All the news from Musical Futures International
3/31/2018 3 Comments
David Price was Project Leader during the development years of Musical Futures. He is a learning futurist and a Senior Associate at the Innovation Unit, in London and author of the best-selling OPEN: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn In The Future about the global shift towards open organisations, and systems of learning (described by Sir Ken Robinson as ‘a revelation’).
David leads organisational, national and international learning projects, solving the problems of employee, student and civic disengagement; maximising our potential to be creative, innovative and fulfilled citizens. He’s also a professional musician and composer having performed all over the world and penned songs for the likes of Marianne Faithful.
You can read more about the background and history of Musical Futures by clicking here
If you’re a music teacher introducing Musical Futures, the chances are that you’ve encountered, at best, some scepticism, and at worst, outright hostility from some of your more traditionally-minded colleagues. As one of the founders of the approach, I’ve seen both - and continue to experience it, as someone who is passionate about bringing more innovation to education.
If you’re that teacher, then this post is by way of saying ‘courage, mon brave’ - the rewards, generally, far outweigh the risks.
To those of us working in education, the culture of innovation lived by Google, 3M and other tech-driven, silicon valley innovators seems both fearless and enviable. Google’s failure rate runs at around 36% - 3M’s is 50%. How many of us would keep our jobs if half of what we tried didn’t work? How many of us are given generous amounts of time to experiment in our practice?
But accountability constraints alone can’t excuse those who want to put the brakes on change. Most educators would acknowledge that, compared to the incredible rate of innovation over the past 150 years in science or industry, things move slowly in education – and it can’t be because we think it’s about as good as it gets.
Music teaching professionals can be some of the most conservative of educators. It’s partly to do with their training (many of them were trained at places solely designed to ‘conserve’ the traditions of the past). It’s also undeniable that, compared to literacy, numeracy and STEM, music is not under the kinds of pressure to improve student performance and subject to the pressures of high-stakes accountability. But, I firmly believe that there are different kinds of levers that we need to pull in music education, and different imperatives to innovate.
The origins of Musical Futures stemmed from a simple question: why is the most popular cultural activity for young people, the least opted for in school? And that alone was sufficient reason to innovate. But since its inception (2003) the whole social learning landscape has been transformed. As educators, we’re now in direct competition with the vast panoply of learning young people access socially and informally. And if we don’t find ways of integrating those informal learning approaches, into the classroom, if we don’t even acknowledge the ways in which young people can gain independence through informality, we’re going to come off second best.
Reasons to be an innovation-blocker
When the Musical Futures model began to draw attention from other countries, I did the politically correct thing by saying that cultural contexts would need different approaches, and that student outcomes would probably be different. But, inside I was thinking, ‘kids are not that different all over the world, so this should work just the same, wherever you are’. The reality has been just that. In many countries, the impact on kids is pretty much the same, so we have to challenge orthodoxy, adopt some of the Google mindset, and keep everything in beta. Along the way you will encounter the nay-sayers and the blockers, although, thankfully, they are diminishing now that the approach has proven itself around the world. They can still make life difficult, however, and they will often put you in an exposed position of challenging ‘how we’ve always done it around here’. Let’s look at the blockers to innovation, and seek to understand the mindset that drives them.
First, there’s the dreaded ‘guinea-pig’ syndrome, where any attempt to try something new is met with ‘so you’re going to use these children as guinea-pigs in your experiment, are you?’ I’m baffled by this reaction (and parents and politicians are equally guilty here). How many medical breakthroughs would we have missed if people had refused to take part in clinical trials? More accurately, it’s not the patients who are refusing the clinical trial. Kids generally enjoy being part of a new initiative. It’s the self-appointed guardians of their interests that resist.
Second, there’s the ‘not-invented here-syndrome’ . Most of the truly exciting innovations in education are trialled on the educational equivalent of the ‘terminally ill’: the students for whom nothing seems to be working. But the treatment would work just as well on other students - yes, even the so-called gifted and talented. So, you’re allowed to experiment, but leave the high performers alone.
Then there are the ‘innovation gaps’ that prevent change. Sometimes they’re structural, other times, cultural: the constraints of disciplinary silos, or defending ’professional standards’. Most education innovations - as with Musical Futures - originate externally so it’s understandable that some music specialists would view attempts to change their established ways as implied criticism. Some innovation gaps are managerial or personal – CEOs of innovative companies spend twice as much time personally involved in innovation, than their counterparts in less innovative companies, and the same can be true in education. With innovation you often have to model the change you wish to see, and that can be a scary proposition for middle and senior leaders. So, they choose to stay in their comfort zone.
Understanding the motivations of innovation blockers is helpful, but don’t let it become paralysing or, worse, infectious. In recent years, we’ve rightly become suspicious of the ‘echo chamber’ effects of social media, but when you’re a lone innovator (as many Musical Futures teachers are) tapping into the incredible network of like-minded professionals can be hugely affirming. One of MF’s great achievements is the creation of a self-supporting network, so make the most of it.
Publish then edit
Innovation in the knowledge economy has flipped 180 degrees. It used to be that new ideas had to be carefully refined before being made public - the process was ‘edit, then publish’. Not many are aware of Wikipedia’s predecessor - it was called ‘Nupedia’ and every article had to be peer-reviewed by a panel of (paid) academic experts. It took years before there were more than a couple of dozen articles reaching the global audience. Then Wikipedia reversed that process, deciding to ‘publish, then edit’, and knowledge was democratised overnight. I believe that flipped mindset - put your ideas out there, and let your peers improve them - is needed if education is to meet the demand for transformation in a VUCA (volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous) world.
Which is where Google come in. They’ve created a culture whereby ‘everything is in beta’: ideas, projects, and products are never ‘finished’. Instead they’re reviewed, critiqued, amended and improved. Continuously. Publicly. The point at which their ideas embark on a very public quality improvement cycle gets earlier and earlier. They do so because they believe that the more eyes, and hands, are involved, the quicker it gets to the point of acceptance by the public. People engaged in the process accept that mistakes will happen, bugs, crashes are inevitable, but it’s actually quite empowering to be a part of that improvement process.
Google’s founding ethics were:
I write this after running a training session for teachers in Sydney. When I asked a young teacher how she would design an assessment mechanism that would value the importance of collaboration, she looked at me with a look I can only describe as terror-stricken: “But it’s not my job to set assessment strategies”, she said. This is how far we have removed the responsibility for the design of learning from teachers. But the pendulum is starting to swing back in the other direction, and increasingly teachers are reclaiming their professional autonomy.
Accountability frameworks don’t recognise innovation as a yardstick to be measured. So, education systems tend to value compliance , conformity, even complacency, above experimentation. But, to simply continue teaching the way that we ourselves were taught – when the world is changing so quickly – is to be immobilized by fear. If you’re not innovating, if you’re not constantly challenging yourself to create new learning experiences for your students, then you’re not doing your job properly.
Why shouldn’t music education always be in beta?
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