An Adaptive Challenge

And this week we wrote an “Adaptive Challenge” paper and memo…

This past writing assignment (not to mention the feedback from the first assignment) has reminded me about my own writing journey and the discrepancy between what we might call analytical, scholarly writing and other types of professional writing. I recall at this juncture an undergraduate professor of mine commenting on a paper I had written. He said it was “journalistic,” which was a kind way of saying it might be suitable for a trade publication, but not for the kind of refereed journals where we might find his own articles.

He was a musicologist and picked apart pieces of music, citing historical contexts in an effort to prove a theory regarding something ground breaking about the work(s) he was writing. I briefly considered my senior year going on to become a musicologist. Having to learn German dissuaded me.

I consider myself an good writer and I enjoy writing. I am often tapped at work to write, and praised for penning difficult to deliver information to colleagues. The praise may not be completely based on my writing, but for my ability to remain fair and clear in what has to be communicated. I know part of my love for writing is my aptitude for creativity. As professor Reardon once told us, he loved crafting a theme among the pages of one of his papers, only to find out–crestfallen later–that the referees for his work didn’t see the fine thread he had woven. I sometimes have read academic papers and felt crestfallen myself. Despite their clarity, they can be somewhat boring.

This paper was difficult for me to write, but not for the technical, or writing types of reasons. This of course doesn’t mean my writing has not suffered as a result. But given the short amount of time for the assignment, I was caught up on what to write about. An adaptive challenge. A leadership style. Breaking it all down into steps and coming back to the big picture.

I originally had thought to write about the challenge we are facing with public criticism of our school division. While much of the criticism is directed toward our superintendent or the school board, the negativity is infectiously demoralizing, no matter your station. It’s affecting what we might otherwise label “middle management” as well as teachers. It’s a topic I’m too familiar with now, but with one I have little expertise in suggesting a different leadership style towards resolving.

So, I retreated to something less controversial and something more familiar to me. I wanted to examine what kind of leadership might help getting more teachers to try using technology we make available in our schools. While we have been looking at leadership from a number of angles in this program, I had a difficult time in pinpointing a specific, textbook-clad style. I returned to a book I’d begun to read several years ago, but ultimately put down before finishing. This assignment helped sweep the dust off the book and I of course re-read it within a new light.

The book is by Howard Gardiner, and its title says it all: Changing Minds. How do leaders change minds? Gardiner uses a multitude of real examples, including that of Margaret Thatcher. His book distills the leadership behind changing minds to seven switches.

In my paper, I chose to use the switches as the “pieces” to examine analytically. As I have often believed modeling anything can be an effective method for selling what you model, I saw opportunities for modeling in each of Gardiner’s seven switches. And so the paper was born.

I look forward again to the feedback on this writing. I was well-aware of the need of being more concise, using fewer words when possible, and adding more to the summary than a re-hash. While the topic was a bit lofty for this size of paper, I think this could later be developed into a larger paper, even with original research attached. While it was not my intent to create a boring piece of writing, I hope I succeeded in focusing less on the creativity with my approach and more so on the analytical frame by which to design it.

Update: since the deadline of the paper has now passed, I have posted when I submitted in my portfolio section.

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