If it’s Saturday afternoon in the fall, you’re going to find me in front of the TV watching college football. It’s a throwback to how I spent Saturday afternoons in the fall when I was in college. The afternoon’s proceedings began with a beer-battered fried fish sandwich (or two) and a cold beer (or two) at The DeLuxe, a somewhat seedy pool hall in the heart of the campus town of The University of Illinois. Then it was off to Memorial Field, home of the Fighting (cough) Illini. There, along with some 70,000 other fans, I would cheer our orange-and-blue clad warriors on to victory! Well, at least on to playing hard.
Today Memorial Field is my living room. One of the differences between these venues is that I used to watch the game live without video replays. Today I can literally watch the same game multiple times, as each down is usually replayed at least once. If there is a controversial play, the broadcast shows it over and over from multiple angles.
The use of the replay in some of these situations is supposed to reduce the possibility of human error in the game. Officiating calls can be reversed. History, such as it is, can be changed.
As someone who studies organization and leadership practices, that got me thinking. Organizations have a type of instant replay, too. Metaphorically speaking, they can back-up the tape and learn from the past through an individual leader’s willingness to pause and reflect, and through the organization’s willingness to rely on its collective institutional knowledge.
But most leaders are still notoriously bad at pausing and reflecting given the frenetic pace they are forced to or choose to work under.
Institutional knowledge can be a force for good – it can be used to inform discussions and planning – but it can also be a force for inertia. Ask someone why we do what we do, and they will often rewind the tape and respond with “Because we’ve always done it that way.”
This inertia is as true in education as it is in other organizations. As school innovator Chris Lehmann wrote in Building School 2.0,
And yet, so much of what happens in school happens because we believe that we must prepare children for the world as it used to exist. We continue to replicate the factory-age structures and compliance-based codes of conduct that have government school for decades because “it feels like school” to parents and politicians and school administrators all over the world.
So how can wannabe school change agents move beyond “we’ve always done it that way” and combat that inertia?
Jamahl is a man of color, and as he developed from teacher to school administrator, he grew to see that students of color were more attuned to teachers of color than their white counterparts. The students’ reasoning was easy to understand: a teacher of color could usually more readily identify with what students of color were experiencing in life.
But the problem was that not enough students of color were entering the teaching profession. So Jamahl set out to change that. And his story is a profound example of how change agents can learn from the past, but not be handcuffed by it – and how they can challenge inertia and increase their likelihood of change success. Lesson 1? Don’t be afraid or be disheartened to start small.
If you made it this far, thank you! And if you’re curious to find out how Jamahl is bringing about change, listen in. And remember, you can always hit the rewind button on your podcast player to replay part of the conversation.