Who is Education’s David and Goliath?

Or is this even a useful dichotomy? I’ve just finished Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath, an exploration of how perceived advantages can be one’s biggest disadvantage. In the context of education, it is an interesting exercise to look at one’s pedagogical, curricular, technological or even school’s biggest advantages and explore how they are disadvantages, and visa-versa. This cannot be done is the spirit of negativity, or of trying to uncover faults in what currently exists; rather, it entails asking the question: “What are we doing well, and who are we doing it well for? Who is not being served by it?” These are generative lenses through which we can play with how our school works. This may uncover some opportunities for innovation. I have found this especially inspiring when looking at systems and structures. It is the systems and structures that are seen as Goliaths – hard to move, imposing, stalwart. However, to this Goliath, innovative thinking is the David.

“Goliath is heavy infantry. He thinks that he is going to be engaged in a duel with another heavy-infantryman…When Saul tries to dress Dvaid in armor and give him a sword, he is operating under the same assumptions. He assumes Dvaid is going to fight Goliath hand to hand.

David, however, has no intention of honoring the rituals of single combat…He intends to fight Goliath the same way he has learned to fight wild animals – as a projectile warrior.” (Gladwell, Pg. 10)

This is a powerful metaphor to consider in light of structures and systems. School need to be more nimble and not continue on the same path as “we’ve do it this way because we’ve done it this way…” Is it possible to rethink schools in this way: take on your Goliath the way David did. Think sideways, think differently, think with innovation.”

For example, let’s look at many PD models that have been tried and tested and remain as a system. Many PD models involve after school meetings, goal setting, and updates. Some even link this to professional evaluation. However, if we can look at PD as an opportunity for innovation, can we change the way schools look, sound and feel for all of the stakeholders? To push this thinking further, on page 96, Gladwell concludes a story of a young scholar who worked hard to get into the post-secondary school he wanted to get into, but, as Malcolm asks:

Randolph went to the school he wanted. But did he get the education he wanted?

Are we delivering the education we want, or what is best for our students? What a powerful question indeed! In fact, in the Eschool News recent article entitled “Can we design school where teachers thrive” the authors provoke us with this statement:

Too often, the authors note, leaders assume they must choose between student learning and teacher learning, focusing on one and ignoring the other. In fact, the two are connected; when teachers flourish, they are more satisfied and stay in their classrooms longer, leading to stronger instruction and greater student achievement.

Maybe there is a way to work within our systems and structures to provide a school that is thriving. These authors point to the need for day-to-day collaborative learning for teachers – as part of their day. Can we do this? Who will it serve? Who is the current PD model not serving?

Conversely, in a recent article from the Harvard Business Review, entitled “How to help employees learn from one another” the author’s state:

When your team wants to learn a new skill, where do they turn first? Google? YouTube? Their corporate training programs? No. According to a study conducted by our company, Degreed, more workers first turn to their peers (55%)—second only to asking their bosses. Peer-to-peer learning can be a powerful development tool that breaks through some common barriers to skill-building — and it has other benefits as well.

So, while students and educators usually find themselves working together in many ways, how might our systems and structures support this relationship? How might our systems and structures deepen the feeling of what it means to be a learner in your school? How might our systems and structures create moments of thriving in our schools?

In what ways are YOUR schools thriving?

(1) Gladwell, Malcolm, “David and Goliath” Little, Brown and Company (2013)
(2) Palmer, Kelly & Blake, David. Harvard Business Review: “How to help your employess learn from each other” (Nov. 8th, 2018) https://hbr.org/2018/11/how-to-help-your-employees-learn-from-each-other
(3) Ascione, Laura. ESchool News “Can we design schools where teachers thrive?” (Nov. 1st, 2018) https://www.eschoolnews.com/2018/11/01/can-we-design-schools-where-teachers-and-students-thrive/

5 thoughts on “Who is Education’s David and Goliath?

  1. “If it is good for students as learners, then it is good for teachers as learners.” – me

    Whatever systems we both support and encourage between teachers and students could also be developed and supported between administrators and teachers. Though brain-based research supports the contention that young brains are different than old(er) brains, it wouldn’t hurt to try some of the learner-centered, student voice and student choice methods on teachers. How hard could it be? What’s the consequence if it doesn’t work out? We learn!

    Thanks for leading me to what sounds like another very thought-provoking book, Garth!

  2. Another thought-provoking post @gnichols ! As a subject coordinator, I’ve been trying to include some time in each of our department meetings for innovation in our courses, but it’s mainly been grouping teachers by shared courses. I think, moving forward, I need to also lean on specific educators (from both within and outside the department) and their expertise. Thank you for challenging us all, once again!

  3. @gnichols,

    A few years back, at the Montreal CAIS Conference, I led a seminar about small-school advantages, pitching the small independent school as the start-up model David against the more established independent Goliath. The quick ship turnaround allegory got some anticipated leverage from the room, the various educators wondering if they could turn their lumbering problems into slingshot solutions, etc. They were definitely going to take these ideas back to their boardrooms to ponder.

    Cut to now and I find myself nestled into a thriving Goliath of sorts. What I didn’t expect, but am slowly uncovering, is that, just as most corporate lingo originated from the slick rhetoric of early 20th century military efficiency (I mean “mission statements”… really!), much of our modern “innovation” jargon has been co-opted from the technology and design world by institutions as a way to proceed bravely into a highly competitive branded territory we call ed-tech-ation. Which is not to say it doesn’t come from genuine want or need or thinking of students and learning first. But, there is a big difference between saying you are “innovative” and having an open mindset towards actual innovative practice. An even bigger difference exists between being a teacher and being a creative designer of learning.

    Independent schools perhaps have the most to gain from this systemic and structural shift, as new avenues and demographics open up unforeseen niche markets. But as Einstein is often misquoted as saying, and I will continue the paraphrasing in this space here,“we can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”. In other words, we won’t be able to innovate if we stick to the same protocols and prevailing wisdom that established the eroding norm in the first place.

    But I digress. Great to share minds.

    1. Love this @edaigle – especially this line: “But, there is a big difference between saying you are “innovative” and having an open mindset towards actual innovative practice.” You’re so right that often we think if we integrate technology into our classrooms enough, we are being innovative. But many of the same problems exist in a technology-rich classroom as in the classroom of yesteryear – teachers are lecturing (albeit with slick graphics and maybe even some interactive components), students are disengaged, there is little student agency or choice, and we are still regulated by bells and dividing students by age groupings.
      The school we found with all of the Cohort 21 alums will embrace this problem, I’m sure 🙂

  4. “Day to day collaborative learning for teachers” I love it! And… I must agree with the authors “when teachers flourish, they are more satisfied and stay in their classrooms longer, leading to stronger instruction and greater student achievement.” How might we allow teacher’s to flourish…I just might be closer to my action plan than I thought. Thanks Garth!

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