09 October 2018

Nurturing is the Foundation

Playlist- 2 videos (7.5 min & 14.5 min).

All adults responsible for children must nurture them, where the most basic form of nurturing is supporting them to satisfy their primary human needs. 
Does that statement about adult responsibility strike you as self-evident? 
It strikes me as such, but maybe I'm wierd because of my professional training in psychology and decades of experience taking care of other people's children.
It also turns out that the foundation for effective and efficient learning is well-being which is a result of the satisfaction of the primary human needs for air, water, food, shelter, sleep, relatedness, autonomy, and competence. 
Yet, educational policy-makers do not require systemic support for meeting the primary human needs of students and teachers.
In a sense it is not their fault because these facts are not well known.
However, that failure to provide systemic need support through educational policy creates the central problem in our school system today; pervasive disengagement due to the persistent undermining of effective learning and teaching due to the lack of systemic support for well-being.
It is time for educational policy-makers to acknowledge those foundations. 

I founded Schools of Conscience to build the nurturing capacity of K-12 schools. 
Educational policy-makers need to acknowlege the proper role of primary human need support in learning. 
Here is where you can find the first draft of the resolution, a poster about the resolution, and other materials about it.
forth coming book will present a revised resolution and give more context for why it is necessary. 
If you are inspired to provide leadership on this issue within your learning community please visit our campaign guide page which explains how to conduct a campaign in support of the resolution.

Don Berg
My name is Don Berg, I am the founder of Schools of Conscience.
I am an education geek and this site is where I hope to engage with other people who like to geek out on education, too.
In the video above I tell my story of fauxchievment, how school taught me to go through the academic motions without mastering the material, and how we can stop fauxchievment from ruining the education of future students. 

08 October 2018

Educational Leadership Consulting

What is YOUR biggest problem?
The answer is disengagement. 

How do I know that?
How can an Educational Leadership Consultant presume to tell you that without knowing your staffing challenges, your behavioral issues, your demographics, your pedagogical committments, your funding woes, ets., etc.?

I know that disengagement is your biggest problem for several reasons.

First, your school has people in it.
Aren't your students and staff human?
If they are not human then I can't help you (more accurately I probably could, but I'm not interested).
I have some experience with animals (pack llamas and rats) but a lot more with humans (over two decades) and the humans hold far more fascination for me.
As a psychologist who specializes in motivation in educational contexts, I know that if you have humans in your school then my expertise is relevant. 

Next, all your other issues will be easier if more people are engaged in solving them. 
There isn't a single issue that you can tackle that would have bigger effect on your ability to solve other problems than if you could get more of your student, staff, and all other stakeholders to be more engaged.
It is their disengagement that is, ultimately, causing you (and them) grief.
If they were to become more engaged then everyone gets better at handling challenges.
If you are interested in empowering your students, staff, and all other stakeholders to solve problems then you should be interested in learning about what the science of psychology has discovered about the secrets of engagement. 

So, I know that your biggest problem is disengagement (even though you may not have realized that it was until now) because I know that 
  1. schools are populated by humans
  2. humans are fully capable of solving their own problems 
  3. schools are historically very good at causing people to disengage in both subtle and not so subtle ways (even if they have a sterling reputation for "achievement" or other kinds of excellence)
And I do not need to know all the gruesome details of your exact situation (yet) because both the problem and the solutions to it are psychological, not pedagogical, demographic, behavioral, etc.

Educational Leadership Consulting

I can also assure you that our approach to Educational Leadership Consulting will help you solve a variety of problems simultaneously because once the psychology is properly supported then the people with problems get very interested in taking practical steps to solving them. 

In the later stages of Educational Leadership Consulting we will take more of an interest in the larger issues beyond your school that limit your opportunities, but that is only after we've proven that we can make effective change within the school.

The over-all Educational Leadership Consulting framework for change is what I call a Fauxchievement Prevention Program.

Fauxchievement is when you go through the motions without mastering the materials. 
The strategic focus of my work is fauxchievement because I believe it is a keystone.
A keystone is the middle stone in an arch that makes the whole structure stable. 
When you are constructing an arch it is unstable until you put the keystone in.
If you remove the keystone from an arch then the whole thing collapses. 
In this case, if you can solve the problem of fauxchievement then all the other problems that prevent you and your staff from educating your students will fall away.
Other problems may not, but educating is so central that it must be considered the most important. 
But more importantly, when you build a school system that prevents fauxchievement from being a persistent pattern then you are inserting the key component of an inherently stable and reliable foundational structure for educating students.
If you and your staff can get the educating to happen then all the other problems that occur beyond the educating will become a lot more manageable. 

How Bad Is Fauxchievement?

When students fail to attain mastery in spite of “achieving” in school, then they are fauxchieving. 
Getting into college but being unable to finish is a consequence of fauxchievement. 
That particular consequence got a lot of attention when KIPP revealed the low rate of college graduation their graduates achieved in their first College Completion Report. 
Getting into but not through college is a pernicious problem for many schools.

Howard Gardner in his 2004 book The Unschooled Mind pointed out how pervasive fauxchievement is by drawing attention to various studies that show a majority of people with advanced degrees in every subject fail to apply the most basic concepts in their fields when the problems are presented to them in ways that have more resemblance to real life and are different from the way they were regularly tested in school.
To put it another way, most masters degrees do not indicate mastery, they indicate fauxchievement. 
Two separate video series called A Private Universe (1987) and Minds of Our Own (1997) vividly demonstrated the effect and were an attempt to help teachers of math and scienceto overcome it (without my term for it). Those series were produced by a powerful consortium made up of Annenberg Media, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Harvard University, the Smithsonian, and the National Science Foundation.
Given the current obscurity of these videos I presume they had very limited success that did not justify further investments.

It Seems Normal, Natural, and Inevitable

Most people are not aware that fauxchievement is a major problem in schooling, although most people are well aware that many students at all levels merely go through the motions and learn less as a result. 
The fact is, they do not know what to call it (the term came from video gaming) and they assume that it is a normal, natural, and inevitable way of living through the demands that schools typically make on students' time and energy.

Take the initiative and contact me about Educational Leadership Consulting now to discuss your situation and how a Fauchievement Prevention Program can help your school educate childen better.

07 October 2018

Leadership Is Not Management

Despite popular opinion leadership and management are not the same thing.

Management is the responsibility for the survival of an organization. 
It's like our instinctual avoidance of potential dangers like fire, snakes, and spiders and our attraction to food, shelter, and sex. 
Good management takes care of the fundamentals that ensure the survival of the organization, like generating revenues, reducing costs, and increasing surpluses (known as profits in the business realm.)

Leadership is the ability to meet the needs of those who make up the organization, those who depend on the organization, and other organizations. 
This is like our attraction to good stories, music and fine cuisine. 
These kinds of desires do not just meet the fundamental needs they fulfill higher needs, as well. 
When we align the meeting of both our lower survival needs with higher aesthetic and social needs, then we have done more than manage our survival, we have attained thrival.

Art of Leadership

The art of leadership in organizations is about skillfully meeting the variety of needs within and without the organization into a seamless, graceful flow. 
A true leader knows what the management issues are but also has a sense that there are ways to accomplish those basic survival tasks in more inspired ways. 
They look for the opportunities to achieve an artful balance between their aesthetic values and the organizational imperatives that constrain their expression.

Leadership is an art form, whereas management is merely a technical discipline.
Leaders can act from any position in an organization, although the opportunities to act and limits of their effectiveness may be significantly determined by the nature of their position within the power structure. 
Managers can usually only act within the constraints of their position, although a manager with acute leadership skills may be able to transcend the limits of their managerial authority.

Another way to think about it is that leaders are primarily concerned with the organization's attitude in the world, how it is oriented in relation to both the people that make it up an the community of organizations that it deals with.
On the other hand the manager is primarily concerned with the state of the organization and whether it will survive. 
The E-Myth by Michael Gerber provide a good model that provides guidance on balancing leadership and management in organizations

The E-Myth model posits the need for three fundamental roles that need to be filled in any successful organization.
The manager, the entrepreneur, and the technician. 
  • The manager is primarily concerned with the here and now, making sure things are being accounted for properly and customers are being served effectively. 
  • The technician is primarily concerned with doing the best work that can be done, which tends to focus on the past as a benchmark.
  • The entrepreneur is concerned with the future, how to grow the business, and contributing to the wider world. 

These roles all have negative sides when they lose touch with each other. 
The technician will endlessly perfect the system if the manager doesn't help him stay focused on the fact that they have ever more customers and the entrepreneur doesn't keep creating new challenges.
The entrepreneur will throw resources at dreams if the manager doesn't help him stay focused on the fact that the resources are limited and the technician keeps him connected to the realities of their core business.
The manager will obsess on accounting for every little detail if the entrepreneur doesn't keep him stretching into new opportunities and the technician doesn't help maintain the focus on getting real work done.

While the E-Myth was developed for businesses it is applicable to any organization. 
The key is balance.
Without balancing the different needs that both individuals and organization's have and the different roles that they both play, then problems are inevitable.

Throughout this site you can learn more about how to apply leadership in education.

06 October 2018

Heroism Interrupted: A Cautionary Fairy Tale for Leaders

This page is a script for a video preface to Leadership in Education: How to Play the Hero's Game.
Once upon a time there was a king whose kingdom had fallen on hard times. 
First, a pestilence struck his kingdom and as people got weak with hunger they fell victim to a terrible plague that even killed the queen. 
The king did not yet have an heir so he took the first opportunity to marry a princess from a neighboring kingdom. 

Unbeknownst to them, their misfortune had attracted the attention of a trio of terrible dragons in the mountains above the kingdom. 
After watching the people of the kingdom get decimated by the calamities that befell them the dragons interest was piqued by the grand show of wealth and finery that the wedding celebration brought about.
The dragons began to approach when they saw that festivities were underway. 
Just after the king had exchanged vows with his new queen, Varda, they burst upon the scene. 
The blue dragon struck first by eating the king and capturing the maid of honor, Lady Geniveve. 
The red dragon stole a chest that held the kingdoms most valuable treasures. 
Finally, the yellow dragon snatched the new queen. 

After the panic had subsided the king's regent, the ancient Sir Grenadier, seized the moment to offer the entire kingdom to anyone who could rescue Queen Varda and recover the treasure. 

The drunk 8th Earl of Poselthwaite boasted that he would defeat the dragons and immediately set off to the dragon's lair with nothing but a bottle of spirits and a short sword. 
He boldly walked right down the middle of the valley that lead to the dragon's mountain lair bellowing his boasts all the way. 
Thus, he never saw which dragon brought his end because it swooped down from behind to eat him in a single bite. 

Later, two itinerant knights, Sir Wallace and Sir Monty, stepped forward simultaneously from opposite sides of the courtyard to offer their services. 
They both rushed off trying to be the first to sneak into the dragons' lair. 
Sir Wallace, the first to arrive, discovered the yellow dragon standing guard over the chest and the pair of fair ladies. 
He bravely confronted the beast and was able to get between them. 
Then with his shining broad sword he made a mighty sweeping blow that lopped off the head of the dragon, but, alas, on the backswing … took off Lady Geneveive's head, too. 
Upon realizing his deadly mistake he cried out in aggrieved surprise at his stroke of incompetence. 
But before his cry had echoed back the blue dragon flew down, pinned him to the ground, and prepared to feast on the knight. 

Meanwhile, Sir Monty had been observing the incompetence of his colleague and seized the moment to approach the blue dragon from behind. 
Just after the dragon had dispatched Sir Wallace he was decapitated by Sir Monty, who was careful to avoid creating collateral damage. 
Then the hero freed the young queen, grabbed the chest, and in a rush of triumph they hurried back to the castle as quickly as they could. 

The regent was grateful to the hero for his brave rescue of Queen Varda (though disappointed at the loss of Lady Geniveve) and asked that the chest be opened. 
The lid was lifted revealing that it was filled with plain rocks. 
The regent sadly shook his head in disappointment and clucked his tongue. 
The hero was so ashamed and furious that he rushed back to the dragon's lair only to be eaten by the red dragon, who was clever enough to have hidden the real treasure and set an ambush after discovering the loss of his companions and the chest. 
The red dragon also returned to the castle later that night and boldly recaptured the queen from her tower bedchamber and once again the kingdom was stricken with great dread at their misfortune.

So, the old regent asked once again for someone, anyone who would be willing to fight the red dragon.
Eventually a rather modest looking warrior in dilapidated armor, Reginald, stepped forward. 
The regent gave him a great steed to get him on his way more swiftly and the courtiers whispered amongst themselves that he was doomed. 

Knowing that his chances of success were slim Reginald visited an ancient reclusive monk who lived on the opposite side of the valley from the dragons. 
The monk was moved by the misfortune of the kingdom and the sense of duty that motivated the brave warrior. 
He said that he only had one thing to offer the brave knight. 
It was magic mirror. 
It's magic was to reflect only the gazers greatest fear. 
He gave Reginald the mirror wrapped in coarse cloth and sent him on his way. 

The unassuming warrior found the dragon's lair and came up with a plan. 
By throwing small parts of his armor behind the dragon he tricked it into thinking he had snuck by and gotten inside the cave. 
The dragon chased after the sound assuming the warrior was heading directly towards the treasure, but instead lead him to the hidden trove. 
Reginald hid in a side passage when, after searching in vain for the source of the sound, the dragon returned to the cave entrance to guard the queen. 
Reginald put the magic mirror at the end of the passage where he had hidden and then he once again enticed the dragon into the cave but this time down the dim dead end passage. 
When the dragon looked at the end of the dim passage it just saw a knight sitting with the queen before the treasure chest which was set as if it were a dinner table. 
They were about to eat a large red dragon steak served up on a shiny silver platter. 
The dragon was enraged by this sight and attacked the image with all it's might. 
But, of course, he was actually looking into the magic mirror and so he slammed himself into the wall with such force that he knocked himself out and Reginald easily dispatched him. 
The warrior gathered up as much treasure as he and the queen could carry together on the mighty steed and headed back to the castle. 

But alas, while recovering Queen Varda and the treasure was a great accomplishment, the warrior could not outwit the plague and the pestilence, so everyone got sick and died. 

The End

Now you must be wondering what kind of fairy tale is it that ends such. 
It might be the truth of our own future if we do not learn from those who failed in this story. 

The hero's challenge is first to survive and, then, thrive. 
A hero attains that status by having hard goals that have a major obstacle that prevents just anyone from achieving them. 
But, there are also inherent boundaries to how those goal states must come about and those boundaries create the playing field that defines what game the hero must play. 
In order to become a hero you have to play the right game for the circumstances. 
When the drunken 8th Earl of Poselthwaite shows up to play with dragons using only his dulled wits and a short sword, he fails. 
He did not really understand the game he needed to play. 
If you don't pay close enough attention to the right details of your situation you can inadvertently put yourself in harm's way. 

On the other hand the two knights seem to be playing the right game, but still broke the implicit rules for success. 
Sir Wallace's killing one of the the damsels in distress was a losing move. 
You have to stay within the bounds of the playing field because sometimes thinking “outside the box” is a losing move, not a creative one.

Sir Monty's accidentally recovering worthless stones was also a losing move. 
You have to keep your eyes on the prize, it's just no good to let your success get to your head and lose track of what you have to do. 

And finally, let's consider Reginald.
When he cannot cure the plague and stop the pestilence, he loses, too. 
And when the hero fails, the whole kingdom continues to suffer.
In this case it is a challenge that is simply beyond his ability and resources to handle. 
They were living in the time of knights-in-shining-armor and kings-living-in-castles. 
All the wealth in the world could not buy the public health measures that did not exist for them. 

Today, however, we have everything we need to play and win the heroic game of our time. 
The problem is knowing what the game is and the implicit boundaries that define success. 

The heroes of today are also going to rescue the vulnerable, retrieve a valuable treasure, and provide for health and wellness. 
  • The realm in dire straights that my work addresses is K-12 schools. 
  • The game is paradigm change. 
  • The vulnerable are the children. 
  • The treasure is optimal states of mind. 
  • And, finally, providing for well-being requires a multi-level ecological perspective on the true boundaries of the playing field.

    On the one hand, we know that primary human needs give us one level of the necessary boundaries.

    On the other hand, we know that supporting need satisfaction requires us to see how each individual with those needs is embedded in a network of different levels of influence; such as one-to-one relationships, ecologies, organizations, and society. 

You can find out more about how to understand the heroic game of paradigm change in K-12 schools on my web site Teach-Kids-Attitude-1st.com. 
By clicking on the leadership button you will find my explanation of the game and it's boundaries. 
Thanks for watching.
This page is a script for a video preface to Leadership in Education: How to Play the Hero's Game.

05 October 2018

School Reform Biomimicry

School reform biomimicry is a new idea that suggests we can learn from nature how to organize schools more effectively. 

In this video I propose that we approach school reform by taking lessons from our own cells and the alternatives of home and democratic schools. 

The script:

Hello, I've been trying for over a decade to puzzle out what public schools should be learning from the alternative education movement. 
I think I have finally found two key lessons that can provide practical approaches to change for mainstream schools, but I am only going to explain one in this video. 
The one I am NOT going to explain is about how autonomy is a fundamental psychological human need and therefore autonomy support is a crucial, yet neglected, duty of school leadership. 
But I'll explain that another time.

School Reform Biomimicry 

What I want to focus on now is a way that we can take a design principle from nature to create a strategy for improving mainstream schools that happens to be used in certain kinds of alternatives. 
There is a basic design principle that our cells use to create the amazing creativity and coordination of our bodies, and we should be using the same principle in schools to cultivate creativity and coordination for our society. 

But first, a quick review of cell biology, so that I can explain what nature has to offer.

There are only two kinds of cells in the world. 
Prokaryotes, which do not have a nucleus thus the DNA is just clumped together somewhere in the guts of the cell. 
What you need to know about prokaryotes is that because the DNA is just another part of the cell's guts means that it can very easily exchange DNA with other prokaryotic cells. 
This gives these kinds of cells an ability to change very quickly in response to pressures from their environment. 
This rapid adaptability is the reason that we humans have lots of problems when we use drugs to try to control diseases caused by these kinds of cells. 
The little buggers quickly figure out what genes they need to get around the action of our latest drug and pass it directly on to their neighbors. 

But the cost of this kind of willy-nilly information transfer is that they can't get too specialized or differentiated. 
The open architecture of their DNA means that all prokaryotic cells are mostly doing variations on the same basic things and they cannot develop much more complexity than they already have. 

The other kind of cells in the world are eukaryotes, which have a nucleus that protects the DNA. 
So, while they do not change as rapidly, the changes they do make can become very specialized and differentiated both within and between organisms. 
Eukaryotic cells traded the ability to change quickly for the ability to become multicellular and more complex. 
And this trade-off lead to the mechanisms of creative adaptation and complex coordination that is at the heart of human society. 

For instance, it was through creativity and complex coordination that we, humans, achieved a spectacular victory over the disease smallpox by eliminating the organism entirely, which is a feat recently repeated with an animal disease called rinderpest, or the cattle plague. 

So, cell biology has taught us that protecting the information transfer process is what enables us to be creative and highly coordinated and when threats can be eliminated that is the best protection we can achieve. 

Now let's consider a speculation: 
What if our cells could judge the relative value of different parts of it's systems and then decided that since that genetic information in DNA is SO important it must therefore deserve to take over more of the cell? 
I imagine that the cell would minimize the rest of the cell's parts and expand the nucleus. But, what kind of trade-off might that entail? 

Seems to me it would be a step backwards from the design principle of protecting the information transfer process.

School Reform Biomimicry: The Need

Now, let's turn our attention to schools. 
I'm going to represent them schematically, like I've been doing with the cells. 
Taking them at face value, we can say that instruction is a core function. 
So just like cells, some kinds of information transfer are at the core of schooling. 

And just as there are threats to our DNA, like virusues, the key threat to instructional effectiveness are what I will call motivational energy suckers. 
Let's think about motivational energy sucking as a kind of disease process that diminishes the energy available for learning. 
It shows up as students and teachers who are not tapping into the sources of their own passions and enthusiasms and therefore in order to participate they must suck passion and enthusiasm out of those around them. 
I'm sure you've known people who distract from, delay, and derail whatever forms of focused attention and excitement that occur around them; those people are motivational energy suckers. 

There are only three way to address the presence and persistence of motivational energy suckers and the current organization of typical school spaces makes them all problematic. 

So, the major challenge in schools, when we take them at face value, is the existence and persistence of motivational energy suckers that distract from the instructional processes that we commonly take to be the core of schooling. 

School Reform Biomimicry: The Current Situation 

Now, here's a generic school. 
All schools have two kinds of spaces, instructional spaces in which the core function of deliberate information transfer happens and non-instructional spaces that support the instructional practices in a way that is similar to how all the other parts of the cell support the nucleus to carry out it's information transfer functions. 
Notice that there are two openings, the school gate and the classroom door. 

Now, here's how a stereotypical public school is organized. 
The non-instructional spaces are stigmatized. 
"Do you have a pass?" 
"Why are you out of class?" 
"Who gave you permission to be in the hall?" 
Those spaces are considered mere transportation corridors between the all-important instructional spaces. 

One consequence of this organization of the space is that every child who shows up has to occupy an instructional space, even if they are not in an appropriate state of mind to take advantage of instruction. 
In other words, motivational energy suckers come into existence as they enter because they don't have any where else to go but into the instructional spaces. 
This is effectively like a prokaryotic cell that is organized for easy access to it's DNA and willy-nilly information transfer is the result. 
Although with the ironic twist that the information transferred is just about anything but what the teacher intended. 

Given this organization, successful schools MUST either prevent the motivational energy suckers from entering, transform them after they enter, or expel them. 
These are, logically, the only options. 

School Reform Biomimicry: One Non-Option

And transformation of people is notoriously difficult and unreliable, so except under special circumstances it is impractical as a strategy. 
Attempts to replicate transformation processes often require most people to be better than they already are. 
Movies like Stand and Deliver, Freedom Writers, and the Ron Clark Story, portray true stories of transformative teachers but those stories are interesting because they represent rare achievements that have proven to be very difficult to replicate. 

For schools organized in this manner the most reliable methods of dealing with the motivational energy suckers are creating barriers to entry and using subtle processes of exclusion to eventually drive them away. 

In your typical public schools these options are not readily available within the school, but there may be community-level processes that serve the same function or there may be ways that teachers and administrators are unofficially making due. 
If the function does not get handled then the school will deteriorate if motivational energy sucking spreads throughout the community. 

Private schools seem to mostly rely on the "barrier to entry" method of preventing motivational energy sucking, though I'm sure some use the exclusion principle, as well. 

In some celebrated academic charter schools they use the exclusion method by applying pressure for hard work with an ethic of diligent all-consuming devotion to the requirements of their system. 
This serves to ultimately discourage those who may be prone to motivational energy sucking, even if the school's party line says they support everyone. 

But what else can we do?

School Reform Biomimicry Inspired by Alternatives 

Well, let's look towards home and democratic schooling. 
My thesis research is being conducted at a Home School Resource Center which acts a lot like a community college in which a variety of courses are offered according to the interests and needs of their community. 
I also work with a democratic school in which the kids have classes available but are not required to take any of them. 
For our purpose here what you need to know about these schools is that they create welcoming, non-stigmatized, non-instructional spaces. 
And, thereby, ensure that the children have to first want instruction before it will be provided, and then they have to also show on-going interest and engagement or it will not continue to be provided. In other words the children have to both want and work for their access to instruction. 

Now imagine what might be possible in public schools if we bring together the biological design principle of protecting the integrity and fidelity of information transfer and the proven example of home and democratic schooling. 
What if... we maintain the social pressure to enter the school gate, but re-create the non-instructional spaces to be welcoming to everyone who is not in the right state of mind for instruction? 
Removing the stigma is a significant challenge but motivational pre-requisites for instruction is a potentially practical and promising strategy for improving public schools which should be tried. 

School Reform Biomimicry is Easier Said Than Done

Naturally this requires more than just arbitrarily declaring one day that these spaces are now different. 
We have to figure out how to make the transition from what we have to what we want. 
Fortunately, alternative schools have done decades of research and development already that can help us envision what is likely to work in the end. 
For instance, one of the most consistent features of democratic schools are student-run justice systems that are highly effective at maintaining a pervasive sense of just and equitable treatment in the face of conflicts. 

School Reform Biomimicry Depends on Willing Adults

But the critical key to making the shift is changing the adults attitudes towards children and the policies and procedures that guide their behavior. 
The adults need to shift from a sense that they are entitled to having dictatorial control over children to a sense that they have been chosen for their ability to support the children in responsibly exercising their autonomy. 
Remember "autonomy support?" 
I mentioned it at the beginning as the other key lesson mainstream schooling should learn from the alternative movements. 
Autonomy is a fundamental human psychological need and adults who provide for that need are being "autonomy supportive." 
The antithesis of autonomy support is control. 
(And for those who automatically assume that losing control of children is a bad thing, you don't need to worry because it has always been an illusion anyway, and you can't really lose what you never had in the first place. But that's for another video.) 

The key point of this video is that the organization of school spaces can be transformed to cultivate creativity and social coordination by taking a lesson from our own biology. 
Our biology teaches us that our own cells have evolved the ability to protect the integrity and fidelity of the information transfer of our DNA. 
Cells accomplish this through maintaining their investment in the various functions that take place around the nucleus, and not by expanding the nucleus's core function to take over everything else in the cell. 

School Reform Biomimicry: We Are All The Problem, Potentially

So in this view schools are manufacturing motivational energy suckers that can kill the learning process because the core function has been taken to outlandish extremes. 
Everyone experiences occasions when they are NOT ready or willing to participate fully in instruction. 
But, when ALL the non-instructional spaces are stigmatized then anyone can be forced into sucking motivational energy from others in order to participate.

However, we can prevent the disease of motivational energy sucking by creating welcoming non-instructional spaces where members of the learning community can learn together in non-instructional ways. 
The task is to create schools that will protect the integrity and fidelity of instructional processes through having motivational pre-requisites for instruction. 

School Reform Biomimicry is Practical

I believe this strategy for re-organizing school spaces is practical for several reasons. 
While it will require some organized and motivated advocacy it does not require people to be better than they already are, they do not have to acquire specialized skills, nor have access to more technology. 
This strategy does require people to learn some ideas, coordinate conversations to spread those ideas (to figure out how to apply them in their school community), and eventually formulate a clear plan for implementing changes. 
But learning an idea, spreading it in their community, and then acting on how that idea resonates with the values of that community is what education is already supposed to do, isn't it?

P.S. Here's another article on how unschooling is a model for school reform biomimicry.

  • 04 October 2018

    School Reform Framework: Guiding Change for Sustainability

    School reform frameworks are common, but the following framework has the benefits of being derived from a moral foundation that is likely universal, focused on a surprisingly small set of behavioral changes, and encompasses every level of the school system in positive ways.

    As someone (not Einstein) pointed out, “You can't solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it.” 
    In my view the school reform programs that have dominated our attention in the United States have been created with an education-is-delivery consciousness which I argue on my definition of education page is what created the problems in the first place. 
    I propose that a new consciousness for solving the deepest, most entrenched problems of schools is education-is-cognitive-cartography. 
    But, naturally, that is easier said than done. 
    In this essay I will sketch out my proposal for a three step intervention plan that starts with a district level program in a high school catchment area then scales up to state and federal policy changes. 
    The proposal is based on my understanding of how to create cultural change. 
    So, first, I will share my synthesis of cultural change models which is one part of my overall school reform framework.
    Then I will present a draft intervention plan outline to accomplish the necessary change in consciousness that will bring about effective school reform. 

    Taking my lead from a variety of sources including Howard Gardner (Changing Minds), Sharif Abdullah (Creating A World That Works for All), George Lakoff (Moral Politics), Jonathan Haidt (creator of Moral Foundations Theory), and Joe Brewer (founder of Cognitive Policy Works) amongst others; I take the following to be the necessary steps in creating an effective cultural change plan. 

    Step 1- Moral Imperative: State a moral imperative that is easily understood and, ideally, universal.

    Step 2- Empirical Foundation: Establish the empirical foundation that serves to express the moral imperative and, thereby, frames what counts as evidence for enacting the moral imperative.

    Step 3- Inspiring Comprehensive Story: Figure out the story of why change is necessary such that the status quo fails to express the moral imperative and there are relatively obvious approaches to corrective action. 

    Step 4- Empirical Strategy: Generate an empirically respectable approach to sustainable change that expresses the moral imperative in a manner that is consistent with the story.

    Step 5- Political Strategy: Generate a politically respectable approach to cognitive and material policies that will enable the implementation of the empirically respectable approach to sustainable change that expresses the moral imperative in a manner that is consistent with the inspiring comprehensive story.

    Here, then, are the essential elements of my cultural change plan for schools:

    Moral Imperative: All adults responsible for children must nurture those children.

    Empirical Foundation: Nurturing children requires meeting their fundamental human needs. 
    According to the best available evidence human fundamental needs include, at minimum, the psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy. 
    Self-Determination Theory which was first proposed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan is the research tradition that has most thoroughly established those needs as universal and primary rather than derivative needs.

    Inspiring Comprehensive Story: Since the emergence of life over 4 billion years ago there have been a series of global catastrophes that have nearly wiped life out. 
    Life has responded to each catastrophe with creativity. 
    We are in the midst of one of those catastrophes now, and we are called to respond creatively or die. 
    On a smaller scale some of our ancestors experienced exactly this kind of challenge sometime about five to ten thousand years ago and responded by creatively changing the cultural story they lived by. 
    Up until then all human beings lived in cultures that in one way or another acknowledged that they were part of the Sacred Hoop, one part of a larger whole that sustained their existence, you could say that they left their fate in the hands of the gods. 
    Those were the Keepers of the Sacred Hoop. 

    Those humans who were having their very existence threatened by scarcity came up with the innovation of breaking the Sacred Hoop and taking their fate into their own hands. 
    They were our ancestors and we have been striving endlessly for hundreds of generations to take control of fate ever since. 
    We now have Breaker schools that assume that adults must control children in order to ensure they will get what they need to succeed. 
    In Breaker schools policies and practices systematically exert control and inherently undermine autonomy at all levels. 
    The Breaker system is pervasive and exerts it's effects independent of the beliefs of individual teachers, parents, students, administrators and policy makers. 
    The Breaker story has brought us into the global Mess that threatens our existence. 
    While, the Breaker system is not vulnerable to the beliefs of individuals, it is vulnerable to the actions of individuals if those actions catalyze other's to act and lead to organized support for the continuation of those actions.

    There is a new story emerging today in which people are acknowledging that while we cannot take control of fate, we can act as co-creators of the universe to influence how we live within the limitations of our world. 
    These people are the Menders of the Sacred Hoop who realize that the Keepers were right that there will always be ways in which God can wipe us out using natural and man-made disasters and misfortunes. 
    But, the Breakers were also right that we can be powerful forces (for both good and evil) in the world. 

    Mender schools are about enabling children to practice being powerful agents so that they can make good decisions that help people and avoid decisions that, while well intended, turn out to be harmful. 
    Mender schools co-create educational experiences with children and work to minimize the level of control that adults have to exert for the children's protection. 
    Mender Schools structure the environment of the school for autonomy support at every level, encourage the development of strong personal and community bonds within the organization, and hold everyone accountable for high levels of competence. 
    Becoming a Mender school can be as simple as making a public commitment to being held accountable for meeting the psychological needs of all the members of their school community. 
    And after the school demonstrates a substantial degree of success they will be promoted to the status of a School of Conscience. 

    Empirical Strategy: Implement a multi-year mental model intervention that promotes autonomy support at all levels of practice within the context of a well-structured school climate study and introduce and sustain the intervention in autonomy supportive not controlling ways.

    Political Strategy: Sustainable changes require policies that hold school managers and leaders accountable for meeting the psychological needs of the central members of the school community, students, teachers, and staff. 
    The policies must be pedagogically neutral to allow families across the spectrum of moral perspectives to find and attend appropriate schools for their children.

    The Essential Educational Policy Argument for Schools of Conscience
    1. Every adult responsible for children is morally obligated, duty-bound, to nurture the children in their care. 
      We currently have a school system that forces adults responsible for nurturing children to sacrifice that duty on the altar of academics; this is wrong.

    2. The most important educational policy in K-12 schools should be nurture first, academics second.

    3. Compulsory schooling is currently about forcing teachers and children into the same room and trying to dictate their behavior. 
      Even if the teachers can achieve the status of a benevolent classroom dictator, this is the wrong model of power to teach children who are growing up in a democratic society. 
      Worse yet, schools have had to kowtow to arbitrary standards and testing regimes that pressure everyone to ignore the basic human needs of teachers and children in order to keep up with the instructional bookkeeping that is required to stave off dire punishments. 
      The current system slaps down the people who are on the front lines doing their best to care for and nurture the children; this is wrong and we can do better.

    4. We can do better by putting nurturing first and making schools truly welcoming places. Every K-12 school should be first and foremost a universally safe and welcoming space, then, if that is true, academic instruction will flourish as one of the mechanisms available for meeting the needs of the children.

    5. In order to accomplish this in a practical way it requires that the uncompromising focus on academic instruction and the marginalization of nurturing care to be switched in the everyday lives of students and teachers. 
      Compulsory schooling should be about guaranteeing every child access to a nurturing community environment. 
      Then within that larger nurturing community pockets of excellent academic instruction should be readily available, but, only to those children who are motivationally ready to meet the highest standards of behavior that are required in those classes.

    One relatively simple and affordable adjustment towards nurturing first is presented in this video I made about school reform biomimicry in which mimicking the organization of biological cells in schools will solve the problem of motivational energy suckers.
    These essential elements form the conceptual core of Schools of Conscience, a network of educators and education advocates that is charged with implementing the whole set of five school reform proposals being presented in this series.
    Given those essentials then an outline of the school reform implementation I currently favor has the following three stages:

    Stage 1: Organizational Culture Intervention- Proof of Concept
    The first rule for this intervention is that change must come about in autonomy supportive, not controlling, ways.
    Therefore, the essence of the plan is to provide a consistent professional development presence focused on the cognitive cartography concept in all schools within a high-school catchment area for 5 years or more.
    Teachers and administrators will not be coerced, but, rather given the option of attending workshops that focus on autonomy supportive teaching practices initially, then eventually they will be supported to figure out ways to apply the full suite of ideas that follow from the cognitive cartography metaphor.
    At least one full-time staff person will provide workshops and a variety of support services to all the target schools on a rotating basis as teachers and administrators come on board and need help transforming their day-to-day practices.
    Reeve, J. (2009). Why teachers adopt a controlling motivating style toward students and how they can become more autonomy supportive. Educational Psychologist, 44, 159-178.
    The initial focus will be based on Johnmarshall Reeve's research into why teachers are controlling and supporting teachers to use autonomy supportive teaching practices.
    The long-term goal is to reach a critical mass of teachers and administrators in each school such that school policies would begin to reflect autonomy support at all levels within the schools.

    The initial proof of concept team will include a nearby college or university which will conduct a study of the patterns of behavioral management at all levels within the schools as part of a longitudinal school climate study.
    The study will also include a comparable high school catchment area with no intervention staff as a control group and another comparable high school catchment area with a professional development support person who will focus on community building and professional networking within the catchment area without reference to autonomy support nor educational metaphors.
    Funding for the study should be independent of the district in which it occurs to minimize conflicts of interest and ensure that local school politics and funding issues do not disrupt the study.
    Ideally, there would be several original districts so that the study proving the concept could represent several regions of the country.

    Stage 2: Organizational Culture Intervention- District-wide Application and New District Recruiting
    Given proof of the effectiveness of the intervention then the district would create a department that would provide a full-time staff person to each high school catchment area in the district to provide professional development support for creating Schools of Conscience throughout the district.
    It is not presumed that every school will take on the responsibility of becoming a School of Conscience at this stage, and the first rule of the intervention dictates that involuntary or coerced compliance with School of Conscience standards would violate the School of Conscience standards.

    At the same time as the original district is intervening throughout their system the Schools of Conscience network will actively seek new districts that would like to implement interventions in their areas.
    Growth strategies for the movement would ideally reflect the distinct needs and characteristics of each region in which interventions are implemented.

    Stage 3: Societal Intervention- State & Federal Policy Changes
    As the momentum for Schools of Conscience builds then higher level policies will need to be adjusted to accommodate the full range of possible school models that have evidence of their effectiveness at meeting their students needs, since currently democratic schools, for instance, are effectively excluded from receiving most funding unless they make substantial concessions to implementing controlling policies that are antithetical to their pedagogical commitments.
    As a significant number of Schools of Conscience are acknowledged in a diverse set of districts then it will become more and more imperative to align state and federal policies to reflect the needs of schools committing themselves to the well-being of their school populations.

    This three stage intervention plan is likely to take many years to fully realize.
    It is imperative to understand that while dictatorial imposition of policy changes feels like an efficient method of transforming institutions it may ultimately fail if the imposition seriously diminishes the autonomy of those upon whom it is imposed.
    If this plan is based on true insight into human and organizational psychology, then it will succeed on it's own terms over time and impetuous efforts to impose the change will be counter productive.

    The moral imperative is clear: We must nurture children where ever they are.
    And in schools we must nurture them before all else.
    But this requires us to shift the priorities of schools away from uncompromising emphasis on academic instructional bookkeeping to uncompromising nurturance of all the people in the system.
    This is a call to change more than just your mind, but to change the culture of schools.
    Cultural change requires a long-term strategic plan based on a combination of a moral imperative, an empirical foundation, a comprehensive story, and empirically and politically respectable approaches.
    With an appropriate plan, a lot of patience, and perseverance we can make positive improvements in the lives of school children, teachers, and everyone else in our education system.