Week 2 – Polarities

This week´s prompts are in the area of Systems Thinking, and lead up to how we can drive change despite some of the polarities that are evident in our schools.

First, Russ Ackoff stirs us with a surprisingly current reflection on continuous and discontinuous improvement, back from an event in 1994. His message calls us to reflect deeply on how to go about chane in our schools.

We then move on closer to the educational realm with a fragment from a talk by Andreas Schleicher, OECD Education Director, the man behind the PISA Evaluation. The whole talk is worth listening to, but we would suggest focusing on the segment that begins with the following YouTube video until minute 56 approximately:

During his presentation, Dr. Schleicher depicts these polarities wih great clarity:

This chart spells out the explicit polarities in the intended transformation.

Thinking back to last week’s reading from Zhao and the grammar of schools and our discussions during the Zoom on Wednesday. Simply comment on those aspects which resonate with you. During the Zoom next Wednesday we will use these prompts to dip into the area of Polarity Mapping.

As The Answer to How is yes, keep a Yes and….. focus as you comment on the ideas of others.  We will read everything you write, base what we do on the direction you indicate and all resources will be curated and made available to you as an easily references a resource

Please enjoy and play with ideas in the space.

10 thoughts on “Week 2 – Polarities”

  1. Both of these speakers raised a lot of interesting points.
    The first thing that caught my attention in Dr Ackoff´s talk was his mention of the definition of failure being about meeting the expectations of the consumers. In education I do not necessarily agree with this. Assuming that we refer to our students and perhaps their parents, I am not sure that our consumers always know what is best educationally. Many students / parents would still say they want to acquire the skills to become a successful a successful lawyer etc and would not necessarily appreciate the skills that educators know we need to instill until much later in life.
    The idea about systems really resonated with me in two ways. Firstly, I think that we often forget in our individual role of educators that our overall job is to educate the whole child. We get caught up in our role as a subject teacher concentrating on their maths, language etc, we need to look at how to break down the barriers between discreet subject / sections so that skills and social aspects are continually developed.
    Secondly, it made me reflect on our school in terms of the approach we take to improving. I feel that we very much look at what is wrong and try to fix it without having a clear goal on where we want to get to.
    I loved the idea of doing the “right thing badly” again this brings me back to the idea of needing to restructure the core of our educational values. The right thing is to prepare students for life and today that means preparing to be resilient to change, to solve problems, to resolve conflict etc. I think many schools / educators understand this but delivering this somehow gets forgotten in the scramble to delivery academic skills.
    Finally, the idea of making mistakes to learning is important. We need to reflect of our actual assessment structures and whether or not they allow for this. This is something that is often restricted by the governmental requirements of some countries but how can we work around this? I know that in our system students are so scared to make mistakes because of grades being “on their record” from a young age and this prevents them from taking risks in their learning.

    • Christine, there is a lot in the provocations and a lot in your comment. Looking at what is wrong and then trying to fix it is interesting. We need to look at what we do right and do more of it. This includes parents. I do think they might have a better idea about what is best educationally and schooling gets in the way. If we separate education (learning) from schooling we may have more productive dialogue with parents. Regio Emilia questions whether it is possible to educate a child without knowing the parents. This is a good starting point. Drucker’s quote about doing things right and doing the right thing is pivotable. School improvement is usually focused on efficiency. A refocus on doing the right thing would allow us to look at improvement in terms of effectiveness and importantly allow us to try things out and make mistakes. If we allow ourselves not to know the answers, take risks, possibly have setbacks then we will open that door for the learners.

  2. Ackoff’s systems explanation resonated a lot with me and the idea of how schools, as a system, need to become a structured interconnected network that in order to be effective need to work together efficiently as a whole. It is not how the different parts act separately, but as one unit. Teacher can analyze the polarities that exist in their schools and understand the relationships and impact towards student’s learning. If we want to bring change, we need to understand what needs changing, and how it is the whole school, not just individual parts of it.

    If we think how can schools make a difference, we can think of forming students that are part of a collective that want to shape and create their future, take ownership and develop those imaginative skills for tomorrow’s innovation. I really like that idea of forming the student’s compass so they can make decisions, breaking the hierarchy where students don’t look up or down on others, but instead, can look around to collaborate and exchange ideas and learn together.

    Like Schleicher shares in the video: we do not know how the world will be, it is unknown how it will change in the future. Therefore, we need to include rich learning opportunities where we foster those important skills needed (creativity, empathy, leadership, collaboration). If we bring more agency to the experiences at school we can make a difference to build real global citizens. We need to provide more explicit experiences for students to move their learning from one context to others, we provide them learning opportunities to transfer skills into different contexts and disciplines.

  3. The definition of a system as a product of interaction of its parts goes along with my reflection about this year. The year we spent isolated because of the pandemic, but working together as a team, as we never did before. Reflecting about this academic year (in Peru we are close to the end of the year, which is in December), I come up with the idea that the biggest progress we made is staying together and learning from each other. Our system kept working, no matter what. Hours of collaborative online planning, chatting in Whatsapp, phone calls to ask each other about the smallest details of the lessons, giving feedback to each other about the lesson the colleagues shared, was one of the greatest experiences. And after I watched the videos, I realized that unconsciously we put into practice what we FELT was the right thing to do. And it was doing the right thing right :). By the way, it was possible because we had a bit less contact hours with students this year (comparing to the usual face-to face academic year in school). AND we were looking for quality online lessons. So, actually, we were repeating the Shanghai teachers’ experience of “learning from your peers”. We just have to take it to another level, beyond one team, beyond even one school… Collaboration as a way of improvement.
    Observing the Polarities chart, I can say that the machine of changes has been activated. Our work organization is becoming each time more collegial and supportive. I am glad I watched these two videos, they helped me understand that we have already started our journey towards a new school.

  4. What a blast from the past!! I remember reading Ackoff’s Fables in the early ’90s thanks to a friend who has aways been involved in innovation, and systems thinking hardy gets mentioned anymore. I would like to think that this is because it is now part of our commonsense, but given the consistent failure of school reforms this is pretty unlikely.
    Would like to listen to Schleicher but the US election dominates all else!!

  5. I’m really curious about this idea of collective capacity. It means a shift in assessment style from individual to collective, as well. This changes the game; it changes the culture. What happens to student competition in this model? It is strange that we maintain this myth of perseverant individualism in schools, when we realize how destructive that paradigm is. I suppose it is hard to disrupt the culture. It is especially hard to make that change at the secondary school level, when there are already expectations and beliefs in the mythology. (Although, maybe that’s just an excuse derived from my own fear at meeting this change). Because yes, it’s hard to shake it up when there is competition for elite universities. And pressure from parents. It’s also scary to change something that we are used to; something at which many of us were probably successful. I suppose my point here is that I’m interested in discussing ways to move in this direction.

    • You are asking great questions… But I also wonder, if we speak about collective assessment, where will go the idea of “development of human talent”? Assessment as it is seen now, destructs the idea of free development of a person, as it puts a person in some kind of ranking or comparison to others. The question is: what assessment looks like in this NEW school? Or maybe, is there a place for a authentic discovery of a student’s talent in the assessment frame?

  6. Dr. Schleicher highlights creativity as essential to the growth of a student by high lighting this notion throughout his talk. This is refreshing as often the “creative capacities” as he puts it, of our students are glossed over. Creative thinking is authentic and requires an incredibly dynamic interaction between teaching and learning, multidimensional knowledge as well. Perhaps it is omitted from discussion within the educational framework we have assumed because the framework itself is not conducive to developing this aspect of the individual. Creative thinking is often relegated to the realm of art class but creative thinking should be cultivated in every class similar to critical thinking. Unfortunately, it is often ignored in most of our discussion as educators, we veer away from it, perhaps because it is difficult to achieve within the “ box” of traditional education Dr. Schleicher describes. I enjoyed this metaphor he uses for education, revealing the limited and even confining nature of a stagnant educational framework, inadequate in developing imagination, creation and innovation within the students. On the other hand, he points out that most other aspects of society are in a state of flux and development yet the educational system remains relatively stagnant. How can we expect students to enjoy and contribute to:
    • Binding social capital
    • The essence of global citizenship
    • A world where we can trust other people
    • A democracy which facilitates the right to be different
    • Synthesis and making connections
    • Openness to knowledge and distinct fields of inquiry
    • Diversity of thought
    These are some of my favorite points Dr. Schleicher brought to light as hallmarks of our new age. If we hope to achieve this should the system itself be designed based on these ideas?
    I also strongly agree with his assertion that mistakes and failures are a catalyst for growth. Teachers often teach this to students yet leaders in education often do not learn from systematic failures or inadequacies.

    I really found the Ackoff lecture rewarding. The characteristics of the system thinking:
    • Interdependent
    • A whole that cannot be divided into independent parts
    • When a system is taken apart it loses its essential properties
    • Product of their interactions
    • Parts need to fit
    If looked at carefully it provides further testimony to Zhao´s premise that, “standardized organizational practices in dividing time and space, classifying students and allocating them to classrooms, and splintering knowledge into “subjects”” does not take into account the notion of systems thinking. Furthermore, this idea is amplified via Dr. Schleicher´s emphasis on imaginative thinking as connecting the “dots”, which is imperative to a productive system in which all parts are fashioned specifically in relation to the whole. This is the challenge, if we expect students to think imaginatively perhaps we, as educators, need to when designing a system which isn´t a “ box” but a foundation for learning.

  7. ‘What do you want?’ is one of the questions that life coaches often ask their clients. Perhaps, even though we consistently tell students and teachers to know what the objective is, the system itself has lost what it’s purpose is? Much like what Johanna is saying, do we need to work out what we want again? If so, that means going into the world and finding out what the world needs. How do we bring that flexibility into our system? How do we leapfrog the the traditional process?

    Hmm I seem to just have more questions!

  8. Acknoff’s comments about the interdependence of parts needed to function really resonated with myself. This for me raises the question of the realisation of the value of each part as a contribution.
    Sometimes it appears that systems are not working, not because each part has a deficiency, but perhaps because their relationship between each other is unknown. As humans, we all know we need our heart and many actively try to take of it. Within education systems, do members know their value and that of others? Do they understand why without that colleague, which in this case is a part of the system, they wouldn’t function as well?


Leave a Comment