Monday, May 13, 2013

Lessons from WDW #8: Building

“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” - Walt Disney

It's well-established that I am a big Disney fan. Our family goes annually, and often we try to make the trip more than once in a year. I know lots of folks who understand this, and I also know lots who have trouble understanding what the possible appeal could be to go to the same place every year. But to me, we aren't returning to the same place every year. The remarkable team of Imagineers, cast members, animators, and Dream Builders are constantly imagining new ways to entertain and inspire their guests. The classic rides evolve or are retired, and new rides grow-up around them. New experiences are developed, and new characters make their appearance. More importantly, because there are experiences designed for all types of guests, and because the members of our family grow up through different stages, some experiences become a focus at certain times in our lives.

"You don't build it for yourself. You know what the people want and you build it for them." —Walt Disney

Our most recent trip took place over Spring Break, and while the park was as crowded as I've ever seen it, the experience was as rewarding as always, with so many new things to experience. A short list of firsts for our family included new details on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, the all-new Fantasyland (featuring The Little Mermaid ride, Belle's castle and village, Rapunzel's tower and village, and so much more), a new quest-based game in Adventureland, an amazing lunch at the new Be Our Guest restaurant, the meet and greet Fairytale Garden experience where we met Brave's Merida, meals at Citrico's and the Beach Club resort, EPCOT's Flower and Garden Festival, accommodations at Pop Century Resort, and an amazing visit to Bibbity Bobbity Boutique. All of these experiences were brand new or new variations on old favorites. 

Yes, we still enjoyed the rides and experiences that we always look forward to retuning to, and that is part of what I love about Walt Disney World as well. But to say that returning to Disney equals doing the same thing each year is just not true.

"My fun is working on a project and solving the problems." —Walt Disney

All over the parks, you can see signs of Walt Disney World's continuous evolution. Literally, signs (like the one to the left). Each sign includes a quote from Walt Disney that speaks to the Disney culture's insistence on persistent creation. To me, that signifies a team that understands that everyday is a different day that offers new opportunities and requires a fresh approach to designing experiences for both new guests and returning guests. This passion for creating the best possible experience for the folks who are visiting today, instead of just maintaining what worked for last year's visitors represents a thriving team culture that is unlikely to lose relevance over time.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” -- Walt Disney

So my lesson for education, here, is that we must always be focused on the future, so that we can anticipate and serve the needs of today's students. We must be willing to see that some of our classic lessons no longer work and should be retired, while the ones we keep can always use a new twist. We must collectively build meaningful experiences for our learners through teamwork and a commitment to a shared culture of excellence. We must constantly be looking for the thing that needs to be built and joyfully work together to build that experience because we know it will serve today's learners better than what we've built in the past.

When I think about my own experiences with schools, I'm often forced to admit that they are not places that easily embrace change and renewal as the work to be done. The things we build are often intentionally built to exist year after year. They worked for last year's class, and they'll work just fine for this year's kids as well. In this way, much of education has become calcified into a reflection of the fresh thinking that happened decades ago. 

"The fun is in always building something. After it's built, you play with it awhile and then you're through. You see, we never do the same thing twice around here. We're always opening up new doors." —Walt Disney

But when I walk into a classroom or building where the culture affirms change and growth, I can feel the excitement in the air. I know that those places won't look the same next year as they do this year, but they will be just as engaging and exciting. Those teachers and administrators are Dream Builders in the same tradition as Walt Disney. So, as we look ahead to summer, and the opportunity to design and plan for next year's learners, I hope that we all will be inspired to create learning experiences and environments that will matter to the kids we serve. I hope we will all come to work, excited to be part of a team whose purpose is to enhance wonder and make learning personally powerful. And I hope that we will promote the joy of learning, while we let go of the pieces that no longer fit.

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