“If It Ain’t Broke. . .
. . . .don’t fix it,” or so the saying goes. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about adages, those sayings, like this one, that are ubiquitous throughout society and are supposed to be true universally. Yet, as common as they are, many just don’t apply to education. For that reason, as leaders, we must be careful how we use them. Let’s look at this one as an example.
Most would certainly agree that portions of our educational system are broken, but a large number in our field work in buildings or districts that are somewhat “insulated” from the educational upheaval that we are currently experiencing. This might lead some to utilize the “If It Ain’t Broke. . .” phrase as a mantra. In other words, if things are working here, why change?
But, as with much of life, things are never that simple. When educating by this mantra, we ignore what is going on outside the walls of our classrooms, buildings, and communities. We ignore one of the most important characteristics of strong educational pedagogy, the necessity to help students become life-long learners. After all, if things seem to be going just fine, why learn or investigate more about them?
When some see trouble waiting in the wings they retreat from it, close their classroom (or building) doors and go about business as usual. But, that does an injustice to the future leaders of society under our charge. Things currently aren’t business as usual, and, likely won’t be when this crop of students enters the “real world.” So, why ignore the ocean just because the water is fine in our little lagoon? After all, all it takes is one big wave, and that lagoon isn’t quite as comfortable as it was.
So, what to do? How do we get our colleagues to drop the adage and see the forest for the trees?
For starters, we have to get educators to see beyond the walls. For some, a simple conversation will suffice. For others, a trip out into the “real world” is a necessity. We shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to those whose straits are direr than ours. There is much that can be learned from forming partnerships with schools that might currently have it worse off than we do. For one, those in better positions can provide assistance. In addition, the future is a fickle creature, and we never know when a school of excellence will become a school in need. By collaborating regularly and often, schools can begin to design action plans for those “just in case” scenarios. Unfortunately, for a few of our colleagues, those blinders can’t (or won’t) be removed, regardless of the support provided. Decisions must then be made. Is this person a good fit for the organization? Can they help in ways other than in their current role? Would they be a better fit somewhere else? While these conversations are never easy, educational systems, now more than ever, must always be proactive, and obstacles to this must be addressed.
Keep in mind that just because educators see the big picture, doesn’t mean students do. So, as a group of forward-thinking learners and leaders, we must engage students in curricula that focus on current issues in and around the community. What are some of the challenges the neighborhood/town/state faces economically, socially, ethically? How can we work as a class/school/district to address these? What partnerships can we make with organizations outside our building walls? How can we put a plan in place to prevent these hardships from impacting us in the future? Even the youngest of our students can engage in these types of explorations. The more we prepare students for the challenges they are to face as adults, the better we’ve prepared society to fix the things that are (and are not yet) broken.
So, while “If it ain’t broke. . .” will likely remain an adage in the collective society, its “kernel of truth” doesn’t quite pop when it comes to education. Instead, it promotes a false sense of security, one that, as educators and leaders, we can’t afford to have, for our students’ sake.
(Note: As I write this I’m reminded of John Kotter’s Our Iceberg Is Melting. If you’ve read this, you know how powerful it is. If you haven’t, I strongly recommend this quick read as an enjoyable look into leadership and the problems with complacency.)