Activity: Schools, change, and resource allocation

Here’s an activity you can do with school administrators and teachers (and maybe school board members?). Total time: about 45 minutes.


Here’s an activity you can do with school administrators and teachers (and maybe school board members?). Total time: about 45 minutes.

Resources needed

  • PowerPoint slides (pptx ppt pdf)
  • Pre-made Google Doc formatted like this, with sharing set up so that anyone can view AND edit
  • Internet access and a laptop for at least one participant in each group
  • Set-up (about 5 minutes)

    Whem most folks think and talk about organizational change, they envision it in linear terms:

    In reality, change in organizations looks more like this:

    In other words, change occurs more gradually, particularly at the beginning as employees spend time wrapping their minds around desired changes, how to fit those changes into existing practices, what they need to get rid of or substantially alter, what they still retain, etc. Change always starts slow and takes a while to (hopefully) gather steam.

    I heard a presentation by IBM a few years back in which managers explained that, as much as possible, the company tries to frontload a heavy dose of resources toward any new change initiative. The resource allocation curve essentially is a mirror image of the change curve, allocating heavy amounts of training and training time, money, support structures, etc. up front and then tapering off closer to the end once the desired change is well-established.

    The goal is to actually shift the change curve to the left - accelerating sooner to the desired outcome – by allocating large amounts of resources up front.

    Few schools have the resources of IBM, of course. As a result, the resource allocation curve looks more like this in most school organizations:

    In most schools, then, we have a resource allocation gap of sorts, between what we typically provide and what we perhaps should provide:

    This is one of the reasons that change in schools thus looks more incremental / evolutionary / linear rather than revolutionary / exponential.

    Group work (about 40 minutes)

    1. Divide the group into smaller discussion groups of three to five people. Have each discussion group appoint a recorder.
    2. Send the recorders into the Google Doc. Have them type in the group’s answer under the question in Part 1. 5 minutes in small group discussion, 5 minutes in large group sharing. What kind of intense resources are necessary to move you forward faster than incremental change? BE VERY SPECIFIC. Don't just say "time," say "time for ??." Don't just say "professional development," say "professional development for ??."
    3. Send the groups back into the Google Doc. Have them answer the question in Part 2 by filling in the numbered items. They can add a couple more items if they have time. 5 minutes in small group discussion, a few minutes in large group sharing. What are 5-7 reasons why your school organization can't get beyond incremental change?
    4. Have the groups then look at the next highest group’s responses to Part 2. For example, Group 1 looks at Group 2’s responses, Group 2 looks at Group 3’s responses, and so on (the highest-numbered group will look at Group 1’s responses). Have each group type in possible solutions for each of the reasons offered by the other group. 10 minutes in small group discussion. What are some possible solutions for each of the reasons offered?
    5. Conclude with a large group discussion about the overall document in Google Docs, focusing particularly on the reasons and solutions in each group’s Part 2. Possible questions include Is it easier to identify solutions outside one’s own context?, Were the solutions reasonable or overly optimistic?, Are these true reasons or simply excuses?, Is it possible for schools to make more than incremental change?, and so on.
    6. Obviously you could expand or modify this activity in a variety of different ways (if you do this, let me know how it went!). How would you change and/or improve this activity if you did it in your own school organization?

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      Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

      "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

      Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

      Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

      The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

      Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

      In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

      It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

      Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

      Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

      The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

      It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

      In their findings the authors state:

      "The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
      upholding First Amendment ideals.

      Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

      With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

      Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

      As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

      • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
      • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
      • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
      • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
      • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
      • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
      • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

      Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

      It's interesting to note the authors found that:

      "Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

      You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

      Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

      • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
      • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
      • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
      • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
      • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
      • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

      Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

      Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

      • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
      • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
      • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
      • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
      • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
      • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

      Civic discourse in the divisive age

      Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

      There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

      "In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
      dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
      the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
      These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
      putting our democracy in peril.

      Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
      immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
      become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
      Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
      The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
      re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
      building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

      We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

      This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.