"Slowly-by-slowly ~ worn Great Wall stairs ~ By David Truss ~ CC = BY::NC::SA"A while back I read a great article that I found in the December 2007- January 2008 edition of Focus on Dalian, “Slowly By Slowly” by Rob Giebitz. This was the first piece Rob wrote for his monthly column, ‘The eXpat Manager’. The article starts:

“I first heard this phrase from our Chinese production manager. I have to admit that at first it sounded like just another Chinglish phrase.”

Chinglish is a portmanteau of the words Chinese and English and refers to spoken or written English which is influenced by Chinese.

Rob continues:

“Those odd sounding phrases that often amuse the native English speaker, those Chinglish phrases, may offer a key to understanding our host culture. “Slowly by slowly” may carry some meaning absent from the more familiar “little by little” or “step by step” that a native English speaker would use. “Little” indicates size or quantity, “step” implies distance; “slowly” brings our attention to the element of time.”

China is a world of contrasts. In one moment I could be exasperated by how long a simple process takes to be completed and in another moment I could be absolutely amazed at how quickly something can be accomplished. It can be small procedural things, major undertakings, or even something cultural.

Our neighbouring school has undergone some significant renovations recently, with LCD touch screens and book projectors in every classroom. Elementary classes have been moved from rows to table groups and I even got to witness a wonderful activity with table groups reporting out to a student presenter at the front of the room: Each group getting it’s turn with their own representative standing to deliver their contribution, and a small round of applause after each turn ~ A wonderful blend of East meets West. Then I learn of the minimum two weekly tests in every subject, and in visiting our school, a Grade 1 teacher from their school asked our Grade 1 teacher: “These are great assignments you have on your walls, how do you do all this and still prepare your students for University?”

Slowly by slowly.

And as I look back to the West, I see progress. I see educators connected to learning networks and learning communities. I see edubloggers and educational leaders presenting forward-thinking ideas… focused on pedagogy, empowering learners, and meaningful application of technology. I see global collaboration, teachers reflecting on their practice, students sharing their work with experts and the world. I see pocket of brilliance. What I don’t see is the big picture changing.

Step by step. Little by little. Slowly by slowly.

How do we move beyond incremental changes, one-teacher-at-a-time, to system-wide change?

How do we meaningfully lead the (r)evolution of education?

What does it take to create a new paradigm, where we question everything and make agile, meaningful changes to (a collective) ‘our’ practice?

There are times when we need to take stalk of our own impatience and accept that things take time, that we need to appreciate that things happen slowly by slowly. But I believe, I want to believe, that a shift in education is not something we need to wait for. How do we create the shift, now?

– – – – – – – – – –    – – – – – – – – – –    – – – – – – – – – –    – – – – – – – – – –

Related posts:   Shifting Education Shifting Learning Shifting Attitudes

24 comments on “Slowly By Slowly

  1. When I look around to nearby school districts, I see the focus on implementing ed-tech and change based on the teacher’s interests. Want to blog with your students? Here you go. You like geocaching…we can add that to science class. Stories your thing? Here’s how to use digital video.

    You are absolutely right. There are hundreds of bright teachers making great changes, and dozens of districts making systemic change happen.

    Interesting…I am posting this response on April 18th at 3:30 p.m. and you posted the original at 3:05 p.m. on April 19th!!

  2. Hi Dave – I know we’ve talked about this before but… I don’t think you can flip a switch and make a system change. The “system” is filled with people, many resistent to change, especially in education. I think we build momentum over time, 1 by 1, 2 by 2, etc. until we hit that tipping point. I think the current conversations in BC on personalized learning may be a catalyst for the big picture change. The greater system (BC governance, curriculum too broad, reporting regime, etc.) needs to simplify to allow teachers to change practice in meaningful ways. We bumped into this in our design meeting for centennial, we heard the “ya but”‘s from teachers – we have exams to teach for, to cover content for… There seems to be a mood and willingness in BC politica right now to allow and support needed changes. I’m optimistic…


  3. Don,
    Slowly-by-slowly you are approaching the future time that I am writing you from. ~ I always find it amusing when I’m on twitter and people start their day by saying ‘Good morning’ and I’ve just had dinner here in Dalian, China. 🙂

    Yes, I love how things are ‘opening up’ and I didn’t intend to make this post about how nothing has changed… I just think that there aren’t enough push or pull factors… not enough scaffolding created for educators to see exponential shifts in teaching practice and innovation.

    I think students are ready. I think educators can be ready. I think we will still see things move slowly, and incrementally, rather than exponentially without structural changes made.

    I look forward to having our early morning coffee meetings again. I’m connected to so many inspirational change agents, and I’m really excited about the changes I’m seeing within BC and specifically with BC educators leading the way!
    What I can’t (or at least don’t want to) accept is that we acquiesce to the change resistant and slowly build momentum, patiently waiting for the tipping point.

    You are right, “The greater system (BC governance, curriculum too broad, reporting regime, etc.) needs to simplify to allow teachers to change practice in meaningful ways.”

    How do we as leaders MAKE this happen? That’s an essential part of meaningful leadership… being agents of change!

    I’m reminded of this:
    “As a general rule, adults are much more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting.” (Surfing the Edge of Chaos, pg. 14)

    How do we get all interested parties to the table, to design the changes needed, and create the support and scaffolding to promote ‘acting in new ways’, rather than fighting our way… slowly by slowly?

  4. Hey Dave,

    I think what you witnessed in that Chinese classroom is revolution. Amazing! I just started reading The Tipping Point, which I think you lent to Rob. It seems to me it’s these incremental changes, one teacher at a time, one heart at a time, that changes the world. And, after all, one human being changing does change the world.

  5. Yes, early morning Starbucks, there’s no other way to change the world. 🙂 Everything I read and have experienced around system change is that it takes time, lots of it. Unless you have a catastrophic event that turns the system upside down, it just takes time. Generally, you can’t force change, you need to lead people to a new place. Not everyone will want to go with you. Also, people are just busy and tired doing what they’re doing right now – not everyone has the energy or priority to embrace new things. That said, I think once a tipping point is reached, things move relatively faster – ie, it isn’t necessarily a linear change over time.

  6. I think part of this discussion is why Clayton Christensen thinks you have to create a new school to take advantage of technology and ed reform. If you are in an existing system, you have to have a combination of a true leader for change coupled with an opportunity for uninterested staff to opt out by going elsewhere. Getting consensus, although the highest road, stalls the effort too much to gain real steam (my opinion here!). The other barriers such as financial and policy-driven, are equally as challenging as getting a like-minded staff, and require leadership at the district level. Final requirement: double 8 oz. latté.

  7. […] As I reflect on the rich conversations going on in my RSS feeds, I realize that what I’m missing is those conversations. It all came home to me when I read David Truss’ Pair A Dimes’ Slowly by Slowly blog entry recently. The concept of “chinglish” caught my imagination, embedding itself like the teeth of a bear trap in an unwary hiker’s ankle. […]

  8. Without reading this post, my good friend Dave Sands sent me this today:

    “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” – Lao Tzu

    And I also really respect the voices in this thread, and what you have to say… yet I don’t find myself comforted. Why is it that I want things to move faster? Why am I impatient for the tipping point to happen?

    I want to bring everyone to the table. I don’t want a fight, I want a love-fest. I want the government policy-makers, the politicians, the district leaders, the building leaders, the teachers, the students, the parents, the unions, the college of teachers, the trustees, even big business… I want them all at a table saying, ‘This is what we’ve got, now where do we want to go, and how do we get there?’
    Let’s put together a manifesto of things we can agree on, then set some goals to get us there.

    That won’t work? Then give me (or someone smarter than me) a job going around and really getting to the bottom of the ‘pockets of brilliance’ I mentioned. “What’s the difference that makes the difference?” ~ What are these people doing that makes what they do great? What of this is repeatable? Scale-able?

    Lao Tzu usually sets me straight… but I can’t seem to be happy to just sit and wait.

  9. Dave, I am sure your feelings about not being able to wait come from seeing students languish in schools that are stuck in irrelevance. I really like your vision of having everyone at the table…but I rely on people like you to keep me going, since many of the folks at the table here (the area where I work, Eugene Oregon) are too busy messing with what’s already on their plates to look up!

  10. Dave, Brian et al., this is the million dollar question isn’t it? We want change and we want it NOW because we know good practice and what it can do for students. well, I have reluctantly come to agree with Brian that there are a lot of people and personalities out there amongst political and ego-based agendas to navigate through. Yet, for those who know me, know that I am not satisfied with the seemingly day-to-day struggle to move the system forward one or even two people at a time. I believe that the solution is multi-faceted and one piece that is often overlooked is the parents of the children we work with – our customers so to speak.
    Our school parents grew up in a time that was seemingly much simpler. Most people shared the same values, students could be assimilated into grades and abilities and everyone knew what an “A”, “B”, “C” and “D” were. You could fail and by in large, people respected authority. We all know now that our world is a much more diverse place and that this all shifted because it caused more harm than good. However, our school parents forget this. Our high achieving, successful parents know that it was “good enough for them” so it should work for their kids too! So, why the rambling? These are the paradigms we need to shift. Through information and education we need to reach parents. We need to help them see a different way of assessing, learning and achieving. A way that shows them that their children are learning more and receiving a better education than they did. With this, instead of parents holding educators to teaching, learning, and assessment paradigms of old, they will be pushing for personalized learning and teachers to empower their children.
    Being a father of four, this is what I advocate for. Parents are the untapped piece. Just my two cents 🙂

  11. David, I am late to this discussion but it is too insightful to pass on commenting.

    It is my opinion that your conversation is focusing on the key issue which I think of as “systemic inertia”. Over the last 30 years I have seen multiple waves of “digital” evolution become the operational model of selective individuals, educators, schools and even school jurisdictions. Unlike the technology adoption (acquisition and use to change behaviour) in other sectors, the change curve for technology adoption in K-12 education (often referred to as 21st Century Learning or Personalized Learning, etc) as described in Crossing the Chasm, has not been the educational experience. I would suggest that there are many barriers to successful change and collectively they promote “system inertia”. Perhaps promote is not strong enough. They institutionalize system inertia. Can we (and who is we?) incrementally overcome system inertia or must societies revert to more drastic solutions? Is there a third or fourth path available?

  12. Martin,
    I wish you were late to the discussion, but I fear this discussion continuing on for another 5 to 10 years.

    You make a good point about ‘systemic inertia’ and that supports my fears. It also invites attention to what Dave Sands said above, about a solution being multi-faceted. Rather than ‘promote’ perhaps the word you were looking for was ‘perpetuate’?

    And perhaps there are many new paths available. There are great teachers out there saying, “In my class, students will not receive letter grades”, and “In my class, all homework will be elective, or at least selective and thoughtful, not just assigned daily to extend our school day”, and even “I need to uncover the curriculum, not just cove it”. There are also many school leaders that are supporting these moves.

    But we need to demonstrate the value of this to parents. We need to reflect openly about our own practice, and share what works with our colleagues around the world. We need to engage students in ways that our current system does not; listen to them; and meet their learning needs in thoughtful, meaningful ways.

    “System inertia” is too great to fight alone.

  13. Perpetuate is a better word.

    I do not use system inertia to mean hopelessness.

    Given the history of education’s journey to fuse digital elements into learning, I don’t believe that disparate and effective localized successes are sufficient to alter the systemic inertia. Perhaps social media is the game breaker that will propel systemic change but I don’t think it or any combination of tools can achieve this. Even though individual initiatives may result in specific success, systemic inertia requires forces to move all the stakeholders in education (learners, classroom educators, school principals, district administrators, trustees, parents, ministry of educations, universities, society at large, private sector organizations, etc.). Without changes in thinking and behaviour across all of the stakeholder groups it is hard to envision systemic change.

    Let me share a small example. A few weeks ago, I talked to the principal of a progressive high school, in a progressive school board, in a province with a strong commitment to 21st Century Learning. She reflected on a recent parent meeting where she presented the option for students to enrol in a digitally based Chemistry course. Our conversation did not begin to touch on the specifics (how might technology be used, leader/teacher readiness, platform and delivery issues, access, resource quality and applicability, curriculum fit, assessment, etc) of the course. One parent came up to her and indicated he had no intention of having his/her child take a digital course because the local university wanted incoming students to have superior marks in order to be accepted. The parent did not have the confidence to counsel their child to take a digital course. In that conversation, the issue of changing from a classroom delivered model to a digitally delivered model involved the alignment of a minimum of six vested stakeholders (student, teacher, parent, principal, post secondary institutions, provincial curriculum). This type conversation reflects just one aspect of a transition to a change from current thinking.

    If I do not see systemic inertia as being an immovable roadblock, what might I see as a probable/possible approach to engage the challenge? Einstein stated “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” In this instance “the same kind of thinking” are they structures, governance, roles and activities that form the boundaries for the North American educational enterprise. I believe that propelling 21st Century Learning forward will spring from your closing comment.

  14. Dave, to answer the question “how do we get all interested parties to the table…”, I think it is top-down and bottom-up. We need to educate our superintendents and board members both big picture and at an in-service and practice level. We need to clearly connect the new era learning to District vision and goals. Our dream here is to support “Learning without Boundaries”. Intentionally there is a tie to digital learning. Our Board and superintendents are committed to this and a personalized learning interpretation that is enabled / made possible through technology.

    Bottom-up… I just met with some ‘K’ teachers and early learnging literacy teachers who have formed a focus group for figuring out collecting, using, sharing, and formally reporting with digital learning artifacts (video, audio, pictures, text). They are leading the way and their work will set the stage for this form of assessment for K-3 classrooms in our District – nice tie in to Learning without Boundaries I might add. And… potentially their work will lead us to K-12 digital portfolio assessment and move away from traditional forms.

    So, both-and are important!

    A quick comment on Martin’s comment about parents. I think we need to do a much better job of educating and preparing parents for our new direction. We can’t expect them to “just get and accept it”. They need to be comfortable with how their children are assessed and what’s reported out on their progress. We also need to work closer with post-sec institutions for the same reason (much more difficult I suspect). Nothing good comes easy…

  15. Change is hard, especially if we feel like we are being forced into it. We become closed off when we are threatened or feel as though we have no control.To be open to change is to be willing to say that we are not perfect and when one’s identity is completely entwined with what is being changed – it can be hard for our ego to let go.

    If we want our system to change then we need to ensure that all members truly feel as though they have control. Why do we have so many issues with our education system? I would argue because we are all trying to stake claim to our little section instead of recognising that education is owned collectively. We have set up an “Us vs Them” system that does not create a safe place for the risk-taking that needs to occur for change to happen.

    We also don’t give change the time it truly needs nor let it be messy. My student teacher and I just finished talking about Assessment and Evaluation and I had to tell her – “I am still working on the how and am not even close to where I want to be.” Hard words to say. Hard words to hear. We want change to happen now and be perfect and forget that change by its very nature is self-perpetuating.

    I haven’t said anything new but this post resonated with me because of the changes that my school is facing. Change has been thrust upon us by numbers and the simple fact that we can not do things the way we always have. However, we have taken ownership of that change. Conversations are happening about what is important. There is an excitement generated by the possibilities. Don’t get me wrong, there is still fear about the uncertainty but it is not the driving force and people are open to change.

  16. I just recently read this quote by Hugh MacLeod:

    “Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships,
    that is why good ideas are always initially resisted.”

    This seems to resonate with me when I read the last few comments. We all know change is needed, and we all feel the ‘system inertia’ (though not hopeless to battle) is something that makes change difficult. Perhaps resistance comes from shifting the power as much as from fear?

    Martin says,
    Without changes in thinking and behaviour across all of the stakeholder groups it is hard to envision systemic change.

    Brian says,
    “…how do we get all interested parties to the table…”, I think it is top-down and bottom-up.” ~Realizing that both are important.

    And Gen says,
    …there is still fear about the uncertainty but it is not the driving force and people are open to change.

    We need all the stakeholders to be involved in the change, be it in making the change or just in understanding the change, (depending on how the change affects all involved). We also need those making the changes to feel empowered as decision-makers and not like pawns being moved about without control.

    I’m reminded of what Bruce Wellman said,
    “Mental models organized by an entrenched image of what teaching is will stay firmly in place until we move the conversation to an intense focus on learning… At this point, we appear to have a 19th century curriculum, 20th century buildings and organizations and 21st century students facing an undefined future.”

    I think we need to be really innovative in how we change things these days. I originally asked above,

    How do we meaningfully lead the (r)evolution of education?

    These comments have made me realize that if we want ‘real’ and ‘meaningful’ change, then we need to make sure all the interested parties understand the purpose of the change and are working together to help make it happen.

    This begs the question of how do we do this? This isn’t about informing parents through newsletters or about administrators changing school schedules that teachers then need to deal with. How do we get everyone to be empowered to participate in meaningful change?

    Bruce Wellman may be correct in that ‘…an intense focus on learning’ might be the key. This is a common theme that all stakeholders want to see improve. I think too often we get lost in creating change without the correct focus. Things can become easier to schedule or easier for teachers to manage or even easier to assess… even if this isn’t the intent, it might be the perceived intent by other stakeholders. When we openly shift this to a focus on learning, when we clarify (advertise?) why the change is good for student learning, I think we make a shift in the right direction.

    So, when we look at the ‘bright lights’ or the ‘shining stars’ that are leading the way… we need to ask ourselves “How does this promote or improve student learning?” Then we need to be cheerleaders that promote the value of what these innovative educational leaders are doing and more importantly why they are doing it!

    Unless we all become vocal advocates that clarify the value of change, we are destined to creep along slowly-by-slowly.

  17. David, thank your summary of these points of view. Your comment has been on mind for a number of days.

    Each additional comment adds perspective and richness to the discussion. Top down/bottom up; fear vs. power shifts; and micro or macro; all serve to define elements or attributes of the 21st Century Learning ecosystem.

    I have two 20th century figures that truly inspire me: Gandhi and Mandela. Many of the individuals and movements that I have come to admire reflect their worldviews. Although they were single minded in pursuit of their values, their values did not include rigidity or adherence to orthodoxy. I believe their way of thinking triumphed over far more seemingly powerful ideologies or ways of thinking. Your closing words about a “learning community” and what it means (its values) speak to what allowed Ghandi and Mandela envisioned to become models for humanity. Real and inspirational values and visions are the drivers to change. I believe “Learning” needs that type of inspirational leadership to overcome systemic inertia.

  18. “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa

    I’m excited about possibilities because I believe that social media has afforded many of us to do small things to show our own leadership, and that a very powerful ‘learning community’ is being created online, across borders and perhaps even across ideologies.

    I don’t think we’ll find one inspirational leader that transforms education, I think there will be many… it will be a collective effort and social media is permitting this to happen!

  19. David,

    Every time I read your thoughts or responses I find myself unable to disagree with the logical and emotional core of your ideas. How can one argue with that point of view and Mother Theresa’s wisdom in stating it?

    In Clayton Christiansen’s “Disrupting Class”, he talks about Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences as a foundational core for using things digital to reach all learners. He refers to Mother Theresa as a worthy exemplar of Interpersonal Intelligence. But she is one example of nine forms of intelligence. I see that one form of intelligence as being similar to one stakeholder group (say classroom practitioners). Another form of intelligence (Logical/Mathematical Intelligence as represented by Einstein or Bodily/Kinaesthetic Intelligence as represented by Michael Jordan – actually I would replace him with Wayne Gretzky or Clara Hughes) represents a different group of stakeholders (universities or parents). Individual stakeholders struggle to see the links within the system that inhibit their success. Gardner’s organizational framework recognizes the elements and their systematic connections. Mother Therasa may recognize the system but she focuses on her domain. I liken Gardner’s domain to the system and Mother Theresa to an exemplary approach to dealing with a stakeholder or subset of stakeholders. All the stakeholders make up the system. Something needs to bring the stakeholders together.

    Can Social Media be that bridge to link stakeholder groups? Maybe, but historically (and history often, but does not always repeat itself) suggests otherwise. Inspirational leadership (non-violence, politics, business, sports) has a long and special record of doing just that. That record influences my thinking.

  20. Thanks for pointing me to this blogpost almost a year ago when we were talking about “Positively Memidemic”.

    I know that Chinese phrase “slowly, slowly” too. People use that phrase to let another person know that they needn’t rush through something because they fear we are tapping our toes out of impatience. We are not.

    It’s used to comfort “rushing” people, lest they feel pressured and worry they are holding us back. Also, we use that phrase to show that we care about the person, more than what they are doing for us. We’d rather they take their time and not hurt themselves or pressure themselves. It’s a way of extending courtesy and extra grace.

    Parents say that phrase to their children hoping that if the children slow down and are extra-cautionary, that they will stay safe.

    In the context of change in Education, this phrase would not primarily imply slowing down and the need for patience about change or patience for others. It would primarily mean to “slow down and make sure you are cognizant of what you are doing and all it implies, exercising needed caution, taking care of yourself (your health) in the process, being mindful of the moment…”

    Change may take time and it may not take time. One thing is certain is that it will all be counted a loss in the end if we are not mindful about what and how we are changing.

    “Slowly, Slowly” —-not meaning “temporal/time slowness” but moving methodically and with thought. It’s less about action and more about attitude. In that way, the change will be for the better and will be lasting. 🙂

    I think in this context, East and West can agree that “slowly, slowly” is important to “change” too.

Comments are closed.