As someone who has been an educator now for over 23 years, I find myself often trying to pinpoint the key to success. And it seems clearer than ever – break the rules.
That’s right. Break the rules. I don’t mean break laws, policies and procedures – but rather traditions and standard expectations.
When I began as a journalism teacher in 1990, I was told by several colleagues to “just play it safe.” The inference was don’t rock the boat and don’t push the envelope. I understood them to mean don’t have students pursue stories that were too serious or too controversial. Well, I ignored them. What happened? There were new and unprecedented levels of success. Our publications won awards, our students won awards, readership increased and many students went on to media-related careers enjoying tremendous success today.
When I became a Student Activities Director, again I heard the same warnings. Don’t let students be on the microphone, don’t let them have too much responsibility and more. Again, what happened? I ignored those voices and watched while students created and implemented new programs and events aimed at volunteer and community service, education, tolerance and acceptance, involving disenfranchised student groups and a whole lot more. Again, the students and program won awards and received tremendous community recognition. Many students went on to very successful advanced education pursuits and careers directly related to their levels of ownership and involvement in these programs.
When I was fortunate enough to start Minarets High School (a new digital and project-based high school @ www.minarets.us), again the list of things I was told not to do or warned against were unending. Don’t let students have your cell phone #’s, don’t allow students access to social media, don’t allow students too many choices, don’t survey students, don’t change the name of the library, students can’t handle the internet and so much more. Again, irony reigns. The most successful things that have developed at Minarets High School are almost all related to things that many said not to do.
As usual, the idea of breaking the rules – remember in this context meaning breaking new ground, altering tradition, changing the standard expectations – are not new to entities outside of education.
In business, the arts, the sciences and more, breaking the rules has always resulted in the development of new products, new ideas, new technologies, new industries and new types of jobs. In these areas, it’s widely accepted that breaking the rules is actually the key to success.
In education, status quo dominates and we often try to isolate or minimize those that break the rules, push the envelope, break from tradition and truly try to re-write the expectations.
In business or other areas, we acknowledge and look to follow innovators like Steve Jobs. In education, we defer to those who continue to perpetuate what has always been done.
It’s time that we challenge all educators to re-write the traditions and aim for new levels of legitimate student success. Nothing in education will truly be transformative until those of us in education realize that breaking the rules is the only path.
Learning is about discovery. Discovery is about what hasn’t been realized before. It’s time that education comes to terms with this reality.