Reimaging school. As easy as riding a bike, right?

We think it’s more like setting aside what you know about riding a bike and learning how to ride in a completely different way.

Which has been done before. Check out Destin from Smarter Every Day and The Backwards Brain Bicycle. He describes his journey to learn how to ride a “backwards bike”—when you turn the handlebars to the left, it goes right and vice versa. It took Destin 8 months to learn how to ride this bike. Most of the people he encounters believe they will be able to ride the bike immediately; they try and fail, coasting no more than a foot before putting their feet to the ground. 

The takeaway—knowledge is not equal to understanding. 

Apply this to designing and implementing school redesign. Knowing how you would reimagine school is not understanding how to do so. It takes time to unlock new brain pathways that allow us to do something, that we have years of experience knowing how to do, in a completely new and different way.

A cautionary tale. It only takes Destin 20 minutes to revert back to the traditional way of riding a bike. 20 minutes. It took 8 months to master a new way and only minutes to return to what’s comfortable, known, safe.

Bringing innovation to fruition, concept to reality, requires time, effort, and focus. It requires discipline, especially when implementation runs head on into a challenge, plans do not go as expected, and constituents demand concrete answers to real-time issues that require community problem solving, flexibility, and mutual trust. 

When the going gets tough, it’s easy to fall back to what’s comfortable. When data dashboards and student ratings are complicated, traditional grades don’t seem so bad. When studio design requires guiding 25 students through an impact module, a research paper seems like it could suffice. Staying the course in the face of challenges requires a commitment to push back, to continue to swim upstream, to work towards the end goal of increasing our students’ learning and growth.

So how do we support our teachers and students to move confidently towards realizing a reimagined school? And how do we safeguard against giving up and reverting to what’s comfortable? It all starts in the mind.

Building 21 has built out both student and teacher competencies that get at the heart of this challenge and the mindsets that move school redesign work forward. 

For students, we talk about “effective effort,” which includes skills like “taking on challenges”, “learning from mistakes”, and “accepting feedback and criticism”. We believe that these mindsets and skills help our students embrace challenges and recognize ways that they can change their thinking to support learning in new ways.  You can view the entire competency here.

This year, we are rolling out a teacher-facing competency—Personal and Professional Growth and Development. This competency compliments the student competency and provides a framework for teachers to expand their mindsets and push themselves to embrace change and growth.

This competency challenges teachers to master the following skills…

  • Seek and embrace challenges and take risks

  • Persevere through setbacks

  • Adopt and innovative mindset

  • Seek feedback, support, and resources

  • Set goals and reflect on personal and professional growth

  • Practice self-care and build emotional intelligence

  • Commit to professional learning and leadership

  • Use technology effectively

Specifically, the skill “adopt an innovative mindset” looks at those behaviors directly connected to moving school innovation forward.

These “I statements” help teachers examine their behaviors and mindsets throughout their school’s transition to CBE. While we don’t expect anyone to be perfect, familiarizing teachers with this competency and encouraging reflection on these skills, helps identify areas for growth, sets clear expectations for the team, and supports productive conversation around continuous improvement.

Each Building 21 teacher has their own PLP (personalized learning plan) that includes a self-assessment tool for the teacher competencies, as well as, a goal setting dashboard. The PLP provides a space for teachers to reflect and record their personal, professional, and instructional goals and their progress.

Let’s return to the story about the backwards bike.

One inspiring note: while it takes Destin 8 months to master the bike, it only takes his 5 year old son 2 weeks. In a fraction of the time, a child can learn something that takes an adult 8 months to master. Destin attributes this to greater neuroplasticity in children: “it’s clear from this experiment that children have a much more plastic brain than adults.” While we may struggle, our students are well suited for the transition to new ways of learning and measuring growth. Their brains are ready to take on the challenge of reimagining their experience of school.