Linear vs. Exponential Supports

We do an extremely good job of “linear” support. When I say linear, I mean it in all senses of the word. We are good at drawing lines from one person to another in an org chart or making the connections from one single initiative to another. Our ability to provide one-on-one care and answer specific questions in meetings or email, is tremendous. We don’t worry about these interactions because we have been doing them for years.

But when we speak about scale and reaching everyone with a single concept or initiative, these types of supports breakdown. They require too much of us, too much of our time and resources. These types of supports, the linear supports, are ones that may help sustain a system of teaching and learning, but they will not help transform.

Exponential supports, on the other hand, are ones that are specifically engineered for exponential growth. An exponential support is one that does not require additional effort to scale it to more than the original stakeholder group. It does not require additional time or resources to use that support with multiple schools or with multiple leaders. The two types of exponential support that immediately come to mind are online communities and learning object creation.

First, establishing an online community for one person requires the same amount of effort that establishing the community for 1000. And it is our ability to not only establish but also to tend these communities that provides an exponential support for those thousands of teachers, leaders and students that could make use of the community rather than providing one-on-one interactions that can’t be leveraged after the fact.

But, there is an inherent shift here. It requires us to believe that a community is better for support than an individual. We have to shift our thinking to agree that community support cannot only work, but that it will produce better results than having someone sit in front of you and tell you what you should be doing. We have to be comfortable asking questions and learning how to interact with those we only know online. For some, it is here that we revert back to linear supports. But, we must push past the awkward phase of our communities and allow real dialogue to take place. This type of online learning experience is helped by sharing the second type of exponential support.

Learning Objects are any type of file or link that can be used for a learning purpose and stored digitally. The act of creating such things means that they can be used multiple times and they have the potential to get better as they are used more often. The most typical form of learning object that is shared within “exponential support communities” are the template or the case study. These are shared so quickly and widely that they become ubiquitous quickly. It is because they were created with the expressed capacity to be extremely useful and to have a high degree of shareability. While an implementation plan may never go viral, our ability to highly leverage a single learning object through many different environments including schools and district wide conversations, is the exponential type of support that we need. When we create things and transparently share them, there is very little reason for others to re-create them. We create traction when we make it highly useful things.

I believe these types of exponential supports starting to be created throughout the district. The transparency increases as documents are being shared. The exponential support communities are being created in addition to the linear ones that we hold so dear. These effects will allow us to reach all students and all teachers without having to hire additional personnel or create additional layers of complexity within the organization. But these are just the beginning. I encourage everyone in a support role to consider which of their supports are linear and which are exponential. Which will help merely sustain, and which will help transform?

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