This past week I had a great chat with my lifelong friend Ron Severson. We were discussing the need for difference makers in our society, individuals who look at their profession differently. Individuals and leaders who are willing to buck the system and differentiate from the status quo. My friend Matt Miller would call these individuals Mavericks. A week later Ron forwarded me a letter from his Navy Commander with a very specific message on this exact same subject. Here is an excerpt from this letter:
"I heard a great story while in San Diego and there's a lesson in this for
all of us. Many years ago, behavioral scientists put five monkeys in a
glass living enclosure, hung bananas from the ceiling and provided a ladder.
The monkeys, of course, quickly figured out how to move the ladder under the
bananas. However, when they got about 2/3 of the way to the top they got
sprayed with cold water. All five monkey quickly figured out not to go up
the ladder because they didn't want to get sprayed with the water. Then
they started replacing the original five monkeys one at a time. The new
monkey would almost immediately start to climb the ladder before he/she was
tackled by the other four monkeys who knew what was going to happen next.
Eventually, all the monkeys who were sprayed with the water originally were
replaced and what they found was that any new monkey who tried to climb the
ladder was tackled even though no one in the group had ever been sprayed
with water. Why did they do that? Because they were afraid of getting
sprayed with water? No. It's because that's what they were taught to do.
How many things do we do each and every day because that's what we we've
been taught to do even though we have no idea why that's the rule or policy?
I need us all to challenge the status quo when it doesn't make sense or when
we have no idea why we do it that way. It's the only real way to get
meaningful change that will truly move the needle.
This leads to the topic of mavericks (not the
Top Gun version) and the value they can provide to an organization and is
right in line with my consistent message that we've got to think differently
about things if we're going to get the 5X even 10X improvements we'll need
to continue to expand the advantage."
Quote: "As we continue on this change journey and particularly as we try
and scale it, one of the key actions we all need to do is to protect our
mavericks. They are essential to moving the organizational forward and
enabling us to get jumps in improvement, not just little steps.
Unfortunately, they can also cause internal friction and quickly excite the
auto-immune system within our organization, which acts quickly to root them
out and kill them. I see this as a particular risk in the DoN culture.
That is where I need you to ensure we are not killing them off individually
or systemically. That is an essential part of leadership I am expecting out
of each one of you
As leaders, we must protect (and attract) mavericks or we will
sub-optimize for the sake of conformity and pleasantry - that is exactly what
our enemies want.
I am expecting you to step up and give your mavericks space to operate and
organizational cover for mavericks to challenge assumptions, drive change,
and enable us to compete and win."
This message fits right in with what can happen in an educational system which is not challenged by new ideas and fresh eyes. How the norm can become the norm, not because it is right, but because it is the way that has always existed. This happens when a new educator is given material and told here you go, no need to reinvent the wheel. When this norm is challenged, the change makers or MAVERICKS may become chastised or criticized for rocking the boat. Sure there may be newer teachers who will gravitate towards these new pedagogies and applications of skill, but there may be others, the old guard, who may not want to see this change take place. Why such resistance? It may be a simple FEAR of technology. FEAR of the unknown. FEAR of losing relevance. FEAR of becoming obsolete. These FEARs can lead to excuses and excuses are the enemies of innovation.
This blogs hits deep in my heart as I have worked hard at becoming a lifelong learner and changemaker on my campus. The need for change was not just to better myself, it was a necessity to create important change to my student’s learning environment. I needed to include new skills and communication techniques my students were already using in their personal lives. I needed to bring in these changes not to change the way I could teach my kids, rather it was to create a new way to REACH my kids. My success in the classroom allowed for others on my campus to follow suit and I was asked to become a 7-12 TOSA in my district.
“Unfortunately, they can also cause internal friction and quickly excite the auto-immune system within our organization, which acts quickly to root them out and kill them.”
After years in this position i was told by the new high school principal I would not be returning the following year in my TOSA role. The reason, he told me, was that I knew too much and the teachers were afraid I would make them change as much as my Jr. High teachers had. I was told my forward thinking ideas intimidated the staff so i needed to be removed. I was rooted out, but i refused to be killed. My innovative spirit will never die.
“I need us all to challenge the status quo when it doesn't make sense or when we have no idea why we do it that way.”
I will never stop being a forward thinker and I will always strive to be the best I can be to change the lives of as many students I can reach. I strive to meet, converse and befriend as many educators I can to collaborate on their journey to change the world. I truly believe if we walk with the wise, we will become wise. Let’s continue our walk together. Let’s keep our innovative spirits alive no matter how many hits we take. It is our time to save the Mavericks and root out the true destroyer of education, monotony. Lastly let us remember, a great teacher is not a perfect teacher. A great teacher is a teacher who is willing to take risks and try something new to impact their students education journey. That’s it.
“It's the only real way to get meaningful change that will truly move the needle.”