Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011
EDITOR’s NOTE: The following guest post from Chris Shearer represents, well, the thoughts of Chris Shearer. And if you have the pleasure of knowing Chris, you know his thoughts and style are unique. And as such, they do not represent his employer (Hewlett) or this blog. Not exactly, at least.
Do you ever have trouble selecting which meetings to attend and which to tactfully avoid? Me, too. The unending crush of meeting requests and opportunities is one of the most notable blessings/curses of our lives as foundation program staff.
(I feel a bit like Andy Rooney here: “Do you EVER have trouble choosing between the GOOD meetings and the ones where you just KNOW you’ll NEVER get that part of your life BACK?”)
Well I am putting ink on paper online to urge you to think about attending a meeting that might normally default into your mental “spam” in-box. It’s GFE’s “Member Briefing on Innovation Design” this June in Detroit.
Why might you tend to dismiss the briefing? First, there is the seemingly squishy language: “harness the tools of design thinking to create new systems to serve twenty-first-century learners.” Ooh, ooh, Jargon bingo! Then there is the location: Detroit. The hothouse of innovation? I mean, I liked the Imported from Detroit ads during the Super Bowl (“This isn’t New York City. Or the Windy City…This is Motor City”) but I do not naturally think, “Hey, let’s go to Detroit to look at the future.” Then there is the time out of the demanding daily grind of grant reviews, grant making, grant reports, and grantee meetings.
And I’ll be honest: when GFE offered the first of the Innovation Design meetings in San Francisco last May I took a pass. It seemed too tangential to my daily work, too far away, too much time. But—as events transpired—I switched jobs and stunt-doubled for a new colleague ata follow-up meeting of participants from that briefing, held in September in Chicago. I thought of it as an obligation. I was wrong. It was a gift.
These convenings are enormously helpful and truly collaborative discussions about how we can think in a real way about the students of the 21st century. About how the education system actually needs to change to give kids a real education that they can really use in their real future. And, it turns out, some folks in Detroit have been facing the future pretty directly and thinking creatively and hard about how school design might need to change. Oh, and then there are your colleagues, who are each bringing solid case studies, experiences, and specific frustrations with the present system into concrete discussions of grants budget allocations, co-funding, technology, and system-busting to the table. All this is framed by the discipline and principles of Design and facilitated by some of the best external facilitators I have seen in a while.
Now, no meeting is perfect. And this Briefing won’t be, either. For example, I don’t think we are actually going to finish redesigning all of American education in the two days we’re there. And who knows if the best of the breakfast pastry will already be snatched up by the time I get down from my hotel room to the meeting space. But from what I’ve experienced, this will be an event worth attending. There will be much more about active discussions than you are used to. Much more about challenging current thinking. Much more about reforming instruction and learning than most of what constitutes today’s highly-charged tactical litmus test for “reform.” And, as a bonus, there are two tracks – one for past participants and one for folks just starting the discussion.
I was born into the race riots of downtown Detroit at a time when this country was walking (or, in true Detroit fashion, driving) away from its diversity, its changing economy, its challenges. I am looking forward to going back to hear what Motown has to tell me about seizing all that change as an advantage and to hearing from my colleagues about how we act today to transform education for tomorrow. Hope to see you there.