Pilots: Showing the Way Forward in Schools

In a recent post, “Creating a Progress Culture One Pilot at a Time,” I identified four reasons to support piloting ideas and programs in schools. In this post I will expand on the fourth of those ideas:

  • “Supporting pilots creates opportunities for the school community to see the efficacy of the school’s direction. We need chances to demonstrate success in the specific context of our school. Just having examples from other schools is not enough. Just speaking in the abstract has an even shorter lifespan.”

Particularly when the direction a school has chosen may seem abstract, piloting programs can help a community develop a definition of the components of the plan and a vocabulary to describe those components. It may not be overstatement to assert that, without such early artifacts of the strategy, getting people to commit to the bigger picture of progress may be impossible.

During the early stages of any significant initiative, communities vacillate between arguing that the progress the school seeks is not really progress at all (but rather only the latest sound and fury representing nothing) or that it is a dangerous veering from core aspects of the school’s mission, tradition, and identity. A school needs stories to counter these equally inaccurate ideas of the steps the school is taking and the purposefulness of them. Piloting courses and programs can be the basis for that effort by creating institutional campfire stories.

Pilot courses and programs allow for some students and teachers to benefit first hand, but importantly, if the story is told well, they also allow the larger school community to share vicariously in success. In this way the school begins to build what is new into the school identity, and at this point the legacy of the strategy begins to set-up on firmer and firmer ground.

6 thoughts on “Pilots: Showing the Way Forward in Schools

  1. glichtman April 23, 2012 / 2:41 pm


    I applaud all of what you say about pilots with one caveat: we found from rude experience that pilots can go off the reservation to the extent that various interest groups are working at unsustainable cross purposes. I have tried to mitigate this by making very clear up front which pilots are in a domain where they may likely end up as all-institution directions, and where pilots can develop with lower levels of adoption. We have pruned away some nasty brush by looking at least that far ahead!

    • J Ross Peters April 23, 2012 / 2:59 pm

      This is good counsel, Grant, and I agree from my own experience with your caution. It is important not to over promise to the leaders of a pilot course or program–in fact, it is likely that the school will end up with more good ideas than the school can pilot and more successful pilots than it can sustain. This inevitably creates tension, but I believe it can be a healthy tension.

  2. Paul Szurek April 25, 2012 / 9:06 am

    Ross–good advice; many organizations outside education use pilots for these purposes. Bear in mind that a pilot can also–despite its proponents hopes–demonstrate the fallacy of an idea, or the need for tinkering, and must be measured with an open mind for the concept of pilots to work with integrity. Otherwise, over time, pilots will be viewed as the first stage of propaganda.

  3. J Ross Peters April 25, 2012 / 11:49 am

    Great to hear from you, Paul. I agree with your counsel here. I wrote an earlier post about a portion of what you mention in an earlier post (https://jrosspeters.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/pilots-creating-safer-space-for-experimentation-in-schools/ ) . The post you read is in someways the fifth one I have written related to the topic of pilots, the first being “Creating a Progress Culture One Pilot at a Time.” (https://jrosspeters.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/pilots-creating-safer-space-for-experimentation-in-schools/ ). While I have no interest in propaganda, I do want the school to be able to benefit in the public eye from the success of the pilots that work, at the same time heading the insight that a flawed pilot might provide.

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