It was the last time I presented and I had to be at the airport for a flight home in a few hours. I was in the grand ballroom with about 75-100 people for the 21st Century assignment presentation and was in a zone. I was very excited to share what Mike and I and our students were doing and how we were changing teaching and learning. The whole presentation is about using all the technology tools together to create autonomous mastery learning the rule, not the exception. About 30 minutes in a women, who had raised several difficult questions (seemed to question all I was saying, however, in the end I think was very supportive of what I was talking about) said, "So you are an outlier, right?" I made a reference to Malcolm Gladwell ("Outliers: The story of success"), but said no and moved on. Her question has stuck with me for seven months. So this winter break, I re-read Gladwell's book and have a more detailed answer to her question.
What I said to her was not really true. Mike and I are outliers, our students our outliers, we are different from the mass of 7th grade classrooms around the country. I will use one example from Gladwell's book and then try to explain how it relates to us. Several pages into the book, Gladwell talks about hockey players and how we believe success in hockey is based on individual merit: "Players are judged on their own performance, not on anyone else's, and on the basis of their ability, not on some other arbitrary fact...Or are they?" He goes on, in my opinion convincingly, to show that this individual merit idea is not really how the "real" world works. He uses the roster of 2007 Medicine Hat Tigers (A top traveling hockey team for youth in Canada). The roster tells a story: 40% are born in Jan-March, 30% between April-June, 20% between July-September, and 10% between Oct-Dec. Not only did this apply to the junior hockey team, but to the pro's as well. How can that be? Gladwell explains a few things. First, if you are born earlier in the year, you are stronger, bigger and more coordinated then say a player born 9 months after and you might be seen as more "talented" then others (In schools, change that to the cut off date for starting school!) . Second, once we make the decision of who is "talented" at an early age, they will be provided with superior experiences and develop fastern then others (Does this happen in schools?). Third, he talks about the "Matthew Effect". In his words (p. 30), "It is those who are successful in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success." The rest of the 300 plus pages explain the success of others and how we (society) help them achieve success.
To answer the women in Dallas, we are outliers. We have lots of people to thank for our success and opportunities, we have not done it alone.