The Frog in the Pail

Nearly every article or book I read, every movie or TV show I watch, and many conversations I have force me to reflect on leadership. As I read Thomas Friedman’s latest book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, essentially a call to arms for Americans, I’m reminded of parallels to my world. What does a frog, a pail, and a gas stove have in common?

Educators have to grapple with the notion that the world is becoming increasingly flat.

Friedman’s book The World is Flat, convicted me to become a passionate technologist and evangelize the need to understand modern technology for students, teachers, and parents. Countries, large and small, are playing on a more level playing field and we are missing a great opportunity to utilize the power of our digital natives who live and breathe Web 2.0 technology.

What is the cost of falling behind?

A significant component of Friedman’s research comes from his belief that we are entering the Energy-Climate Era which like the Industrial and Information Revolutions, offer either the opportunity for greatness or the possibility of being left behind. The countries who are able to harness the energy and know-how of its populace will find solutions that will move their people forward. However, when apathy or shortsightedness becomes the rule, we not only trail others who have moved beyond us, but we have cheated perhaps a generation of people.

We can’t let events control the agenda.

Another “engine of this new era” is appreciable population growth. As Friedman suggests in Chapter 2 of his book, I placed my year of birth (1961) into the search on: infoplease.com and discovered that in that year, the population of the world was 3.08 billion. According to the US Census Bureau, as of this month, the World Population is 6.802 billion , a 120% increase during my 48.5 years on earth. Our world was not ready for this exponential leap. Furthermore, the infrastructure of our large cities are taking the brunt of the increase, and they are not prepared, especially in the third world countries that are least able to handle this growth. Not only might this result in a narrowing of resources, it is likely to cause unrest in many regions.

While America’s schools will be impacted by these macro affects, the same tendency that drives America’s shortsightedness exists within our schools as well. A significant reason for this is the lack of resources which force both administrators and teachers to spend 90% of available time on management and 10% on vision and growth. While the opportunities for learning about innovation exist (such as the TED Talks) time is not plentiful. We have a credo in the Hopkinton School District: time, tools, and training. Simply put, if we want to grow as a district, we need to create the time, harness the tools, and encourage the training if we hope to control the agenda ourselves.

We have to fight the inertia to enjoy short term success at the expense of enduring prosperity.

Leaders must react to changes that are inevitable and mostly beyond our control. Likewise, due to greed, parochialism, or laziness, leaders can trade the immediate for the enduring. In sum, the frog in the pail on the stove doesn’t realize the peril he is in because the heat increases slowly and he never thinks of hopping out. At this moment in history, we are the frog and we need the realization, will, and plan to get out of the pot.

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