Little Victories – There Are No Instant Miracles in Education Development

Learning Ecosystems and Leadership August 01, 2016

I am a bit of an impatient person by nature – unfortunately. I am endlessly calculating the speed of each line when standing in queues at the checkout and you don’t want to be driving behind/in front of me in traffic! However, crucially, I know there is little space for this less than admirable characteristic when working within the world of education development. My ability to be able to display an often, much needed superhuman level of patience, has been enabled by recognising and celebrating ‘little victories’.

Little victories are the often infinitesimally small changes that we see in people’s attitudes or practice as a result of our support or interventions. Little victories are often so small that they pass under our radar and we miss out on the reinforcement that they bring to “keep on going and don’t give up just yet!”

Most key education stakeholders expect change or improvements yesterday! There is so much pressure within the development world to demonstrate an instant fix to the many complex and multi-layered challenges facing education. Working within the EdTech development field only magnifies this effect. Everything in EdTech is immediate and constantly updating so often there is expectation that the expected impact of EdTech should also be immediate…

Education at its heart is about people small and big; not policies, standards or grades. Encouraging change in people takes time if it is to be meaningful and sustainable. If we want to influence education outcomes deeply and for the long term, we need to allow for a schedule that is normally longer than we would want. We are all working to the ideal of education system consisting of committed and proactive constituents; from learners to teachers, to school managements to education departments. Encouraging this is a laborious, two-steps-forward-one-step-back process but it is essential if we want individual ownership at every level and not automatons. 

Little victories are the small signposts that a bigger and hoped for change is on the way. Little victories are not our predicted and planned for milestones, but the precursors to them. We have to get better at spotting little victories so that we don’t give up too early on a process that could yield the results we need, just not in the timescale we desire. Little victories allow us to be resilient in our efforts when we might be wanting to precipitately move on to an alternative strategy. Identifying and even celebrating little victories helps enable momentum to continue in that dreaded middle stretch.

The reality in the education development field is that we are constantly having to manage the dichotomy between urgency of delivering quality education for all and the timescales needed to change mindsets. Little victories often buy you the time you need to allow your strategies to come to fruition instead of being cut off prematurely.

There have been times when I’ve been close to banging my head in frustration at the glacial slow creep towards the anticipated milestones of our project outcomes. It’s then that I have had to stop, breathe and look for those tiny, first ‘green shoots’ that show that yearned for growth IS on the way (yes, that is why the organisation I work for is called ‘Green Shoots’!) Sometimes little victories are subtle changes but when you look with new eyes, it is surprising what you may have missed. For example, one ‘little victory’ was a group of parents coming together to paint the outside of their school buildings. This was not one of our measurable outcomes but this heralded a much needed change in the whole school community’s involvement in this project. Another ‘little victory’ I loved was seeing learners from school, with extreme contextual challenges, choosing to spend their interval improving their classwork – tiny indications of a yet unseen shift in attainment.

I hope that we can all identify, celebrate and gain benefit from little victories – to encourage us to persevere and so successfully cultivate the sustainable changes that are so needed in education!