Last year I read Outliers: the Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell and had the opportunity to share this book with administrators from my district during our summer retreat. An Outlier can be defined as an individual who not only have exceptional talent, but is provided and takes advantage of opportunities and resources to excel. This raised many questions about success and led to rich discussion about our personal life experiences. We talked about what success is and grappled with a number of questions: Who defines success? How is it achieved? What does it look like? Are you successful? Are you, or were you, an Outlier?
We are all products of many people who guided, directed, opened up doors, carved pathways, and challenged us to be better, but how often do we think about how we got to where we are today? It’s definitely something to think about, because nothing just happens by accident…As school districts across the country face cuts and other obstacles, we have to ask if we are we crippling the development of Outliers – Will we miss the chance to help nurture the next Bill Gates, Charles Drew, or Colin Powell? Following are some key points that were discussed with the group of administrators I was with. The italicized quotes are from the book and my points follow:
• “In examining the lives of the remarkable among us- the skilled, the talented, and the driven-I will argue that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we make sense of success.” –p. 18
o Test scores are important but I would argue that a student is more than a test score.
o An “Excellent” rating on the state report card is commendable, yet success has to be viewed and defined from a much broader perspective.
o Thousands of teachers share stories of how they impacted a student’s life that includes, but is not limited to standardized test scores. Individual teachers tap into the talents of their students, they push them to stretch their learning and provide opportunities for them to excel. The relationship between the teacher and student creates the drive for the student to excel. Just think about the impact your favorite teacher had on you…
• “A basketball player only has to be tall enough- and the same is true of intelligence. Intelligence has a threshold.”-p.80
o A threshold is a limit, yet our schools create opportunities through the performing and visual arts, clubs, service learning projects, and collaboration that aren’t always quantifiable.
o Many outliers perform at high levels through the “non-traditional” classes and extra-curricular activities. These areas cultivate creativity, collaboration, authentic learning opportunities, and constant and meaningful feedback. Just think your favorite coach, band, choir, or theatre teacher…
o What are your thoughts about this quote?
o What does it mean for our students and our schools?
• “If intelligence matters only up to a point, then past that point, other things-things that have nothing to do with intelligence- must start to matter more.” –p.86
o What matters beyond intelligence is how we treat people, how we work with others, how we think, use the tools and resources to solve problems, and how we communicate. These are considered the “soft skills” of the 21st century.
o Share an example of how you or your school is developing “skills that have nothing to do with intelligence.”
• “Practical intelligence is… procedural: it is about knowing why you know it or being able to explain it. It’s practical in nature: that is, it’s not knowledge for its own sake.” –p.101
o This should change how we assess what students know and are able to do.
o For example, implement project based learning, Understanding by Design, utilize collaborative web 2.0 tools, such as Google Docs, Wiggio, Diigo, etc. to develop and sustain opportunities for practical intelligence.
o Make learning relevant! Ask questions, listen to students, and let them decide how they want to be assessed.
o Check out Vision of 21st Century Learning.
• “To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success-the fortunate birthdates and the happy accidents of history-with a society that provides opportunities for all.”
o What does this say about the way we determine giftedness and course placement?
o What does this look like in 21st century schools?
o Does our current grading system promote or hinder success of Outliers?
I’m concerned about our educational system. I’m concerned that too many students and teachers face too many obstacles within our current system to reach their full potential. I’m concerned about where we are headed, but I’m also excited about the unknown. Transformation is occurring! “We can’t control our future, but we can contribute to our future.” Please share your responses to some of the questions I’ve proposed above or share how you or your school develops Outliers.