The case study was awesome. Wonderful. So cool. I loved all of the sessions, but this one was the one that I “got into” the most. Dr. Monica Higgins, Professor of Education Leadership at Harvard, led us through a case study that was out of sector, meaning it was unrelated to education. After five intense days of talking school, the time was right to discuss something not directly related.
It helps that that case study was about the disaster on Mount Everest in 1996, the same subject covered in detail in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air (maybe my favorite non-fiction book). I was SO EXCITED to discuss the case in the large group and hear other people’s perspectives, and I especially loved talking about it in my small group. The result, as you can expect, is that the out of sector case study was filled with applicability to leadership in every walk of life.
We were given the case study to read ahead of time, and Dr. Higgins began our time with this question: Why did this happen? As a group we went about the business of assigning blame and defending our positions. My opinion wasn’t necessarily reflected in the majority. (Adults have personal responsibility, people! That’s all I’ll say!) It was fun to hear why others saw it the way they did.
We talked about systematic biases, specifically overconfidence bias and sunk-cost bias. I was especially in tune to sunk-cost bias because I think in education (and maybe in all fields) we have a tendency to continue an initiative with rigid determination simply because we’ve invested so much time and energy into making it work.
The importance of creating a psychologically safe environment was also quite clear in the study. Without that safe environment, people are not emotionally able to take risks. We talk all the time about creating an atmosphere where risk-taking is valued, both for teachers and for students, but I don’t know that we talk enough about how to create the psychologically safe environment that makes it possible. Dr. Higgins has published an article on this topic, available here.
Back to the idea of case study as professional development. It was incredibly engaging, and I found the presenter talked less than the participants. There was much back and forth in the group. Since our goal was to delve into leadership, we naturally tied our responses to that topic, but the presenter was available to steer us in the right direction.
We were given a book of case studies for leaders in education. It includes several case studies and guiding questions. I would LOVE to use this with a group of school leaders. I’ve done a few searches for case studies to use with teachers, but I’ve not yet found one that is as accessible as Everest. So help me out, internet! If you’ve used case study with your teachers (in or out of sector), please share! Here’s the book I have that’s more appropriate for principals:
Did I mention that Dr. Higgins consults for the US Department of Education and has facilitated the Everest case study with Arne Duncan and his staff? It’s that good. It was such a pleasure and honor to get to participate in it with my Art of Leadership group!