There Are Not Enough Moonshots Taken in Education

I am extremely lucky to work in an organization that sets enormously high standards and one that accepts disequilibrium as part of the change process. I’m also well aware that this is uncommon in most school districts. Twenty-first-century challenges need 21st-century approaches; however, school leaders are often quick to adopt minor improvements to existing systems in lieu of larger changes that would upset the status quo. What is needed in the current state of education are more moonshots.

What is moonshot thinking?

Moonshot thinking is going 10x bigger or better. While most organizations try to improve by 10 percent, organizations that think outside the box and strive for 10x better tend to approach problems in drastically different ways and—more times than not—achieve 10x better results.

Why is moonshot thinking needed in education?

Classroom teachers and school leaders are hampered by poor educational policies at all levels, cash-hungry textbook publishers, and a school system that is often slow to adopt innovations. If we are truly going to prepare students for their futures, it is time we all start thinking 10x bigger. At Garnet Valley, we have begun to do just that with several of our most recent projects. Moonshot thinking has enabled our medium-size district to achieve extraordinary results within the last few years and all without increasing our budget.

Since 2015, Moonshot thinking has:

● Provided every student and staff member access to technology every second of every day with the purposeful use of that technology remaining in the hands of our teachers
● Redesigned all of our libraries, computer labs, and makerspaces to become integrated learning spaces rather than specialty-area classrooms
● Developed a robust, personalized professional-learning program that leverages blended and online opportunities for our teachers
● Replaced an outdated and unresponsive student information system with one that fully integrates our productivity suite, student databases, and learning management system
● Successfully doubled, then redoubled, our infrastructure in each of the last three years to provide our students and staff a fast, reliable, secure connection
● Developed an online and blended learning program to give our students more control and options for their learning
● Given our teachers full ownership of what they teach, as well as a chance to personalize their curriculum through the use of open education resources

Moonshot thinking can be easily replicated in any school district without causing panic from stakeholders. In order to think and plan 10x bigger, school leaders must articulate the need for change by connecting their past successes to their future needs. Developing a strategic plan to achieve 10x the results might seem overwhelming at first, but here are five things you can do as an organization to take your moonshot.

1. Establish a team. Building a team that truly represents all stakeholders in the district is invaluable to the long-term success of any new initiative. Besides giving others the opportunity to provide input, the creation of a district-level team will help build trust, develop a strategy, reinforce the core beliefs of the district, and help communicate the work to the whole organization.
2. Determine where you are. The biggest challenges for implementing change can sometimes be the lack of internal reflection. Identify where you are as a district by assessing your current status versus your future demands. Research such the Horizon Report or more comprehensive guides such as The Future Ready Framework are good starting points for measuring the strengths and weaknesses of any district against current and predicted trends in education.
3. Determine where you want to go. Create an image of what success looks like in your school district over the next five years. Failure of any new initiative is often due to a lack of organizational understanding of what can be achieved and the potential benefits of the change.
4. Acknowledge obstacles, but don’t admire the problem. Obstacles can be feelings, perceptions, attitudes, or people. Identifying them early and recognizing their existence will help to move you steadily toward your goal. Look for small wins on the road to bigger victories. No accomplishment is too small or too insignificant to celebrate. Celebrate and communicate each win.
5. Set deadlines. The great Leonard Bernstein once said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and NOT quite enough time.” Few things have more impact on accountability than deadlines. Establish deadlines for the group and create a metric by which your work can be deemed a success or failure.

With any worthwhile change comes disequilibrium. Disequilibrium is that uncomfortable natural gap between your vision for change and your current reality. Although the gap can be difficult for some school leaders, it is essential for any significant change to take place. While good leaders constantly balance vision and reality, it is important to not get stuck in the middle. The goal for school leaders should always be to move people toward your vision with the understanding that it may take longer than originally planned or be a rougher ride than originally anticipated.