52 Education Lessons Learned, Re-learned or Reinforced in 2015

2015 was a challenging, wonderful, painful, incredible, inspiring, and humbling year in terms of my work, writing, designing, thinking and leading in education. I would not have it any other way. Now, as I reflect on lessons learned, re-learned and those that were reinforced in my life (at least in terms of education), here are the 52 that stand out to me. They are in no particular order (except for some more personal ones that I clustered at the end), and they span everything from the concrete to conceptual, convictions affirmed to convictions challenged or softened.

  1. When it comes to addressing challenges and pursuing opportunities in education, there are almost always multiple pathways to the same or similarly grand destinations.
  2. There is not one future of education. There never will be.
  3. Having the right mission matters more than having the right methods.
  4. Having the right people matters more than having the right methods.
  5. Methods matter, but they require constant feedback and ongoing refinement if we are going to do something extraordinary and noteworthy in education.
  6. Many of the best ideas in education do not come from “professional educators.”
  7. People often resist multiple pathways in education when it risks slowing traffic on their preferred pathway…or the one that gives them and their colleagues a paycheck.
  8. There is a yearning for deep, thoughtful, mission-minded innovation education as a replacement for trend-driven efforts.
  9. …but not everyone is ready to do the hard work of mission-minded innovation, and they/we can be tempted to settle for the trends.
  10. Creating learning communities where people grow in curiosity and a love of learning can have a greater impact on education than any national standards or testing system.
  11. Great schools are not just about preparing students for the future. They are also about building caring and compassionate communities for the present.
  12. The open badge movement is still promising but is in its infancy.
  13. Without helping people learn to manage their identity in a connected world and build robust personal learning networks, the digital divide will grow at an alarming rate.
  14. If you want to convince someone about the value and power of self-directed learning, it is hard to beat giving them a chance to see it in action.
  15. There are plenty of people in education who believe that some “types of students” are just not capable of becoming self-directed learners. Similarly, there continues to be a belief among some that self-directed and project-based learning approaches are good for “advanced” or gifted students, but not for others.
  16. The best or most promising ideas in education do not necessarily win, get adopted, or spread.
  17. The concept of teaching (versus learning) still dominates many thoughts, policies, practices and beliefs about most of formal education.
  18. Personalized medicine and healthcare seems to be advancing faster than personalized education.
  19. The dominant cultures, convictions, policies, and practices in both K-12 and higher education clash with the values and demands of using big data and learning analytics in education.
  20. People who were rewarded for their work and achievements consistently throughout their K-12 and higher education experiences sometimes (but not always) have a deeply personal stake in maintaining a system with similar “academic hoops.”
  21. Many in education are concerned about a potential growing gap between “the have and have nots” as a result of emerging educational innovations, but among those with such concerns, we have wildly different opinions about whether a given innovation will narrow or widen that gap (Does CBE widen or narrow? What about MOOCs, alternative credentials, and workforce development programs?).
  22. The most well-known personalities in education…those who garner the most attention and personal rewards are not necessarily the ones with the greatest wisdom, deepest wells of knowledge, or insight into the promise, possibility and future of education (but many of them are doing good and important work nonetheless).
  23. We can’t expect the “top tier” professional organizations in education to understand, support and help amplify some of the most promising work, innovation and research in education. The education conferences with the most “rigorous” peer-review processes for presentations tend to be 1-3 years behind in representing educational innovations.
  24. Top notch talent management is critical to high-impact organizations.
  25. Raising standards can sometimes lower results.
  26. There is a persistent temptation in learning organizations for us to judge elephants by how well can can climb trees.
  27. Differentiation is more important than competition when creating a successful education company or learning community.
  28. “Failed” education experiments, companies and learning communities can be important inspirations for future educational innovations.
  29. Sometimes you just need to start fresh or from scratch if you want to give your idea the best chance to grow and flourish.
  30. Alternatives to college are an important part gainful employment and increased access and opportunity.
  31. If formal learning organizations are going to be faithful to their missions, they need to be willing to let go of their monopoly on academic credentials.
  32. There is no a single best vision for formal education, which is why nurturing more choices / options is likely the wisest path toward progress of positive reform.
  33. Amazing ideas in education do not always need to be scalable.
  34. The private sector is part of the public good, and this is true in education as well.
  35. For-profit education can be just as mission-minded and values-driven as non-profit education.
  36. If you want to understand the future of higher education, pay attention to the growing and emerging role of partnerships…all sorts of partnerships.
  37. Micro-schools and micro-colleges have a promising future.
  38. There are may great and important roles in the education sector for people who care deeply about education but do not want to be classroom teachers.
  39. Do not underestimate the power of hyper-local educational innovations as both independently valuable and launchpads for future large-scale innovations.
  40. Disciplinary thinking is still valuable. Multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary problem-solving is critical for educational innovation. Yet, a-disciplinary thinking and innovating is difficult but a rich source for innovation in all areas of life.
  41. One of the more important education reforms is helping student find and use their voice…and for that start by having a voice in their own education and learning communities.
  42. The number, variety and creativity of current educational experiments and innovations gives me hope for the future of education. Similarly, there are many incredible schools out there (k-12 and higher education).
  43. Greater attention to authentic skill acquisition in education is a tremendously useful way to address dozens of challenges in formal schooling ranging from student engagement to real-world readiness…and it is also an interesting bridge between the liberal arts and professional studies.
  44. When honest and candid feedback is absent, quality is probably absent too.
  45. In the longterm, design is more powerful than policy; but both play an important role in education reform.
  46. Some of the most promising educational innovations come from looking and living in the gaps (institutional and more broadly in education at large).
  47. Writing is one of my greatest passions in life, but I see myself as a designer whose preferred medium is ideas…which brings me back to writing.
  48. Working with a meticulous editor with high standards is among the more pleasantly challenging experiences in my intellectual life.
  49. Some people read this blog and then do amazing things with the ideas, and I am deeply honored by that.
  50. The connections that I make and see between disparate ideas might not be the standard way that people look at ideas and the world.
  51. I rely on passion and conviction to achieve more than discipline and habits (and it generally works quite well for me), but I value all four. To reach new and higher level of achievement in some domains of my work, I need to give more attention to the discipline and habit part.
  52. For better or worse, I’m drawn to mission-minded educational moonshots.