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Change in Leadership

The two keynote speakers at our district’s leadership conference were both remarkable, both for what they had to say and the fact that they were saying in to an auditorium full of principals and other people running our system.

The overwhelming theme of the day was change, which is exactly what Jennifer James and Daniel Pink were preaching.

But not just small rearrangements in the status quo. They were laying out for the crowd some of the major shifts in the cultural tectonic plates.

James identified herself as an urban cultural anthropologist and managed to put a lot of humor into her message.

She also went through a lot of ideas very quickly so I’m not sure I was able to capture every point she made. But here’s the attempt.

James’ major theme was that our society is undergoing a period of rapid change, driven by both technology and an ever increasing number of data sources, all of which is overwhelming those used to a relatively steady pace.

She identified four corners to the puzzle that forms the new tapestry of society: technology, economics, demographics and culture. Adapting to new technology is actually the easiest of the four, although many people lay the blame only on that most visible element.

We also learn to manage the economic and demographic changes. It’s the changes to culture, which she defined our belief structure about the “way things ought to be”, that cause the most heartburn.

Large segments of society often respond to these major cultural changes by falling back on their traditional “tribal” approaches to dealing with the unknown.

The new cultural tapestry also requires new leaders. But James was quick to point out that leadership is not the mastery of information.

Instead it’s the ability to influence, the ability to tell the story of the future. We need to create a new set of myths to accompany the new realities.

Daniel Pink’s presentation didn’t have the same impact for me, but that’s because the material was drawn from his book A Whole New Mind, which I’ve now read twice (highly recommended!).

In both the book and his talk, Pink describes three forces that are challenging the US, abundance, asia, and automation.

The effect is that businesses will require employees with more left brain, creative abilities rather than the right brain, analytical skills that have been the foundation of our economy (and our educational system) for the last half of the previous century.

In the talk, Pink outlined six skills essential for the future: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. In the book he goes into much more detail.

Both excellent speakers, both slapping this audience of mostly traditional educators across the head with a view of how the world outside the classroom is changing.

However, now comes the hard part. Can we take that information to make the massive changes to teaching and learning that will be necessary to prepare students for that new world?

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for sharing your notes. I wasn’t familiar with Jennifer James either.

    It does seem that the “cultural” changes are always the ones that cause much conflict in our culture.

    Sometimes I think school culture is so “isolated” in its school bubble(including public and private and colleges), that these changes go on around us and barely touch what is happening inside.

    This set of changes seems different, perhaps because they are about “information” and self-learning, and so have a direct impact on schools?

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