Aug 8, 2011

Tips for Creating Pull in Your School

by S. Beard

As secondary teachers, we often feel that we have little impact on what is going on in our school. As well, when you report to school each year, conversations often drift to how the state department has handed down new rules or expectations for teachers and students. Teachers talk about how they feel their hands are tied and they have no power or influence over these decisions. For many years schools were like this; rules and decisions were pushed from down from the top. The result has been that little progress has been made, as those at the bottom have little buy in to the rules that were designed without them. But if we take a look around our schools, some of the very decisions that are made can be influenced by some of the tiniest discussions. Today, teachers just like you and me are making an impression on the decision makers at the district and the state level. This has resulted because those at the bottom have created pull platforms that allow problems to be solved. Hagel, Brown, and Davison (2010) point out that:

Pull platforms make it easier to assemble participants and resources on an ad hoc basis to problem-solve unforeseen issues or situations. As a result, they enhance the potential for productive friction as people with different perspectives, skills, and experiences come together to try to find a solution for a specific problem. (p. 77)

The Difference Between Push and Pull

Hagel, Brown, and Davison (2010) describe push systems as those that are designed to anticipate our needs over time and that develop skills not knowing what future needs will be (p. 9). As schools deal with problems through push, such as creating solutions through uncertainty, more problems may be created. But through pull, schools can essentially work to assemble the “appropriate resources as the need arises” (Hagel & Brown, 2008, p. 1). This requires that teachers and administrators at lower levels define what is needed and gain access to needed information so that when situations arise, the collective knowledge of those experiencing issues can be used to pursue a solution. But finding information can be daunting when we don’t know the problem. Some of the simplest problems in my classroom have been solved because I have created situations in which I am able to gain knowledge from others through chance encounters. Hagel, Brown, and Davison (2010) call these “serendipitous encounters” (p. 89). Through chance encounters with other parents, teachers, and professionals, I have been able to pick up information that might have seemed trivial before, but presents itself as a solution over time. Creating serendipitous moments and leveraging those moments to create pull means that one first needs to put out feelers or develop relationships outside of their comfort area. Some teachers may say they don’t have time to search out new information or develop professional relationships beyond their classroom. However, here I will share a few helpful tips to help create the ability to attract and gain access to information that will generate pull in your school.

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How can I gain access to what I need?

Joining a social network like Facebook or Linked In can help you make connections to not only other teachers in your discipline, but to friends and other professionals outside your field. Developing professional relationships with those outside of education can create situations that may result in assistance for classroom programs, development of skills that can benefit your career, or solutions to issues you may be having in your field. Professional networks like Ning allow educators, professionals, or, for instance, Smart Board users together. In this case, discussion forums on a social network can result in the kind of pull that answers technical questions about a piece of technology. This is a great example of assembling resources when needs arise.

Other ways of generating access can come in the form of journals, blogs, and wikis. If you use an aggregator such as Google Reader to assemble feed from different internet resources, you can easily gain one stop access to different information, points of view, or opinions about many different topics and different fields. Shop around blogs to read other viewpoints about education or social issues. Getting a perspective from the other side, or about a topic you never investigated may lead to answers you never thought of before.

Ways to generate serendipitous moments

As was mentioned earlier, Hagel, Brown, and Davison (2010) point out that, serendipitous encounters can create the kind of pull that “increases our likelihood of encountering people who share our passions” (p. 99). Here are some tips on creating those moments:

Attend a Conference

In the past, at educational conferences, I spent most of my time going to breakout sessions on topics with which I was already familiar. Over time, I realized that attending sessions on topics I was less educated on resulted in new answers to unsolved problems.

Stay after meetings

Talking with teachers from other departments may result in beneficial discussions or new relationships that garner new resources for your classroom or program.

Join a community club or organization

Joining a local running club or attending the local rotary meeting may create a moment in which you may share information about your own program or learn more about issues in your community. Information shared may influence others, and in turn, may serve to help you.

The end result of creating pull can be that, over time, you and your fellow faculty members will evolve into a group that can create change within your school. Through the collaborative efforts, knowledge, and experience you share, your group can influence decision makers and effect change. Expanding your areas of interest and gaining greater perspective can help you think outside the box and spot trends as they arise (Hagel, Brown, and Davison, 2010, p. 115). Trend spotting and increased perspective can leverage your institution so that, rather than weathering change, you can embrace it.


Hagel, J. III., Brown, J.S., & Davison, L. (2010). The power of pull: How small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion. New York: Basic Books.

Hagel, J. III. & Brown, J.S. (2008). From push to pull: Emerging models for mobilizing resources. Journal
of service science, 1(1). Retrieved from