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Learning Library Blog A Silver Lining Playbook for Turning Disruption Into Innovation
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A Silver Lining Playbook for Turning Disruption Into Innovation

By Nicole Krueger
July 6, 2021
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After more than a year of struggle and stress, many educators are hungry for a return to normal. But what are they really going back to?

Copious research shows that in education, what’s familiar and comfortable isn’t always the same as what’s equitable and effective.

Instead of going back to the way things were, ISTE CEO and innovation expert Richard Culatta urges educators to use the disruption of the global pandemic as a runway to catapult their schools and districts in a new direction. Moments of disruption, he says, can serve as powerful catalysts for innovation.

But it doesn’t happen automatically.

Just as a runway can’t launch a plane without engine propulsion, the current moment will only give rise to innovative teaching practices if educators seize the opportunity to rethink the future of learning — before the runway runs out.

“We are taxiing down a once-in-a-generation runway of opportunity to rethink and redesign the future of learning,” he says. “And we have an opportunity here. We can go full throttle and get enough lift that we can get off the ground and soar far above a lot of the obstacles that have traditionally held us back.

“But we're also coming up to the point that if we don't get that critical momentum, that critical lift, the only option will be to hit the brakes and slow down and continue to taxi around on the ground for the rest of the time here.”

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Through his work with educators and government leaders around the world, Culatta has devised a simple and effective strategy for igniting innovation in the midst of disruption. It starts with asking a single question:

What are five silver linings you’ve experienced during this moment of disruption?

While it’s easy to focus on the negative aspects of the pandemic, it’s important not to overlook the positive impacts. These might include new things learned, new approaches to learning or working discovered, or problems brought to light so they can finally be solved.

When asked to list their silver linings, educators across the globe have said the pandemic has:

  • Made them unafraid to try new things.
  • Removed barriers to technology access that will benefit students for years to come.
  • Taught them how to take advantage of virtual access to expertise.
  • Changed the role of technology from a way to get information to a means for connecting with people and experiences.
  • Exposed opportunities to close longstanding equity gaps.
  • Underlined the importance of having thoughtful conversations with kids about how to thrive in a virtual world.

Each of these silver linings can serve as a powerful starting point for redesigning learning and work, Culatta says.

“If we take advantage of this moment, if we take advantage of the conditions that the disruption sets, to be able to create and redesign a future for learning, I believe we will look back in 10 years on this moment and think that it was the most important, most impactful change that we've ever seen in learning in our country.”

But the opportunity won’t last forever, and time is already beginning to run out. If educators fail to achieve critical momentum in time, no value will have come from the massive disruption we’ve experienced.

“A good pilot knows that every inch of runway is a gift that shouldn't be taken for granted,” Culatta says. “In fact, there’s an old pilot saying that goes, ‘The one thing you can't get back is runway behind you.’ ”

As educators think about going back to school and work, it’s imperative that they focus on the pandemic’s silver linings so we don’t just go back to how things were — we move forward into how they should be.

Watch the video below to learn more about how you can seize this moment.

Nicole Krueger is a freelance writer and journalist with a passion for finding out what makes learners tick.