Kill the Mothership

I just did a cursory search on the web and within the edublogs I troll for the above phrase.  Kendall Crolius, one of the Friday night panelists at EduCon 2.1 dropped that expression on all of us in the audience in reference to how to innovate.  I can’t stand how cool it sounds, so I named this post after it.

Here was the context in which it was uttered: the panel was asked what the purpose of school is, and in their various answers, the responses between them and the interplay with the audience, someone asked if innovation and change were possible within the current model of schooling in America.  Crolius responded with a reference to Clayton Christensen’s work via Disrupting Class; Christensen states that the companies that are serious about innovation and change that focus on disruptive innovation especially do so by creating rogue “mini-companies” whose sole responsibility it is to innovate, and in essence “kill the mothership” by changing market dynamics.  Think of telecom companies in the early 1990’s.  Those companies that were able to devote time, resources and cutting-edge thinking to developing cellular technologies were ready when the use of these devices became as easy or easier than traditional telephony.

We have been squawking about our pockets of innovation within our buildings, or within certain geographic areas around the world as problematic.  After hearing this take on it, I think we are underestimating what we have.  While threats to the monolithic structure of public education are nowhere on the horizon as we speak, I can see a future where students whose teachers expose them to social networking tools and leverage them in a way that allows them to take charge of their own learning do not stand for rows, chairs, and textbook learning as the sole basis for their learning.  They won’t stand for the idea that the person in the room with them holding the teaching certificate is the last word on any topic.

These pockets we talk about, these teachers who are pushing against drill-and-kill test prep and standardized curriculum, are our rogues.  Where on this continuum are your pockets that you work with, or where do you think you fit?  Listening to the idea as espoused by Crolius on the panel truly made me feel like I lead two lives: I support these pockets with energy and by removing obstacles, yet work very hard to maintain somewhat of a status quo with the majority of the staff I work with.  Yes, we are pushing upward and advancing their craft through various professional development and discourse (as indicated by the linear usage lines above) but it’s the innovators that are advancing at the exponential rate.  In the end, how I support them and push that curve above the “most demanding use” line will determine how I view my success.

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6 thoughts on “Kill the Mothership

  1. I’m glad I have an admin that supports these kind of disruptions. That’s the difference in the successful companies – the policies are allowed and supported by the heads of the corporation. I can’t imagine trying something like this with a CEO or principal who wasn’t on board.

  2. Ian,

    True; I think support from those in charge, or at least those making the decisions about direction and curriculum need to support the kind of innovation in teaching and learning that we need. What we were running into, especially at Educon last year was a lot of people claiming that change had to come from the “bottom-up” in order to be authentic and lasting. That didn’t sit well with me. The idea that we have pocket’s of innovation didn’t either. This post was an attempt to try and get my head around how both models could succeed.

  3. I work in a brand new school. We are writing curriculum. We are writing standards. How do we innovate, as we know we must, when standards-based curriculum is the push both in American public school and international private schools around the world?

  4. Hi Gwen,

    Thanks for your comment and question. Again, I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. When we write our curriculum based on standards, we need to see those standards as the benchmark students must meet. What I would suggest to you is to take a different approach than starting with the writing part. Start with designing assessments that would accurately allow your students to show mastery of that standard. Here is where your innovation can begin. For example, you might create assessments that contain multiple avenues for students to show they “get it:” film projects, digital portfolios, quizzes and tests that focus on higher-order thinking skills. Once you have those examples written into the curriculum, it becomes easier for teachers to focus on writing learning activities that cater towards preparing students to demonstrate mastery in many ways. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

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