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Here is something I said to a health insurance representative that should resonate with educators: The individual matters.

I made an appointment with a representative of my health insurance provider to resolve set of issues that lasted a month. One of them was the company’s communication. On that alone, I had two main concerns.

First, I was supposed to receive only electronic updates. However, I have been receiving a mix of email and snail mail. With regard to the latter, I received policy documents for each member of my family in separate envelopes even though they were all addressed to me and sent to one address.

The whole point of going electronic is to avoid wastage. The mixed media method and the multiple mailings goes against this principle. Separate policies look separate on a system, but they are linked to one individual when you create the process to look.

Second, I received confirmation snail mail dated 17 October before receiving more snail mail dated 14 October a few days after. The second set of mail was contrary to the first as it had outdated information.

Going electronic would have provided automated and more timely updates. They would remove the need to send messages with irreverent information. Even if an electronic system sent all messages, they would likely arrive in the correct order (and thus make more sense).

Yesterday I received a text message reminding me to pay for a portion of my annual premium even though I had already paid for it. I had showed the evidence to the insurance representative and she confirmed that everything was in place in every system they had. She even used a Singaporean term — double confirmed. And yet an automated system told me that I had to pay for something I had already paid for.

One thing I took pains to ask the representative to push to higher-ups was this: Walk through policies and processes to see how they affect individuals. The mismanagement of communication had given me sleepless nights for a month.

What does this have to do with education? The individual matters.

We might get caught up with policies and administrative tasks. But what really matters is whether we treat students as people with hopes and worries, goals and barriers, talents and inabilities.

It is very easy to switch to a closed or defensive mode with facing a group of students. Efficiency becomes the name of the game instead of effectiveness. The clock on the classroom wall or the computer tray matters more than what ticks in the minds of students.

So what is an educator to do?

Something both simple and difficult — return to first principles. Try to remember what it is like to be a learner. Remember the uncertainty, the struggles, the frustration. Empathise first. Reach before you teach.

If you cannot reach them, you cannot teach them.

Every now and then a manuscript comes along that describes an actual paradigm shift. Todd Rose’s The End of Average is one such book and it is a must-read for those who think of themselves as progressive leaders, human resource managers, or educators.

On my iPad: OverDrive app and audio book in my account.

Processed with an open and critical mind, a reader might wonder why we trap ourselves with non-existent norms and false averages. A doer might chomp at the bit to enact change or accelerate it.

Rose has a personal story of how he rose from a man so poor that he had to steal toilet paper from public restrooms to being the Director of the Mind, Brain, & Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He attributed this to breaking out from the averages-and-standards paradigm of school and work to one of individualisation and fit.

Compelling as his personal account was, Rose also cited how companies and educational institutions were doing this at scale while focusing on individuals.

The companies were not small rafts. They were large and successful ones like Costco, Zoho, and Morning Star. The universities he cited included Western Governor’s (with its all-you-can-learn approach) and Arizona State University (which partnered EdX).

The fact is that we have already started questioning the status quo, but these efforts are still at the fringes of society. To push towards the centre, Rose suggested that in the arena of education we focus on:

  1. Competencies, not grades
  2. Pathways, not fixed curricula
  3. Credentials, not diplomas

His call to action seemed to be this: “We must create professional, educational, and social institutions that are responsive to individuality.” Why? Fit creates opportunity for all, not just some.

Why change at all?

The current and dominant paradigm is the the Age of Average which has provided equal access to standardised processes that serve the system, but does not cater to individuals in that system.

With enabling technologies and changing expectations, we have taken our first steps into the Age of Individuals that accommodates equal fit (I call this equity). This means that individuals are judged against themselves and not arbitrary averages that do not exist in reality.

I probably do not do the book justice by summarising my takeaways the way I have. Like averaging, details and meaning get lost in such a reflection. The book is an easy read, or in my case, an easy listen (but the app was frustrating). There is much distilled wisdom to benefit from in the chapters.

I recommend The End of Average highly. It was a great way to bring 2016 to a close and look forward to 2017 with renewed clarity.

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Last week, my son and I caught Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (GoG) on the big screen. I was more entertained than I thought I would be, so I wondered why.

I also peered though my lens as an educational technology consultant and examined my thoughts against what I facilitate at change management workshops.

There are five main heroes in the movie and the creators did a pretty good job explaining the backstories of four of them. This is quite a feat given that backstories sometimes slow the main story down.

But the individual stories, brief and spread out in the movie, only strengthened the connection with the fictitious characters. They not only seemed more real, you also understood why they did what they did.

In any change management, it is easy to lose sight of the change agents in favour of the change processes or products. One tenet I stand by is that the most important and difficult change involves people.

Products like programs will change with affordances of newer technologies. Processes will change to take advantage of those technologies. But people tend to hold these processes and products back.

For ICT-mediated change to be effective, each person must develop their own story of technology integration. This might involve a process they use that results in a product, or a product they use to create a process. People only start to write and tell their own stories when they buy in to the benefits of using technology and take ownership of both the problems and solutions.

The other concept I took away from GoG was how the Guardians abandoned their personal agendas to adopt a common mission. It was only when they focused on something larger than themselves that they started to support each other and fight a common enemy.

Sometimes that common mission, enemy, or goal is not obvious. It takes a leader, often one that emerges without a top-down vote from the pack, to inspire by example, articulate a group’s purpose, and show the way. Taking any one of those three ingredients out leaves you with change entropy.

Like a good movie, positive change can be designed. But instead of focusing on special effects or the budget, I say we start with a good storyline. When the going gets tough, we should return to the narrative because that is what people relate to. It is what brings people together so that they can tell their own stories. When those stories intertwine, you see the change happening.


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