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🗣 The Dialogic Learning Weekly #209

The Dialogic Learning Weekly
🗣 The Dialogic Learning Weekly #209
By Tom Barrett • Issue #209 • View online
Welcome to this week’s newsletter. Today we explore the scalability of ideas, the sophistication of simplicity and how we might take a strengths-based approach to system change. Let’s get into it.

How does this scale?
In business, we often hear the assumption that success = scale. “To be a successful business, you need an unquestioned desire for scale and growth”. This challenges some of the paradigms of success we experience in teaching.
I often refer to the idea of scale when thinking about the development and implementation of ideas. In new schools, the realities of scale are growing enrolments, more classes and more staff. Designing for rapid change in a school setting is a complex challenge.
“Do things that don’t scale” is a guiding concept for me because it challenges me to assess for authenticity, validity and originality first.
Does it feel like the right thing to do?
Years ago, I saw a story about how Airbnb inducts new staff by sending them on holiday to stay at an Airbnb, of course! That idea does not scale easily and may seem on paper to be a non-starter. More recently, I connected with the essay about startups from Paul Graham, linked below.
Here he clarifies a better approach to the way we think of startup ideas.
The need to do something unscalably laborious to get started is so nearly universal that it might be a good idea to stop thinking of startup ideas as scalars. Instead we should try thinking of them as pairs of what you’re going to build, plus the unscalable thing(s) you’re going to do initially to get the company going.
Some specific actions we might take from this: (a) Explore ideas that do and do not scale, (b) Use handcrafted ideas for initial testing © Build in scaleable features that help the idea stick and stick around.
Do Things that Don't Scale by Paul Graham
My choice of image from Markus Spiske
Less is More
Over the last few weeks, I have made an effort to focus on simplicity in my design and consultancy work. “What can we stop doing?” has been a common question.
This is not shying away from the messiness of what we experience. Education development is one of the most complex and intricate types of change. Striving for simplicity does not diminish the rich complexity of that endeavour. It serves our attempts at surfacing insight and better dialogue.
Simplicity is effortless composition, an orderliness with lyrical qualities — like in a great painting that has only enough brushstrokes to convey the idea, in which the painter uses just the right amount of colour, making it impossible to imagine another stroke or another colour without its ruining the composition. Great design, whether in paintings or architecture, shares this quality.
George Couros shares the following question and challenge regarding a “less is more” focus (initially shared in Issue #66)
What are the few purposeful areas that we are focused on?
Go into most schools or districts, and there are usually a plethora of initiatives. People do not excel when they feel overwhelmed, or that they believe the following with any initiative; “this too shall pass.” Take a good look at the initiatives that are happening in your school, and ask what is most important right now. Then focus on that and come back to it, consistently. Do not have a series of professional learning days that are focused on a new thing each time. There will never be depth in what we do, if we are not willing to place focus on what is important.
Amplify Your Strengths
My first strengths finder type review was in 2012. I regularly connect with the insights from my study.
I want to learn more about how an organisation uses a strengths-based approach. The Appreciative Inquiry process adds some texture to how this might manifest.
To understand Appreciative Inquiry (AI) at its fundamental level, one needs to simply understand these point.
  • AI focuses on leveraging an organisation’s core strengths rather than seeking to overcome or minimise its weaknesses.
  • Organisations move in the direction of what they study.
  • AI makes a conscious choice to study the best of an organisation, its positive core.
  • AI is not a “top-down” or “bottom-up” change process but rather a “whole system” approach.
Our partnerships include schools that have only just started. I wonder how a new school can discover their strengths after a few months? How does the process adapt to maturity or nativity?
There are some powerful provocations associated with the phases of Appreciative Inquiry, including the questions below:
What factors give life to this organisation when it is and has been most alive, successful, and effective? This question seeks to discover what the organisation has done well in the past and is doing well in the present.
What possibilities, expressed and latent, provide opportunities for more vital, successful, and effective (vision-and-values congruent) forms of organisation? This question asks the participants to dream about and design a better future.
More thoughts and questions:
  • When does a strong hunch about effectiveness become a strength?
  • What is the anatomy and half-life of a strength?
What is Appreciative Inquiry? by David Cooperrider
What resonates? Share your thoughts.
In dialogue, we trust
~ Tom
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Tom Barrett

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