I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the idea of levers–you know, those simple machines that allow you to raise a load with a certain degree of mechanical advantage. I attended a public forum on equity a few days ago, and one of the speakers posed the question, “What are the levers that will allow us to move towards greater equity in our schools?” After doing a bit of blogging on that for the Canadian Education Association, I got to thinking: What are the levers that we could identify as being important for true educational transformation? Before offering a few possibilities of my own, I wanted to do some thinking out loud about the metaphor, and some of the possibilities that it offers for thinking about transformation and scalability.
First, levers, themselves, are fairly straight and rigid. Too much flex or flop will prevent the lever from doing its work.
Second, levers depend on a fulcrum for their effectiveness. A fulcrum can be described as the point about which the whole system turns. Without a fulcrum, your rigid lever is just a straight and rigid object–a perfect weapon, but with absolutely no mechanical advantage! (Does this one resonate with anyone?)
Finally, the placement of the fulcrum is very important in the whole process. If the fulcrum is too far away from that which is too be lifted, the advantage of the lever decreases.
(I would love some critique of my physical analysis here; I may have some of it wrong!)
So, does any of this matter when we use the lever metaphor in our discussions about transformation. I think so.
Three quick connections, with the hope that some of your comments might allow me to explore this on an even deeper level.
Connection One: There are plenty of solutions offered for the educational needs of our day. Some are poorly researched; many are poorly implemented, being left behind before given a fair chance to work. If we are going to pursue a course of transformational action, we need to be assured of its value, commit ourselves to it, be prepared to follow-up with research, and not let go of it without good, evidence-based reason. This is where the rigidity comes in: it’s a rigidity of commitment, a respect for research, and a resistance to jumping from one thing to the next too quickly.
Connection Two: The fulcrum for each lever needs to be well-considered, well-understood, and have a wide degree of acceptance among all participants. For me, it would be difficult to imagine a fulcrum that is not grounded in student success, however that is defined. (Test scores may be one symptom of that success, but not success, itself)
Connection Three: If our school systems are designed to raise all students to greater levels of excellence, then the associated resources must remain fairly close to those students. I’m sure that you can all cite instances where copious amounts of time, money and energy were expended far from where our learners live and breathe on a daily basis. This is ineffective and inefficient.
I’m going to stop there with those three connections to the lever metaphor. (I don’t want to sound too pedantic or preachy!) But I would love your help in working these ideas a little more.
I will close with a few levers that I think could really help our work in educational transformation. I would love to hear yours.
Levers for Transformation (not necessarily in order of importance)
- The thoughtful and meaningful use of technology
- A commitment to critical thinking
- An understanding of the arts as a set of powerful literacies
- New models for architectural design
- Emergent, learner-centered curriculum
- Shift from grade level progress to a system that focuses on authentic assessment benchmarks
- More time in the woods!
These are some of the ideas that I’ve the opportunity to play with over the past few years. What are your levers for transformation?