Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Silo Effect

It is hard to debate that education is the key to the future.  With each passing day new opportunities and challenges arise that will require a new generation of thinkers who can rise to the occasion.  Schools must unlock the potential within our students while preparing them for a rapidly changing world. For this to happen we must rethink the very essence of education and ask ourselves if our students will be adequately equipped to succeed in their future, not ours.  As the world changes, education and leadership must change as well. If it does not change, we then run the risk of preparing students for a world that no longer exists.

Herein lies the problem.  The silo effect in schools has created a false dichotomy as to what constitutes essential learning and skills in the 21st Century and beyond.  As a result, many school leaders think everything is awesome.  Just listen to the theme song of the Lego Movie and you will know exactly what I am talking about. Then ask yourself if everything is really awesome in your school? Or better yet, ask your students to come up with a list of all the awesome learning activities they get to engage in on a daily basis. Their answers alone can best predict the learning culture of a school and whether or not it is meeting their needs. It really doesn’t matter if the adults keep beating the drum that teaching and learning are changing. Proof is in the pudding. In this case the proof comes from conversations with students. 

Everything is Awesome - Lego Movie

The silo effect creates a mirage that everything is great.  It also restricts the thinking of the collective in order to implement innovative ideas that can transform teaching, learning, and leadership.  Many schools are unwilling to change because a factor such as high achievement on standardized tests is, in their view, an indicator of high performance.  The reality for many learners is an environment focused on a traditional model of education and criteria for success that lack relevance, meaning, and value.  Thus, a natural disconnect occurs the second they enter a school building.  Looking beyond our walls while moving outside comfort zones are key actions that can begin the process of breaking down school silos.

The same silo effect applies to our own learning and views or that of our colleagues. Information is readily available to all who are willing to venture in the digital space to take advantage of it.  Being a disconnected nomad is no longer an option if the goal is to improve professional practice and the learning culture of a school. Accessing the wealth of information out there is just a start though. To truly break free of the silo effect teachers and administrators must turn the information they access into new knowledge and action.  

The best ideas and strategies are now at our fingertips. We can now break free from the self-imposed silos and begin to have critical conversations about innovative change schools need.  To begin to break free from the silo effect consider these questions:
  • Is our school/district relevant? Am I relevant?
  • How can we prepare students for the future if we are stuck in the past?
  • How do we know if we are meeting the needs of our learners?
  • What are other schools and educators doing around the globe?
  • Do we collaborate and connect with educators near and far to push our thinking as well as access the best resources, ideas, strategies, feedback, and support? 
It is important to peel away the many layers at the surface in order to gain a better understanding of where a school culture is currently. The silo effect often creates a feeling of content and satisfaction since the doorway to fresh ideas is not open.   Learning from others beyond our walls and traditional comfort zones presents limitless opportunities for innovative change. This will not only greatly impact learners, but also each other.


  1. We often talk about silos are necessary to schools to help with specialization and expertise, but teams need to better-communicate and work with each other. It's not so much destroying the silos, but working across them.

    1. Interesting point Tom. So maybe it is about working across them and in the process making each silo more transparent. Thus we retain the essential aspects while being open to new ideas.

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  3. Talk about a timely article, Eric. Our staff is doing a flipped PD/book study via Google classrooms with our principal and instructional coach running it as they learn Google classroom. It is very interesting to see the various silos popping up amongst the staff as we discuss the various aspects of the adolescent mind and how to work with it in classroom.

    Excellent article, Eric.

  4. Interesting. To what extent would teacher's who travel down the hall, to another school, school district, state, country better help them gain perspective of relevancy. When I travel overseas and saw learning in action I gained a broader view that lent me contact. Zooming back in, interaction with colleagues is critical.