Getting to Second Order Change and Beyond

Director of Schools – The world in which we now live is no longer as predictable and constant as it once was. Welcome to the ever changing 21st century.

Education has not been spared in this wind of change driven by exciting new research, the move towards the creation of information and knowledge, advances in technology, instructional design and how people learn. Schools are being tasked to prepare our young people for the future that possesses no boundaries and limitations. Faced with this daunting challenge, are we ready to reach beyond what is merely simple, traditional and customary? Can we truly make extraordinary changes in our schools and classrooms that are meaningful, inspiring and engaging? This will require a shift in our thinking and mental models.

So how do we this?

This type of change requires systemic thinking, not individual or siloed thinking. The power of a collective group of people is immeasurable and as groups of people journey forward, we will need to better understand how to get to second order change and beyond.

First order change consists of improving what already exists. With little learning required, this change is consistent with our current behaviors, beliefs and values. The changes are low level, do not challenge practice or the organization in any significant way, and can be reversible. For example, in the case of an orchard tree, it’s like reaching for low-level fruit that can be collected without much effort.

Second order change is creating something totally new. This is characterized by a fundamental redesign and a new way of thinking and doing. Although there is still some resemblance to the previous state of business, there is clearly a state of disruption that is evident and welcomed. When we think back to that orchard tree, this requires reaching for fruit at the top of the tree with determination and great effort. The stretch to reach this height creates synergy, and breaks us out of our old patterns and experiences. It is here that we look upward and truly see opportunities.

Third and fourth order change means going deeper with tremendous creativity. At these levels, what comes to exist does not resemble past models. There is a disposition to inquiry and change in beliefs, values and our understanding of “school” and “learning”. Problems are reframed as possibilities and viewed as positive. The status quo is not accepted as routine. Here, we no longer have a single fruit tree, rather an orchard of rich and diverse vegetation, plants and trees.

There is clearly a transformation taking place around the world and schools have a moral imperative to be front and centre, supporting students as citizens of the future. Educators must take a pivotal role in the determination, design and implementation. If we do not step forward and take a lead role, others certainly will on our behalf. In order to be successful, we need leadership that is open, transparent, engaging and listens to the various voices, and yet able to make the call to move forward. It is about transforming learning – for every student – everywhere.

All great things take time and energy. The change we are talking about is worth it. If we want better for our schools, our classrooms, our teachers and ultimately our students, we all need to say yes to change.

Are you ready to reach for the top fruit? Let’s all reach together.

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