August 1, 2011

Wanted (And Needed): ‘Radical’ Collaborations

Category: Critical Perspectives
painting of 20 LEARN

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. This insight from Anne Frank is evidenced today all across the world in education and many other domains. People are doing amazing things. Start ups, reforms, revolutions. It’s good news. It’s happening everywhere. And it all fits together, whether we see the connections today or not. Pointillism. Perpetual beta.

If you’re not feeling it, if you’re wondering if you’re a part of education’s big picture…we’re thinking, more than anything, you need to know that you are – assuming you love what you’re doing/teaching/learning.

Cathy Davidson has a very upbeat and positive take on this, she says here:

…it’s not the future. It’s the present that has changed. We have all gone through massive transformations of our work and social life in less than two decades and we’ve done an amazingly good job of it at one of humankind’s most dramatic moments. So the first thing we have to do is stop worrying so much.

Cathy goes on to say:

The sociologists tell us that the cohort of students entering college this year are the least alienated, most family- and socially conscious, most politically engaged, friendliest, least drug- and alcohol-addicted, and least violent generation since World War II.

To succeed in our fluid/agile world, we need to think less about defining/measuring a fixed content/curriculum, (less about worrying and playing defense), and more about creating some overarching patterns evidenced in the process of learning to learn. Not only does that make learning/life more fun, intellectual learning and affiliated capabilities are amped as the motivation is intrinsically driven by the pleasure of finding things out and by understanding wicked problems.


At the InnovationLab in Loveland, Colorado, we’re experimenting with such a process. We’re calling it detox. Detox is a jump start of sorts to get back to our natural curiosities. It’s a means to focus/pause/reflect on things that matter, to be mindful, rather than following a well-trodden road map. It’s a means, in public education even, to facilitate the chaos of personalization, in order to awaken indispensable people.

Will Richardson, in the beginning of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, says, in regard to tech, teachers need to do it for themselves first. That has been a driving force for all we’ve been doing. If you’re seeking change of any sort, especially with students, especially with learning…try it for yourself first.

“At the end of the day what I’m suggesting is that vulnerability in context can be the most powerful behavior in initiating change.” – Thomas J deLong in Flying Without A Net

“Why are we prepping for safe jobs – success should not be our goal. Partial freedom is no freedom. We can’t make change happen if adults haven’t experienced it.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti writes in Education and the Significance of Life

If you’re so inclined to do detox for yourself:

1) Notice the unlikely.

Start each day looking for the unlikely. Expect it. Delight in it. Learn from it. We believe, even if there is not visible change in a community, this change in mindset, this mindfulness, can change things from within. You can’t not learn if you’re mindful to what’s going on around you. There’s no way a person is not growing if they are learning daily. This is the type of growth we are seeking to observe in the lab. How about a new daily/weekly monitoring of growth, simply – what are you experiencing/learning/noticing?

2) Dream boldly.

It’s hard to move forward when you are waiting for the instructions. If you dream boldly, you can’t not do. We learn most from our mistakes, so dreaming bolding and failing can be our best lesson. This is win-win. Especially in K-12.

“When you don’t know what you believe, everything becomes an argument.
Everything is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious.” – Jason Fried, Rework

3) Connect to people and info/ideas.

We do this often already. But imagine if we start creating serendipity. Imagine if we deliberate randomness, if we are empowered to direct ourselves each day. What if we’ve decided that every person we meet and every new situation, every new piece of information we encounter, has within it something significant to offer, something we need, something they need. Connections become collective actions built on trust. Imagine a new social currency coming from transparency and generosity. Imagine that new culture of trust outtapping our current monetary resources. Imagine that we don’t need more, we just need to be more resourceful, especially with our connections, especially with people.

4) Do what matters most.

We do many things often, but are they what matter most?

“Work is where we get the least done.” – Jason Fried, Rework

“Often in school, most of our time is spent on classroom management, or policy. We could be teaching the world, but policy keeps getting in the way.” – David Wiley

Or other people’s agendas.

“Frustrated I had squandered my time talking about my idea instead of getting to know this man. What a waste to go into a room with an agenda.” – Kim Sheinberg (Presumed Abundance)

5) Take a listen to this video for more specifics on detox. Or the video below for how we are doing/ documenting detox. We believe the stronger the ownership of learning is, (for anyone: teacher, student, parent, admin, etc), the greater the boldness to lobby for space for kids/learners. As well as, the greater the intellectual learning.


One of our immediate goals is to affect the research/researchers/stakeholders enough to break down the walls of tradition and remove major roadblocks to these spaces of learning/permissions, particularly in the mind, such as standardized testing and set curriculum. And to do it in a way that is useful.

Other ways to get started:

+ Give to kids/teachers 10% or 20% of their time with you. Let them own it. No measuring, no directives. Let them search.

+ Document/experiment with us. Our research question is…what is your experience with detox? As per the video above, we are setting up a sound booth – where youth will go in once a week and share their experience with detox. For the research, the documentation over time could give us something interesting. For the individual, the stopping and reflecting could encourage a habit of self-directed feedback loops with no judgment. Some people we have been talking to in other locations are thinking about setting up some sort of booth as well, sharing their reflections/findings with our research. (Austin Center for Design has been doing something similar here. See – it’s happening. We just need to do some radical collaborations to focus this pointillism masterpiece in order to eradicate standardization.)

+ Last year we tried a Google doc, where learners would write once a week or insert a video link, if that would be an easier way for you to help document and/or jump start a changed mindset.

+ Start following labconnections where, starting this month, we will be posting video of our weekly hangout sessions. In these sessions we are talking about what we’re doing to awaken indispensable people. Currently, to help facilitate thinking in districts anywhere/everywhere, we are working on ebooks to explain major components of the narrative, ie: rhizomatic learning/thinking/doing; detox; city as floorplan; how to be a mentor (alongside).

We would love your help in experiencing/documenting detox with us, as we believe we are shortchanging people (all around) until we get rid of compulsory courses, standardized tests, seat time, the Carnegie unit.

In one of Seth Godin’s interviews, the last question he was asked was, “So what’s next?” Seth’s response is our call out to everyone desiring to reimagine learning. Seth responded, “This is it – now is next.”

“You are a designer. You have to eat the world with your eyes. You must look at everything as if you are going to die in the next five minutes, because in the relative scheme of things, you are. You can’t miss a trick.” – Winter Sorbeck character in The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd

Banner image credit: aaron schmidt