Did she just call me a deviant? I silently wondered as my administrator responded to another of my unconventional ideas. “Have you heard the term positive deviance?” is what she actually said. I had not, but of course I soon checked into it. According to Wikipedia, Positive deviance (PD) is an approach to behavioral and social change based on the observation that in any community there are people whose uncommon but successful behaviors or strategies enable them to find better solutions to a problem than their peers, despite facing similar challenges and having no extra resources. This approach to change is based on a set of principles that include, but are not limited to, the idea that people within a given community have solutions and are the best experts to solve their problems.
Past educational changes have not relied on the concept of positive deviance. Rather than looking to teachers, administrators, and students, changes to education have come from legislators, business leaders, and philanthropists. Another principle of PD is “It is easier to change behavior by practicing it rather than knowing about it. ‘It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.’” It seems that everyone thinks they are experts in educational matters because they attended school. Many well-intentioned leaders “know” what “should be done” in schools and pass regulations or fund initiatives that they “think” will fix the problems rather than seek the collective intelligence of those inside of the educational community, those who, if empowered, could “act their way into a new way of thinking”. Sadly, those with the most potential to act have been excluded from the educational change conversations, seemingly because they can’t be trusted and lack accountability. It seems that most students and parents think highly of the teachers in their school, but teachers in broader terms have lost respect. Even though teachers know their students’ needs, interests, and preferences, the teachers are often required to teach with dictated curriculum, pacing schedules, and assessments.
But this doesn’t mean we (students, teachers, and administrators) can’t “act our way to change.” We can start small with something only a little outside of our comfort zones. In the book “Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Changing Education,” Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica state, “…revolutions don’t wait for legislation. They emerge from what people do at the ground level. Education doesn’t happen in the committee rooms of the legislatures or in the rhetoric of politicians. It’s what goes on between learners and teachers in actual schools.
Perhaps we could offer students new and different activities like bringing in broken toys and asking students to fix, or repurpose, them; having students make a game and teach it to peers; having students analyze a school procedure (fire drill, recess, dismissal, etc.) and make suggestions for improvement. Maybe we teachers could make a suggestion to administrators regarding a topic we have researched, sharing the resources used to guide the suggestion. We could harness the potential of the Internet and collaborate on a project with teachers/students in another city or country. The possibilities are endless. We just need to embrace our positive deviance.
What ideas do you have for making small, or big, improvements to your classroom, school, or district?