another’s classroom, looking at what works with
students together—if you’re a teacher inside that,
you’re getting lots of feedback from colleagues. In
this way, feedback is organically built into the
day-to-day culture of the organization.
Ed Catmull, the CEO of Pixar, wrote a book
a few years ago in which he explored how Pixar
made 14 blockbusters in a row in a highly competitive industry. Pixar achieved that because they
set up a culture that incorporated peers giving
feedback to peers. Their two guidelines were—
his;words—candor and autonomy.
At the beginning of each project, the directors
presented their early ideas to other directors and
people in the company who formed what Catmull
called the brain trust. They got lots of feedback.
The ground rules were, don’t hold back—give
people strongly critical feedback if it’s deserved—
but with the understanding that people receiving
the feedback don’t have to take it. That’s the
autonomy. Most people who get that kind of
feedback are more likely to take it.
Another key action for change you mention
is educators spreading their positive actions
or ideas. You say that diffusion works better
than traditional “scaling up” for this.
Can you explain?
My coauthors and I have actually been writing
about diffusion—or what we’re now calling
intentional social movement—in our new book
on the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning ini-
tiative, which is forthcoming from Corwin. We’re
trying to change the nature of teaching so there’s
more partnership among students, teachers, and
families. We’re relating deep learning to six global
competencies—character, citizenship, collabo-
ration, communication, creativity, and critical
thinking. Scaling up school by school will never
work; you have to mobilize large numbers of
schools and districts learning from one another
while discovering and retaining what works.
I’m always interested in changing the whole
system. A district would be the minimum size, but
the preferred size would be a state or a province.
And when I looked at bringing any new practice
to scale, there have been examples over the years
where people have had success. For example, the
Annenberg Foundation worked on really tough
problems like concentrated intergenerational
poverty and the underachievement of black and
Latino youth, and found out what it would take
to change that dynamic; they identified factors
similar to those we’ve been talking about. But their
successes were very much in the minority. They
The assumption behind going to scale is, if we
get some good pilot examples, we’ll know what
works there, and we can transfer it to other places,
expand it. Well, that doesn’t work. Why not?
Because the new places don’t have the capacity.
Or the replication is too slow: You get 20 pilots,
then 30, but it never adds up to the whole system.