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innovation vs. stability

March 4, 2013


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Sustainability, innovation  and next practice are more powerful than an entire skill-set of  technical expertise if Schon’s theories of Reflective Practice are applied in education.

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Formal organizations are task-systems, systems of roles and rules, within which individuals serve as agents for the realisation of organizational values, missions, policies and strategies of action. Individual members contribute to the accumulation of organizational reservoirs of knowledge about the environment, strategies of action, and experiences which sometimes become exemplars for future action. Individuals’ contributions enter into organizational memories, maps and programs, on which other individuals draw as they enact their roles…

In general, the more an organization depends for its survival on innovation and adaptation to a changing environment  the more essential its interest in organizational learning. On the other hand, formal organizations also have a powerful interest in the stability and predictability of organizational life. An organization is a cooperative system in which individuals depend on the predictability of one another’s responses. Managers must rely on the predictable behaviour of their subordinates. Surprise, which is essential to learning, is inimical to smooth organizational functioning (Schon, 1983, p. 327).

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Strategies to overcome this paradox?

  • demystify the system
  • challenge the prevailing knowledge structure
  • enable the experience of confusion and uncertainty
  • reflection-in-action becomes “a consequence and cause of surprise” (Ibid, p. 328)
  • adopting the role of reflective practitioner poses a potential threat to the school’s dynamic conservatism
  • “curriculum becomes an inventory of themes of understanding and skill to be addressed rather than a set of materials to be learned” (Ibid, p. 332-3)
  • learning can be seen as an evolving practice of design and adaptation tailored to individual needs (ie students themselves as complex, adaptive systems)
  • build trust
  • differentiate; disrupt bureaucratic order (space, time) through variety
  • iterate!

Selected reference

Schon, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Great Britain: Arena.

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