The Problem with the Silver Bullet in Education

What is a silver bullet? According to Google, it is “a simple and seemingly magical solution to a complicated problem.”

The problem is that when the problem you are trying to solve is complicated, such as education, there is no such thing as a silver bullet. Complicated problems often have multiple variables that behave in many different ways and at times, unpredictably. When we look for a silver bullet, we run the risk of investing significant sums of money in an unrealistic solution that will never deliver the expected returns.

Solving complex problems requires having an underlying purpose, strategy, and plan before enlisting the use of expensive and comprehensive tools

In 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) committed over $1 billion for a silver bullet – to put aniPads in EDU iPad in the hands of each and every student in the district. Long story short, the initial roll-out proved to be a major failure and not because the devices lacked in performance. One of the key problems was that teachers only received a few days of training on the devices. Perhaps even more critical is the fact that, according to a published report by the OECD, “there is little solid evidence that greater computer use among students leads to better scores in mathematics and reading.”

This is, unfortunately, an incredibly expensive case for the importance of having underlying purpose, strategy, and plan before enlisting the use of pricey and comprehensive tools. According to Michael Horn, executive director of the education program at the Clayton Christensen Institute, “Districts are starting with the technology [tool] and not asking themselves: ‘What problem are we trying to solve, and what’s the instructional model we need to solve it?’ and then finding the technology [tool] in service of that.”

Until education identifies a problem and/or opportunity that requires technology as a means [tool] to address it, any implementation or mandated use of these tools and/or apps will be underutilized and run the serious risk of creating more problems than it even stood the chance to solve. In the case of the LAUSD, teachers reported significant levels of frustration, the iPads required more bandwidth than was readily available, and last by not least, it cost the district a significant amount of money (total proposed expenditure was estimated to be $1.3 billion when the entire project was complete).

Problems and opportunities must drive our need for tools. Tools are developed in response to and in order to solve problems. Purchasing a tool without a problem to solve or an opportunity to pursue is like buying a hammer and not having a nail to hit.

Consider these steps next time you are faced with this dilemma.

  • Identify the problems and opportunities in your school that you need to address – pick 1!
  • If you do not already have a model for addressing your problem/opportunity, design one that you and your team have the capacity and ability to execute
  • If you are struggling to identify or design a strategy, then learn more about your problem or opportunity and understand it in depth – talk to people impacted by problem/opportunity, talk to potential users of solution, look for existing research
  • With a strategy/approach set, Identify and evaluate the tools available to help you execute – what are others doing in your field and consider what are others outside of your field are doing with similar problems
  • Finally, select and employ the tools that best fit/align with your particular plan and people; be open to switching tools when necessary – problems and opportunities evolve and so will your needs

Lastly, do keep in mind that most tech tools today come and go rather quickly, so while you are learning about your problem or opportunity and designing a plan, new and better tools may emerge that you will be better positioned to enjoy.

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How to Gain Clarity and See New Opportunities

A couple of weeks ago I had a great conversation with a friend about finding the clarity to see new opportunities.  Thinking back to when I made my decision to leave my corporate career, I really could not have ever imagined the journey that I have been on for the last four years.  Although I had my reasons for leaving and some sort of plan of what I might do, I was not even close to what actually happened.

During that conversation two weeks ago I realized that it is quite hard to see what’s possible when your mind is preoccupied with distractions (i.e. your current circumstance or situation, related stress, etc.).  It’s almost as if when it comes to our mental capacity, we only have so much “screen space.”  It’s like we have a 13″ – there’s only so much you can fit in it.

So let’s look at few aspects of this analogy and how it compares to finding clarity.

When you are in a situation or circumstance that does not inspire you or just doesn’t make you happy, your screen fills up with stress, dissatisfaction, thoughts of getting out, and eventually fear of making a change for the better.  Fear because we are hard-wired to fear change and the unknown.  While some may seem more spontaneous and risky in their behavior, they too experience fear – the difference is they have learned to control, embrace, and convert it to enthusiasm and positive curiosity.

When your 13″ screen is all filled up, you simply cannot see opportunities and possibilities – even the ones right in front of you. It feels as if there may not be anything waiting on the other side if you take the plunge.  By the way, this can go for career, relationship, and/or personal circumstances.  However, what I found after I left my career circumstance was that all of a sudden I had new ideas, I was having different conversations, and I considered new possibilities (some out of necessity so that I could earn a living).  It’s as if leaving my career at the time closed all the open windows on my 13″ screen, rebooted my computer, and left me with a blank slate.  I was open to anything and everything.

Here’s where the second aspect of the analogy comes in.  Once my screen was free to have new windows open in it, it was as if my screen got upgraded to 15, then 16, then 17″.  When the negative stress and feelings of fear went away, I felt like more was possible than I had ever thought before.  All of a sudden I was meeting new like-minded people with their own awesome stories and ideas.  And this is when things got really good.  As I explored my own strengths and interests, now I felt like I was taking on additional screens.  One screen was for my passion in education, another screen for student leadership development, and yet another for neuropsychology.  It’s as if I was now running multiple apps that all interface with each other on multiple screens.  Everything was coming together and connecting in ways I never thought possible.

Clarity on multiple screens!

Operating with more apps and on more screens, my other capacities began to upgrade as well.  I felt happier, stronger, healthier, more intelligent, more passionate, more outgoing, etc.  Today, four years later, I see much clearer than ever before.  Here’s the best part though, I haven’t even reached full clarity and I don’t know if I ever will.  However, every year, every month, every day I feel like I have just a little more clarity than I did before.

More apps!

If you are in a circumstance that isn’t working for you, consider finding some clarity.  It won’t come from staying in the bad situation – even if you know all of this now.  The clarity can only come when close all the negative windows on your screen and start fresh again.

Maybe it’s time for a reboot in your life.