Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

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  • David Willows

The Periodic Table of Advancement: COVID-19 Edition

It is already two years since we started to reimagine the work of Advancement around the idea that everything that we do in this area of school life can be reduced to a series of essential, irreducible, yet interrelated Elements; and that these Elements can be be neatly arranged into a Periodic Table of Advancement.


For two years, we pretty much had it nailed. We had reduced the entire Advancement universe to three domains - Story, People, Process - and were able to observe Elements constantly combining and recombining in ways that were specific to our time and place.


We spent time talking about which Elements left us feeling like Rookies and where we were already rocking it like a Ninja. We built future plans, developed professional appraisal rubrics and job descriptions around these ideas. We had a go at experimenting what happens when you combine Elements in new and interesting ways. We even developed a card game that enabled us to have better conversations with colleagues around the world.


But, on 9 March 2020, as our school - like so many others across the globe - closed its campus, something changed.


What’s the impact of the COVID-19 on your Advancement actions?

The COVID-19 card was played and, almost immediately, our perfectly aligned Table of Elements was thrown into complete and utter disarray. Advancement, for a time at least, was like standing back and watching the impact of someone throwing a match into a chemistry set.


Everything, in those first moments, was firefighting. There was no manual or playbook for this scenario.


Two months later, however, as the smoke begins to clear, some patterns are beginning to emerge that maybe worth noting.


First, some Elements react differently to COVID-19 than others. When exposed to the virus, Brand (Br), for example, is immediately destabilised. Other Elements, by contrast, are in no way altered by this particular external influence.


Second, once an Element has become destabilised, as in the case of Brand (Br), the compounded effect of COVID-19 can, in some cases, be neutralised by the addition of another Element. For example, the combination Brand (Br) with Coherence (Ch) does bring greater stability, insofar as the new compound balances a disrupted reputation with a strong and consistent message or experience.


Third, and finally, it is clearer now than ever before that neither the physical universe nor the Advancement universe, is as ordered and patterned as we like to think or imagine. Advancement is telling the story of our school - not telling the story of our school by numbers. Advancement, like the physical universe, is chaotic and always adapting to new situations and realities - despite our attempts to reduce everything to a few top tips and tried and trusted formulae.


There is no doubt that, when the dust settles some more, we will return to the Periodic Table of Advancement, along with the tools and resources that we’ve created to help us think more clearly about the work that lies ahead.


As any trained chemist will know, however, the real beauty of this work is never the poster on the wall, but the opportunity to observe how these Elements are constantly combining and recombining in ways that often challenge our preconceptions and sometimes take us by surprise.


Cover photo by Chromatograph on Unsplash

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