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The Minimum Viable Learning Design - The Small Change that Leads to the Bigger Change

Over the past few months I have had the privilege to learn under Simon Breakspear a world-class educator and leadership consultant. Pairing this learning with the books from George Couros, Carol Dweck, Eric Sheninger, Matt Miller, Tom Whitby and Steve Anderson, I am convinced the system of education we have is sitting on the verge of a major paradigm shift. This shift is one both in the structure of the teacher/student relationship and how teachers carry out their teaching tasks.
Without a doubt we can observe this revolution, the speed of change in education is rapidly growing. More and more experts are stating that we need to build the capacity of teachers to be agile in embracing the new and developing freeing them to navigate the disruptions well.
It has been often noted by many educational organizations change had been implemented in the past because it was driven by novelty or the next great “trend” thus not gaining traction and creating a causal effect. George Couros (2015) states, “If we are going to help our students thrive, we have to move past “the way we have always done it,” and create better learning experiences for our students than we had ourselves. This does not mean replacing everything we do, but we must being willing to look with fresh eyes at what we do and ask, “Is there a better way?” We would expect the same mindset from our students, and, as educators, that question is the first step on the path to a better future for education.”
In crafting this better future for our students we need to identify where change is required to be implemented, where it will have the greatest impact for student outcomes. This focus on the impact maximizes the effect size because the costs are taken into consideration. Even more so when an awareness and respect of the social and emotional consequences the decisions are taken into consideration as this allows us to preempt the strategies needed to assist students and teachers avoid overload.
Questions we could ask ourselves
  • What if we could make a shift and rapidly increase our student achievement and avoid the negatives?
  • How could we use our impact, influence and interests to empower learning and what evidence do we need to show that we are not just doing busy work but achieving the goals we have set out?
Though I don’t have the answers for these is this another question to ask
  • Why is it so difficult to make change in our systems?

Through reading and interaction with the research it could be concluded it is because our schools are complex systems as a result there is no silver bullet, no fast track, no easy way to avoid the discomfort of change. However, we can look to small modifications that lessen the magnitude of major change that also causes variations in practice and pedagogy through experimentation, innovation and engagement. “People need to be within the comfort zone of disruptiveness” (Breakspear, 2016).
“If we want to do better things for students, we have to become the guinea pigs and immerse ourselves in new learning opportunities to understand how to create the necessary changes. We rarely create something different until we experience something different.” (Couros, 2015)
To revolutionize a complex system it takes momentum. This motion works like a dominoes effect one small adaption leading to another one, leading to another one. As we apply the iterative change process we clarify, incubate and amplify ideas. We make what we are trying to do clear and crystalized. Starting small creates energy, success and identifies problems before a larger rollout. Then by engaging the collective expertise many of the solutions to the problems we have solved within the skill sets of our fellow staff members.  Ultimately, this small-incubated change in teacher practice is a variable that causes changes in student learning that move us forward to better learning outcomes.
Four questions to ask about change
  • What can stay the same?
  • What can be removed?
  • What needs to be tweaked?
  • What can be radically redesigned?
Quotes that have challenged and inspired me recently about change.
  • “What is the Minimum Viable Learning Design? What is the smallest change we can make that will lead to the bigger change desired?” Simon Breakspear (2016)
  • “Voluntary but inevitable” Michael Fullen (2015)
  • “The system will transform at the speed of trust built between innovative educators and the rest of their colleagues” Stephen Covey (2006)
What I have learned is that in redesign a major system the path that creates the greatest momentum is the one that focuses on small strategic and consistent adaptions that allow buy in from others. This is amplified by the small value adds that teachers do and having the end goal of improving student outcomes in clear focus.
Breakspear, S. (2016) Quote from the AISNSW Learning Leaders Professional Learning 21 January 2016, 99 York St Sydney
Couros, G. (2015) The Innovator’s Mindset, Dave Burgess Consulting, San Diego
Covey, S. (2006) The Speed of Trust, Simon & Schuster, NY
Fullen, M. (2015) Freedom to Change, Jossey – Bass, San Francisco

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