Looking for Positive Deviants

I’m on a mission.

In case you haven’t noticed, high schools often represent the most traditional, stagnant educational spaces. The very structure of that world from the segregated subjects, focus on content, credit acquisition, departmental/state testing all join forces to make change difficult.

In our school district, our High School Learning Support Team is tasked with supporting our high schools in a variety of ways. In particular we face many teachers struggling with student engagement. We have great conversations about the changes that could help these teachers and classrooms move forward but recognize that us simply telling them how them might change may not be the most well received approach. They need to see others in action, thinking differently and making a difference in student’s lives.

They are out there. Sometimes they aren’t easy to find but they’re there. Teachers and schools who stare those structures in the face and decide to challenge them. They do so only because they know its best for kids. It’s much easier to continue on, not make waves and seek compliance. In some cases, their efforts are celebrated and even supported by leadership and in other cases, they do so in hopes no one finds out. In other cases they don’t even realize what they are doing but just do innovative things instinctively. These are the positive deviants.

The Power of Positive Deviance is about finding people and ideas that are making a difference but are happening without an awareness of what they’re doing different from their peers.

Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.

The Positive Deviance approach is an asset-based, problem-solving, and community-driven approach that enables the community to discover these successful behaviors and strategies and develop a plan of action to promote their adoption by all concerned.

As a leader in a school district I do believe much of this exists internally but I also am interested in discovering these folks no matter where they reside. For High Schools here are a couple of great examples of deviance.

The Classics Academy

The Classics Academy is a cross-curricular experience integrating English, History, Mathematics and Science. Through the Classics Academy students explore the Greek and Roman civilizations through three core course and a series of suggested offerings. The Academy experience affords students the opportunity to study classical literature, history, mathematics, art, religion and philosophy. Students participating in the Academy learn to produce and consume new knowledge while synthesizing complex understandings of the human experience. All Academy students conclude this year-long experience by composing a final exhibition related to their studies.

Here’s the 15 minute documentary of their program.

The Innovation Lab

This was an experiment that I heard about before but spend several hours on the weekend examining their work. Monika Hardy and team are doing some fascinating things. It’s a multi-faceted approach to personal and passion based learning built around the idea that “nothing is for everyone”. There’s some really thoughtful work that’s gone into this and they are in their 2nd year of implementation. The documentation of this is outstanding. Videos, writing, presentations and student work is all available. I’d encourage folks to spend some time exploring. Share this with others.

Here's a slide deck that helps tell some of their story.

Sttory of the Lab

The Independent Project

Just watch the video and discuss.

Project Based Learning in Prairie South

In my own district we’ve got some teachers making some inroads in attacking the system. This video is a couple of years old but these same teachers are continuing their work and I may need to make another video showcasing their work.

While in the true sense of the word “deviance” these may not be pure examples. These teachers aren’t doing things in private and they’ve done a fair bit of thinking before jumping in. However in the larger context of traditional education, they indeed represent the deviants. Lest you missed the link to technology, these efforts wouldn't be possible without it. In many cases their links are explicit:

Technology is a vital part of The Academy. Students and teachers bring in personal devices or borrow iPads provided by the school. The iPads enrich the educational experience and prepare the seniors for their entry into college. Latin teacher Mr. Gutkowski said, “The instant access to the Internet revolutionizes the way information is used in class.” The essential use of technology, within MHS, also allows for interesting classroom discussions, quick note-taking and the ability to access information from the Internet thereby enhancing overall classroom dialogue.

Who are the deviants in your school or district? Find them and help tell their stories.