Thinking Senge: Creative Tension and Shared Vision

Tonight I had the honour of engaging in an exciting and insightful PD discussion organized by Jason Maitland, Head of Education Technology at Rundle Academy. Our group of five educators discussed many topics regarding change leadership in technology and education. It was one of the best professional discussions I have had since grad school–it was incredibly energizing!

Among the many topics we explored was Peter Senge’s ideas on harnessing creative tension and building shared vision. Because of this, I wanted to share an extremely brief overview of Senge’s work in these areas, and try to come up with practical ways in which tech integrators can use it.

The following ideas come from The Leader’s New Work, by Peter Senge, available online at the Society for Organizational Learning:

  • Leaders are not ‘special people’ or heroes who command us to do things and know the answers to everything. Instead, leaders foster the growth of learning organizations in which people continuously learn and contribute to a shared vision (para. 3).
  • Creative tension is where people honestly and clearly see where they are (present reality), as well as where they would like to be (their vision for the future). Creative tension lies in the space between reality and vision. People can harness these concepts to both push and pull people and organizations toward change. Furthermore, change that is driven toward a vision is intrinsic, whereas change driven from outside forces or problems is extrinsic and unsustainable (para. 7-9).
  • Building a shared vision is when many people see, understand, and take responsibility for the entire organization, not just one piece of it. It requires people to make the vision a part of their own values, support each other, understand that vision is a process (not a statement), move toward intrinsic motivations, and focus on pro-active change, rather than action against a problem or negative situation (para. 13).

So this is how I see Senge’s ideas working in the context of my job integrating technology into a large high school with deeply entrenched ‘traditional’ approaches:


  • Help people reflect on their practice continuously, and from there, help them build personal goals that help them grow
  • Let people know that you don’t have all of the answers, but that more people working together is the answer
  • Model continuous reflection and learning and share it with others

Creative tension

  • Gather research and data to support your vision so that you know you are moving in the right direction
  • Communicate your vision clearly and often
  • Help everyone see the realities of where you are, but instead of fixating on current problems, focus on what the future could be
  • As you move from reality toward your vision, keep both places in the forefront of your mind and those of your colleagues

Building a shared vision

  • Align each smaller goal to the shared vision so that people understand their role in the larger whole
  • Consistently emphasize why you are doing what you do–for your students and the entire organization
  • Encourage people to support one another as part of the greater whole
  • Learn from mistakes and set-backs as an organization, not as something to blame an individual for
  • Celebrate each positive step and approach the vision as a process, not as an end in itself
  • Look at the shared vision as a way of being, thinking, and doing together, rather than a frozen snapshot in time that you hope to achieve

Clearly, there is much more to Senge, including The Fifth Discipline and his other works. By no means have I covered even a crumb of his insights.

So keep learning–always.

(Image: elastic money.jpg, by Felipe Micaroni Lalli. 2005. Available under a Creative Commons Share-Alike License.)

Rare Find: Positive and Practical Look at 21st C Education

If you have ever searched for YouTube videos using terms like  “21st century learner”, you would have found hundreds of matches that emphasize all the ways in which students are being let down by educators. They show students who are disengaged, simply because they aren’t watching YouTube videos, recording podcasts,  social networking, or gaming.

These videos imply that using any kind of technology to do anything is the answer to learning for all students. They also reflect a teacher-centric way of looking at education where the blame is on the teacher or school system for having the ‘wrong’ approach. These types of videos spend too much time pointing out the negatives, and leave out practical and powerful ways in which technology can help people (both teachers and students) learn.

I was lucky enough to stumble upon this incredibly insightful video, “The Networked Student,” by wdrexler. Instead of offering generalized and stereotypical ideas, it shows practical ways in which 21st century people can learn by using technology to share, consume, analyze, organize, synthesize, and connect ideas, knowledge, opinions, and understandings. And what’s more–it shows the role of the teacher in the learning process as the guide, facilitator, and mentor to students.

The major points are:

  • Students develop their own learning network by using tools like: rss readers, social bookmarks, blogs, skype, and other tools. BUT it’s not about the tools–the magic is in how they use them to both share and consume.
  • Teachers help students build their learning networks, and guide them in problem-solving, asking effective questions, organizing, synthesizing, and analyzing resources and information, in order to draw their own conclusions.

What do you think about such videos or their critical counterparts? Do you have suggestions for other videos like this one?