From a Marching Band to a Jazz Band

How do we plan for exceptional distance learning while we are doing it?

We have two things going on here.

  1. Schools are out, everyone is at home, and we are scrambling to meet the needs of our students right now, while everyone copes with a health crisis and an economic crisis (The Urgency)
  2. At the same time, we are facing an unprecedented opportunity to deeply challenge old assumptions about the purpose of school, and to transform how and where learning occurs (The Transformation)

As we very quickly, and in rapidly changing circumstances, get some learning options in place for kids, we will make mistakes. We’ve said for years that learning is messy, and right now we will have plenty of evidence for that!

Many of our families will expect learning to look exactly like it did when school was in session. It will take time and support to help them see what learning partnerships can look like.

There are many questions about credentialing – getting credits and passing courses – because the “game” of school has shifted, and those most impacted by the shift (those with the most to lose because the have learned to play the game, and they play to win) will be most vocal about maintaining the status quo.

Right now, we have to throw so many of the “rules” out the window. Our old way of “doing school” has ended, and we are building our new startup while already in business.

Mike Maples Jr., in his conversation with Shane Parrish, compares existing companies with start-ups. Successful companies, like traditional schools, have teams that work like a marching band. Everyone knows how to play the music, and when to take their next step. It’s practiced and it’s precise.

But startups are completely different. The players see into the future and know what they want to build. The work looks more like playing in a jazz band, changing with the signals but still building something beautiful together. It requires flexibility, acceptance, agency, and the willingness to change your personal course of action to something less comfortable, less practiced.

Our new “part” in the band isn’t a well-rehearsed individual performance. It isn’t a binder of worksheet activities that are copied and distributed to kids on the same date each year. Our new role in this system involves building our competence and confidence to meet the evolving needs of learners, and to shift with those needs, co-constructing a learning journey with them, learning with them, providing the feedback that moves them forward.

It’s learning to listen. It’s owning our own professional learning, so that we intentionally develop the understanding we need to meet the individual learning needs of our students. And it’s reaching out to others to help us navigate this shift in our profession.

Day 3: #the100dayproject

Some things I’m reading, watching and listening to right now:

Mike Maples: Living in the Future (The Knowledge Project, Episode #77)

Silver Lining for Learning (with Yong Zhao, Chris Dede, Scott McLead and team) Conversations About the Future of Learning (video conversation)

The Democracy of Suffering (with Todd Dufresne): CBC Ideas Podcast

Featured image by Karim Manjra on Unsplash


  • Day 1: Are you willing to be disturbed? Are you willing to think differently about what learning can be?
  • Day 2: We no longer know best. It’s time to ask children and families what they need.
  • Day 3: The long game. How are we thinking about shifting what learning looks like while schools are closed?
  • Day 4: How can we turn what we want to teach into questions children want to answer?
  • Day 5: How do we organize our response to this crisis so we can focus on our wellness, and the tasks that need to be done right now?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *