Have you ever strived for normal?

What is our need to be “normal”?  Especially in education, we want need our students to be normal.  Shouldn’t be want them to be abnormal?  To be weird?  After all, “normal” never went on to be innovative, creative, inspiring or engaging.  Normal stinks.

Recently, I have been fascinated with the work of Malcolm Gladwell.

He provides such wonderful insight into the probings of the human mind and spirit, all within the context of storytelling.  The oldest of artforms, storytelling truly becomes the fabric for tethering together our knowledge and thirst for compelling answers.  Gladwell does this brilliantly, and no more so than in his book “Outliers“. In this book, Gladwell explores what it is that makes people successful – the very heart of the matter – and in the process, provides us with some unique perspectives on the underlying causes of this achievement.

For me, this provides some huge clues into education and how we are preparing our students for success.  Indeed, success is actually the culmination of many opportunities that have been presented to us along the way.  People who are “successful” are those which capitalize on the opportunities that come their way.  Therefore, it can be assumed that one way to help our students achieve success is in providing them with extraordinary opportunities within and outside of our classrooms.

For instance, by merely providing the opportunity for students to explore math concepts through their favorite music, we are giving them the time they need to process concepts and manipulate them into something new.  By granting our students the opportunity to use varying technology, we are gifting them with time to become adept in a new language of social connection and collaboration.

In essence, we are granting them the most precious opportunity of all: time.

Time is so important to being an outlier, that Gladwell proposes a time formula to be a success.  He asserts that all outliers are masters of their field and in order to be a master, you must have over 10,000 hours of practice at any one field/subject.  That averages out to approximately 10 years if you commit 20 hours/week to something.  So when we provide opportunities to our students that enable them to take time to complete a project, we are gifting them with time on their personal clocks for success.  One of the major benefits to Common Core is that we are getting rid of the “pacing guide” mentality of American education.  No longer are we pushing through a slug of material to just get it done.  Now, we’re really looking at practices and processes and going into deep exploration of these topics.

We are providing TIME.  And with this revelation comes another – that  the “rules” we’ve been playing by in education have never really been effective at all.  In fact, it’s time to start with a whole new playbook if we’re really going to rise to the challenge of innovation and creativity for the 21st century.

Right now, education is focused on playing by the same set of rules that existed in the industrial age – and we are so far removed from that time, American factories are few and far between.  No.  If we look at the true success stories of our time – the true outliers that we aspire to be – we find that each of them didn’t (couldn’t) play by the rules.  They knew the rules and decided to break them.  To use their opportunities to be different.

And we reward them handsomely for it:

Larry Page and Sergey Brin (Google).

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook).

Bill Gates.


John Nash.

None of these are people who play by the rules –

So, why should we teach our students to stick to the rules.  Instead, why don’t we teach them to be outliers?  To use the opportunities they have been granted, gift them time to explore, and to encourage them to look beyond the rules to what could be instead of what is.

And as I am always a proponent of modeling for students….the same thing applies to us as teachers.  We should be embracing our opportunities to grow and learn.  We should make every effort possible to network and build our PLCs, to connect with each other.  Most importantly, we should gift ourselves time to become a master at our craft and to think outside the box of our classrooms.

It’s time for the outliers to become our models – not dismissed, but embraced – for the future.