Peel Back the Onion: Organize for Success
I resonated to the message in Scott McLeod’s blog, "Supportive, Apathetic, or Obstructive?" . His definitions of each ‘kind’ of organization hit home. After 31 years as a teacher and school administrator and 10 years as consultant for educators implementing ed tech, I affirm Scott’s overviews. As an employee in each type of setting, I know the effects can be euphoric or deflating – both directly impacting students and communities, me and my work product.
I also encountered another type of organization – I’m calling it ‘blended’ (not in a good way). It is one that is apathetic and obstructive at the same time. I’m taking a leap to say this is the most challenging sort-especially if the mission is to serve learners and communities. This organization ‘stumbles along’ (Scott’s terms), makes some progress, creates dynamic teacher leaders and implementers, purchases devices for each learner, creates a robust infrastructure but simultaneously has layers of cement block bureaucracy and no communications/processes networks. This precludes staff and superstars from executing with research-based/best practices as foundations. As such, they cannot positively move down the path of school reform and increase student achievement. It also affects their morale, hopefulness and ability to serve.
The administrators are really not to ‘blame’. The practices are of an accepted, unchallenged culture that has been in place for decades. On one hand, they have entered this century keen on improving non-performing schools, knowing the moral imperative of students’ using technologies, personalizing learning, and seeking to comply with state and federal mandates. What amazes me is that at the same time they ‘lead’ as though they are oblivious to current research and best practices regarding organizations, systems and high quality leadership. How to help them? That’s what my colleagues and I are grappling with.
Changing the culture is like getting one of the New England Patriots to confess to deflating the football in their recent game against the Indianapolis Colts (and then to have a discussion about same with the Seattle Seahawks).
Nadine Engels’s view of school culture is “a shared sense of purpose and values, norms of continuous learning and improvement, collaborative, collegial relationships…and sharing experiences”. She says that innovation, leadership, teamwork and ‘goal-orientedness’ are also key. Michael Fullan says that principals (how about superintendents and top district decision makers) should prioritize their school culture over all else.
Stakeholder buy-in around a shared vision/mission is paramount to a positive culture. That’s a major missing ingredient in the organization noted above. It would be a major step to band everyone around district priorities and tactical strategies with student outcomes at the forefront. First, they must acknowledge and address the lack of communications and detrimental processes. A big step.
There is hope. The district has three things going for it.
- Cabinet level desire to create an authentic ‘personalized’ learning environment.
- Aspiration for a successful district-wide one-to-one implementation.
- Human infrastructure for a focused, coaching/mentoring professional learning model integrating ed-tech, teaching and learning.
This triangulation is good foundation. To effectively move forward- the matters of quality systems, distributed leadership, collegial culture, comprehensive and consistent communications, clear definitions of roles and responsibilities, shared vision/mission are essential. Without the latter, all bets are off.
Leslie Wilson, founder and CEO of One-to-One Institute, has served education for 38+ years in top level, key decision-making roles at state and local levels. Recognized as an international expert in education technology, Wilson is a frequent writer, presenter and interviewee. Among her many publications, she co-authored, “Project RED-The Technology Factor, Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost Effectiveness” which is the most broadly used research around successful implementation of 1:1 technologies in schools.