Sir Ken Robinson's talks on education and the importance of creativity are among my TED favourites. He's a great speaker, and the subject matter clicks for several reasons. First, because I worry about how our structures, norms, and rules may stifle creativity, pretty well systematically. Second, because quality education - and children primed for critical thinking rather than assembly-line duplication of information - are essential for the well-being of our democracy. And third, because many of the problems, and possible solutions, in educational systems apply broadly to many types of organizations.
I was thinking mostly of the third piece as I watched his most recent, How to Escape Education's Death Valley. I found myself thinking that you could take the transcript, replace “education” with “organizations” and “teachers” with “employees” and have a seriously intriguing approach.
Robinson compares the U.S. and Finland, a country that regularly gets top marks in math, science, and reading. Finland, in his view, is excelling for three reasons:
Robinson talked about personalized education, with strong community links, a broad curriculum (recognizing that time spent on arts and soft skills is as important for long-term math and science effectiveness as time spent on math and science), and programming inside and outside of school.
“But what all the high-performing systems in the world do is currently what is not evident, sadly, across the systems in America -- I mean, as a whole. One is this: They individualize teaching and learning. They recognize that it's students who are learning and the system has to engage them, their curiosity, their individuality, and their creativity. That's how you get them to learn.”
“The second is that they attribute a very high status to the teaching profession. They recognize that you can't improve education if you don't pick great people to teach and if you don't keep giving them constant support and professional development. Investing in professional development is not a cost.”
“Every morning, students are waking up pre-dawn in campuses around the country to run themselves into the ground, practice drills over and over, and compete fiercely with their peers for the positions of greatest responsibility on sports teams. They do this because in exchange, the organization to which they belong affords them status, challenge, and unparalleled developmental opportunity.”
“Education doesn't go on in the committee rooms of our legislative buildings. It happens in classrooms and schools, and the people who do it are the teachers and students, and if you remove their discretion, it stops working.”
“Because of the visible and serious consequences of a child being harmed by being left in an abusive home, the overwhelming tendency of a state or any low-trust bureaucracy is to develop a rule-based system to eliminate human error.”
In Robinson's view, individualization, status, and decentralization are working for high performing educational systems. In short, trust is working. It is frequently the answer for organizations.
It is frequently not the answer for individuals in the organization.
A divide that will hang as a question for now.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Escaping Death Valley