Do We Know How to Drive Radical Change in Education?

Photo Credit: Joshua Rothhaas

Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Educating every single child in our country exceptionally well shouldn’t be a radical idea.

But to realize success for all students, we must upend an educational system that currently provides the most opportunity to those who need it the least, and gives the least opportunity to those who need it the most.

We’re all deeply committed to opening up high-quality educational options for all students, especially the poor and underserved, but how can we be certain that our work isn’t just tinkering with the status quo? What is the path to the radical change we seek?

I’m asking myself that question continually, and here’s what I’ve found.

First, we have to get out of our bubbles. No matter where we work, it’s easy to just talk to people who think like we do. Organizations that don’t build and empower diverse, inclusive teams compound the shortsightedness that comes with homogeneity. Seeking  “sameness,” either consciously or not, means that we perpetuate cycles of more-of-the-same. Let’s burst the bubble.

  • Start with what you’re reading. For me, I deliberately read books and articles from across industries. On my bedside table right now is Who Gets What – and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design by Al Roth, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who designed matching markets in areas ranging from placing medical students in residencies to better matching kidney donors with patients. I’m looking for lessons and insights that our EP team can apply to redesign our own talent matching process.
  • #JustHaveCoffee with a leader from your sector who you disagree with, or with a leader from another sector. Seek out the conversations that can help you see your work in different ways, especially if they’re uncomfortable or new. Recently, I’ve also been meeting with leaders at innovative companies like TaskRabbit that leverage technology to match people with jobs. These visits with unusual suspects have spurred valuable new insights and questions for me.
  • Build and empower a team that is made up of people from different personal and professional backgrounds. At EP, we deliberately convene leaders from all walks of life, races/ethnicities, and sectors to work in education because we believe that that diversity is precisely what will drive breakthrough solutions.

Second, learn to innovate. Whether you identify with Thomas Edison or not, we all can and should learn the skills of great innovators and creative thinkers (like Edison, Steve Jobs, or Jeff Bezos), to give us the best possible chance to take a quantum leap in our work. Bringing a big dose of innovation and creativity to education – like 4.0 Schools is enabling in New Orleans and beyond – is vital to make meaningful change.

  • To start, get to know the five specific traits that all leaders can emulate and practice to become innovators, outlined in “The Innovator’s DNA”: associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. Assess where your strengths and areas of growth are, and focus on where you need to gain new skills.
  • Be sure to make time for each of these practices and seek out others you can learn from. Growing new skills takes practice and dedication.

Third, we need to rewrite the recipe for how we work. As Steve Jobs noted, “creativity is connecting things.” When we get better at connecting insights, experiences, and ideas from other people, industries, and even countries, we become more creative. On the whole, leaders in education can get a lot more comfortable with different perspectives, and with combining ideas in unique ways to create breakthrough solutions.

  • As you’re reading, talking, and learning to innovate, bring it all together. Look for parallels, connections, and conflicts. What would definitely not apply to your work, and what if you had to apply it anyway? Stretch yourself to find new ideas and ways of working.
  • For me, this is one of the best parts of my work. I dedicate time each month to reflect on what I’m reading, hearing, and learning. I push myself to find new ideas or perspectives that I hadn’t considered before.

The rapid pace of change in our modern economy that transforms industries like media and technology overnight is catching up to education. That’s a good thing. I hope we seize the opportunity and eschew incremental change and whole-heartedly embrace radical change. Not only will it benefit millions of students, but it can be a heck of a lot of fun to become radical leaders.

Scott Morgan Scott Morgan is the Founder of Education Pioneers. He founded the organization in 2003 to identify, train, connect, and inspire a diverse group of leaders and managers to accelerate systemic change across the education sector. An educator, attorney, and social entrepreneur, Scott believes that talented leaders from diverse personal and professional backgrounds can transform education for all students. Follow Scott on Twitter at @scottmorgan1.  

By Scott Morgan, July 23, 2015