Do we want great schools?

Do we really want great schools? I think I would be hard pressed to find anybody who would say no. But in truth, do we really want great schools or are we content with good or worse, mediocre schools. It sounds like a trick  question but in fact it is at the core of what we do and for all of our future work.

Listening to Jim Collins yesterday at AASA National Conference on Education reminded me that greatness comes from the zealous pursuit of…greatness.

Disciplined people with disciplined thought engaging in disciplined action is what merits greatness.

Anything less than that will achieve “good” at best. Greatness requires hard work all the time. It requires, in Seth Godin’s words, emotional labor! I’m not sure whether educators are prepared to invest themselves so heavily in making schools great given the world we live in today.

Great schools require us to make difficult decisions in the area of human resources. Great schools require us to ensure that we are getting the right people on the bus and then, in the right seat. With education being such a “relational business” we often shy away from making those tough decisions. We would rather try and fix or just live with the problem than terminate the problem. And although we can’t fire our way to Finland (thanks Charlotte) we can must say no when the opportunity arises. This relational business that we live in acts as both a blessing and a curse!

We also need to have the will to accept only the best practices in our schools. We cannot allow mediocre teaching to occur. Now that’s a tough one because “that” requires one of those tough conversations. Again, relationship seems to get in the way! Charlotte Danielson alluded to her research that the vast majority of teacher evaluations she reviewed demonstrated top marks. Everybody was at the top of their game! Really? Great schools require everybody to be at the top of their game but we know (if we are really truthful) that every school is not filled with all “top” performers.  

Greatness also requires us to take a significant leap from our current paradigm. We need to understand that although our current schools are “good” we will never elevate to greatness following the same path. Continuing our 20th century practices and assessments will no more improve our schools than just talking louder to a student with make them learn better. Collins suggests that as little as a 20% change (need to ensure the “right” 20%) will assists us in getting out of our comfort zone and move us toward greatness. Simply put, we can no longer exist as we are and reach that pinnacle.

“The natural enemy of greatness is goodness” states Jim Collins and nothing is a more truthful statement. This is especially evident in our Alberta schools. We have been good for so long that it is extremely difficult to move from that comfort zone. Yet, we somehow must create a sense of urgency to truly desire great schools and everyone in education should be yelling that desire loudest. We need great schools and the only way to get to great schools is to want them…really!

Today and for each day that follows, educators should engage in self reflection on what they can do to make great schools. Greatness begins not with disciplined systems but with disciplined people. It begins with disciplined thought not bandwagon programs. Greatness comes through courageous and disciplined actions. Believe me, you must be courageous because you will face many who are quite content with good or mediocre. As a leader, you need to have a persistent will to move from good to great.

Seriously, the children we have in our schools are far too important to settle for good. I implore every reader of this post to look deep inside and ask, “Do I really want a great school?” If you do, become a disciplined person. Gather those around you who have the same disciplined thought and align practices with core values through disciplined action. And then, we can say that we really do want great schools!

2 comments

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    • Sita Dubeau on February 23, 2013 at 10:18 AM
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    Please speak to what you think are the elements of a great school that are relevant.

    1. Great schools require strong instructional leaders that are focused on learning first and foremost. Secondly, teachers need to be excellent in their pedagogy to ensure engagement and relevancy. Third, the community needs to embrace educational transformation and provide educated support to the school. This is just a quick brief but really the essence of great schools.

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