‘we’ can provide an open, transparent and meaningful educational model that promotes inquiry, a love of learning and empowered learners.

The Finnish Way is to prioritize “Professionalism”. Is the current language about the field of education professional? Are we approaching our own profession in a way that inspires other professionals to rise to the challenges we face today?

What language do we use?
Broken, or Transforming.
Fixing, or Creating.
Struggling, or Striving.
Failing, or Evolving.
Repairing, or Resolving.

What guides us?
Frustration, or Passion.

And what do we dream of?
Mending, or Metamorphosis.

Let’s transform education.

Our perspective matters. Our attitude matters. Our language matters. Let’s choose the language we use wisely. Let’s transform our language and let’s transform education. It is the struggle during transformation that gives the butterfly it’s strength to fly. So, let us also accept that transformation is not easy, but worth the effort.

"The Butterfly Lesson"

(Cross-posted on Connected Principals)

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 12th, 2011 at 6:47 pm and is filed under books I like, Connected Principals, education, future, leadership, Learning Conversations, metaphor, pairadimes, Pedegogy, restructuring, School2.0, Square Peg, storytelling, technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

11 Responses to “Broken or Transforming?”

  1. Darcy Mullin shares:
    May 12th, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    David, thanks for that post. I think too often the conversations focus on the negative and fail to look at all the great things we are doing in education. Is there things that are not working, sure, but there is still much work to do. Moving forward being positive always gets us further than by looking backward negatively.

  2. Shelley shares:
    May 12th, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Love this, David!

    Makes me think about appreciative inquiry and the power of a positively oriented question.


    And also about the power of storytelling. (e.g.,, )

    Thank you for continuing to learn out loud here.
    ** Shelley´s last blog post… butwait- @wstites Thought of you- Turn Your Evernote Notes into Study Guides &amp Flashcards with StudyBlue by @audreywatters http-tco-2flCRFd

  3. Ann Morgester shares:
    May 13th, 2011 at 2:32 am

    This is a very powerful thought – I am getting ready to work with a group of librarians from my district to re-evaluate our Library and Information Literacy Standards. One of the questions we need to answer is whether we stay with the standards that we have or move to the new AASL National Standards. The conversation surrounding this idea has been interesting. And a lot of it couched in the negative paradigm. When I took the job as the Library Curriculum Coordinator for our district the librarians had a fairly negative communications reputation. My response was to repeatedly emphasize that anything can be stated in a Positive, Polite, Professional and Proactive way. It has worked to change the perception of how the librarians in the district communicate and this post is a great reminder to me that how I construct the discussion around this newest endeavor. Thanks for this timely post.

  4. George Couros shares:
    May 13th, 2011 at 8:07 am

    Progress is needed, not necessarily what the word “change” invokes. We should always try to get better as we expect the same for our students. There are tons of great things happening right now in education; we need to build upon these as opposed to throwing everything out. Thanks for your post David :)
    ** George Couros´s last blog post… When Ideas Go Viral

  5. Daryl Bambic shares:
    May 13th, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Your post felt like a soothing balm after a difficult week. I agree that the language we use is so important in framing our experience. Thanks for reminding us to be mindful of that reality.
    ** Daryl Bambic´s last blog post… Summer Learning

  6. Bruce Wellman shares:
    May 13th, 2011 at 10:35 am

    David: Transformation is an interesting word — trans – meaning across or beyond in its Latin root and formation – an act of giving form or shape to something or of taking form — ultimately and act of development. While there are many developments taking form in education these days, the ultimate challenge is the challenge of scale. We seem to be at the stage of noting and celebrating the outliers — the exemplars of the new possibilities. A fundamental question still remains: What needs to happen to make these exemplars the new normal?

  7. Dave Truss shares:
    May 14th, 2011 at 11:57 am

    Thanks for the links, I think storytelling is very underutilized in education.

    I like the point George makes that we want progress, not just change.

    I looked back to the post I did of a pro-d session with you on Promoting Inquiry and found this:

    Positive Presuppositions
    Finding and focusing on the positive aspects of the message being communicated… it encourages an “on-going willingness to engage with each other and with ideas”.

    The fundamental question you asked does indeed remain. I wrote a post a while back asking if we shouldn’t look to ‘Edupunks’ as our Eduleaders… it does seem to be the ‘outliers’ that are leading the way, but even there I think we can start to frame our language a bit better. I think ‘we’ can focus more on asking:

    ‘What works really well?’ instead of ‘Why is this taking so long?’; and,

    ‘How do we replicate what’s working?’ instead of ‘Why doesn’t this happen in more places?’; and,

    ‘What professional freedom do I have to make this work?’ instead of ‘Why is the system working against me?’

    Innovation usually happens on the fringes, that’s not new, so how do we frame our language to promote (and scale) positive changes in a more efficient and effective way?
    And that’s sincerely a question I’m grappling with, as I think even my own language on this blog has sometimes been framed with frustration and even futility as opposed to possibilities and promise.

  8. Norman Constantine shares:
    May 14th, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    The problem is not the caterpillar….the problem is the butterfly! It is all the same organism. The paradigm of the caterpillar and the butterfly are the same! We need to change the paradigm!

  9. Monday, May 16 » Traveling with OCB Title IID shares:
    May 17th, 2011 at 12:47 am

       [...] Additionally, as I always ask teachers to shift their paradigms when talking about technology usage in the classroom, here is an interesting excerpt from Dave Truss’ blog post entitled Broken or Transforming (5/12/11): [...]

    [...] So, using what Dave has to say… let’s go out there and transform education!

  10. Students for Ed Reform | Today's Must-Read shares:
    May 17th, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    [...] David Truss discusses the idea of “transforming” rather than “fixing.” How does the jargon we use in education news, debate, and discussion influence the way we approach ed reform at large? Perhaps the best way to bring meaningful change is to abandon the burdensome idea of “fixing” a broken system, and instead take on the exciting challenge of creating, innovating, and inventing to truly transform [...]
    ** Students for Ed Reform | Today’s Must-Read´s last blog post… Today’s Must-Read

  11. Walter McKenzie shares:
    May 18th, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Well said David! The “broken” hyperbole is pushing a very different agenda. The transformation of education is what it’s all about! We are looking at 2011-2020 as the “decade of educational transformation” d.e.t. and I’ve put together a page of resources promoting the idea at


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