Why the Tortoise Always Wins
How many times have you seen a new initiative come around in education during your career? 5? 10? More? We seem to have a tendency to try to change many things in a short period time and yet never get much accomplished. What we end up with are a lot of teachers who get burned out, cynical and wait for this latest change series to pass. Ironically, businesses and politicians perceive education as a slow-moving giant where change is looked at with disdain and trepidation. So how can we repair this dichotomy to best meet the needs of each and every child in our classrooms? By remembering that while the tortoise always wins, the race itself has a lot to do with that victory.
The next section in any administrator’s professional development toolkit should be about change management. Change happens whether we’re ready for it or not and how we manage that change – for ourselves and for our staff – is critical to the effects of that change long-term. Sometimes, rapid change cannot be avoided and/or should be embraced depending on the situation. In this case, it’s imperative that the supports put into place for that change provide everyone with a framework in which to move through the shifting sands. At other times, we know change is coming (think, Common Core). There’s no surprise to when, where, or how this change will occur. In this situation, our charge as leaders is to critically think and plan for how to roll out that change systematically and with sequenced purpose. This sounds easier than it is often accomplished. Many times, we’re so caught up in the changes from yesterday that we put off developing a plan for the changes of tomorrow. This is such a mistake! We can’t get so mired down in the day-to-day details that we do not prepare our staff for the larger shifts that are occurring. Instead, we need to slowly and intentionally provide the change through our current frameworks so as to not overwhelm our teachers and which honors the work they are already doing.
The other piece to remember about being the tortoise is that his focus is always so clear: on methodically moving toward the finish line, not in winning the race above all others. The tortoise has no expectations that it will finish first. It’s so intent is just to finish at his own pace. When it comes to educational changes, this is a lesson we could stand to go back and relearn. We are always so focused in education on finishing as fast as possible and keeping up that we forget the true focus of our race: helping students to reach their fullest potential. This means moving at their pace; not ours. It means making choices that will honor this mission, not simply give us the greatest glory or newest honors. And it means that our expectations should be focused with laser-like clarity on understanding what our students need to be successful in the 21st century and then developing a pathway to get them there.
The tortoise always seems to get a bum rap. The hare is so flashy and there is something exciting about speed and rapid change. And yes, we certainly need change in education. The beauty of the slow tortoise is that he understands that while he may not have control of the race, he does have control over how he reacts and moves through the race. This kind of mentality could be used to our advantage in education. We can understand as educators that our world will constantly shift due to new standards, politics, global competition and countless other issues; yet, by slowing down, viewing the whole racing field and diligently making a plan to manage the race, we can make a bigger impact. By following the lead of the tortoise, we take the steady steps towards our future and get the best win of all: students prepared for a world where change is everything.