Uncharted territory

School ended on Saturday(a makeup ice day)though I am working for a couple more weeks, teaching workshops, etc.    So I’ve been a bit quiet due to the rush of end of school, library, and family events, but also just needing some time to back off and reflect.

There’s a lot to process about the last year, and about my own exploration and sharing of web 2.0 tools.  As Christian Long depicts it, (thanks for the image!) we’ve gotten on the School 2.0 flight.  Only thing is, we are embarking into uncharted territory.


In a  post at Dare to Dream, Barbara, a K-8 administrator, describes her introduction to a Life Science model of education.    The tenets of it are:

  • Equilibrium is a precursor to death
  • Living systems move to the edge of chaos
  • Self organization and emergence take place
  • Systems can not be directed along a linear path

She comments: “Being comfortable with living on the edge of chaos is a real challenge for our educational system ( and myself as a type A personality) but I believe those of us who are embracing all things 2.0 see this as a reality.”

This year has felt that way.  Some days or moments you can see the “emergence” happening, a thread starting to develop, real change happening, and it is very exciting.  You can feel the “living system.”

Other days, it just seems like chaos, not organizable, and overwhelming.   

But it also strikes me that we have to think about what happens when equilibrium and the status quo are disrupted.   It can be uncomfortable, frustrating, and even make people feel angry.   For those who love change, it can be very energizing, but also frustrating when not everyone ‘gets” what the change is about.

One of the reasons I think educational reform is so difficult is that we try to find “top down” models that can be applied anywhere, but as this theory points out, “systems” cannot be directed along a linear path.   Every system, at every school, even within the same school district is different.   There has to be a fundamental respect and understanding for, and celebration of that.  We also have to respect and anticipate some of that discomfort, and work with staff on it.


Web 2.0 tools and new technologies have introduced that chaos into our systems in a major way.   Knowledge is a more flexible entity than the way it traditionally is presented in schools, textbooks, or on standardized tests—it is ever changing, and growing.   

As Barbara points out, citing another blog, Konrad’s Notes:

“We use blogs, wikis, podcasts, and many other Web 2.0 tools to help students understand that knowledge is an active process of construction and not something that arrives in a textbook, neatly compartmentalized into chapters or units.

How can we possibly help our students be co-contributors and researchers if we ourselves don’t engage as learners and experience what it means to construct knowledge?”

We cannot help our students understand the flexible nature of knowledge unless we ourselves are life long learners—be we librarians, teachers, administrators, or parents.   We have to model what we are asking our students to do and treat information as a dynamic and changing thing, not a static set of beliefs.  

And I honestly believe that life-long learners learn from everything.   We have to believe that knowledge and wisdom can be found everywhere, in many different fields, mediums, etc.  And we should encourage our students to seek connections everywhere.   That is one of the core benefits of utilizing web 2.0 tools in schools.  We can’t cordon off a certain zone of knowledge and tell students it isn’t valid or available to them and remain credible as learners ourselves.

But also as educators, we also have to acknowledge, I would add, that everyone learns differently.  Just as we expect students to have many different learning modalities and preferences, we have to expect that teachers/librarians/administrators will as well. 

I was struck by Barbara’s description of how her faculty worked on 21st century skills during inservice meetings.  She commented on their end of year discussion that in discussing technology literacy, “much of the discussion was about pedagogy not the tools.” As Patrick Higgins also commented at Dare to Dream, “The conversations I have been having with my staff lately center less on technology, but more on the thinking we will need to keep pace with its capabilities.”

This was a good reminder to me as we move forward as a campus on this uncharted “flight” to keep the discussion focused on the teaching and learning and “the thinking we will need.”  As I teach workshops this summer, I want to make that focus clear.   

Fundamentally, the key to adapting to all of this change is flexibility and openness—openness to the chaos, so to speak.  And that is where I see the struggle in schools.  Schools are often built on “tradition,” a core set of knowledge, and creating a sense of stability for students.   So for schools to both embrace that sense of permanence, while also embracing a sense of constant change, is an interesting paradox.   luggageflickrsidereal.jpg   

As we take this uncharted flight, we’ll have all of our baggage with us.  The difference is, we won’t entirely know where we are going until we get there.  But this trip isn’t about the destination, because as the cliché goes, it’s about the journey. 

As we end this school year, I enter the summer with a sense of adventure and hope.  Let’s see where we go.  

Photo Credits: 



5 thoughts on “Uncharted territory

  1. The idea that systems can’t be directed in a straight line reminded me of a quote from Anne Lamott:

    “I’ve heard someone say that our problems aren’t the problem; it’s our solutions that are the problem. That tends to be one thing that goes wrong for me: my solutions.”

    In the linear thinking process we employ to solve problems, we don’t expect, or in a sense even acknowledge, the unintended consequences of our actions. I think that the flexibility to learn and respond to changing situation is key, not to solving them, but to managing them and perhaps using them for our benefit.

  2. A thoughtful well articulated post! You have covered a lot of territory and made some connections for me. It is very helpful to have someone reflect back your thoughts giving them new energy and perspective.
    I love this paragraph…
    “But it also strikes me that we have to think about what happens when equilibrium and the status quo are disrupted. It can be uncomfortable, frustrating, and even make people feel angry. For those who love change, it can be very energizing, but also frustrating when not everyone ‘gets” what the change is about.”
    It puts so much into perspective. I am one of the energized ones but not everyone is energized…thanks for helping me see their reality! I also appreciate that you do not stop here…we need to recognize this reality and still move on, still become lifelong learners and engage this new world of knowledge.

  3. This is a great post! Here’s a quote from Seth Godin that you’ll see again next week on my blog (for Change Week):

    “There are two kinds of organizations. One kind likes to be on the cutting edge . . . to embrace the new. The other kind fears that, and holds back. . . . [Organizations] that are good at being edgy will always find a way to thrive. . . . What do you do when the [world] is moving away from you, not toward you? If you wait too long, it’ll be too late to do much of anything at all. Instead, recognize that change is coming, that the reality you operate in is dying out, and start practicing how to do the next big thing. Betting on change is always the safest bet available.”
    – Seth Godin, The Big Moo, pp. 90-91

  4. A terrific post! Wow…so well said.

    As so many have said, change is happening. And while it is uncharted and to a large degree unknown, we have to adapt and change too. We NEED to learn alongside/barely-ahead/sometimes-behind our students for so many reasons that you have articulated so well: modeling lifelong learning being among the top of those reasons.

    But also, if we, as teachers cannot venture into uncharted territory and take our students along for the ride, then how can we begin to expect our students to succeed in a future that is exclusively uncharted territory?

    Change is not a choice…it’s an obligation.

    Thanks for articulating so well, what needs to be said.

  5. Carolyn — While I’m flattered to have helped spark a connection of sorts, I am even more impressed by where your ideas took me. Learning to be comfortable in times of change IS the 21st century skill.

    I believe that we spend too much time framing our kids’ experience around enforcing “responsibilities” when we need to be helping them become “response-able” in an ever-changing world.

    Thank you for your inspiration!

    Cheers, Christian

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