Shifting Focus From Ideas To The Effects Of Those Ideas

by Terry Heick

It’s not the thinking overdue an idea that should scarecrow us, but rather the effect of the idea.

#edtech. Content-based wonk standards. PLCs. Video streaming. Use of data. Mandates to be research-based in our behavior. Remote teaching. Differentiation. Social media in the classroom.

None of these ideas are good or bad in and of themselves. They’re just ideas. They’re value-neutral–inert in isolation. We only tuition them when we internalize them–think of them using our unique schema, imagine them in circumstances familiar to us, or otherwise contextualize them comfortably to stave cognitive dissonance.

By internalizing them, we smooth their rough edges for easier consumption. Who wants to finger like they have an incomplete understanding of something? At this point, though, the idea has lost its original shape. It’s misshapen–the same difference between a real dog and one a clown twists up in brown and white balloons.

Moving from a concept or idea to something we understand in our own terms is no small shift. And comes with a loss. By internalizing an idea, we also attach emotions to them–hopeful optimism, head-shaking skepticism. Or indifference.

For example, I love the idea of personalized learning, so I nail positive feelings to it that can lead me to cognitive distortions downstream, where I oversimplify its function or catastrophize our unfurled misunderstanding of its potential in education. I champion it, but the ‘it’ (personalized learning, in this case) is merely an idea. The it context is different. This is chemistry.

Think of it as pattern: Idea–>Integration–>Effect.

The idea vacated is useful only as a matter of vision or artistry. As an wonk or intellectual exercise. As a matter of playful dialogue or good old-fashioned seat racing.

The integration is a matter of diamond and engineering (designer and engineer stuff two minds of a teacher).

Ideas, integrations, and effects all matter, of course, but it’s all moreover recursive: One affects the other, the idea impacting the integration, the integration well-expressed the effect, the effect shining new light on the idea. Maybe then, instead of a linear Idea->Integration–>Effect, we might think instead of something increasingly like a triangle:


Integration                             Effect

Changing Our Thinking

And instead of “Is this a good idea?”, we might ask other questions:

What is ‘it’? What are its parts? What does it squint like whole?

What’s it doing?

How is it working?

What does it ‘cost’? Effect? Change?

How does it support teachers–make teaching a creative and intellectual and human act instead of a matter of policy, procedure, and survival?

What are its effects–and not narrow effects in pursuit of a single goal, but rather macro effects on a thing in its native place?

In education, these might be redressed as:

What has standardizing content into a narrow range of content areas washed-up to learning?

How has a gamified system of education worked for children as they seek to wilt whole human beings capable of good work, compassion for the people virtually them, and nuanced digital and physical citizenship?

See moreover What Should A School Do?

How has education retreated into a tangle of policy and jargon impacted the topics of families and communities to be served by their own learning?

How do teachers respond when tabbed to be ‘research-based’? Does that encourage them to pour over peer-reviewed journals of emerging pedagogies to only bring in “proven” methodology into their classroom? Or does it send them to Google to search for ‘research-based instructional strategies‘ where they find the same 6-8 examples that are tossed limp and lifeless into their next lesson plan considering that’s what they were told to?

Let’s broaden our view. Let’s pretend for a moment that we will sooner be worldly-wise to diamond a system of teaching and learning where every single student will be worldly-wise to master every single wonk standard their local government has set out for them. What is the effect of this system? Of this mastery? What are we thesping well-nigh the standards and their mastery? That they’ll create a nation of hair-trigger thinkers that do wondrous things?

And this system–what are we thesping well-nigh it and its effects? What does it ‘do’ to children? When they graduate from this hypothetical machine, will they have a strong sense of self-knowledge, wisdom, place, and familial legacy? Of hair-trigger thinking, work, and love? If not, is that okay?

Is that plane the intended effect we’re looking for? If not, what is? We should know, right?

Ideas As Effects

A flipped classroom is good, yes? 1:1? Maker education? The 3D printer in the library? Yes, as ideas. So what are they doing? What are their effects? The idea is unchangingly neutral.

A ‘good idea’ is marketing based on emotion and appearance. How is it been implemented, and increasingly critically, what are its effects? Technology. Workshop-based PD. Snark on twitter. That grouping strategy you were planning on using tomorrow.

And be shielding of the metrics or vestige you’re looking for. That new questioning strategy may have 65% increasingly engagement from students but may have stymied the students from wrestling with the question on their own. Same with teacher self-directed PD, 3-minute hallway switches, or labeling a school as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Saying something is a ‘good idea’ can only be wonted if we move directly into a conversation well-nigh integration, and then on effect.

“What are its effects?” is a ramified question that deserves our thinking and most shielding genius. But one plane increasingly worthy of our joint unhealthfulness might be, “What is it doing to our children as they seek to wilt increasingly human–to grow intellectually, creatively, and in wisdom and love?”

We might then crane our necks remoter downstream than we are yawner to so that we might see what we–and they–are moving towards together.