Have you ever been to a website and forgotten your password?
Fun, isn’t it? Those seven or eight minutes where you go to a website with vague recollections of a previous account and unsuccessfully try to log in. From there, the adventure begins--you try to create a new account (but of course it says that the email you have provided is linked to an existing account), ask for an email to be sent to that account, wait, open that email, copy that link into your browser along with a temporary password, and proceed to have to make a new password with 12 letters, numbers, capitals, and some Greek symbol which you are confident you will forget in the next two to three minutes. The best part is that you write the password on a post-it note and stick it to your monitor so it is easily accessible to the mischievous thieves who wish to steal your access to at 15% off coupon at Designer Shoe Warehouse. Groan.
Whether it’s the resetting of a password, the pay parking kiosk that expects you to know to press the pound sign after entering your license plate number, or the new digital marks program that the IT department has set up for the school district that requires you to manually enter your class lists that are already loaded in the system, we all tend to ask the same question after gnashing our teeth in frustration:
“Did the person who MADE this <enter your experience, product or service here> ever TEST this with the people who would be USING this?”
When solutions are designed without a deep connection to the problem AND those who will actually experience solution, designers can cause dissatisfaction, frustration, resentment and anger--they can even cause circumvention of the entire process or service, and outright resistance!
In the K-12 school system, it is common that, when school leaders are presented with a challenge in their school community, they want to design a solution to the problem...quickly! We often feel like the next problem is just a phone call or a knock on the office door away, so we better get through this one as fast as we can. We often don’t want to burden our busy colleagues with helping us solve the problem, and as a result, much like the old game show “Name That Tune” where guests tried to name a song in the fewest notes possible, we try to solve the problem as quickly as possible with minimal disruptions to the homeostasis of our learning environment.
There are so many examples of this in our schools. Kids are starting to wear spaghetti straps and muscle shirts again as summer approaches? I’ll get a bigger posters with the dress code on it, and adorn them with a couple of cool school logos so kids will pay it more attention. We want teachers to collaborate? I watched ‘Field of Dreams’, so let’s adopt the mantra of “If we build it, they will come” and convert some instructional time into PLC time. Low attendance at Parent Teacher Interviews in the evening? Let’s change the time slots and put them in the middle of the day. As school leaders, we can likely think of countless times that we might have thought that we were ‘solving a problem’ (much like the designer of the password recovery protocol), only to be surprised to find our solution was met with that same dissatisfaction, frustration, resentment and anger.
As school leaders, very often WE create this resistance.
Hearing something like that likely doesn’t feel too great. Juggling endless improvement initiatives, shrinking budgets, growing societal demands, ramped up accountability and increasingly diverse learner needs is hard work to say the very least! So when we hear that WE might be the ones creating resistance to change or new ideas in our school communities, it can definitely sting. When we are working at top speed, likely the last thing we want to hear is that we might be alienating the very people we are trying to serve in the process.
So how do we avoid creating resistance?
We can start by re-thinking the word ‘resistance’.
Imagine that tomorrow, someone told you that your school was going to be rebuilt: you and your school community were finally getting the upgrade that you had been dreaming about for the last eight years. A committee to develop the new design was going to be struck, and in the next two years, the new digs would be up and running. So exciting, hey? Except for one tiny little thing.
As the school leader, you were not invited to be a part of the design committee.
Hmm. You found this quite odd because you were going to be the one that was working and supervising the building! Not only that, you had good ideas, and you were really passionate about school design. However, you found out after through a colleague on the committee that you were excluded because a few people thought your ideas were “a bit too radical”, and you “were not always on board” with the way the school community had operated in the past. The committee thought they would be better served by having members that were “going in the same direction”: by having enough like-minded people, a critical mass would be developed that would push the final design through any resistance to the direction that the committee took.
How would you feel? Would you feel connected to this project? “Too radical?” What the heck were they talking about? I just want to have projectors, sound, wifi, and flexible seating for our students and educators, you say! “Not always on board?” You were just expressing your opinion when you said that project-based learning is a better way to engage students than the worksheets and tests we were currently giving to students. You still thought foundational skills were important-- PBL is just a better way to learn the foundational skills AS WELL AS things we know kids will need, like critical thinking, creative thinking, and communication! Why can’t they see that? “I am not a resister, I just have a different opinion!” you might shout to no one in particular.
So how might it feel to one of our passionate teachers who might have ideas that we thought were “a bit too radical” when we exclude them from a team to design a solution to a problem in our schools? How about that staff member who “isn’t always on board”, or “isn’t always going in the same direction”? Do we just automatically disqualify them in favor of that keen go-getter who is always up for anything? We all have those, don’t we? The thoroughbreds that we hitch our wagon to so we can tell the others to get on board or be left behind. Do we only surround ourselves with those who are like-minded in their thinking and most supportive to head in the direction that we wish to go?
But here is a question to consider: if we exclude those with diverse opinions when we begin to really dig in to a problem, do we truly believe that we are going to get them to “buy-in” to a solution created by the thoroughbreds at a later date simply because the thoroughbreds are already doing it?
Speaking from experience, and with more than a little regret for the times when I chose not to include those with diverse opinions who were not always on board, I can tell you it rarely works out. All I did was further alienate those individuals in the process. Ugh.
Two years ago, at the Business Innovation Factory Summit in Providence, I had the good fortune to sit with Jamie Casap, the Global Educational Evangelist from Google. For a few minutes we spoke of the importance of diversity, and in his keynote to the participants later that day he reminded all of us that the diversity that we have in our schools and communities is truly our competitive advantage!
So why not embrace the diversity of the people and opinions in order to help us understand the challenges AND the people experiencing those challenges in our schools so that we can come up with lasting and meaningful solutions for ALL of us while connecting to the group in the process?
In Learner-Centered Design, re-thinking resistance is foundational to changing the learner experience in our schools. LCD places the experience of the learner at the forefront of our experience design--and not just for the learners we like or those that are ‘on board’. We design for all of our learners, even those who might be the most ‘diverse’ in their opinions. And in order to effectively design experiences for the diverse learners we serve, we must recognize that our diversity is our competitive advantage in changing the learning experience, much like Jamie Casap stated in Rhode Island.
Our competitive advantage lies within our ‘resisters’.
Our challenge is to re-think resistance.
from the desk of an educator:
It's education: there is no more time, but we DO have time. There is no more money, but we DO have money. So let's put the learner at the center, and conduct ourselves accordingly.