How Do We Create a Compelling School Vision?
As we create a school vision based on our beliefs, we must be very cautious and cognizant of the idea of division. The word division comes from the Latin root of “di,” which means two. Thus, division actually means having two visions. When we have two different visions, conflict is inevitable. We can see this principle at play daily in our current political environment, social media, and society at large.
As educators, we must be able to see into the future of what could be and compel others to see that same future. While the details may not be completely worked out, the idea of taking care of students and staff by meeting their needs should be clear and not up for debate. This foundation provides the chance for us to move forward and determine what works.
Create a Lab
At my school, we experiment on kids. Now before you turn me into the “education police,” please hear me out. All schools experiment on kids. In an experiment, you change the inputs or variables and measure the products or outputs created in order to understand the impact of the variables. Isn’t that exactly what we do as educators? We change the inputs (instructional methods, student assignments, curriculum, etc.) Then, we try to measure the outputs (summative, formative, and performance assessments) to see the impact.
What if we really embrace the idea of school as a laboratory? We can try new ideas and methods to truly understand what works. What if we were willing to share with our colleagues about our successes and failures? They could then build upon those experiences to improve their outcomes with students.
Two of the most powerful words in the English language when combined are the words “what if.” These words can be incredibly scary, even paralyzing us from taking action.
…it doesn’t work out?
…they don’t like me or agree with me?
…they find out the truth?
…I fail or things don’t work out the way I hope they do?
In these situations, the words can keep us from starting a new project or from taking on a challenge. But these words can also be exciting and inspire us to be courageous and to take action.
…we tried it?
…it might actually work?
…there is a better way to do it?
…I actually can make a difference for this person?
These words can give us meaning and purpose. The “what if” can get us out of bed in the morning.
I have been an educator for over 20 years. One of the things that still surprises me is the natural tendency of many educators to be fearful of change. When we start discussing new ways to operate, new programs, or system changes, many folks start with all the reasons why we can’t or shouldn’t make the change. Instead of focusing the conversation on what we can do, these folks always start with what we can’t do. The focus turns to constraints, such as “our district would never go for that,” “we had budget cuts,” “our parent community will be upset,” “we don’t have the leadership in place for change,” or other reasons why the change won’t work.
While it is important to identify potential barriers and challenges, it’s not in our best interest to use these arguments to start the conversation. In every school and system, there is an opportunity to make positive and meaningful changes. I am not proposing we put our heads in the sand and pretend those things don’t exist. However, they should not be the starting place. Instead, they are speed bumps along the road.
Often, it can feel like we are sitting in a car in the driveway before a big trip discussing all the things that can possibly go wrong on the trip. If that is the focus, we may never even leave the driveway.
Have an Open Mind
On the journey to change, it is possible that we may end up in a totally different place than which we set out. Most of you probably don’t know the story of Spencer Silver. We should because we all use his products regularly. Spencer was a scientist that worked at 3M in the 1960’s. He was on a team in 1968 trying to create the strongest adhesive on the market. The purpose of this adhesive was for the aviation industry. In the process of trying to create the strongest adhesive, he invented acrylate copolymer microspheres, which were patented in 1972.
This product did not work in the aviation industry, though. Instead of creating a strong adhesive, they created one of the weakest adhesives that had ever been invented. While you may not be familiar with the adhesive, you are familiar with the application. This is the very weak adhesive used for Post-It notes and other temporary bonding applications.
What can we learn from Spencer Silver and his team? The team failed at its original task of creating aviation adhesives. Nevertheless, they succeeded in creating a product that is used by millions of folks around the world on a daily basis. As we create new school models, they may not look exactly how we had originally intended. But, the lessons that we learn from these experiences can shape our future models as we learn what truly works for each student.
If 2020 taught us anything, it is the need for us to focus on equity and access in education to meet the needs of each student. I am not trying to make any political statements, but education should be the great equalizer in our society. Students should have opportunities regardless of their background, zip code, and family situation. This opportunity is likely going to look a lot like hard work, but the opportunity should be there.
The greatest tool for equity in every school is the master schedule. If we truly want to talk about equity, we need to ask some difficult questions of ourselves about the way time is used at school.
Is your schedule built for student benefit or for adult needs?
Within your current schedule, how do kids have the time and opportunity to catch up?
If they don’t have that opportunity, are you truly serving all students?
Graduation rates can be accurately predicted using 9th grade Math and English grades alone. Do we wait until students fail? Or, do we step in as soon as we realize things are not going well?
What role do your best teachers play in your building? Do they work with your kids that need them the most? Or, do they work with high-performing students that probably would be fine without them?
Which of your courses have smaller class sizes to meet individual needs, advanced courses, or intervention classes?
Look to the Future
One of my favorite authors is Clayton Christensen, an economic and behavior scientist at Harvard who wrote several books about the theory of disruption in various industries. In his theory of disruption, he talks about non-consumers. These are the folks on the margins who are not being served well by current products or services. They are looking for other options or alternatives.
Christensen spent much of his career analyzing two industries that he believed were ripe for disruption: education and health care. One of the reasons these industries were primed for disruption is because historically, these industries have not faced much if any, consumer competition. In his 2008 book, Disrupting Class, Christensen lays out the argument that education is going to be disrupted using digital and online tools.
Ultimately, he believed that digital tools would be the accelerator to equal the playing field in education. Any vision of the future of education must include the use of digital tools and resources to enhance learning opportunities for all students. These tools will be used to expand and enhance the master schedule and options for students in a variety of settings. I encourage you to leverage these tools as a part of the new vision you are creating for your school or system.
As we create a new vision for education, let’s spend some time discussing the impact and the importance of leadership.Read more
The first step in the process of the educational transformation is for each one of us to get very granular about our beliefs.Read more