Sustainable Leadership in Times of Great Change: A Summary of Day 2

June 24th, 2010 by Brian Leave a reply »

“From foxholes to freedom.”

Today we really dug deep into how having a World War I, foxhole mentality in times of great (‘great’ meaning ‘large’, but maybe could be ‘good’) change is counterproductive. Hunkering down, remaining isolated, and just trying to survive is not how effective reform happens. Gone is the collaboration and the growth from connecting with other professionals, especially those who are different from you.

But if you reach out to people who are different to you, there’s risk. There’s also risk in trying something new – you could fall flat on your face. When jobs are on the line, and tenure is gone, do you want to take a risk?

You know, we could learn from the rest of the world. Many times I hear about competing with India and China – is there anything wrong with wanting to collaborate with India and China? (Yes, I know there are political issues there. But not every school in a foreign country hates the United States, right?)

Finland has intrigued me in the discussion. It’s a lot tougher to become a teacher in Finland. They actually get paid less than we do (on average) in the United States but they have a higher social standing. Would we be willing to trade some salary for being treated like professionals? For parents trusting us at our word?

If we’re to ask for freedom as teachers, though, we can’t be licentious (Dennis Shirley usage) with that freedom. If we get time to collaborate, it can’t devolve into a whine session or a chance to grade papers. We can’t show up late to staff development, duck out early, and expect to be taken seriously.

So, students in Finland do really well, including on the PISA test. We didn’t do poorly but we also weren’t near the top. On my To Do list is to find a staff directory for a Finnish school and e-mail one of their teachers to develop a rapport. With as much technology as we have access to, collaborating with another country can’t be that tough, people.

Another concept introduced today was the Tuning Protocol (the link downloads a PDF). It’s a structured process for assessing student performance. Because it has guidelines, it’s not a venting session. It’s not about meaningless validation of your teaching – it’s about truly making your instruction better so you feel good at a job well done. We have team meetings, where a group of teachers address a multitude of issues. I think the structure in the Tuning Protocol could streamline some of that and make us feel like the meetings are worth something.

The Raising Achievement, Transforming Learning project in England and the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement were discussed as models for improving schools. Both emphasize working alongside the community as well as partnering with another school (or multiple schools). It’s like mentoring, but on a school-to-school basis. Another push is for transparency – not just the punitive side of things but also on the efforts that are made for improvement.

What’s great about the AZ K-12 Center is that it does provide those connections, that time to step back and regain perspective. It’s like a mini-reform. When looking at changing education in the US, it’s a daunting task. There are so many polarizing elements and a top-down structure (“deliverology” – here’s what we’ve legislated – do it) that’s still stuck in Second Way thinking.

It’s the principle of stopping to think that has stuck with me this week. Three things that work against change are privatism (the foxhole mentality of individualism – “you want to observe? How come?”), conservatism (“I’m surviving, this works” – but are you growing?), and presentism. Presentism is where the needs of the moment overshadow everything else. This is where I get stuck – I do things because they have to get done and don’t think about why.

In the near future we may see the Quality Education Investment Act in California challenge the teachers’ union to expand from solely defending members’ interests to being a positive change for student achievement and learning. They would be the voice of reform and not just a collective bargaining unit. That would get the public’s attention and leave politicians with not much more to say.

Sustainability is key to reform. Sustainability means that if I step away from it, it will keep going. This is where the systemic network comes in. If others have caught on the success of the change is not resting on my shoulders. We must also realize that we can’t adopt an end product. We can’t see that it worked somewhere else and think that we can transplant it perfectly and do it quicker. Changes need to be crafted by the network affected. We need to help our struggling peers, not out of condescension but out of a shared purpose of helping students. That’s why we’re all at school, right?

Privatism (versus collegiality – trusting that we’re colleagues) gets in the way of that. No one likes to be told what to do. But if we had mentoring, true relational mentoring, at all levels of our career, the students would benefit. We need to honestly look at our practice.

A reminder of why we do it, why we care: check out this three minute video from the AZ K-12 center.

Lots of thoughts to delve into, but I swear I’m going to get to watch Netflix tonight.

Books that were mentioned:
The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch
Drive by Daniel Pink
iBrain by Gary Small
Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization by Yong Zhao
Mindful Teacher by Elizabeth MacDonald and Dennis Shirley

Simons and Chabris – Selective Attention Basketball Video
Robert A. Compton – Two Million Minutes – Comparing schools from around the world – See a clip


Dennis Shirley is speaking at Capitol Hill on Tuesday. I hope the call to professionalism matched with educator-based assessments catches on.


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