Sustainable Leadership Conference: A Summary of Day 1

June 23rd, 2010 by Brian Leave a reply »

First off, the AZ K-12 Center knows how to host a conference. The materials are always very professional and organized. It doesn’t look like it was thrown together. They also do a great job of taking care of teachers and can predict pretty accurately what we would appreciate.

The focus today was on an introduction to The Fourth Way by Dennis Shirley. The concept of reform coming in waves or Ways is not new. Anthony Giddens was talking about the Third Way in the Tony Blair/Bill Clinton era.

The Ways look like this:

  1. 1930s-1970s – Innovation and inconsistency – Teachers could do what they want and were respected. Some performed well with that freedom, but others didn’t really teach anything worth writing home about.
  2. 1970s-1995 – The way of the markets and standardisation – This is when the Reagan administration released A Nation at Risk. This is when teachers started to not be trusted as a whole.
  3. 1995-Present – Performance and partnership – The government can’t blame teachers for everything. There needs to be partnership in reform. The trouble is that some of the methods for reform are actually counterproductive.
  4. The Fourth Way – Take what we learned from the other reforms but then push forward for professional standards set by people who teach. The standards need to be honest and student-focused, without influence from special interests.

Something that resonated with me is not throwing out all that we have learned from the previous reforms. A concept that kept reappearing this past school year was the importance of a consistent vision. As educators (teachers, administrators, district office types), we are tempted to follow the vision of the moment, what is trending in the short-term and to lock up (sometimes literally) the ways of the past. It’s this lack of forward thinking, true investment in the future, that causes a big distraction against effective reform.

One of the presenters is having us think critically about where we stand on educational leadership through the context of a story. People relate to stories, connecting complex ideas and internalizing them. You don’t have to convince the librarian of this assertion. The story that I’m thinking through involves butterflies. (Stay with me.) Vision-casting from an educational leadership standpoint feels like I’m throwing butterflies out there. They’re pretty for a moment but then they flutter off. In the same way it feels like every few years we have a vision to focus on, it looks great, but then flies away before we know what’s going on.

The immediate needs distract from the long-term. Who has time for a vision? It’s the ability to stop and think that is missing in most reform. Usually it’s a reaction to something.

Japan always comes up when talking about school achievement. An interesting fact about Japanese schools is that for the first three years the content focuses mainly on social knowledge and how to interact with others. In the U.S. we say that’s our focus, too, but I know from experience that standardized testing is entering the Kindergarten classroom. Benchmark tests are being introduced the second week of school. The six year-olds are just trying not to be homesick during that period.

Technology is great but the ability to mass test Kindergarteners does not mean that you have to test the Kindergarteners.

In Japan they have the first years wear a colored hat(tsuugaku-bou) so that the other students will show them grace and understand that Kindergarteners don’t know the rules of the school (and for safety). An interesting fact from Dennis Shirley and an illustration of a community focus.

We also participated in the World Cafe method of collaboration. I think I’m going to order the book for our professional library.

An article mentioned was Goals Gone Wild. It warns that too much goal-setting may harmfully narrow our focus and make excuses for unethical behavior/gaming the system/doing whatever it takes to win.

All in all, a great dialogue for the first day. I’m always impressed with the teachers I work with. They’re shining and the added bonus was gaining insight from other professionals from around the state. Check back tomorrow for a summary of day two.


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