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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

The Art of Advancement in 15 Seconds

At its worst, Advancement in schools is Advancement by numbers.

Allow me to explain.

When I was a child, I naively believed that, by purchasing a Painting by Numbers kit, I would become an artist. I just needed my parents to make the initial investment, open the box, follow the instructions, and my creativity would be unleashed.

Sometimes schools fall into the same trap. Stirred by the promise of gold at the end of the Advancement rainbow, they splash out the cash, hire the professional, and follow the instructions on the packet. And depending on which "edition" they've purchased, they look forward to enjoying high enrolment, a fabulous new website, or a thriving annual fund. The Deluxe Edition contains instructions for all three.

The problem with Painting by Numbers, however, as I discovered to my disappointment as a child, is that, even if you follow the instructions down to the last detail and try your very best, it never quite looks as good as the picture on the box.

When I was a child, my parents also purchased an old piano and left it in the corner of the living room. They didn't give me lessons, but I did work out that the key to unlocking its potential was to understand the underlying chord structure of songs that I liked.

And so I learned to improvise - to make music by connecting notes, finding patterns, and looking for harmony.

Perhaps this is why, I believe so strongly that Advancement is schools is an art that is anything but rooted in a one-size-fits-all formula.

A photograph of an old piano keyboard
The pianist has 88 keys. The advancement professional has 21 elements.

The pianist has 88 keys at his or her disposal. We have the 21 Elements of The Periodic Table of Advancement™ at ours. Likewise, we have certain chord structures, rifts, patterns, and melodies that repeat. We have the music of our colleagues to refer to. But, in the end, the true artist is one that makes the music his or her own.

So is Advancement composition or improvisation? Is it jazz or another type of art? And what is the difference between the two?

Steve Lacy was a Jazz saxophonist, born in New York City in 1934. Famously he wrote:

"In fifteen seconds the difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in fifteen seconds, while in improvisation you have fifteen seconds."

Who is to say whether improvisation is the higher art. And perhaps this is not an either/or.

Anyone who has worked in schools, however, knows all too well that finding the time to sit and compose is a rarely a luxury we can afford.

So, for now, I'll stick to jazz, even if that means the odd discordant note.

And I'll never give another thought to the empty promise of Advancement box kits.


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