Sunday, August 2, 2009

Is There Satisfaction in Knowing Without Doing?

On July 14th, 2009, Bob Sprankle, co-founder of the Seedlings Social Network and author of the Bit by Bit blog and podcasts published a fascinating little survey that posed an intriguing question: Are You Satisfied with the Pace of Change? I am so intrigued by the question Bob posed that I'm returning to The 21st Century Centurion to blog on this topic after a seriously focused work-binge (excessive indulgence in work) in our nation's amazing schools. Believe me, it took an intriguing topic to lure me from my current reality!

Bob's original survey items asked educators to respond to their level of satisfaction with the pace of change in education by selecting from the following responses:
This survey confronts a critically important issue for all educators. In my mind, the questions and truths that run beneath Bob's survey questions are far more complex than the information Bob collected from selected responses. In fact, the hidden questions (and quite likely Bob's hidden agenda!) are so vitally important that I believe they may unveil barriers to the transformation of schools as we know them.

It would have been easy to simply click the survey's radio button, recording my vote for "I think things are moving way too slowly." It was tempting to stop right there and skip about in the comfortable but shallow waves of change. I so desperately needed to "click and run" on a day when time was short and I owed everyone a few "bits" of my time. I was captured by Bob's question, however, and I could not run. Had I clicked to run away, there'd have been no place for me to hide from the deeper questions. Bob's survey caught me. It stopped me cold as it challenged my professional sense of urgency and deep commitment to education reform for the 21st Century. I knew myself well enough to resist the "quick click." I had to face part two of the fourth radio button.
"We've been talking about all this for so long." Bob said.
Yes, indeed, Bob, we have been talking, and talking and talking for way too long.

But Bob pushed forward. I still had to face part three of the fourth radio button.
"Why am I still seeing traditional schools stuck in traditional practices, slipping further and farther away from the realities and advances happening elsewhere outside the school building?" Bob asked.
W-h-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-w! Talk about a loaded question! I quickly realized that my reaction to the "pace of change" in our nation's schools was NOT the issue that stings and torments me. The issue that stings, torments and drives me is captured in Bob's probing question:
Why am I still seeing traditional schools stuck in traditional practices?
The fact is, I think I know why - at least in part. If you are reading this blog, I'm betting that -- on some level-- you know why too. I know that we continue to "see" traditional schools because our our profession is deeply ensnared in the abyss of the "knowing- doing gap." This common organizational phenomenon is described by J. Pfeffer and R.I. Sutton(1999) in their informative book, The Knowing Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action. Very simply, the authors confront education's #1 PROBLEM:

"WHY do educators know so much and do so little about the pace of chan

According to Pfeffer and Sutton, the
knowing- doing gap occurs when knowledge is not implemented. In a nutshell, the field of education is engorged with knowledge experts - but it is painfully short on doers who implement knowledge and do so to promote organizational change. The authors correctly note that the most destructive aspect of the knowing-doing gap is the substitution of TALKING ACTIVITIES for action. Too often, they warn, these TALKING ACTIVITIES engage practitioners in dialogue that changes absolutely nothing. While other more familiar reasons for the knowing-doing gap are mentioned (outdated culture, fear of change, internal competition, meaningless measurements), I am convinced that that the lesser mentioned TALKING ACTIVITIES are a serious threat to the the pace of change in education. Frankly, I am tired of talking about change. In fact, I stopped blogging (talking) for awhile for the explicit purpose of implementing knowledge. Before the bloggers attack me, let me be clear in explaining that the the pace of change (implementation) in my organization is so great and so fast that my time for extraneous TALKING ACTIVITIES is seriously limited. Personally, I prefer the faster pace-- but it does take a toll on time for blogging! This is not an attack on blogging. It is rather, a statement that this blogger is challenged to implement at a rapid pace and blog at the same time!

I am confide
nt that many educators in this country KNOW what changes must be made to reform our schools. We KNOW how people learn. We KNOW our students deserve opportunities to thrive in learning environments that honor this generation's unique place in time. Very simply, we KNOW that today's students need to meet high standards by learning in and about the world in which they live and must produce. A strong network of KNOWLEDGEABLE educators who will IMPLEMENT could literally catalyze the reform that brings education into the 21st Century.

When educators get serious about IMPLEMENTING their knowledge, the pace of change will accelerate
. "Teacher-doers" in collaborative teams hold the power to reinvent school from the bottom up. I know this because I have done it and I see it happening today. I never doubt the power of a core group of "teacher-doers" to IMPLEMENT foundational and lasting change. Until our profession begins full implementation of our collective knowledge, I doubt we will enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.

IMPLEMENTING knowledge-driven change to meet the needs of modern learners is education’s primary challenge and #1 function in the 21st Century. As soon as the numbers of teacher-doers reaches a critical mass - we WILL reinvent school - and the pace of change will be difficult to contain. I predict that the change will come much sooner than later. It won't come easily, however, nor will it happen without hard work. I'm betting that the pace of change picks up as the number of "teacher-doers" slowly outnumbers the masses of "teacher talkers." Only then, will our profession move from KNOWING to DOING the right thing for students.

Photo Credit: Implement - jpg -


  1. Hello, Beth,
    you´re right, talking about education doesn´t replace the actual teaching activity. And, after all, it is the students who should take advantage from our knowledge. Still, I must say, learning from each other, and especially from you, is encouragement which influences lessons and the teaching style. This is why I still like reading your blog posts.


  2. Beth,
    Interesting that you put into words - with considerably greater eloquence - what I recently had to rail about in a conversation with colleagues planning ANOTHER teacher 'mentoring' effort. We've been asking the same questions and applying the same answers since the mid-80s - and to what end?!?!?
    I worry that we reached the 'critical mass' and they opted out - comfort trumps discomfort. I'm all for celebrating small victories, but having to stil do so makes me very uncomfortable. But I'll keep prodding the critical mass.