Archives For Change

How to Get Clarity

November 19, 2015 — Leave a comment


There’s no such thing as “rebranding.” Your brand’s meaning is either clear or it’s fuzzy. And if it’s fuzzy, changing the look won’t help.

Source: Simon Sinek

Sinek uses the brand example to make this point but I think that this is so true with all of our communication. Repackaging or dressing up a poor message does little to offer clarity.

Clarity comes from concise editing.


A colleague recently sent out a link to a short blog post in which Scott Mcleod, a highly regarded thought leader in Educational Technology pointed to the following challenge:

It is time for instructors to move from simple questions like, “Do you use technology in the classroom?” to the more complex, “For what purpose, and with what learning theories, should I engage digitally-enhanced pedagogies?…”

This quote is part of the conclusion of Adam Copeland’s article Teaching Digital Wisdom in Hybrid Pedagogy which I have been pondering over the past weekend. Copeland argues that we need to move away from the unnecessary debate of for or against technology in the classroom and onto the more important questions of how we can use technology to enhance learning. He offers the following four digital practices as pillars or a starting point:

  • forming collaborative relationships with peers,
  • preparing for citizenship,
  • encountering difference and disagreement, and
  • welcoming complexity.

Copeland’s article is very well written, cites some wonderful resources and challenges us to move away from easy answers that we fall into when we debate whether or not to use technology in our learning environments. But moving away from easy answers is a lot of work and even though Copeland offered a sound rational argument for doing so I didn’t find any inspiration or an emotional appeal in the article that motivated me to go out and start this hard work.

I have been striving to find ways to share my passion for using technology to enhance learning for the past couple of decades and have finally learned that while a rational argument is a necessary component for change it unfortunately is not enough. This type of change requires an appeal to the heart and I have learned through years of trial and error that the head won’t go where the heart hasn’t been (read my post for a full explanation). Even though Copeland’s article appealed to my head I had a nagging angst that while I could have my students read the article I doubted that many would find it moving enough to make a difference. If you really want to move people to action there has to be a heart felt reason why we need to move away from easy questions and answers.

Fortunately chance favors the connected mind (Steven Johnson’s label for digital serendipity) and I came across Nigel Coutts’ wonderful post Lessons from a Hole in the Bucket. Coutts uses the song ‘There’s a Hole in the Bucket’ sung by Harry Belafonte & Odetta to share the story of Liza and Henry as they deal with a bucket with a hole in it. Coutts characterizes Liza as a teacher and Henry as the student and offers the following summary of Henry’s learning experience:

Rapidly a pattern of interactions emerges and this reveals much about Henry’s disposition towards learning. Time and time again Henry confronts a challenge, the initial discovery of the hole, the straw that is too long, the knife that is blunt, the sharpening stone that is dry and at each turn his response is a cry for help. ‘But Liza, there’s a hole in the bucket’. At each challenge Liza responds to Henry in the same manner providing him with a prompt that guides him directly to the solution. ‘Then fix it Dear Henry’, ‘Then sharpen it Dear Henry’.

Coutts suggests that Henry has developed no critical thinking skills because Liza provides Henry a quick answer rather than prompting Henry to solve his own problem. He goes on to argue that this is a classic example of learned helplessness and he offers a contrasting story of how another student with a well-developed disposition towards learning and a broader set of thinking skills positively deals with a hole in the bucket.

While the song and Coutts’ explanation begin to move us emotionally his conclusion is where he hits us hard with the challenging question:

Are we going to prepare a class full of Henrys?

Coutts conclusion is a series of questions where he challenges all teachers to do a better job and provide a better start than Henry was provided. No one wants to be responsible for a single Henry nor a class full of Henrys.

It is this emotional appeal combined with the rational pillars that Copeland has outlined that can make a difference. If we really want to be successful in leading this type of change we need to heed the advice of Harvard change guru John Kotter and “Win over the hearts and Minds”.


In the TEDx talk Change your Mindset, Change the Game, Dr. Alia Crum reveals how changes in mindset can alter objective reality through behavioral, psychological, and physiological mechanisms.


Every time I think about creating urgency at the start of a change process I immediately think about this old Fram commercial. You can be proactive and create a sense of urgency to start a change process or if you ignore the reality that change is the new constant and that all organizations are going to be forced to change then you will have to deal with the sense of urgency that will be forced upon you and your organization as you attempt to stay relevant.

The choice to be proactive and create a sense of urgency is ours but we often first have to get out of the reactionary rut. In the post Paradox of being proactive I point to the unfortunate fact that the busyness that reactivity spawns is rewarded because it appears that people are working hard to deal with the situation.

We need to stop reinforcing the incorrect reactive behaviors and start reinforcing the proactive activities that will enable an organization to really move forward. This requires the conviction of looking into the horizon and peparing for the technological and cultural issues that will be impacting your organization.

Pay me now or pay me later…Create the sense of urgency now or react to the tyranny of urgency later. The choice is yours.

Don’t take my word for this. John Kotter one of the world’s foremost authorities on change argues ignoring to create a sense of urgency is the biggest mistakes being made in leading change.


Are you tolerating a problem in the world around you and not doing something about it? I see so many opportunities to improve learning environments and get quite frustrated when I miss the chance to make a difference. But I also see, read and hear about situations where opportunities to make a difference are missed.

I recall a blog post from a renowned educator who is a considered a leading thinker and writer about the intersection of social online learning networks and education. This educator was driving his 14-year-old son to school when the son remembers a homework assignment he forgot to do for biology class. The following is their exchange:

“Something big?” I ask, fearing the worst.
“Nah,” he says with a shrug. “Just a handout and some questions. It doesn’t matter.”

This educator reflected on the fact that he could not remember any work that his son and daughter had done the past year that actually did matter in the world; work that had a purpose outside the classroom.

For the remainder of the post he reflected on his experience in traveling the world and viewing “work that matters” that has significance beyond the classroom walls. He effectively argued that when learners create authentic solutions to real world problems it not only benefited those who’s problems were being solved the work benefited the learner.

While I was excited and agree that authentic learning or “work that matters” is important I was also concerned that he didn’t provide any suggestions on how he would attempt to address the problem his children were having with hand outs with questions that didn’t matter. Perhaps he has, but the post left me wondering.

We each have our own spheres of influence. If we see a situation that needs improvement the first thing we need to ask is…

So…What am I going to doing about it?