Joe’s Journal: A Miracle Full of Surprises

“The innovative organization understands that innovation starts with an idea. Ideas are somewhat like babies—they are born small, immature and shapeless. They are promise rather than fulfillment. In the innovative organization executives do not say, ‘This is a damn-fool idea.’ Instead they ask, ‘What would be needed to make this embryonic, half-baked, foolish idea into something that makes sense, that is feasible, that is an opportunity for us?’”

–Peter F. Drucker

“Reading Recovery” is a program developed to bring at-risk first-graders up to grade level in reading and to maintain grade-level standards of achievement in subsequent years. Marie Clay introduced the program in 1966 in Auckland, New Zealand, as a part of her doctoral studies at Auckland University.

Clay focused the program on individual strengths and taught accordingly. By emphasizing the strengths of each student, Clay discovered new ways to tailor instruction and to accelerate learning.

“By the end of 1967,” Clay wrote, “we had a well documented miracle full of surprises.”

Clay went on to work with the faculty of Ohio State University in the 1980s, and was a Distinguished Scholar there in 1985. Her 1993 book, Reading Recovery: Guidelines for Teachers in Training, has had an enormous impact, selling more than 8 million copies.

A program of very small beginnings and unexpected successes, “Reading Recovery” has had a profound effect on teaching and learning. In our knowledge society, we need to make sure that everyone is proficient in reading, and the program that Clay created has proven invaluable in helping us get closer to this goal. “Reading Recovery” is now being exported and is increasing literacy rates across the globe.

The lesson here, as Peter Drucker knew so well: Be alert for small ideas that have big promise; babies can grow into something very special.