What Got Us Here Won’t Get Us There

“If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.”
–Eric Shinseki

Resist change at your peril. I remember saying, “I’m not using these computers, I’m a people person.” How do you think that is playing out? I am typing this on my life blood, a computer. I was a slow adopter and the world wasn’t interested in what I thought. How many times have you thought, “I used to think… But now I think?” Richard Elmore wrote a book with that title.

This post is inspired from Marshall Goldsmith’s 2007 book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Goldsmith is focusing on coaching leaders and has been voted the number one business coach ten years in a row. The results? 95% improvement for those he has coached. I am using these strategies with education leaders now and showing similar results. The focus must be on where are we going. Marshall calls this FeedForward. There is nothing you can do with results in the past. Learn from past results. If amends are needed, make them now. Do something different that will yield different results in the future.

Jon Saphier (2017) wrote a history of intelligence in chapter one of his book, High Expectations Teaching. I highly recommend this book. We used to think intelligence was fixed at birth. HA. We now know intelligence can be developed no matter where you start. Think of New York City Public Schools educating immigrants around 1900. Dr. Saphier writes about fifty (yes, 50) ways to help students know they are smart. Kudos to Jon.

The Industrial Revolution needed lots of workers with some baseline knowledge. Schools followed suit. In fact, schools were organized like the industrial workplace. Bells (move on cue), hierarchy of management (superintendents, principals, etc.), separating manufacturing into small pieces (subjects), and strong centralized curriculum. This worked for many years for the benefit of businesses. Schools supplied a prepared workforce.

And then, the knowledge economy happened. Whether or not it sneaked up on us or not, the pace of change increased, and is continuing to increase at a faster and faster pace. What was adequate in the past won’t be enough in the future. Yes, some things like values, collaboration, and diversity will not change. By the way, immigrants have been a foundation of getting work done from industrial plants to agricultural plants.

Many public schools continue to lose students. In New York City it has been reported that charter school enrollment is up 16%. In Austin, Texas, over the past seven years, the public school system has lost 16,000 students resulting in a loss of state aid totaling $500 million. Public schools have existed in the past with religious schools and alternative schools. There are exceptions to the decline. There is a public school district in Minnesota that is gaining students. Minnetonka Public Schools, under the leadership of Dr. Dennis Peterson, Superintendent, continues to grow. They enroll over 3,000 students from surrounding districts. Why?

One of the reasons is vision of what it takes to prepare students for their future, not for our past. Additionally, leadership is going to be required to implement a different vision. A vision without action is just a dream. Blaming charters and private schools is probably a losing strategy. Suggestion: Quit whining and compete. Al Shanker’s original vision in NYC was to listen to innovative staff and support their new approaches. The people that implemented that vision led to the charter movement outside the public school system.

Now, with the COVID pandemic, the loss of students is exacerbated and getting worse. Many districts can’t find students who were enrolled. And as a result, states will probably reduce funding, making it even more difficult to meet the future needs.

Try this for a mission of schools: Preparing students for a life after high school. So, what faces students of the future. Let’s look at what innovative companies and organizations want. Richard Sheridan (2018) at Menlo Innovations says their first consideration for employees is a kindergarten skill: Do they play well with others? Lazlo Bock (2015), former HR director at Google, looks for people who are creative, can collaborate and take leadership by expressing their opinions, not taking a passive approach. Ed Catmull (2014) at Pixar wants people who will participate in a process called ‘Plussing.’ This means being able to work in a group and contributing ways to make a movie better, not tearing what exists down. If you don’t like it, make it better. As Angeles Arrien said years ago, “It takes no courage to chronically complain.”

As I think about assessment, most states and the U.S. focus on test scores and fact retrieval, the latter which technology can do quicker and more accurately. My question is how do we create learners for the future who can use the content to solve problems of the future. Will our students continue to change, grow, and contribute to our common good?

This change is going to add a focus on the meta-curriculum. Thinking heuristics and the supporting habits to encourage, enhance and sustain short and long-term thinking. Art Costa and Bena Kallick have identified and teach about sixteen research-based thinking skills that are transferrable to multiple situations and job requirements. One of the goals of Habits of Mind is to engage in ongoing learning. The world will not remain static. As Bob Dylan’s song title says, Things Have Changed. Supporting this is the Eagles song, Get Over It. What is your FeedForward?

Tony Wagner (2008) identified seven requirements to close the global achievement gap. Yes, we are losing ground to the rest of the world by focusing only on test scores. The seven are:

  1. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  2. Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence
  3. Agility and Adaptability
  4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective Oral and Written Communication
  6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
  7. Curiosity and Imagination

Question: Where are we teaching these skills to compete? Competing with neighboring districts is not a winning long-term strategy. We are now competing with the rest of the world. Tom Friedman was right, the world is flat and it is getting hot, flat, and crowded.

Check out the global competition by reading Clever Lands (2016) by Lucy Crehan and Marc Tucker (2012) Surpassing Shanghai.

Finally, those who think changing schools to attract and retain more students, I suggest reading Ted Dintersmith’s What School Could Be (2018). Dintersmith traveled to every state in America and found schools that are engaging students in learning. He found there has to be a committed group of educators, learners, and, sometimes, businesspeople who rally around a common vision for their communities and the young people who are developing to lead in the future. There were commonalities and differences. Each community was different. The focused commitment of the team of educators was the same. Make it Happen.

Don’t tell me that it can’t be done. It is being done in some places. How about expanding the attraction to learning in more communities and more students? The United States needs more than isolated schools of excellence. Our kids deserve it. Our country is going to be dependent upon a rich diversity of people and ideas.

As Karen Kaiser Clark said,
Life is Change
Growth is Optional
Choose Wisely

Choose change or irrelevance. Your choice.


Bock, Lazlo. (2015). Work Rules. New York: Twelve.

Catmull, Ed (2014). Creativity, Inc.ˆ New York: Random House.

Crehan, Lucy. (2016). Clever Lands. London: Unbound.

Costa, Arthur & Kallick, Bena. (2xxx). Habits of Mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD Publications.

Dintersmith, Ted. (2018). What School Could Be. Princeton, NJ: Princeton  University Press.

Elmore, R. (ed). (2011). I Used to Think… And Now I Think. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Friedman, T. (2005). The World is Flat. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Friedman, T. (2008). Hot, Flat, and Crowded. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Goldsmith, M. (2007). What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. New York: Hyperion.

Saphier, Jon. (2017). High Expectations Teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Sheridan, Richard. (2018). Chief Joy Officer. New York: Portfolio/Penguin.

Tucker, M. (ed). (2012). Surpassing Shanghai. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Wagner, Tony. (2008). The Global achievement gap. New York: Basic Books.


Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!