Quantum Progress by John Burk
John is a 9th grade physics teacher at Westminster Schools in Atlanta. He joins others at his school in sharing openly his thinking about teaching and learning in a dynamic and ever changing world. They take up subjects of everyday life at school, the journey as teachers, as learners, as parents, as colleagues in a big school. They write about their subject areas.
One of the most interesting things that John has blogged about is developing the Global Physics Department and having departmental meetings. This to me was a brilliant use of social media and the blog space to connect with colleagues everywhere. The Global Physics Department is a brilliant example of our ability to break down walls and reach through silos, if we have the momentum to do so.
I also enjoyed, as a closeted Angry Birds player, the physics discussions of that game. Reading about the trajectories etc. actually helped my game a lot.
I have to admit that when the blog gets really deep into the details of physics, I read really fast, but I do read them through. And, I LOVE the post of February 12, one that I could easily have skipped because it was pretty detailed in the physics area: Heat and the work done by Friction. What I realized, however, was that in cultivating change in an organization, whether it is from within a group or from the boundaries of a group, change occurs only with new energy. Turning up the heat, and there are many political and strategic alternatives and choices, is the way to influence change in the culture. Friction is also an important and necessary ingredient.
Even though we tend to think of friction as negative, the type of friction chosen does not always have to be negative. It can be neutral and it can be positive. Thinking about that, it might be that friction is neutral; it is our reaction to it that is either positive or negative, and our reactions are our choices. I will have to think more about that.
Friction might be the use of deadlines when work was never demanded at a certain time before. Friction might be more open and transparent debate in a meeting. Friction might be pushing in not so subtle ways at the status quo like extending the hours of the time that we are asked to be on campus. Friction may be assigning a project to someone other than the person who did it last time. Friction is certainly introducing professional evaluations and assessments when there were none before. Heat, energy, friction are all important tools in creating a new form and a new culture.
I was struck as I struggled to read about the formulas of energy and friction how what I do when I tour a school for the very first time is that I am getting a read on the energy and the momentum. Is it high or low? Is it purposeful or scattered? Is it shared? As I read about the physics of friction, I was thinking about the types of conversations I put myself in a position to hear and participate in when I am getting to know a new school. Do I hear debate? Do I hear inquiry? Do I hear and feel a sense of momentum, energy towards purpose? Do I feel energy being expended in defensive and guarding ways?
I loved making this connection re: the physics of change. Without a influencer or change in energy, there is not change in a system. I hear lots of leaders talk about their belief that change will just occur naturally, organically. I just don't think that belief squares with the physics of organizational change.
Am I saying turning up the heat? I think I probably am. The challenge, however, is to learn to think of the heat in positive, purposeful, professional and mission-driven ways and not as always a negative. Heat, energy, movement. Action, reaction. Change. The problem is helping frame people's reactions and perceptions of heat and friction. Lots to continue thinking about.