In 1972, paleontologists Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge developed the theory of punctuated equilibrium, which provided an alternative view of evolution. Unlike Darwin’s theory of evolution, which requires millions of years of constant, gradual change to create a new species, their theory postulated that species actually change very little over millions of years and evolution occurs in rapid, relatively rare events that result in two distinct species. Both theories result in divergent species, but the processes needed to result in those species are different.
The Aha! Moment
Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Perrin Chick. Perrin is the Education Director at the Seacoast Science Center. Located on New Hampshire’s coast in the town of Rye, the Seacoast Science Center’s mission statement proclaims that the Center, “provides exceptional learning experiences in the natural sciences through dynamic and innovative programs and exhibits”. In my new role at the Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS), I have been meeting with Perrin for about a month trying to iron out the details of providing an experiential learning opportunity for New Hampshire high school students. Through our new partnership with the Seacoast Science Center, VLACS students will be able to earn a high school credit in Marine Science through a blend of experiences gained through volunteering at the Seacoast Science Center and online coursework through VLACS.
We were in the Center’s incredible distance learning facility, (the Gregg Interactive Learning Studio) and thinking back to our last meeting when Perrin expressed some concern over the commitment the Center would have to make to VLACS when she said, “We already have 50 student volunteers here at the Center, I’m not sure we can commit to having more kids here.” The words weren’t out of her mouth when we both realized that we had the chance to make an impact on those 50 kids. That instead of creating a new program, we could provide more value to an existing one.
As we laughed about that earlier concerns and our simultaneous enlightenment, our excitement over not only what this program could mean for students already volunteering at the Center, but also for the possibilities it may open up for other students involved in similar programs grew. Perrin then turned to me and said, “We are changing education one aha! moment at a time.”
Punctuated Professional Development
I complain about the pace of change in education all the time. I’ve been known to refer to it as “glacial”. But, what if education only changes (transforms?) in rapid, but rare “aha!” moments similar to the one that Perrin and I had? Perhaps instead of looking for schools to change, we should be looking for new “species” of schools to evolve. Is Christensen’s and Horn’s notion of disruptive innovation really the educational equivalent to punctuated equilibrium?
If it is indeed the case that change in education is rare, rapid and dramatic, are we not doing professional development wrong? Instead of creating PD that allows for comfortable, gradual (glacial?) change, should we look to develop PD that demands rapid change knowing not all will transform, but those that do will create new species of schooling more evolved than the species we currently have? Change is hard and traditionally it requires time to grieve. But if real, transformative change does occur rapidly, how do educational leaders encourage other educators to embrace those “aha!” moments?