“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.” –Abraham Lincoln’s Second Annual Message to Congress
There is something about that quote that I just love, it stirs something inside. It is also incredibly fitting for our current circumstances in education. Especially, in regards to “we must think anew, and act anew.” And most importantly, we must “disenthrall ourselves.” It is really an outstanding quote for the 21st century mindset. However, most of you will be less familiar with this quote as it extends from Abraham Lincoln, than from Sir Ken Robinson’s famed TED-talk, “Bring on the Learning Revolution.” If you haven’t watched “Bring on the Learning Revolution,” it is truly worth taking the time.
Besides his moving use of Lincoln’s Message to Congress, Ken Robinson references Jeremy Bentham, an English utilitarian philosopher and social reformer. And to quote, “It was Jeremy Bentham, I believe who said there are two types of people in this world, those who divide the world into two types and those who don’t.” For which he replies, “Well, these days I do.”
Though I have watched this TED-talk a number of times and referenced bits and clips for a variety of presentations, I never really gave that comment much thought. Until now.
And actually I believe he is right, in its simplest of forms, reflecting on the educational landscape, as a teacher, a principal, or a district level administrator, there basically are two types…
As educators, we have a tendency, for all intents and purposes to fall into two camps or two types (for which I have taken the liberty of naming)
1. The Twistovators
2. The Blockstacles
Over my twenty years as an educator, in its rawest and simplest form, through every meeting and training, always seems to boil down to us falling into one or the other of these two camps whenever any new initiative, program, policy, or procedure is unveiled.
To get a clearer picture, let’s define the two types.
First, let’s look at the Blockstacles, which are those educators who immediately hit the stop button at the first sign of any new idea, initiative, or change effort. They are so named for their ability to quickly block any change effort and immediately begin erecting a myriad of obstacles to throw in front of the process. They have an uncanny ability to provide an endless tirade of reasons why something can’t or won’t work.
The second group I will refer to as the Twistovators, which tend to be a rather quiet group. In contrast to the Blockstacles, they usually have little to say because their minds are racing in an entirely different direction. Before the initiative is entirely rolled out they have already internalized the concept and are now running with it. They have taken the idea, added their own twist to the initiative, and are now considering a multitude of ways to innovate the idea (beyond what you may have considered) to fit their circumstances and needs.
As instructional leaders, our focus should not be caught up on whether one type or camp is better or worse than the other, or even how frustrating they can be rather, it is to utilize understanding of both camps to increase our leadership capacity and influence. Acknowledging the two types exist requires deeper preparation for moving any change effort or initiative forward. For example, knowing that the Blockstacles will be ready for you demands clarity from your leadership to the ‘why’ and not merely the ‘what’ and ‘how‘ for the initiative. Without true clarity to the ‘why’ the Blockstacles will undoubtedly plow over the initiative before it ever has a chance to gain traction. And they will most likely do it in a public manner.
Knowing that the Twistovators exist requires you to determine the loose/tight (autonomy) approach you are willing to take with the change effort or initiative. You begin with the end in mind and directly attend to expectations at the beginning of the effort. Whether that be tight alignment or full autonomy to run with the idea. Either way, clarity will save a lot of wasted time and backtracking for all involved.
So rather than being frustrated with the two types, use this knowledge to build and strengthen your leadership capacity. Determining the ‘why’ of any initiative and/or change effort and being prepared for the two types not only strengthens your understanding of the initiative, but requires you to reflect deeply on whether the initiative is in alignment with the goals and core values of your organization. And even more importantly, allows you to determine whether the timing is right to move forward. Remember, very seldom are there do-overs, you get one chance to make the impact and impression. Be prepared.
And as Lincoln stated to Congress in 1862, “we must think and act anew.”