No Compromise: Making the Trends Serve the Mission

MarrySome good ideas spread, while other great ideas remain dormant. At the end/beginning of each year, I offer a few predictions about trends and innovations in the upcoming year and further into the future, as I did with 2014: Year of the Blend, and 8 Things That Will Become Less Dominant in Learning Organizations of the Future. I also take time to share some of my priorities as shown in An Alternative to New Year’s ResolutionsA New Year’s Teaching Resolution and The Slow Death of the Carnegie Unit. However, there are many great ideas and important priorities that do not become trends.  Either they never capture the attention of people, they are silenced by another idea that overshadows them, or the ideas do not adequately resonate with the majority in one or more audiences.

I see this in my consulting work. In 2013, I received more requests to give keynotes or consult than the previous three years combined.  I declined many of them, but I often start by asking the contact to share a single goal that they want to accomplish through my speaking or consulting.  I get two common responses. First, many want help getting a group informed about the possibilities for digital age teaching and learning. The second is the request for help getting buy-in on a specific new educational innovation. It might be blended learning, project-based learning, online learning, 1:1 programs, alternatives to letter grades, or sometimes else.  Of course, if I do not believe or value the proposed idea, it makes it easy for me to pass on the request.  For all the others, I usually follow-up with a few of these questions:

  • What sort of buy-in do you have now?
  • What sort of resources are you investing or willing to invest in the innovation?
  • Is the leadership team fully supportive?
  • What is the current position of different important stakeholders (board members, clients or customers, community members, faculty, students, parents…it all depends upon the context)?
  • What are the greatest barriers that you see now?
  • How are you responding to these barriers?
  • What are some of the biggest wins that you’ve seen so far?
  • How are you celebrating and trying to build on these wins?

The most important question I ask (and this usually determines whether I am willing to work with them or how I proceed) is the “why” question.  Why do you want to do this?  Why is this important to you and those whom you serve? Why do you think this is important to your organizational mission, vision, values and goals? I am looking for a compelling why.  If it is not there, then I either pass or we start with the why. Actually, regardless of the answer, I still start with the why.

In fact, when I work with a client to help cultivate shared ownership, I either invite participants to communicate the why or I offer a case for a compelling why. People follow ideas without a compelling why, but those are the fashion and trend-based innovations in education. Those are the ones that waste time and resources.  They are ideas that may spread easily, but they are missional dead ends. They will either change or stifle the mission.

This is why it is important to be informed about the trends and innovations, but to consistently and persistently discuss the why. This is where high-impact mission-minded organizations have little room for compromise. If people do not buy-in to the fundamental why of the organization, then this is a mission critical situation. There is a leak in the ship, and if we have more than a few of them (or one big leak), that can jeopardize the entire mission.

So, as we continue to join in exploring the many trends and innovations in education as we move into 2014, my personal challenge is to awaken in myself, the organizations that I serve, and others a deeper sense of the why behind the educational innovations that I support. In fact, that is largely what is distinct about my blog.  If you scan my articles, you will find that I consistently weave exploration of the why into the trends that I report.  It is rarely just a how-to article about PBL, the flipped classroom, game-based learning, educational leadership, self-directed learning, blended learning or online learning.  I explore plenty of practical steps and reviews of emerging innovations, but I strive to do so in a way that grapples with foundational why questions. Without that, we are (in the words of Dean Inge) destined to “marry the spirit of the age,” only to find ourselves widows and widowers tomorrow. Instead, let us marry the mission and leverage the trends only so long as they strengthen that marriage.

Posted in blog, education reform, educational entrepreneurship, educational technology

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.