INTRODUCTION

[Below is the introduction to a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]

I’ve been a teacher, technology specialist, curriculum specialist, and district-level coordinator for a combined total of fifteen years. Along the way I’ve seen leaders retire, 1:1 devices deployed, curriculum adoptions both discarded and implemented, a large number of initiatives come and go, and state standards vanish while Common Core reigns supreme. Within this ever churning sea of opinions and attempts to positively impact student learning, I offer this book. My attempt is to navigate through the cacophony of traditions, policies, and protocols within the field of education and provide a guiding signal through the noise. As you’ll probably agree, this is easier said than done. I’ve gone through a number of manuscripts and discarded thousands of words in order to present a simple mental operating system that I believe can help all educational leaders become better at what they do.

I will not inundate you with website links and QR codes. I believe a book should be a self-contained collection of thoughts, and I don’t want to overwhelm you with a large number of online resources. If something was important to mention, I put it in this book. I’m not going to send you on a mad goose chase looking for videos or blog posts throughout the internet. It’s the job of the writer to curate the best information he or she has and provide it in the book. That’s what I’ve attempted to do here for you.

It’s probably also important to note that I’ve purposefully written this book in a casual, non-academic voice. If you’re an educational leader (i.e. lead learner) who reads many academic books and journals, you may be bristling at my lack of formality and academic prose. If that’s the case, I understand if you discard this book or give it back to the person who lent it to you. In my defense, there are three main reasons why I wanted to write an easily accessible book about how we can make the field of education better. First, because I’m a teacher at heart, I strongly believe in the value of taking complex ideas and breaking them down into their most simple components. Second, and closely related to my first point, the books I enjoy reading provide “handles” for the reader to grasp. In other words, the author gives the reader ways to access and remember the book’s ideas. Third, when you’re an educational leader at a school site, you’re constantly consumed by your work. When there’s finally a spare minute to read, your emotional labor may already be greatly depleted. I want to provide educators with the best information possible in the most easily digestible format so they’ll want to actually finish reading what I’ve written.

The title of this book is Rise and Converge, which was inspired by a story written by Flannery O’Connor entitled “Everything that Rises Must Converge.” From what I’ve read, O’Connor’s title refers to the work of French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who stated: “Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.”

It’s important to take these words into account within the context of a school district. As educators we must never cease rising toward greater heights of skill and wisdom, while at the same time converging upon not just best practices, but also the best ways to conduct ourselves in a complex world. So how can we, both as individuals and organizations, rise and converge so all students grow up in schools where learning occurs and their emotional and physical needs are sufficiently met?

ANTIFRAGILITY AND COHERENCE

A good place to begin exploring is the organization. Whether you’re an educational leader in a huge district or working in a one-school district, it’s important to construct a mental framework of how organizations thrive–and how they fail. Too often we are so focused on implementations and ad hoc policies, we become unaware of what is making us fragile.

Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb greatly influenced my understanding of how organizations not only can survive but also flourish. In his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, he explains the difference between three different states: fragility, robustness, and “antifragility” (a word coined by Taleb). His book is a must read, but I’ll provide a simple explanation of this important concept.

Let’s start with fragility. Imagine you’re cooking a Denver omelette and accidentally drop an egg on the floor of your kitchen. What happens to the egg? Of course, it cracks open and makes a mess. That’s an example of fragility–introduce a little instability or chaos, and destruction follows. Fragility should be avoided at all costs: fragile systems, fragile investments, fragile jobs… the list goes on.

Now picture you’re once again standing in your kitchen. A friend is visiting, and you decide to show off your brand new bowling ball. As you’re retrieving the heavy ball out of its bag, it slips out and strikes the tile floor. What happens to the bowling ball upon impact? Probably not much, but unfortunately it cracked a tile or two. This is an example of robustness. Introduce instability or chaos, and the object, person, or organization isn’t affected. Obviously this is more ideal than fragility, and therefore we should strive for robust systems, investments, jobs, etc.

But we aren’t going to stop there! Now think of the ancient mythical creature Hydra. When Hercules cut off the beast’s head, two more grew back in its place. As the demigod continued slashing necks, the heads continue multiplying and Hydra became stronger. That’s antifragility–introduce instability or chaos, and the object, person, or organization becomes stronger.

When you begin to explore what’s fragile in education, you’ll notice that complexity strips an organization of robustness. As we’ll discuss in a bit, schools and school districts can avoid fragility and seek out robustness by striving for simplicity. Of course, antifragility–the ability to gain strength from disorder–is the ideal. In the previous example, the bowling ball wasn’t damaged by striking the tile kitchen floor, but it also didn’t gain any strength from the contact. Imagine if it did! Anything that gains from disorder and chaos is positioned extremely well in today’s world. Because of this, school and district leaders must make decisions that result in robustness with the potential of antifragile gain.

Think of your role within the field of education. Would your organization be able to withstand a large amount of chaos without breaking? Would you be robust in the face of budget cuts, no wifi, conflict arising from a newly deployed initiative, or any other event outside your team’s control? More interestingly, is there a way you can become stronger in the face of chaos?

These are questions this book attempts to answer. Fragility, robustness, and antifragility will be touchstones throughout our exploration of how schools and districts can rise and converge to enhance student learning.

In addition to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s invaluable insight, Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn are two authors who have greatly influenced my understanding of an organization’s efficacy. Their excellent book Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems not only turned the word “coherence” into an overused buzzword on the conference circuit for a while, but the book itself truly is a masterwork of finding a signal within the noisy world of education. Within this helpful text, Fullan and Quinn introduce four “right drivers” that school leaders should focus upon in order to strengthen their organizations. Those correct drivers are:

  • Focusing direction
  • Cultivating collaborative cultures
  • Deepening learning
  • Securing accountability

If you run a school or district, the first thing you should do is foster the four right drivers. You can begin by focusing direction, which means becoming good at a small number of things and aligning your initiatives and resources toward that end. Second, you must cultivate collaborative cultures; this is when professional learning communities (PLCs) are supported, as well as the components that create effective PLC time (i.e. an emphasis on common formative assessments, using a simple protocol to analyze data, and [most importantly] building trust). Third, deep learning occurs when a team strives for and develops shared skills and a common vocabulary. Fourth, you must apply external accountability while at the same time fostering internal accountability–which is accomplished via skin in the game (more on this toward the end of the book).

An organization can be made robust, and possibly even antifragile, by incorporating the four right drivers. Conversely, an organization can be made fragile when the four “wrong” drivers are deployed. According to Fullan and Quinn, these are punitive accountability, individualist strategies, technology, and ad hoc policies. I recommend reading Coherence for a greater understanding regarding how these four wrong drivers can harm an organization, but what jumps out at me when thinking about the wrong drivers is the word “individualist.” Usually, punitive accountability is done to an individual. Of course, individualist strategies are not conducted by the whole team. Technology is oftentimes devoid of any connection to standards, curriculum, or even instruction. And ad hoc policies are individual implementations with no concern for the symbiotic relationship that’s inherent within a school and district.

In short, organizations are robbed of robustness and made fragile when leaders don’t understand the connective tissue binding every program they implement. On the other hand, the right drivers can make districts robust–and possibly antifragile. If an organization has focused direction, it doesn’t matter which shiny objects are offered; the organization isn’t going to bite. If collaborative cultures are strong, people will be unified, which helps focus direction. If educators delve deeper into their learning, they’ll be more likely to share, which cultivates collaborative cultures and focuses direction. And if internal and external accountability are secured, then learning will be deepened, people will collaborate, and the focus will truly be on what’s important. Thus, robust coherence.

A robust organization practicing coherence will be strong. New curriculum adoption? No matter, we’ll learn it and incorporate it within our already established operation. New digital grade book? Who cares–we’ll learn it and use it in a simple way to provide feedback to students and parents. New principal? Fine. He or she will step into a well oiled machine that operates independently of charismatic (or uncharismatic) leaders.

That’s robust culture. But what about Taleb’s idea of antifragility? Remember, antifragility is like Hydra–this means the organization doesn’t just absorb the blow, it becomes stronger because of it. The antifragile district thrives within chaos. And, let’s be honest, chaos is going to be ever-present within schools and districts. The system is too large, and there are too many variables (i.e. staff, students, parents, budget, policy, etc.) in order for chaos not to feed off the day-to-day activities. Because of this, we need a common mental framework that has the antifragile philosophy and four right drivers woven into its fabric. Just like breathing, members of the team must know when and how to avoid decisions that will introduce fragility. People need to be able to focus, collaborate effectively with others, learn deeply, and act responsibly with skin in the game.

Because of this, the rest of this book will be broken into the following sections:

  • Focus
  • Collaborate
  • Learn
  • Responsibility

The fifth section is entitled “Future,” and it will provide a context for how we need to think as educators in this complex world. (Also, I changed “accountability” to “responsibility” for the fourth section. I believe the words are synonymous.)

RISE AND CONVERGE

Successful educational organizations have many forces constantly introducing complexity into their systems. What happens all too often is we allow these forces to dictate what needs to be done. We add one thing, then we add another, then we add another. Soon, we have a monstrosity of our own making that’s so big and so complex, it’s nearly impossible to effect change or do things well.

In addition to complexity, we work within a field where people tend to be lone rangers. The culture of public education fosters individuals who “do their own thing” because they believe it’s “best for the students.” If everyone is doing his or her own thing, and everyone’s “thing” is different, then there’s either thousands of different best ways to reach kids, or we’re failing at working collaboratively to increase student learning.

The main goal of this book is to help raise our skill level as educational leaders while bringing together an understanding of what our most important best practices should be. Hence, rise and converge.

Let’s get started.

Antifragility and the 4 right drivers in systems

Two of my favorite non fiction books are Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Coherence by Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn. The more I think about both of them, the more I recognize how intertwined they are. The best way to illustrate this is to first describe the central idea behind Antifragile.

FRAGILE

1

Think of an egg. You drop it on the ground, and it looks like this:

2

That’s fragility; introduce a little force or instability, and destruction follows. Fragility should be avoided at all costs: fragile systems, fragile investments, fragile jobs… the list goes on.

ROBUST
3
Think of a bowling ball. You drop it on a tile kitchen floor, and it looks like this:
4
That’s robustness. Introduce a little force or instability, and the object, person, or organization isn’t affected. Obviously, this is more ideal than fragility.

ANTIFRAGILE
5
Think of Hydra. You remember Hydra? When you cut off one of its heads, two more grow back in its place, like this:
6
That’s antifragility; introduce a little force or instability, and the object, person, or organization becomes stronger.

So we have three ideas: fragility, robustness, and antifragility (a term coined by Taleb). These ideas are important to keep in mind when discussing systems.

Let’s discuss the book Coherence. Fullan introduces the four right drivers and the four wrong drivers in educational systems .

Right drivers:

  1. Focusing direction
  2. Cultivating collaborate cultures
  3. Deepening learning
  4. Securing accountability

Wrong Drivers:

  1. Punitive accountability
  2. Individualist strategies
  3. Technology
  4. Ad hoc policies

Let’s say you run a school district. The first thing you should do is foster the creation of the four right drivers. You begin by focusing direction, which means becoming good at a small number of things and aligning all your initiatives and resources toward that end. The second thing you must do is cultivate collaborative cultures. The means professional learning communities (PLC) are supported, as well as the components that create effective PLC time (i.e. an emphasis on common formative assessments, focusing on goals, and providing enough time for members to be productive). The third driver is deepening learning, which means building capacity (shared skills and common vocabulary) regarding that which your system is focusing. Fourth, you must apply external accountability while fostering internal accountability.

I believe a school district can be made robust–and maybe even antifragile–by incorporating the four right drivers. Before I explain why, let’s discuss how the four wrong drivers will make a system fragile.

First, punitive accountability is a tactic made by politicians and shortsighted leaders who want (need) quick results. This has never worked, and never will work to advance student learning. Second, individualistic strategies are damaging to a system. Teachers who are individualistic tend to alienate themselves. Likewise, charismatic leaders who are individualistic and make a big impact often leave a vacuum when they switch jobs or retire. Third, technology has been viewed as a panacea because devices are easy to buy and install within classroom. They can be tangible, “shiny objects” that catch your eye. But don’t be fooled, nothing magical will happen by putting technology in classrooms. Fourth, ad hoc policies can inflict much harm upon a district. This is because they’re often implemented without awareness of their placement within the coherent ecosystem of the district. For example, if you really want to introduce problem based learning (PBL), and you haven’t established conceptual links between direct instruction, Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards, and technology, then the implementation of PBL is going to be a disaster.

All the wrong drivers Fullan discusses in his book will make your organization fragile. When you have the fragile-robust-antifragile paradigm established in your mind, it’s easy to make the connection between wrong drivers and fragility. Punitive accountability will make you weak. Individualistic strategies will make you weak. Technology could make you weak (unless you use it as an accelerator), and ad hoc policies will make you weak. In fact, ad hoc policies are the silent fragility maker, mostly because the people implementing them have the best of intentions and no idea they’re weakening the organization.

On the other hand, the right drivers will make districts robust–and as I wrote above–possibly antifragile. If an organization has focused direction, it doesn’t matter which shiny objects are offered; the organization is not going to bite. If collaborative cultures are strong, people will be unified, which helps focus direction. If educators delve deeper into their learning, they’ll be more likely to share, which cultivates collaborative cultures and focuses direction. And if accountability is secured both externally and internally, then learning will be deepened, people will collaborate, and the focus will zero in on what’s important. Thus, coherence.

This coherent organization will be robust because it will be strong. New curriculum adoption? No matter, we’ll learn it and use it to teach Common Core. New digital grade book? No matter, we’ll learn it and use it to provide valuable feedback. New principal? No matter, we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing because we produce results.

That’s robustness. It takes a licking and keeps on ticking. But what about antifragility? Remember, antifragility is like hydra–this means the organization doesn’t just absorb the blow, it becomes stronger because of it. The antifragile district thrives within chaos.

My argument boils down to this: A district that incorporates all four right drivers can thrive within chaos. It can gain from disorder. This means the loss of a charismatic leader, lack of funding, Wi-Fi that’s down, large class sizes, new implementations, new standards, and new ideas can make a district stronger.

This is possible. We just need more people to jump on the Coherence train as we travel toward antifragility.

The Antifragile Teacher (part 2)

I discussed how to be an antifragile teacher in this post at the beginning of 2015. Here are ten more ways teachers can make themselves strong like Hydra.

  1. Use ubermix. Google Chromebooks are great, but they’re reliant on the internet for productivity. iPads should be avoided like the plague in educaiton–unless you’re teaching a multimedia class. With ubermix, WiFi can be down and students can continue working. In fact, students may come up with better ideas when figuring out how to solve a task without WiFi. Check out this post I wrote on the ubermix blog for more information, and keep this in mind: ubermix>Chromebooks>iPads>Windows.
  2. Go on PLC walks. This might sound absurd, but I can’t overemphasize the importance of walking while you collaborate. Why is walking an antifragile action? Not only are there health benefits, you and your colleagues will also be inspired in ways that are impossible within a classroom, library, or teachers’ lounge. The environment of a meeting is important, and so is what you’re doing while you talk. Try a walking PLC and see if you don’t come up with more effective ways to enhance student learning at your school. (If it worked for Steve Jobs, it can work for you.)
  3. Maintain the perspective that every day is an opportunity to learn something now. There’s so much change. Once you make the decision to stop learning, you’ll die as a teacher.
  4. Give feedback, not grades. Grading may never go away, but I’ve seen a lot of teachers pour precious time and effort into grading assignments. The time could be spent more effectively, especially considering that students often don’t understand how to become better by viewing a letter grade. It’s much better to tailor your classroom in a way where the assignments you create foster easy teacher feedback–even at the expense of grading. “That’s a great idea, but how do you grade it?” This is a question I’ve heard many times. The quick answer is, “You don’t grade it.” In my credential program, I learned you have to grade everything. This is bonkers. Instead, take the stance that every assignment deserves “feedback”, and the feedback doesn’t necessarily have to come from you. It could come from students or other teachers. This approach will strengthen you as a teacher by providing more time, fostering your creativity with student assignments, and allowing flexibility within your work day.
  5. Give less homework (or no homework). I don’t want to make a blanket statement and say that you should never give homework under any circumstances, but I think we need to have a long conversation about why we give homework. Is it to strengthen skills and knowledge of content, or is it to ensure students are being compliant? It’s an interesting debate, and a great place to start is right here.
  6. Ditch your textbook. What would happen if school districts decided to write their own textbooks? What could you do with the money? How empowered would teachers feel? Could this help establish an antifragile school district?
  7. Get really good at a few skills. In my first post for becoming an antifragile teacher, I wrote you should learn as many skills as possible. This is true, but I’d like to add that you should never underestimate the importance of being really good at a select few. This will make you invaluable within any organization.
  8. Build your Professional Learning Network (PLN). Twitter is a must,–chances are you found this post via Twitter. Social media is important, but face-to-face interactions are much stronger, which leads to…
  9. Attend conferences. I’ve stated before that you must “read, read, and then read some more.” The great thing about conferences is you can learn and build your PLN at the same time. It’s like reading a book and making a friend simultaneously.
  10. Read Seneca’s work. I know this is random, but Seneca’s stoic philosophy will teach you to be antifragile in every area of your life, which will inevitably make you a better teacher.

Read Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Run away from “top-down, one-size-fits-all”

Michael Bloomberg wrote a wonderful piece entitled Why Cities are the Key to Fighting Climate Change. The article focuses on why local government–specifically, urban populations–is the least fragile way to solve 21st century problems. Money quote:

Nations and cities that fail to prepare for the urban population explosion risk creating, or worsening, slum conditions that frighten investors, perpetuate a permanent underclass, and impede national progress. The best way to prepare is not by implementing top-down, one-size-fits-all centralized programs but by empowering cities themselves to solve problems, invest in their futures, and harness the potential of their residents.

How does this apply to education? By avoiding “top-down, one-size-fits all centralized programs,” and empowering districts and counties to solve problems on their own, we can avoid fragility within the systems that support student learning.

  • Interventions should not be accomplished through Systems (notice the capital “S”) but rather embedded within instruction and assessment.
  • Lesson plans must be nimble and able to change minute by minute.
  • The quality of the teacher in the classroom is the most important factor regarding student learning. Instead of spending money on consultants, technology, and intricate top-down programs, seek smart individuals who know how to teach and pay them well.

Fragile, robust, antifragile (with pictures!)

Once you think in terms of antifragility, you start to view education–and life–in new ways. Because I find the concept so important, I try to explain it to anyone who will listen. Medicine, business, politics, international affairs, education, and pretty much every other field can benefit from an understanding of antifragility. Yesterday I was telling a coworker about all of the concept’s benefits, and she added, ‘It’s important for marriages, too.’ I think it’s important in all areas of life. I could go on and on about how an antifragile philosophy can be beneficial in a multitude of ways, but as usual, I’ll focus on education. Here’s another go at explaining what Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined in the book Antifragile, with pictures I recently drew:

FRAGILE

1

Think of an egg. You drop it on the ground, and it looks like this:

2

That’s fragility; introduce a little force or instability, and destruction soon follows. Fragility should be avoided at all costs: fragile investments, fragile jobs, fragile people… the list goes on.

What does fragility look like in education? Intervention just for the sake of intervention. Unsustainable 1:1 deployments. Rigid adherence to curriculum. Lack of training. Implementation of (big) ‘Systems’. Teachers isolated in classrooms. Spending money on programs, training, and technology that isn’t helpful. Unneeded hierarchy and bureaucracy. A narrow understanding how to increase student learning.

ROBUST
3
Think of a bowling ball. You drop it on a tile kitchen floor, and it looks like this:
4
That’s robustness. introduce a little force or instability, and the object, person, organization, etc. isn’t affected. ‘It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.’ Obviously, this is much more ideal than fragility; it’s where the bumper sticker ‘Tough times go away; tough people don’t’ comes into play.

What does robustness look like in education? A program that can keep functioning with a lack of funds. Lesson plans that are effective year to year. A 1:1 deployment the district can maintain in regards to maintenance and training. A well-rounded understanding of how students learn. A district that is financially stable. Quick reaction to unforeseen events.

ANTIFRAGILE
5
Think of Hydra. You remember Hydra? When you cut off one of its heads, two more sprout back in its place, like this:
6
That’s antifragility; introduce a little force or instability, and the object, person, organization, etc. becomes stronger. Think of it: Does chaos or conflict make our international relations stronger? Does instability make your job stronger? If you’re an architect, does force make your building stronger or weaker?

What does antifragility look like in education? It’s a 1:1 deployment where the devices can be used in new and interesting ways when the Wi-Fi is down. It’s not having to be reactionary. It’s teachers who think quickly on their feet and provide engaging lesson plans, even in the midst of a lock-down. It’s principals who come up with amazing programs, activities, and training sessions on a shoestring budget. It’s districts who thrive in times of financial hardship. It’s students who enjoy fixing technology in their classrooms and view broken devices as challenges and learning experiences. It’s a district or school who, like Hydra, becomes stronger, smarter, and more experienced during times where other districts and schools crumble.

I recommend examining your school and district and determining where it’s fragile, robust, and antifragile. I also encourage you to examine your life and see which areas can be moved to the robust or antifragile side of the spectrum. You’ll be doing yourself, and those you love, a huge favor.

Antifragility and 1:1 devices

It’s always been essential to avoid fragility and strive for robustness in one’s life and organizations. Examining what Nassim Nicholas Taleb has written (and what I’ve been blogging recently), robustness should be something for which we strive, but ultimately it’s not the goal. The goal is anitfragility. When a black swan event occurs, it’s only the antifragile people and systems that take the hit and become stronger.

For today’s exercise, think about an antifragile 1:1 deployment. Which device is most antifragile: an iPad, a Chromebook, or a device running the ubermix operating system?

The answer, at least right now, is the device running ubermix. Wi-Fi at many campuses across the country is extremely fragile. If it’s down, then the students can’t use the device to learn and produce. Many apps on iPads function this way, and Chromebook lose most of their functionality when there’s no internet connection. Ubermix has a wide range of educational apps that don’t need the internet. Also, there’s LibreOffice, which is a free office suite students can use when cloud-based programs are down.

Whether you’re a teacher planning a blended learning lesson or a superintendent planning a 1:1 deployment, Wi-Fi unfortunately injects fragility into your system (at least for now). It’s best to plan accordingly.

The Antifragile Teacher

The term antifragile, coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, has slowly begun dominating my outlook on everything–including how I invest, whether I should take statins for high cholesterol, and the efficacy of US foreign policy. I’ve written about antifragility before, but in this post I’d like to focus on ten ways a teacher can become antifragile.

1. Learn as many skills as possible. Becoming well-versed in Direct Interactive Instruction (DII), knowing how to embed formative assessments continually throughout the school day, and successfully blending technology into your teaching are just some of the valuable strategies that can help your students and strengthen yourself for whatever is thrown your way. Skills equal value, and valuable teachers become antifragile because they’re desperately needed at school sites and within districts–especially in stressful times.

2. Read, read, and then read some more. Reading fiction can help promote empathy, and nonfiction will help build your skill set, which needs to continually grow to remain antifragile. Caution: If you’re reading good books, your brain will be brimming with ideas, many of which you’ll want to implement in the classroom. Avoid this temptation; you should deploy only a small fraction of what you know when teaching. Throw too much information at kids (or even adults), and you’ll slide down the spectrum toward fragility.

3. Avoid negative talk and complaining, especially in the teachers’ lounge. Your words can trap and weaken you, thus making you fragile and susceptible to worry, broken relationships, and a pessimistic outlook that can corrode your will to help students. It might sound corny, but cultivating a generous spirit is the only way to sustain a lifelong career when teaching kids. It will also make you antifragile in the face of pink slips, textbook adoptions, admin changes, and general uncertainty.

4. Don’t continually introduce new technology to students. Less is more. Let them master programs and apps so that they can then dig into the actual content they should be learning. Teaching students algebra is much more important than throwing the newest math website at them. Put only the best educational software products in your tool belt and discard the rest.

5. Build intervention into your instruction. Intervention blocks created within a bell schedule can waste a lot of time and effect student learning. Intervention embedded in a lesson is powerful because you as the teacher know your students better than anyone else at the school site. It’s important to remember that intervening within systems can weaken organizations and introduce fragility; this needs to be considered when altering a school’s schedule in order to provide safety nets for students. Reteaching is important, but intervention blocks may not be the answer.

6. Don’t rely on things you can’t control, like wifi. If your students need to write in Google Docs and the internet is down, adapt and have them type in a word processor that’s installed on the computer. Full reliance on technology can expose you to fragility. Because of this, all lessons with a heavy dependance on technology must be backed up with a non-tech version. Pencils, paper, and books will not suddenly disappear on you. When the wifi drops, and from time to time it most certainly will, revert to your tried-and-true teaching methods. Remember, antifragility means that you become stronger when calamity strikes. This means an antifragile teacher becomes better when uncertainty and chaos are injected within the school day. I know this sounds counterintuitive, but when you start to consider how failing technology can make you stronger, you’ll come up with some interesting ideas.

7. Keep a perspective on the whole child, and don’t drill and kill him or her because of one low number on a test. This will just frustrate you and the student.

8. Learn to work well with what you’ve got. Remember the movie Apollo 13 when NASA had to build an air filter with only the items on the ship? Here’s an excerpt from a previous post:

NASA had to solve a problem with a limited number of resources in order to bring the astronauts home. Failing this objective was not an option because the stakes were too high. They did everything they could to fix a seemingly insurmountable problem. It wasn’t easy, but through hard work they figured it out.

So your student has a tough home life, large gaps in his learning, and is absent half the time? If astronauts can make a filter out of a bunch of random items, you can provide effective instruction when the student is with you.

9. Begin recognizing antifragility around you. Governments, companies, and people make unwise decisions that will weaken them when tension, confusion, or catastrophe strike. Sometimes, doing the opposite of what pundits say on TV will make you stronger. Take this page from Warren Buffett’s playbook:

Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.

Yes, antifragility will not only help you in the classroom, but also in all areas of life, such as investing.

10. Read the book Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. He’s much smarter than I am, and his ideas can change your perspective on the world.

And isn’t that what good books are supposed to do?