Finding the Pieces that Fit Together

“Really great schools are the ones that change as students needs them to change.” --Ira Socol, Educational Advocate for Students with Disabilities

My younger son Isaac, age 10,  has really gotten into completing jigsaw puzzles—the more pieces the better. In watching him tackle his latest puzzle one evening, it reminded me of a wonderful analogy that was shared with me by a colleague out in Washington State. While it was presented in the context of school renewal it actually applies not only to education, but to many areas of our lives.  Here it is…

We have a jigsaw puzzle in a box, but someone put the wrong lid on the box. We keep trying to use the picture from the wrong lid as a guide to putting the pieces together.  With the wrong picture implanted in our imaginations, some of the colors on the pieces don't seem to belong, and some shapes don't fit.  We may assume they were included by mistake and push them to the side, or maybe let them drop off the table edge altogether.  And we keep searching for other colors and shapes that we see in the picture on the lid but which for some reason aren't included in our box of pieces.  What do we do?  

Well, we push more and more unfitting pieces aside. We take out some scissors and colored markers and 'adjust' some of the pieces that remain.  We do our best to conform the pieces in the box to the picture on the lid.  We do the best we can.

Some people become so disillusioned and frustrated that they throw out the whole thing -- pieces, box, and all.  They give up puzzling all together.  Others decide that it's the box lid rather than the pieces that determines 'orthodoxy,' and they zealously defend the lid and bestow on all who dare to question it the labels 'heretic' and 'apostate.'

Others become uncomfortable with the realization that their loyalty is more to the picture outside the box than to the pieces inside the box. They wonder what would happen if they reversed that loyalty and refused to accept a lid that doesn't do justice to all the pieces in the box.  They refuse to cut corners or alter colors.  Eventually they decide the problem isn't with the pieces -- they actually fit together:  the problem is with the picture on the lid.

Substitute the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle with students and the box and lid as our society’s school

system and it’s one-size fits all standardized paradigm and we see a lot of pieces being brushed aside and even off the table. Sadly, that’s what we often see being done with the pieces that don't fit the picture of the school and student we narrowly, harmfully define. Could it be that the picture we are looking for is not some static image or product, but rather a dynamic and collaborative process by which we discover how all of the pieces can actually fit together in a respectful, inclusive model of learning and living.