Start with Low Hanging Fruit (Resistance is Good)

Getting Started

Have you ever started a new project with a team when someone declares, “THIS is the low hanging fruit. We should start here because [this thing] is right in our faces”?

I find myself saying it more today than I ever have before.

@katiehenrydays, peach orchard, Oregon, August 2018

Low hanging fruit is the stuff that’s ready to pick in the orchard.

And eat.

Now.

Or so I thought until I spent a part of August traveling across the Pacific Northwest for Birdbrain Technologies.

 

Rogue River, Oregon, August 20181

 

It turns out that there is plenty of low hanging fruit in the world that you should not eat.

 

unripe blackberries, Southern Oregon Coast, August 2018

 

When fruit is ripe you can smell its sweetness before you see its brilliant color. With a little tug, it falls into your hand, ready to be eaten.

 

peaches, Hood River Valley Oregon, August 2018

 

And that little tug is actually quite important.

Sometimes low hanging fruit comes off the tree with little resistance because it’s overripe. It has been there too long, and it might be rotting inside. This kind of low hanging fruit needs to be thrown into the compost bin – not used for your dinner that night.

 

tomatoes, Pittsburgh, September 2018

 

Large, district-wide initiatives such as designing a new Maker Bus or STEAM program, implementing a K-12 Computer Science pathway, or strengthening your CTE program can be overwhelming2.  When the path is uncertain, but the goals are clear3, your team needs a solid starting place.

Which is why it’s great when someone on the team states, “THIS is the low hanging fruit. We should start here because [this thing] is right in our faces.”

The team instinctively or intuitively recognizes that this “feels right” and moves forward. There is little resistance to plucking this fruit from the tree in the orchard.

Yet, as I have traveled over the last two years working with thousands of teachers across multiple countries to start big projects, I’ve learned that the “little resistance” part can be quite sneaky.

Two enemies of change that thrive in an environment of little resistance are bias and stereotype4.

Clear Goals and a Starting Place

My goals for the work that I do are clear:

I believe that it’s possible to lessen the digital divide and increase GDP5 by integrating creative robotics across your learning community.

I believe that it’s possible to be a departmentalized, standards based public school teacher and integrate creative robotics into your day to day classroom.

I believe that it’s possible to heal traumatized students who live with a belief that they won’t live past the age of 20 by integrating creative robotics into their life.

I believe that it’s possible for 9 year olds to program a sensor on a robot.

In the last two years, I have seen all of this happening6 across the United States and world.

If I come to your school or learning community, I will be ready to move mountains with your team. Yet before we get to the mountain, we have to find a starting place7.

berries & Mt. Hood, Oregon, August 2018

If your team has identified “the low hanging fruit,” I am going to ask, “Why is there little resistance there?”

What your team chooses as low hanging fruit will reveal your team’s bias – which isn’t bad, it’s just that you may accidentally make important decisions that don’t align with your goals8.


Example 1 – Economic Growth

Your team may want to lessen the digital divide and increase GDP by integrating creative robotics across your learning community. You may start your initiative in the gifted program because that’s a good place to win key teachers who will be change agents. You may also get a few good photos of student projects to put into the district news letter.

You may bias towards believing: I need strong teachers to advocate for change; students aren’t being affected while I rally my teachers.

Instead you could bias towards believing: Diverse groups of historically disadvantaged students – girls, students of color, resource poor, rural, and students with exceptionalities – are often not found in gifted programs. When these students see robots in the gifted program they “learn” that robots are for “other kids.” These are the students who most suffer because of the digital divide – excluding them as part of your plan is the exact opposite of your goal.

(A great person to talk to on this topic is Dr. Jamie Bracey.)


Example 2 – Standards-based Teachers

Your team may set out to help your departmentalized, standards-based teachers to integrate creative robotics into the day to day classroom. You decide to give everyone a free kit before thoroughly training the instructional coaches/staff that would support the teacher with classroom implementation.

You may bias towards believing: If my teachers can just see what [the thing] is, they’ll get it. Then, they’ll ask for it.

Instead you could bias towards believing: Teachers who can “get it” this way are your early adopters/innovators. These folks operate in a fundamentally different way from most of your staff. The teachers who get lost in this method are the ones you should support – and they are best supported when the person from which they ask for help is fully trained first9.

Nothing is worse than a teacher trying something new, asking the person who should know the answers and not getting the answers.


Example 3 – Trauma Informed Care

Your team may set out to heal traumatized students who live with a belief that they won’t live past the age of 20 by integrating creative robotics into their life. You may choose a teacher who is brilliant and has “fun projects for students” but can’t relate to the experiences of the students themselves.

You may bias towards believing: The material matters more than the mindset. The robots are the change-agent.

Instead you could bias towards believing: Trauma-informed care requires a person trained in both the content (robots) AND working with this type of population.  Building robots is a way to build relationships – very strong ones – which can lead to increased agency. There are many transferable skills to be gained from integrating creative robotics into trauma informed care programs.


Example 4 – Early Childhood

Your team decides that every 9 year old in the district should have an experience programming a sensor on a robot because they need to be exposed to advanced technologies. You may decide to set up a station in the cafeteria for “Robot Week” so that every student gets to program a sensor on a robot.

You may bias towards believing: The material matters more than the mindset. The robots are the change-agent.

Instead you could bias towards believing: Creating conditions for 9 year olds to make choices for themselves, such as identifying their own reason for needing to program a sensor, will lead to stronger outcomes. The things we do as children strongly influence the work that we set out to do as adults.


So What’s My Bias?

I have a lot of them.

But the big one that came out in this blog post is that I tend to value depth over breadth, such as high touch and deep impact relationships, followed by disseminating key information broadly.

That’s why I need to be a member of a diverse team who can challenge me the next time I declare, “THIS is the low hanging fruit. We should start here because [this thing] is right in our faces.”

When I do this, someone on my team should ask me, “Why is there little resistance there?”

Because what I chose as low hanging fruit will reveal my bias – which may not align with my goals at all.

Choose low hanging fruit (resistance is good).


TL;DR

1) Teams like to start with low hanging fruit because there is little resistance.

2) Two enemies of change live where there is little resistance: bias and stereotype.

3) Everyone is biased.

4) Ask, “Why is there little resistance?” with the low hanging fruit you’ve selected.

5) What your team chooses as low hanging fruit will reveal your team’s implicit bias – which may not align with your goals at all.

6) Choose low hanging fruit (resistance is good).

 


 

  1. I don’t fish for BirdBrain Technologies – but I would if they asked me to. []
  2. If you don’t secretly feel terrified when starting a district-wide initiative, either you aren’t asking the right questions, aren’t making a real change, or have lost touch with the people you serve. It’s okay to feel scared. []
  3. Uncertain goals and an uncertain path create chaos. []
  4. If you just thought, “This doesn’t apply to me, I’m not biased” – I’d gently ask you to reconsider that thought. Everyone is biased.  It’s part of being human. Figuring out how you’re biased is the task. Fish deal with this, too. They were probably the last to discover water. []
  5. Growing GDP of minority owned businesses by 1% in each region will move more folks out of poverty. []
  6. Regarding increasing GDP, big change starts small. Consider the hidden economy of students under the age of 18 generating income through communication technologies in their own bedrooms. []
  7. If you want to talk for twenty minutes about what creative robotics can mean for your learning community – and the starting places you are considering – please send me a message on twitter: @katiehenrydays  I’d love to learn more about your ideas. []
  8. This is why setting clear goals is essential []
  9. “Fully trained” can take many forms. Ask Rob Harsch for his method. []