Friday, July 8, 2011

Adaptation Calls for Change. But, What Kind of Change are we Talking About?

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change" (Charles Darwin).

Apple Computer seems to have figured Darwin theory out. It changed up its retail stores model even though it was recognized as one of the most successful outfits in history. When all was going swimmingly well, one of the world's most successful business institutions when out and changed the way it sell its goods.

Schools and retail outfits are similar in many ways. For one thing, a school measures success on growth (learning growth per se). Retail stores measure success on growth as well (albeit, profit growth). Stores' employees are charged with selling the goods to its clients. Schools' employees are responsible for motivating kids (clients) to find a passion for learning. Of course, once a store worker sells a good, the client is out the door. A teacher must be sure his/her "sales pitch" resonates beyond exit at the end of a school year.

The biggest difference between a retail store operation and the function of a school is that educators are responsible for a "product" for which a retail establishment is not. Children must acquire skills as a result of their interaction with their teachers and peers. Successful retail is about making sure customers leave with products in-hand. The storefronts don't create the products- they simply sell the goods.

If retail operations have to adjust to the changing whims of society to stay competitive, don’t schools need to change to stay “competitive” as well? Don’t they need to adjust to the shifts in society? Of course they do! A 400-year historical survey of the evolution of schools will prove to anyone that schools have had to change over time to accommodate the changes in society. Those of us who have studied education history know how influential the Sputnik launch was on America’s decision to emphasis math, science, and technology education. 

But, educators very frequently hear the mantra of reform. To what extent have we let this mantra get the best of us so that we have continuously changed without paying proper homage to the things that have worked in education for so long? Few educators would doubt it's important to adapt to changes so we keep our subject matter and the context in which we teach these subjects current. Perhaps we need to focus adaptation on content and not so much on process? I propose we stick with fundamental things that have proven effective over time- keeping strong relationships with our students, building engaging lessons, modeling a love for learning, adapting instruction to meet the individual needs of students- while we adapt to the changing content that advances in sophistication as our civilization grows.

Apple computer changed the look and appearance of its stores, but did it really change the way it works with its customers and pitches it's products? 

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