What Is A Designed Disruption?

My mom, Koan, and her dog Max
My Mom, her dog Max, and my youngest son, Koan.

I am so excited to return to CRCSD!  Probably not a lot of people here will remember, but I worked for a year in CRCSD in 1998-99 at Harding.  I am so energized to be back and to re-engage with everyone here!  I realize the name of this blog might be a bit provocative.  Generally, my guess is that most educators would not have positive connotations for the word disruption and the idea of designing a disruption might not make a lot of sense.  But, I’ve spent the bulk of my career in education with the aim to do just that. Here’s a bit of context and some of my backstory that will help to explain my thinking.

I’ve been an educator since the fall of 1992.  My professional purpose and goal from day one was to be a disruptive force in education.  I realize that’s a strong statement and it could easily be misinterpreted.   I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression, I love public education.  My focus is not to make things chaotic, needlessly difficult, or confusing.  Rather, the entirety of my professional focus is on instructional design rooted in strength-based, personalized learning.  These are not just words to me, it has been a personal mission since before I entered the profession.  I hope that by sharing some of my story, everyone will gain some insight into my professional mission and core values.

I attended elementary school in the mid-1970s.   I’m guessing that many teachers would recognize my profile as a student.  I was a nice kid, very compliant and seemingly capable.  But, for some reason, I struggled with all academics.  I was a non-reader.  This inability to access content through reading impacted nearly everything at school.  What had been a concern in the primary grades, had blossomed into a crisis by the intermediate grades.  By the time I was in third grade, I was highly discrepant from my peers in both reading and math.  I was diagnosed with dyslexia that year.  This was right at the dawn of IDEA and special education as we know it today.   As the years went on, I fell further and further behind. My teachers were aware of my disability, but their intervention strategies were not very sophisticated or helpful.

My low academic performance was psychologically devastating.   I became convinced that I was stupid, valueless, and worthless.  Kelli Suding recently shared research with me that indicates the shame a non-reading student feels in schools is at the same intensity level as that of incest survivors.   While I thankfully don’t have firsthand experiences to compare, but I can attest that my shame and negative feelings about school were extremely intense.   For many years, I blamed the school district (and some of the staff) for my negative educational experience.  In fact, I decided to become a teacher because I wanted to change things.  I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I had.  After years in the profession, I have a more complete perspective on my time as a K-12 student.  I now realize that the structures and systems, not the individual teachers were responsible for most of my misery.  I now hold those professionals who taught me so long ago blameless.  What broke the negative feedback cycle and precipitated my success?   My mom was a teacher.

A few of you might remember my mom, Jean Barnum.  She taught in various elementary schools in CRCSD from the mid-1970s until the early 2000s. She is a gifted educator.   When nearly all my teachers had given up hope for me, she kept trying.  She continually sought new ways that I might experience success.  My mom’s guiding educational philosophy for her students has always been that kids learn best when a teacher builds upon a strength.  To use her words, “Success begets success.”   So, to engage me as a reader, she read to me, talked to me about books, and immersed me in text in every possible way she could imagine.  Keep in mind that most twelve-year-old boys don’t value reading time with their moms, and I was no exception.  But, she persisted.  She also relentlessly encouraged me – actively seeking new ways to dispel my ingrained belief that I was stupid and worthless.  She always understood the key to getting me on the right track was to experience sustained success.   To this day, I don’t know what flipped the switch for me.  But, sometime during my sixth-grade year, she broke through.  I was willing to try, and this was pivotal.  You see, after being beaten down for so many years, I had completely given up.  I told myself, if I never truly tried, I could never truly fail and be hurt. From that day forward in 6th grade, I committed to trying at school. The output of this effort was the compensatory reading and writing strategies that I use to this day.  I became a fluent consumer and creator of language.

Again, the reason I share this deeply personal story on day-one is that I want everyone to understand exactly what I mean by creating and even designing for disruption.  My mom’s strength-based approach is what saved me.  However, while many of our interventions are much more effective, there are a lot of structures and systems that make using a strength-based approach incredibly difficult if not impossible for teachers to implement.  My professional mission is to disrupt systems and structures that impede personalization and strength-based strategies and give all learners – kids and adults – the opportunity to showcase and deploy their unique gifts.  After all, very few students are as fortunate as I was to have a talented teacher for a parent.   I also deeply believe that digital tools when used in conjunction with strong instructional design and effective instructional delivery are the keys to creating new, more equitable, and more powerful ways to learn – methods that let kids maximize their strengths to achieve more.

The purpose of this blog will be to share ideas, success stories, and other helpful material that move all of us toward a system where every learner leaves our schools future ready.  I don’t have all the answers.  But, I’m passionately dedicated to learning and working with all of you to seek them.  Together, we can do this!

If you find the information here helpful and useful, there are many ways to have it come to you.  I would encourage everyone to bookmark the address and check in from time to time.  If you like to have content come to you via email, scroll to the bottom of this page and sign up to get an email each time a new post is published.  If Facebook is more your thing, please “like” this associated Facebook Page to get update notifications that way.  I will always put out new posts on Twitter as well.  Please consider following me: @crbarnum  Finally, if you enjoy podcasts, please give mine, Friendly Disruption, a listen.  The podcast will cover a little different material than this blog, but the broad concepts will align.  I encourage anyone who has an idea to share or a question to post a comment here.  And, of course, don’t hesitate to reach out via email or voice if that’s more your style.  Again, I can’t wait to begin working with all of you!

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