This past week I led one of the worst meetings I’ve had in my career in senior administration. It wasn’t contentious and nobody’s temper blew but it left me and I’m sure the other twenty of my administrative colleagues wondering why we came together. The meeting was a joint meeting of our budget, curriculum and inclusive education committees and the purpose was…I’m not sure. Although uncertainty has its place in leadership as expressed by the Leadership Freak, this was not one of the best examples.
I’m passionate about educational change and have a difficulty not being impatient for true transformation to occur. I also believe that the leaders I have in our schools are supporters of educational change, albeit at different points on their own learning journey. So what is holding us back from making the sweeping changes required to truly meet the needs of each child that comes into our schools? I would suggest that it is a matter of timing and that sustainable educational reform occurs in time of the tortoise and not of the hare.
My own leadership journey has been on a steep learning curve this past year due in part to my PLN and a concentrated focus on relevant reading. As I grow as a leader, I’m recognizing that significant systemic change takes time. Why? Because significant systemic change requires a grass-root movement. Leaders require great insights, precise vision and must be able to create opportunities for successful change but unless staff buy in and are part of the change process it will either not take hold or start off like the hare but fall well short of its intended goal.
Although I’m not an expert of the American system, I believe that the situation occurring in the United States would support my argument. Top down govenment initiatives like “No Child Left Behind” or “Race to the Top” are examples of failures because they expected “hare” like results and didn’t involve the professionals in the classroom. The conversations and later the actions that will be necessary to move our system forward need to start at the government or board or administrative tables but they must extend to our school staffs as soon as possible. The responsibilty for student success must be collective and therefore rests with all involved in the school system. Not one single entity within the framework of education will be able to make transformation a reality on a solo mission.
Our three committees have forwarded some bold ideas of which I’m very supportive. However, in my role as chief learning leader, these ideas need to be translated into actions. Moreover, these actions call for long term embedding into our culture not fleeting transitionsof practice. Teachers who recite, “This too shall pass!” have some validity in their comments. Too often, our next best educational reform has not been well researched and seldom had any staying power. In many instances, these magic cures for education were imposed upon those in the classroom or the school division itself. Believe me, I have no tolerance for teachers or divisions who refuse to implement well established and researched strategies that have been proven to positively impact student learning. But systemic change is more than just about pedagogy, it is an attitudinal change that requires commitment not compliance.
So going back to my meeting, I understand why we were all frustrated. We want to see results, we want to build the right fence and then exercise as much flexibility within that structure. But, the fence building takes time and more importantly the flexibility within can only occur when we motivate and involve our staff through the work of Daniel Pink in his book Drive: autonomy, mastery and purpose. That however, will be another post!
So for now, think like a tortoise not like a hare when you view educational transformation. Remember it took Finland 25 years to make the difference they are making in order for them to be considered a world leader in education.