We lost an important voice in education this week. A mind willing to challenge the status quo, and a man who loved the art of debate. In fact, just last Monday in a blog post, he was, as he described it on Twitter, engaging in a nice dialogue about teaching students to read. He disagreed with the ideas in a new book, and he was sharing a counter-argument. He was engaging in a positive and professional debate which, again as he put it on Twitter, “needs to happen more often”.
In education “celebrity” looks different than it does in Hollywood. We do not measure success by movie tickets sold or by magazine covers. Our “celebrities” are those special few who have impacted our work with children by helping us know better how to reach them. By all measures in the world of education, Grant Wiggins was a success. And our world will be less because of his loss.
Grant Wiggins pioneered the idea that we should begin with the end in mind. With Jay McTighe, he published Understanding By Design in the 1990s forever changing the way we all think about lesson design. No, I take that back, Grant Wiggins would be the last one to say “forever changing” because he would want us to continue exploring alternative methods and challenging the way we are doing it now.
My thoughts about Grant Wiggins, and my reflections this week, are focused on his ability to think differently and his willingness to disagree with the way it has always been done. Too often we are quick to agree, and too often we are upset when someone disagrees with us. I would imagine it is not an overstatement to say that the most significant advances in any area of study come from someone being willing to propose that there may be a different reality from that which we currently understand.
Grant Wiggins described himself on his Twitter profile as a “professional educational troublemaker”. He celebrated that label. So do I. We need people who challenge our thinking. We need people who say, “Yes, that is how we do it now, but what if there is a better way.”
I know if I were being honest that there have been plenty of times when I wished others would just agree with me and be done with it. But that is short-sighted. Work is made better and ideas are more meaningful when there are multiple view-points.
There is a difference between disagreeing and being disagreeable. A “nice dialogue” based in fact and supported by research between well-meaning and well-informed people is the ideal way to move our collective understanding forward. It is spirited, but it is not mean. Grant Wiggins could challenge your idea and have you thanking him for the discussion. What a gift!
There is a well-done summary of the recent debate on teaching students to read in a Washington Post piece by Valerie Strauss. Much will be written in the coming weeks about the impact Grant Wiggins had on our profession, but for me, his lasting legacy is that of “educational troublemaker”. I can only hope to be remembered in that way!