Educators: Do you know about VUCA? Here is why you need to ASAP!

How many times during the COVID 19 Pandemic have you heard this phrase, “We are living in unprecedented times.” No truer words have been spoken. Our entire world has been impacted and we are going to need our educational institutions to be prepared with a different way of doing things.

We were warned about this by thought leaders and future thinking writers. In fact, over the past few decades, as we finally started transitioning into the 21st Century, schools began integrating higher order thinking, problem solving, technology and cooperative learning. We shifted our mindset about education.  Without knowing it, we were experiencing VUCA.

According to Mindtools, “VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. It describes the situation of constant, unpredictable change that is now the norm in certain industries and areas of the business world. VUCA demands that you avoid traditional, outdated approaches to management and leadership, and day-to-day working.

The term VUCA goes back to 1987 and was developed on the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nannis. The characteristics of a VUCA world is an environment that requires you to react quickly, take action in uncertainty, is a dynamic experience and is unfamiliar. Doesn’t this sound like the past year?

source: microtool.de

So how does this impact schools? 

I know what some of you might be thinking…. Not another acronym. We are filled with ACRONYMS in education. Yes we are but VUCA may just be the acronym we need to become fully ensconced in the 21st century. Kids have been telling us for years… they are bored in school and take too many tests and there is little real world connections to their learning.

Our education organizations need to be poised with the ability to do the following:

  • Volatility – Respond quickly and efficiently to an event or series of events that can impact our schedule. For instance, everyone is on their device and the internet goes down. What do we do? The best solution is to be transparent and upfront about the situation and how it was handled. We also need to have a plan B, C, D.
  • Uncertainty – We have been living in uncertain times for sure. How long will this pandemic go on? Social unrest? Stock markets? etc. etc and the list goes on. How do we prepare? One suggestion is to assemble a leadership team with members who operate with a growth mindset and are problem solvers.  The days of the “boss” and “manager” are over. We need to have equal voices to solve some of these issues that we didn’t even knew existed!
  • Complexity – We make decisions all the time. There are days when we make 100 decisions before noon. This can be challenging. How do we revisit “tried and true” or “we have always done it this way” thinking? For instance, we have learned that “school” and “learning” can take place anytime or anywhere, so does it make sense to have 180 days of school each year? What are the implications of revisiting of these complex decisions? According to the experts, we do not need people to make complex decisions more complex due to their fixed mindset thinking.
  • Ambiguity – We have developed a schooling process that is sequential and precise. We value organization of learning, increments of time, and building blocks of knowledge. We know that is not necessarily how the world works but it is easier (or so we thought). Rigid structures in an ambiguous world will not stand. Again, look at the schedule of learning over the year. Districts have used hybrid, online, remote, and in-person interchangeability based on the situations. Some people have really struggled with this because they think that school should be ________ (fill in the blank).

As schools learn more about VUCA, there will significant gains in our effectiveness to provide a relevant, flexible educational experience for our communities. There will be messy times filled with challenges where we will make a lot of mistakes along the way, but isn’t that one of things that characterizes learning?

What do you think? Be sure to leave a comment.

Want to learn more? 

About the Author

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership: It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is an Adjunct Faculty member in the Masters of School Administration Program He is featured in Twinkl’s 30 Education Influencers You Need to Follow and Klear’s Top Ten Middle School Influencers. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter, YouTubeLinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.

Dealing With a Difficult Person? Try This Exercise

Take a few moments and think about someone who is causing stress in your life. It could be a family member, irate customer, someone who cut you off in traffic, or maybe even a coworker. Have you identified this person? I am sure it didn’t take long. Ok now you have the person in you mind, what I am going to show you could transform the way you view them.

Compassion Exercise

I learned of the Compassion Exercise from a Professional Development workshop by Dr. Aili Pogust. She was presenting to our staff about stress management. In the exercise, she asked us to identify someone that was a trigger for us and causing stress in our lives. She then had us spend some time writing about the person and reflecting on the impact they were having on our lives. Then she handed us these cards:

Just like me, this person is seeking some happiness in their life

Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in their life

Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair

Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfill their needs

Just like me, this person is learning about life ~Dr. Aili Pogust

We read through the cards and then she asked us to go back to that person who was causing the stress and anxiety in our life. We were then directed to read the statements while thinking about this person…… Wow, what a simple exercise with such powerful results.

Personally, I walked away from this exercise hopeful of how I could use this in my life. I began to integrate this into my daily morning exercises as I saw how it could complement my work on gratitude and mediation. This daily work on my personal triggers was transformational. I began to see others in such a different light.

On Being Triggered 

Something I have learned from this work is that our triggers are very powerful. If we take responsibility for them, we can stop giving others all of this power over us. Let’s face it, as people trigger us they walk away and keep going with their life. We are left holding that baggage that manifests in stress, anxiety and frustrated. So stop giving these people all of this power!

Reflect on this….

  1. We all get triggered
  2. It is not the responsibility of the person who triggered us, it is our responsibility
  3. We have to deal with what is in front of us whether we caused it or not
  4. Our triggers are our responsibility

Important Note: This is not about forgiveness or condoning other’s behavior

Please be clear that this exercise is about you, not the other person/people. There are some people out there who have done awful things to us. In fact, this exercise is not about forgiveness either. You do not need to forgive or forget things that people have done to you. I recommend in dealing with trauma in your life to work with a certified therapist.

Changes to come 

These changes will not come overnight but I can tell you from my experience they will quickly cause you to look at people (and situations) very differently. This is why I wanted to share this exercise. If I can implement it and change the way I view those who trigger me, you can too.

Let me know how this helps you. Comment below. I am looking forward to learning from you 🙂

About the Author 

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership: It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. He is featured in Twinkl’s 30 Education Influencers You Need to Follow and Klear’s Top Ten Middle School Influencers. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.

Book Review – Project Based Learning by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy

Project Based Learning : Real Questions. Real Answers. How to Unpack PBL and Inquiry.~ Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy

Author Erin Murphy with a copy of the book!

If you are looking for a boring educational book then this book is not for you! In Project Based Learning: Real questions. Real Answers. How to Unpack PBL and Inquiry, Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy have assembled a very interactive and engaging book designed to help educators transform learning for our children.

Right from the beginning Cooper and Murphy start with WHY. How important is this? Well, there has been extensive research showing that any new learning needs context so if you start with the why then you are on the path! Cooper and Murphy discuss their perspectives as learners and then go into a chapter that is filled with supporting details and research.

As a parent of two daughters, I worry about the educational systems that might make my daughters or any child, feel that learning is just about moving information from a textbook to a worksheet rather than the thrill of discovery ~ Erin Murphy

After they discuss the why, Cooper and Murphy take the reader on the road to how.  As professional development experts, they discuss how they have implemented it and more importantly, trained others to use it in their classrooms. They suggest a three step process to implementing PBL in the classroom:

  1.  Plan with the end in mind.
  2.  Plan the assessments.
  3.  Plan the teaching and learning.

Cooper and Murphy provide charts, graphs and narratives describing the process with such clarity that you will feel fully supported during your journey!

Throughout the remainder of the book, Cooper and Murphy help practitioners tackle difficult subjects such as grades, conferencing, direct instruction and working with colleagues during the process.  According to Cooper, “I was given a copy of Fair Isn’t Always Equal by Rick Wormeli as a administrative intern. Unfortunately, I put it on my bookshelf and didn’t get back to in until I became an assistant principal. Once I read it, I was floored by the ways the author’s ideas and philosophies disagreed with my own. I realized that my practices and the research were out of line. I committed many classic mistakes such as averaging grades, grading group work and forcing students to adhere to strict deadlines when handing in assignments.” As you can see, the authors are committed to Reflective Practice and sharing their growth with the reader!

Assessment says, “I want to help you,” while grading says, “I want to judge you.” ~ Cooper and Murphy

The concluding chapters of the book help the reader with the heavy lifting. How are you going to build a PBL culture? I was really impressed that they spent a huge segment of the book addressing culture. As one of my favorite Peter Druker quests came to mind, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Cooper and Murphy provide a great deal of support to the notion of prioritizing students over the curriculum as well as having a growth mindset about the process. Often times, as they point out, PBL can appear chaotic with the control of the learning squarely on the learner’s back. Cooper and Murphy will not only help you with managing the chaos, they also provide research-based support systems to ensure that learning is occurring during the entire process. These support systems can help with administration, parents or critics who wonder… what is even going on in there?

If you are considering Project Based Learning, I highly recommend this book. Cooper and Murphy’s process will ease any anxiety you have about switching the learning to the students. Then, as you implement the process, the authors will be a tweet away for support.

Continue the learning with PBL and connect with Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy on Twitter.

About the Author 

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership: It’s Just a Click Away; Breaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. He is featured in Twinkl’s 30 Education Influencers You Need to Follow and Klear’s Top Ten Middle School Influencers. Dr. Cook is also on the Education Advisory Board for Whole Health Ed. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.