When the Curves Line Up

From December 5, 2009.

The inspiration for the title of this online stream of consciousness is a chapter from Craig Nelson’s Rocket Men.  In the final chapter of this book tracing the background of Apollo 11, Nelson recalls a conversation with Gerry Griffin, a NASA Flight Director.  A group of NASA employees went to Caltech, where the first moonwalker, Neil Armstrong, “got up at the blackboard and he drew four curves.  They look kind of like mountain peaks.”  The titles of the peaks were “Leadership,” “Threat,” “Good Economy”, and “World Peace.”  As Griffin recalls, Armstrong said, “My theory is that when all of those curves are in conjunction, when they all line up together, you can do something like Apollo.  Apollo, or something like it, will happen.  And we happened to be ready for that when all those curves lined up” (p. 348)

Regardless of the strength of an idea, without the appropriate leadership, a perceived threat, finances and general good feeling action cannot occur.

Recently, I asked a group of technology leaders to help me prioritize a list of challenges in schools.  The top three were ranked: 

  1. Providing professional development to teachers and administrators
  2. Juggling increased expectations
  3. Understanding and linking technology to classroom instruction

Interesting is that their challenges are not around hardware and software, the stuff of technology; rather, it focused on professional development, the emotions of increased expectations and meeting them.  The third item was about how to effectively link technology to classroom instruction.

A follow-up set of questions asked about professional development needed to do their jobs.  Nothing regarding technology was near the top of the list, all things technical were near the bottom.

All of us can learn from Neil Armstrong’s analysis of how Apollo occurred.  And so in your projects and work with others, may your curves always line up!

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