Why Education Needs Disruption


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Why Education Needs Disruption

by Terry Heick

On Collaboration As An Industry

Hopefully we can agree that education–as it exists–isn’t good enough. I know this is a tired argument, but it’s an underlying assumption of this concept: education needs reform. Iteration. Evolution. Transformation. Whatever word reflects the level of urgency you’d assign it all.

It’s curious that in seeking this evolution, we turn to the product of the system rather than the systems themselves. We criticize the egg instead of understanding the chicken. Of course, the bits and pieces–the gears–of that chicken are complex to the point of obscurity. This makes self-correction through iteration–the current model for ed reform–a challenge.

And this in lieu of so much creativity and knowledge and expertise out there because these same experts get behind the machine and push. We seek approval from the same power holders and institutions that nod their heads yes or shakes their heads no, not realizing it is their way of thinking that got us in this mess. We seek change not just from within, but from above.

In response, we need collaboration between and across innovators and experts that is disruptive even if it’s simple for the sake of disrupting. Make noise. Draw attention. Walk into a movie theater and scream “fire!” Unplug the television. Turn off the WiFi, because this whole thing isn’t getting anywhere quickly.

Disruption in general is about unsettling, and is often thought of in terms of chaos. Disruptive collaboration is working together to force change. It’s the artful unsettling of that which has become inartistic. Reconfiguring systems that can no longer see themselves, or replacing them altogether. It’s about shifting the locus of control.

On Collaboration In Thought

We could talk about helping our students collaborate disruptively–and we should–but most immediately, this is about teaching and learning. As educators, we should first want our thinking disrupted–taken apart and criticized and handed back to us in pieces. And not as contrarians, but equal partners seeking to understand one another.

We should seek collaboration that torpedoes our ideas–and the ideas of the power holders up top that have shut off their innovation trying to please the folks above them–and then emerges on the other side a kind of hybrid of what we think together. And then want it all to disappear and only come back to us in bits and pieces that we can’t recognize as my thinking, but only thought.

We should want to stop seeing ourselves or the people we collaborate as having ideas, but ideas having people so that the stink of bias and diplomacy and friendliness and compliancy is swapped for careful thinking that actually stands a chance to survive the whole clumsy process.

And once these ideas are articulated and broken apart and transparent and nobody’s thinking, let’s color them with the wonderful stain of idea exchange so that we can own them as a whole thing ourselves. And then we can produce something of worth together.

On Collaboration & Its Products

We should want the product of our collaboration to be disruptive, too. Existing systems already have their own momentum and don’t need our help. They don’t need our hashtags or likes or affection. They’ve yielded the context that necessitates our collaboration to begin with.

If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. So let’s build something that offers viable alternatives for everyone–especially those marginalized by the system that exists. Let’s stop demanding rigor and accountability, and instead create something ourselves that is scalable beyond the walls of your school, or the reach of the concept of “academia” that continues to haunt learning everywhere. Something that thinks not in a pattern of school->curriculum–>content–>proficiency, but instead person–>learning–>knowledge–>lots of people–>lots of learning–>social capacity–>wisdom.

Let’s connect and build something that doesn’t serve you or the past or what’s already here but others and the here and now. Let’s build something we’ve never had–and do so by empowering everyone that’s a part of this.

Something that isn’t built to make your school or classroom spin faster, but rather is built for the real work of understanding something.

Disruptive Collaboration; Image attribution flickr user mrpetersonline

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  • I’ve been a ‘disruptive’ force in my institution for a number of years. I have innovated and pushed the boundaries of learning (and been recognised, isolated, and pilloried for it) for 20 years now. I have found that, even though the students have won (big time) as a result, I have lost. I asked the PVc Teaching and Learning why, if I have demonstrated with reams of evidence, how to scale up self-directed and student centred learning, I have been nominated for another innovation award (I won the last one for exactly the same thing). Why, if it works so well, is it still innovative and not adopted by others (to be fair, thee have been a few who have dipped their toes in)?

    The reason I say I have lost, is that after 20 years, I’m leaving the institution, and I don’t know if I will ever teach again.

    Jesse Martin – hethoughts.wordpress.com

  • When this kind of learning is introduced..my god do the kids perform. The motivation is intrinsic, the results are fantastic and the learning is DEEP.

  • 20-20 hindsight warning; it comes too late.

    I was a disruptive student, caned for insolently refusing to answer questions, and ostracized by other students for not taking part in schoolyard games, and classroom and dorm politics. I would have gotten far better grades had I been able to actually remember what we’d drilled on the day before, but had less time to learn on my own if I’d taken part in childhoods rituals and not remained puzzled by them, and indifferent.

    What did I disrupt? It was a process that required uniformity of thought, perception, impulse and behavior; one that prescribed an intellectual diet politely eaten with the correct spoons in the right order, and with properly respectful expressions of gratitude for having been served at all. Our schools – in my experience – do not insist children learn, but they absolutely require that children obey. Children do obey, mostly, and collude to punish outliers such as myself. The nail that sticks up gets hammered.

    I became more appreciative of their problems years later when, as an NCO instructor at an Army electronics school, I was in charge of a number of lower ranking instructors; smart, disrespectful pushers of boundaries who did not suffer fools at all. It took some effort to keep them out of trouble with higher-ups. In fact, I was a teacher to them insofar as I had to stay ahead of them to deal with the chaos extremely smart people (and children) generate.

    This is our problem as a society; we cannot remain orderly without imposing rules, and we cannot advance until we break at least some of them. The ideal classroom might be the one we start with, full of screaming children; Day One of Kindergarten. Perhaps we need a different kind of grown-up to teach them.

    It is worth noting that the best teachers I had were those who cared about students, not that they obeyed so much, as that they became interested in and absorbed by the subject of instruction. One of the worst I’ve seen was a Kindergarten teacher who called my son “incorrigible” because he refused to stay still and on task for the 15 minutes her education had assured here a five-year-old could handle.

    (Off topic: Another was a professor I believe may have subtracted from student learning with every lecture he gave. Mercifully, I and some other engineers* had been invited to attend one, and didn’t have to take the course.)

    *I can’t legally call myself an engineer despite a career in engineering; I never studied it in school and I never put what college courses I did take together into a degree. I DID end up, several times,in positions where I was (so to speak) “boxing out of my weight”, and had to interview degree’d engineers looking for work. I still wonder why, since they had obviously passed exams I can’t, I still understood the technologies and concepts required for the work better than a number of them. Perhaps those had not been disruptive enough in school.

    PS: At age 65 i was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism. It appears that — all unknowingly — that has served me well, because I’ve had to teach myself much of what I know. I wish I didn’t need a degree to teach, but at 71 that may be pleasure I must forgo.

    I wonder, though, if we need to teach children out of school to get around the culture of “sit down and shut up,” What say? How about collaborative collective education outside the system? Put it on the Web and in rented rooms. “What your kid isn’t taught” stuff. Disruptive enough?

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