I am currently re-reading Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators. Perhaps listening to it this time on Audible has caused me to be more reflective, or maybe it is my developing habit of weekly reflections that is at the root of this post. Regardless, I can’t help but find it interesting that my opinion on this book, and the types of educational books I am reading in general, have changed.
The first time I read Tony’s book, I was in the midst of earning my administrative degree. I was reading books by Marzano and Bernhardt, which were full of research-based best practices supported by huge numbers of studies, meta-analysis and statistical effect sizes. Books like these were profoundly impactful on me, and have been central to many of my teaching and leadership practices. Plus, they appealed to the statistician in me :-)
So when I picked up Tony’s book and found it full of stories, I couldn’t help but find it as an immense waste of time. There were no clear cut instructions for what to do to create more innovators. Sure, there were suggestions, but nothing supported by meticulous classroom-based research. Granted, I drew an immediate connection to the description of Jodie Wu’s math teacher, Chuck Garner, with his desire to infuse of love of math in his students through the incorporation of the history of mathematics in his classes, and by coaching a math team. I loved the idea of how Tony referred to teachers like Chuck as an “outlier teacher”, and that fed my ego for sure, but the book was just anecdotes – stories about people reflecting on events or the choices they made.
That was the reason I gave a colleague to discourage them from reading it: “It’s just stories with no research or quantitative evidence to support it.”
My how I’ve changed.
As I’ve grown as a design thinker, I’ve put more and more trust into the stories I read and hear from people. As I’ve grown as a maker-centered educator, the more inspiration I glean from stories I’ve read and heard from people. And with that last part, I especially love the stories I’m shown… not just told. :-)
It’s because of the people-centered philosophy I’ve developed towards an individual’s unlimited potential to follow their ideas in order to make an impact as they explore their own personal adjacent possible. Stories convey this emotional excitement far better than data can.
But that isn’t really the role of data – storytelling. Data always has a story locked inside of it, but it is up to a person to find the story and craft the tale that it tells – which is why some people know the tall tales that some of these statistical stories turn out to be :-)
And before someone discounts the merits of maker-centered learning or design thinking because of the “lack of statistical evidence”, I must refer them to chapters 1 and 2 of Invent to Learn, which is full of supporting evidence from some of the titans of educational development and learning theory. And don’t forget about the more recent work of Agency by Design at Harvard.
I’m genuinely excited about this evolution in my reading, though to call it a evolution is perhaps a mistake. When I think back to my days as a high school math teacher, my favorite reads were “mathy” books that told stories about mathematicians, origins of formulas, historical and modern developments involving the invention and discovery of mathematical concepts, etc. (Can you see why I appreciated the details about Chuck now? :-)) I look back at that time as a period in which I was really starting to hone my craft in the classroom – it was a definite high point for me. And I devoured those books.
That I am doing this again with new (and old) books in my current role, is a very good sign.
Also published on Medium.
Images in this post, but not shown in the Image Credits section, are my own.