Knowledge. Important?

Knowledge is everywhere…but is it important?

Having transitioned from 20 years in Corporate America to education back in 2005, the readings and articles this week took me back to a time in my life that resonated strongly with me.  Dixon’s message about knowledge management, best practices, shared practices, and knowledge is power were all too real for me in my role as a client manager in a variety of technology and healthcare related fields.  From 1986 through 2005, I worked at as many as 15 different companies.  Not a lot of stability you might say – but for one stretch of time, I worked for four different companies without ever changing my work address.  Companies bought and sold other companies like poker chips.  Much of this explosive growth of companies was under the premise of purchasing knowledge.  I actually worked at a company that had NO PRODUCT.  We were bought for our expertise and knowledge.  And then, with too many fingers in the pie, that knowledge, and the thirst for more, was obliterated.  I digress, so thank you for allowing me that trip down memory lane.

The topic of knowledge management in my current field of educational leadership remains a quandary for me.  We have a tremendous amount of institutional knowledge.  Be it fact, fiction, legend, or experience – it all contributes to the “knowledge” of our school.  And that’s just from the inside.  With the access to knowledge at our fingertips, how do we continue to work in the model that exists today with all of the knowledge that exists out there?  The issue becomes not necessarily about knowledge – but what knowledge stream should we be wading in.  Does this sound familiar:  we have to be 1:1 with iPads.  Good.  Now we need to talk about flipped classrooms.  Okay.  But what about project-based learning, isn’t that where we should be heading?  Okay let’s introduce that, but should that come before, after, or during social/emotional learning?  And to be fair – it is not a complaint or a judgement on anyone.  It is an observation, much like last week with our technology review, that EVERYONE has a great idea, and people will flock to that idea and get behind it, until the next great idea.  This also brings about a side-effect that not everyone gets onboard with the next one or two great ideas because they didn’t like the last idea or how it was implemented.  This speaks in part to the implementation of knowledge, or ideas – pushed down from the top.

Is this what Davenport was referring to with the thought that Google helped to kill KM?  With access to every great new idea and the ability to search for anything and everything, sharing knowledge feels like a thing of the past.

I will go one step further.  Having worked outside of schools, as a teacher in schools, and now as an administrator in schools, I do see two common threads that impact the sharing of knowledge – trust and power.    We, as humans, still operate on a premise that knowledge is power, or those with the knowledge retain the power.  Some people hoard power and control, and lack trust.  Others distrust those who are looking for knowledge.  If trust does not exist (and this goes both ways management to worker and worker to management) what is the incentive to share knowledge beyond another very human tendency of wanting to help each other out.

There is a tremendous amount of knowledge in my workplace.  There are pockets of knowledge sharing occurring every day.  Is it widespread?  Not as much as it could be.  Some of that is topically-driven based on areas of knowledge, and some of that is parochial in retaining knowledge keeps people safe.  Can it be better, and can it be managed?  I think so, but it has to encompass all facets of the educational spectrum in the building, with a grass-roots support keeping it going – not just because management says to share knowledge.  And I will go back to Dixon’s message at the end – the conversation is where the knowledge sharing is happening.  We need to continue the dialogue.

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12 thoughts on “Knowledge. Important?

    1. That was an excellent read – it hit upon some of the emotions and memories I have of previous careers, but also shed some light on my current situation. There are not a lot of “levels” in a school – so the balance of power, and thus trust, is somewhat awkward. Are there issues with trust? Absolutely. And by observation, they seem to come mostly from a disconnect on where the power lies, as well as how secure the person feels. Thanks for sharing that with me – more food for thought.

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  1. Your opening question, really says a lot and in today’s world it is true. It was insightful to read Kevin Kelly’s take on the universal library of today and the size of the information it holds. I like to think of some of the information that we come across online, like that of the grocery store check out with all the magazines lined up with gossip, perception and opinion. I recall my lessons in elementary school, teaching the students the difference between fact versus opinion. A student called out, “Everything is fact on the internet, just go to Google!” I quickly had to review and reteach that assignment! I used the “Read, Write, Think” website to help support this lesson.
    I appreciate your thoughts on knowledge and trust. I believe there needs to be evidence to support what is known and what is being taught. I took a training this past summer on curriculum and design, through the ASCD. One of the objectives was essential questions. I wonder sometimes, are we not questioning enough in today’s world and digging deeper for more information? As an educational leader, I want my school culture to be an environment that encourages engaging thinking as well as a place where teachers help their students clarify their thinking.

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    1. “… I wonder sometimes, are we not questioning enough in today’s world and digging deeper for more information?”

      Insightful point, Amy. Many assume that the web provides only answers…when it is the questions that might be more important.

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    2. I would agree with you that from a classroom perspective, we need have our students dig deeper. The first answer on their Google search may not be the best one! I think my position when I posted was less from the classroom perspective than it was from the school leadership perspective, but you caused me to think about my last few years in the classroom.

      One thing I tried (not nearly often enough) was a three-before-me rule. It was something that was shared with me at a conference or course I was taking (sorry it’s not clear), but the gist of it was that students needed to show me three things they tried before they asked me for help. The three things could be the internet (say PurpleMath), their textbook, and a friend, for example. But it demonstrated to me that they were doing more than just throwing their hands up in despair. So when student told me that they had watched a video, had tried a practice problem from their book, and sat with a classmate and was still having a hard time, the ability to help that student was much easier for me because I knew what they had tried. Versus the student who just says “I can’t do problem 21” with no evidence of trying to figure it out, was harder to help, because they could not demonstrate where they were having a hard time.

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  2. Very interesting perspective – the idea of trust and power as it relates to job security. Does having more knowledge and skills (and not sharing) make you more marketable these days or are organizations seeing that more minds are better than one (Stage 2 of KM) ?

    Last week, I retweeted an article from the New York Times, titled “Stop Trying to Master One Skill. Instead, Build a Skill Set.” – the author wrote about developing a broader skill set instead of mastering one to increase ones value in the job market. Wonder how that would relate in a school environment? We all where many hats at our schools. I am not sure it is feasible to master just one skill in a school environment. Here is the article, pretty short, but worth the time to read – https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/12/smarter-living/building-skill-sets.html

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    1. The concept of a skill set is important in our schools, most definitely. As you stated, we all wear many hats. I think we would agree that for the most part, the wider our net, the wider our ability to affect change and be part of the solution. If we focus just on one area to be skilled at, I think we become less valuable, or maybe, less attractive fits better, as an employee. If I were looking to hire someone for a job, I would want to see a broad set of skills that I could work with as opposed to just one skill set. Even if that one skill set is all I needed at the moment!

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      1. Good point! If time is spent on just one skill, and at some point that skill isn’t needed or valued anymore, then what? Having a broad skill set makes one more marketable, and malleable within an organization. That being said, if there is a skill that no one else has, than it makes sense that an organization would see value in that person.

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      2. Yes – that is part of my point. If we only have one skill, we are replaceable when our skill is no longer needed or valued. Unless we are able to morph and grow and add skills. If our skill is unique within the organization, it only has value until while that skill is needed.

        Not meant to be a knock on specialization – we need experts (thinking of my doctor). But in our schools? I think we need to invite and promote flexibility, creativity, adaptability – being more of a generalist than a specialist.

        Found this article that speaks to this somewhat.
        http://www.productivity501.com/specialization-vs-broad-skills/9212/

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  3. Your perspective poses a great question.

    From Corporate America, there must be a number of major companies that prioritize knowledge management. Whether it is corporate literature related to the company’s product/service, documents about the history of the company, protocols for actions within the company, etc. there is a place or database to find such required information.

    On the contrary, most schools do not seem to have any such repository of collected knowledge. How might a school go about doing this? My initial thought is setting up Google Classrooms for departments, so that colleagues can easily share helpful links, documents they have created, useful YouTube videos, magazine article and book recommendations, notes from professional developments, etc. My main concern is that Google Classroom may not have the organizational power needed and it could end up looking like a mess of posts that aren’t categorized or sequenced helpfully.

    Given your extensive experience outside and inside of the educational system, what are some of the effective means of managing knowledge you have seen? Which might be most helpful to teacher-leaders like us?

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    1. Patrick, in my Northeastern class, we use Diigo to curate resources. It is a social bookmarking site that allows for private groups, tagging of resources, and search across other tagged resources worldwide. You might check it out…many of my students adopt it…and I have been using it for 8 years now, with over 7,700 websites tagged.

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    2. That’s a tough question to answer – effective means of managing knowledge. I like your thinking of trying to organize knowledge/information by departments. We have tried to used shared folder (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc) to allow teachers to share items they have used – lesson schedules, lesson plans, even tests/quizzes. But in the heat of the moment, I don’t really remember going to the shared folders to find stuff – I walked down the hallway and talked with a colleague!

      For me, the hard part of effectively “managing knowledge” is that it overlooks the concept of communication. Our access to information has allowed us to not talk to people….but the knowledge is weakened without the human interaction. For our schools, teachers talking to teachers is more effective than teachers searching a database that may or may not be current, may or may not have the answer, and probably does not have it “exactly” like I need it, so am I creating work?

      Looking at our current students, I wonder what their jobs will be like for them. I wonder what communication will be like in the workplace for them. I watch them interact – while they are on their devices, not making eye-contact, not “seeing” the person across from them. They have unlimited access to knowledge and information. Will that make them more successful? Time will tell.

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