Education: Why ‘energy vampires’ must be slain

What are schools for and who is leading the ship?

KEVIN BARTLETT: I think what we're looking at now is a major disruption in the way education is being delivered and I think that means a new ship. To me, it means a new ship—a leaner, simpler, more connected ship with much more control shared with all the passengers. Where people understand the workings of that ship and they're safe and comfortable in that ship, and they have some say in the direction the ship takes, so I'm looking really at a new—education is a new kind of ship. Like I said, same game, new playbook.

The energy vampires are those things that suck massive amounts of energy out of us with very little learning impact. Meaningless meetings, teacher evaluation systems that simply don't work in terms of learning impact. I'd actually even questioned writing reports to parents when they're the people who are least empowered to do anything with that information. So, I think one thing leaders need to do is conduct an energy audit, probably with their teams. A pie chart, any kind of recording system. "Guys, where does our energy go?" And for each of the big energy vampires, what's the learning impact? And then do what Jim Collins suggested in "Good to Great." He said the great organizations had to stop-doing list longer than their to-do list. So, I think we need to clear the decks of stuff we are doing as a matter of habit that sucks energy out of us and has no learning impact.

One of those touches on another tricky topic which is compliance. I think we are confounded by complexity and we're constrained by compliance. Compliance with authorities who may not be true authorities in the sense of an authority as opposed to simply in authority. Just as an aside, but I think this is a telling thought, and I don't want to offend the religious among whoever may be watching this, but I have it on good authority that there is no curriculum god. That may be news to some people, but we behave sometimes as if some all-knowing authority is watching us and we spend a lot of time jumping through hoops. One of the questions I'm asking leaders now is: Whose hand is on the hoop? The testing we have to do with young kids that we simply don't believe in as educators, but we have to jump through that hoop. The multiple authorizations that nobody needs, and we don't believe in, but we have to jump through that hoop.

Ask yourself and then maybe ask your team questions like: What are schools for? Why lead? Why should anyone be led by me? Leading towards what? Leading whom? Leading how? When we've established our own purpose, I think then is the business of what Drucker called the re-culturing process. I loved his phrase, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." So, I referenced this earlier. Building a new learning language but not building it in the school and then explaining it to parents, for example. The work I've been doing is with parents in the room, sometimes just with parents in the room, cocreating an understanding of a new approach to learning. Working with students to cocreate that learning language. Working with large numbers of people to cocreate a set of learning principles and community principles. Community principles for the quality of life in the school. Learning principles for the quality of learning in the school.

We work with five. We then turn those learning principles into learning practices. If we were living this principle, what would we see the kids doing? And therefore, teaching practices. So, what would we be doing to support them? It's a staged, systemic leadership process. Start with knowing yourself, then build your culture, then address the systems and build the systems. Along the way kill off the energy vampires and grab the hoops.

  • There are some aspects of the current education system that are, at best, inefficient and, at worst, actually slowing progress and hindering the learning process. Kevin Bartlett, co-founder and co-director of The Common Ground Collaborative, calls these "energy vampires" and says that now is the time to identify and get rid of them.
  • Bartlett argues that the education space is constrained by compliance and that leaders and their teams should take a moment to consider their roles and goals critically and conduct an 'energy audit'.
  • By establishing reforms to energy-wasting initiatives, and doing it in collaboration with students and parents, educators and administrators can create a new system that works better.

This video is part of Z 17 Collective's Future of Learning series, which asks education thought leaders what learning can and should look like in the midst and wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

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