[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?


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.)


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.


[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]

As a lead learner, how do you hold other people accountable to high standards of performance every day for student learning to flourish? More importantly, how do you hold yourself to a high standard?

Experts have stated over the years that motivating one’s staff, and oneself, can be done in a myriad of ways. Buzzwords are generously thrown around in administrator courses and within leadership books: autonomy, candor, culture… all good words with wonderful intentions. The problem is these terms are effects of something else. In other words, you can’t have a campus where autonomy, candor, and a positive culture flourish without a main cause.

Speakers and writers who make their livings discussing how to build accountability within schools and districts are missing this cause, and I must admit I was blind to it as well. It took the words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb to help me locate this blindspot and give it a name. As often happens, thoughts and beliefs are constructed by the vocabulary one possesses. Just as Taleb provided us with the word “antifragile,” he’s also provided insight regarding a term that shines a light on every place of learning and exposes the level of accountability members hold themselves to.

Skin in the game.

Let’s back up a bit. I was listening to Michael Fullan speak about two years ago, and he discussed how one of the correct drivers of student learning is “securing accountability.” Having read his book Coherence before attending his talk, I was familiar with this driver and didn’t expect to learn much more when it came to this idea. I was wrong. Not long into his explanation of securing accountability, he provided a synonym for the word accountable: responsible.

In an instant I saw this driver in a different light. Accountability and responsibility are of course similar, but responsibility speaks much more powerfully to me. We all have a responsibility to help students learn and mature into flourishing citizens who can in turn help others. We are all responsible for the state of the world in which we find ourselves, and it’s the great women and men who have taken a stand (when it’s difficult to do so) that creates positive change. These people saw it as their responsibility to live in a way where they would suffer consequences for their actions–mostly for the unfortunate reason that oftentimes doing what’s right is not popular.

In the field of education, administrators are taught they must create “buy-in” within their organization. Fullan divides the “securing accountability” driver into two sub-categories: external and internal accountability. (From here on out I’ll refer to “accountability” as “responsibility”). External responsibility is the process by which an administrator influences others to do what he or she wants, and it’s accomplished by means of directives, evaluations, and systems constructed to provide a specific result. This form of leadership can definitely be effective, but it’s extremely fragile because it depends on one person making sure everyone else is doing something. Once that administrator leaves, whatever is being managed will disappear because the staff didn’t hold it dear to their hearts.

Internal responsibility is more robust because, as the name suggests, people internalize the change and make it part of their practice. In some instances, external responsibility may come first, but the hope is that it morphs into an internal responsibility system for each members of the organization. This is when culture becomes positive, and a school site or district pulls in one direction toward its purpose.

This all sounds well and good, but the important question is: how do you create a sense of internal responsibility within a person? Earlier I wrote that great women and men in the past have changed the status quo by taking a stand for or against something by making themselves vulnerable because of it. A nice way of putting it is they take risks for their opinions rather than protecting themselves from the consequences of their actions.

External responsibility is easy: mandate, evaluate, implement, threaten (just kidding); you can always try to make someone do something. The goal, however, is to foster internal responsibility, and the most effective way–in fact, possibly the only way–to promote internal responsibility is by having skin in the game.

It’s common knowledge students will behave well in the classroom of a teacher they respect. They’ll even work harder for teachers whom they know care about them. The same goes for adults; teachers will work extremely hard for a principal they like. The million dollar question, however, is how does a principal garner the respect of his or her staff? It’s not by giving them whatever they ask for. It’s not by sending them to fun conferences. It’s not by being nice or strict or firm.

It’s by having skin in the game.

I go back to the words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, as I often do, because he speaks and writes truth. In his new book Skin in the Game, he cogently explains the importance of taking risks for one’s actions and opinions. For example, he writes, “If you give an opinion, and someone follows it, you are morally obligated to be, yourself, exposed to its consequences.” Someone with skin in the game is more than willing to pay a price for having exposure to the real world. When they tell others to do something, they don’t hide behind another strong leader or the mantra “that’s just the way it is.” They don’t hide behind anything, which is unfortunately rare–especially within large organizations. As Taleb writes, “Bureaucracy is a construction by which a person is conveniently separated from the consequences of his or her actions.” Skin in the game as a leader is basically a broader way of referring to extreme ownership.

Ineffective leaders hide amidst fuzzy bureaucratic obstacles. They do what they have to do, and then insulate themselves from the effects of their nebulous decisions. When these people apply external accountability measures, staff balks. The leaders find no one listens to them, no matter how many administrative books containing buy-in strategies they’ve read and implemented. And if external measures don’t work, it’s crystal clear internal responsibility isn’t fostered.

People want leaders with skin in the game. Whenever I’ve visited a school where kids are learning, teachers are working in harmony, and (a chosen few) effective strategies are being implemented well, you’ll find a principal walking around the campus who doesn’t protect herself from her actions. Even if they don’t know it, most people crave for a lead learner such as this to take command of their campus. This is the type of leader who gets results from external responsibility. More importantly, this is a leader who has developed internal responsibility within herself and her staff. She’s taken risks for her opinion, and she’s received both accolades and grief because she was tied to her decisions and actions.

Let’s examine what a lead learner with skin in the game does not look like.

(My book will hopefully be published this year!)


[The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently writing for self-publication later this year (2018). Any feedback is welcome!]

“No leader sets out to be a leader. People set out to live their lives, expressing themselves fully. When that expression is of value, they become leaders. So the point is not to become a leader. The point is to become yourself.”–Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader

True lead learners are people who live authentic lives so they can fully express themselves. They have a purpose, which not only helps them become who they truly are, but also aids them in nurturing authenticity within their organization.

Learning and expressing oneself go hand-in-hand. If you’re compelled to express yourself, you’ll continue to learn the multiple ways you can do so. This constant learning means you’ll be an authentic leader, or as Michael Fullan writes, an “indelible leader.” In his book, Indelible Leadership, Fullan writes of the importance of “deep learning,” which can only happen if leaders help their staffs find meaning. As stated before, this isn’t done by attempting to tap into people’s passion. Leaders accomplish this by promoting deep work. Fullan quotes Cal Newport from Newport’s book Deep Work:

“To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn . . . is an act of deep work. If you are comfortable going deep, you’ll be comfortable mastering the increasingly complex systems and skills needed to thrive in our economy. If you instead remain one of the many for whom depth is uncomfortable and distraction ubiquitous, you shouldn’t expect these systems and skills to come easily to you.”

There are some leaders who cruise at 30,000 feet and only want to think about the big picture. They can’t be bothered with the details–perhaps it’s just too much for them to process. Other leaders get stuck in the weeds. Their intentions are good, but they waste valuable time and resources working through problems that can most likely be ignored.

A lead learner isn’t coasting at 30,000 feet nor chopping through the weeds. Instead, I like to think of a lead learner as a helicopter pilot who can deftly fly to different elevations very quickly. These people soar at 30,000 feet in order to bring coherence when needed; then they can drop and hover over the weeds (without getting stuck!) when a specific issue requires their expertise. I truly believe teachers are longing for leaders like this. They want someone who sees the big picture and also can dive in and get messy when it comes to curriculum, instructional strategies, collaboration protocols, and more.

As stated by Cal Newport, depth is important because deep learning means you can take complex systems and make them simple. A lead learner brings a lot of value to his or her organization by being comfortable with complexity and always looking for ways to make ideas more easily accessible to all adults at a school site.

In one of Cal Newport’s other books, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, he explains how a person can become valuable to an organization. As I re-read Newport’s book, I was struck by how similar his thoughts are to other great thinkers I’ve already shared in this book. First, he writes about the importance of a craftsman mindset over a passion mindset.

“Whereas the craftsman mindset focuses on what you can offer the world, the passion mindset focuses instead on what the world can offer you.”

To be valuable within a school or district, it’s best to begin each day with the motivation of finding how you can help others rather than how they can help you. At first this sounds easy, but to maintain a mindset of everyday generosity takes constant effort. If you have to feel passionate about what you’re doing, in the long run not much will be accomplished. We’ve touched upon this already, but it’s worth noting that a worker running off passion will not be able to sustain the mundane responsibilities found within the field of education. As Newport writes:

“When you enter the working world with the passion mindset, the annoying tasks you’re assigned or the frustrations of corporate bureaucracy can become too much to handle.”

As a teacher or administrator, the bureaucratic tasks that are constantly thrown at you can wear you down and make you bitter if you don’t approach the day with purpose. It’s the integral first step in becoming valuable.

Newport further discusses the “craftsman mindset.”

“It asks you to leave behind self-centered concerns about whether your job is ‘just right,’ and instead put your head down and plug away at getting really damn good. No one owes you a great career, it argues; you need to earn it—and the process won’t be easy.”

Once you decide on working with a purpose (i.e. craftsman mindset) you can begin learning the craft. The teachers and administrators I’ve seen who have a craftsman mindset are constantly reading, practicing the strategies they’re learning, and performing acts of generosity not just toward students, but also adults. You earn your career through hard work and constant learning. Afterall, we don’t call it being a “lead learner” for nothing.

Second, to bring value you must recognize student achievement will come when the adults on a campus get really good at what they do. This is accomplished by understanding what being “good” means. You can quickly learn which activities are worth your time by tracking your day by hourly increments on a spreadsheet–perhaps even quarter-hour increments. Then, you need to seek out immediate feedback concerning your actions, which could come in the form of student test scores, the thoughts of colleagues, or the observation of your boss. Imagine if students sought out feedback concerning their work on a daily basis! The same benefits can be derived from teachers and administrators who are honing their crafts by asking for feedback.

Third, Newport describes the importance of incorporating difficult strategies into one’s practice in order to improve. He writes:

“But this stretching, as any mathematician will also admit, is the precondition to getting better. This is what you should experience in your own pursuit of ‘good.’ If you’re not uncomfortable, then you’re probably stuck at an “acceptable level.”

This reminds me of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s belief that a person should be lost physically or mentally every day. The only way to grow is to stretch oneself and feel the uncomfortable nature of uncertainty. Traditionally, educators have believed they can arrive to a point where they know everything and can just be left alone to do what’s “best for the students.” In reality, the work of “becoming” an educator is never finished. Just as the ever-changing nature of fashion is never finished and platforms such as Facebook never stop morphing into new entities–lead learners never stop evolving.

Fourth, it’s imperative we develop “rare and valuable skills.” This is hard, but as Newport writes:

“Hardness scares off the daydreamers and the timid, leaving more opportunity for those like us who are willing to take the time to carefully work out the best path forward and then confidently take action.”

The bottom line of being valuable within a school or district means you’re positively affecting student learning in the biggest way possible. This is difficult, and it takes amazing work to make it a reality; therefore, you need a clear path toward understanding how it’s accomplished.

To review, here’s an outline of what it takes to be valuable:

  • Purpose (craftsman) mindset over passion
  • Get really good by tracking your time and seeking feedback
  • Stretch yourself by trying new things (the process is never over)
  • Develop rare and valuable skills

If these four steps are accomplished at school sites and district offices, then true value will be attained and our students will improve by leaps and bounds. If the adults are constantly improving, the students will improve, too.

30,000 feet and from the sideline

Finding the Winning Edge is a book written by coaching legend Bill Walsh that’s impossible to find–unless you’re willing to pay $300 on Amazon or Ebay. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted.

This ESPN article does a good job summing up the book’s importance to many coaches. I really like the following excerpt from the post:

Some of the wisdom (from Finding the Winning Edge) is painfully obvious. “A quarterback should lead by example.” But McDermott understood why Belichick calls it a bible. In a secretive profession, it shows how a legend thinks. It teaches a coach to view the game from 30,000 feet and from the sideline. It provides the tiny details that add up to a philosophy for building a team, winning games and running a franchise. Mostly, it can lure a coach into the illusion that if all the steps are followed, perfection can be attained.

My favorite takeaway from above is a coach must view the game from 30,000 feet and from the sideline. Let’s examine this in regard to all leadership positions. Some leaders feel comfortable remaining at a 30,000 foot elevation (i.e. avoiding the details). Then there are leaders who insist on remaining at the sideline. In other words, they’re tromping through the weeds and don’t possess a higher perspective. Both approaches are beneficial–sometimes you need to cruise at 30,000 feet and other times you need to attack the weeds. The challenge is knowing at which elevation to cruise. A leader has to travel from 30,000 feet to the weeds and everywhere in between (continually).

In football, a coach must have knowledge concerning all positions while sitting in the skybox or standing on the sideline. The same goes for leadership in education. Leaders require a school-level perspective while at the same time drilling into curriculum and lesson planning. It’s not an easy job, and the more I learn, the more I realize how difficult it is to be an effective leader–especially in education.

I recently read Michael Fullan’s Indelible Leadership, which helped me gain a better perspective concerning what makes a great leader. Fullan provides six “tensions” within his Leadership Model:

  1. Combine moral imperative and uplifting leadership
  2. Master content and process
  3. Lead and Learn in equal measure
  4. See students as change agents
  5. Feed and be fed by the system
  6. Be essential and dispensable

These six tensions must be deployed simultaneously, which of course is not easy. In fact, Fullan writes in his book:

I warn the reader that it is hard (especially at the beginning) to become as good as you will need to be (at being a leader), so expect to invest time and persist… it won’t seem like hard work once you and others are immersed in it because the focused energy that is generated is irresistible.

Being a good leader at 30,000 feet, in the weeds, and everywhere in between takes hard work. To be more precise, it requires “deep work.” Fullan refers to Cal Newport’s book Deep Work* and quotes the following by Newport:

To learn hard things quickly, you must focus intensely without distraction. To learn . . . is an act of deep work. If you are comfortable going deep, you’ll be comfortable mastering the increasingly complex systems and skills needed to thrive in our economy. If you instead remain one of the many for whom depth is uncomfortable and distraction ubiquitous, you shouldn’t expect these systems and skills to come easily to you. (p. 37)

Effective student learning requires adult leaders to master 21st Century skills and an understanding of complex systems in order to master all six tensions of the Leadership Model. It is in this way that teachers and administrators can grow, which in turn will encourage the skills needed to effectively circulate professional capital throughout schools and districts.

Deep work is the helicopter that will help us view student learning and effective practices from many different elevations.


*I haven’t read Deep Work yet, but I have read So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, and I found it to be a very helpful and engaging read.

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.



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


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.

Think of a bowling ball. You drop it on a tile kitchen floor, and it looks like this:
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.

Think of Hydra. You remember Hydra? When you cut off one of its heads, two more grow back in its place, like this:
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.