Stepping out of the bubble

Chip and Dan Heath point out in their influential book Made to Stick that we suffer from the “Curse of Knowledge”—“Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.”

This is a key dilemma facing educational leaders, from Arne Duncan to campus level principals.  How do we step outside of what we know so we can experience it in a new way?   And how can we get new ideas when we are so immersed in day to day management of our own districts?  On Scott McLeod’s annual Leadership Day challenge, it’s about challenging the status quo just because it is the status quo.

I’ve been catching a few “guilty” pleasure episodes of “Wife Swap” this summer, a show where two wives change families for two weeks.  At first it takes time for the families to adjust to the eccentricities of another family but by the end of the two weeks, there’s frequently a great deal of paradigm shifting that occurs.

bubbleflickrbaqiraliNow I’m not suggesting principals swap schools for two weeks(though perhaps that would be fascinating), but it brings to mind how important it is for leaders to truly step out of their own bubbles to gain some different perspectives and solutions.  And there is no area where this is more true than technology implementation at a transformative level.

Visiting other innovative schools very different from ones’ own is a really important way to step out of the bubble (schools like Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, or High Tech High in San Diego, or the Blue School in New York City, for example).   It’s hard to “rethink” school without seeing some sense of what that could look like.

Another way to “step out of the bubble” and see anew is to look outside the school “world” for ideas. In a recent article in American Libraries “10 Tips for Tracking Trends” Elizabeth Doucet demonstrates how looking outside for trends and then bringing them into your institution in another form is a very viable way of “seeing anew”.   You can use sites like Trendspotting’s blog to follow their “Trendoscope” or “list of Trends blogs”  to keep yourself aware of current trends, or set up custom keyword search Google alerts to email you trends and ideas.

Often we wait until we see inspiring presenters like Michael Wesch to “hear” about trends, but why not bring them to our doorstep ourselves?  Follow a “trends” site on Facebook, for example–find a way to have the information arrive on your doorstep and then read it.  Of course it’s not about the trends, it’s really about bringing new thinking in, and then considering–what does this mean for school?  What could a trend like this look like in practice?

When I was remodeling our library, I found that I started looking for examples of design everywhere–every storefront window, lighting fixture in a restaurant, color scheme in a store, accessory in Ikea spoke to me because I was looking at them differently.  I was looking through the merchandise and at the design itself.  My purpose changed my vision.

Take this sort of vision out into your regular “world” as regards technology–spend a weekend in public places just listening and watching how people are interacting with technology in their natural environments.  Thinking what your student/teacher interactions could be if they were functioning at that “natural” a level of technology use.   Walk in any Apple store and just watch what is going on.  What would it be like to bring that sort of excitement into your classrooms.  Go to a children’s museum or art museum and watch how people learn there.

Think of the best workshop experience you ever had and why it was engaging.  What if your school’s classrooms felt like that?  When you watch your favorite TED Talk, why does it engage you and enthuse you so much?  What about that can you bring onto your campus?

At your own campus or another one, be a student for a day or a teacher for a few days.  Walk in their shoes in terms of technology and just pay attention only to that aspect of the experience.  What are the frustrations, successes, and obstacles?  How are the “rules” obstructing experimentation, constructivist learning, or enthusiasm?

peepinggirlflickrkamundseIt’s daunting to think of changing a traditional school but it starts with daydreaming, envisioning, opening up to the possibilities.  It starts with loosening up the bonds that bind us and just allow ourselves to see.  And seeing anew breathes fresh enthusiasm into leadership that the whole school can feel and experience.

Think of any way that you can bring fresh eyes to what you do.  That’s the only way we can escape the “Curse of Knowledge” and really think about transformative school change.

photo credit:

Catch if you can.


2 thoughts on “Stepping out of the bubble

  1. Carolyn:

    I once told my students to walk backwards down the hall. It caused quite a disruption and my principal (nicely I’ll add and always curious about what I was up to) asked “what are you doing?”.

    My students were in a rut. They were only seeing things from one perspective, from a narrow lens. As you say, they were in a bubble and it was preventing innovation, critical and creative thought, and growth.

    The bubble is alive and well for many educators. It is this bubble that creates a lens that becomes so limited in scope, leaders stop leading effectively.

    Leaders can be a model by stepping out of this comfort zone and seeing things differently.

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