Posts filed under ‘School Leadership’

Reinventing the Parent-Teacher Paradigm

Parent Trigger laws must be seen as the last straw. The current parent-teacher paradigm is broken in many districts. Whether parents are demanding an elevated role in education reform due to old frustrations or a new interest in their feedback, they are a force to be reckoned with. Rather than fight them in the political arena, education leaders need to welcome their participation. Parents must become active players in school governance, innovation, and improvement. And they need to share in the success of their children.

The existing parent-teacher paradigm is broken. There is more antagonism than partnership on balance, and the children are suffering. Players are choosing sides and behaving erratically as they try to follow power shifts rather than maintain a clear vision of what is right. It is time to stop the music and engage the full education community – students, educators, and parents – in structural solutions.

The most desirable outcomes in elementary and secondary education are summarized below…

  • Students are successful as measured by attendance, performance, completion, advancement, and satisfaction.
  • Students grow and mature consistently along expected physical, social, and emotional benchmarks.
  • Each school is culturally rich and inclusive with a strong vision for future leadership among its participants.
  • Educators match pedagogy to the needs of fully engaged, goal-oriented students.
  • Families are partners in the educational process, fully informed about opportunities, and having voice in outcomes as well as chances to get involved for their own benefit.
  • The school community benefits from a success cycle that demonstrates excellence and builds on that legacy as participants are attracted in perpetuity…students, educators, and community leaders from the larger urban context.

To support this future vision, existing systems must be updated…

  • Ensuring the status of parents and community members in school governance as voting members on boards at the district and school levels.
  • Creating a customer focus among educators, and imbedding student/parent feedback loops in the school systems.
  • Elevating the community liaison/leader to equality with instructional leadership in school administration.
  • Inclusion of the parent community in programs for success…community outreach for education and access for non-educational support services.

The change process must be about facilitating parent involvement, which may mean removal of obstacles created by toxic habits of the past. This legacy must be assessed for such patterns as stonewalling in lieu of information; inconvenience in lieu of access; or outright punishment of parents for student discipline issues in lieu of partnership for proactive intervention for success. Sometimes the first step toward a promising future sounds a little like, “I’m sorry…and I need your help.

Previous related posts…

Mayors and Parents Begging for New Education Leadership

#5 in Seven Keys to Education Reform

Engaging the School Community in the Project Management Approach to School Improvement

August 9, 2012 at 6:59 AM Leave a comment

Engaging the School Community in the Project Management Approach to School Improvement

When major change is needed that minimizes disruption to ongoing operations, project managers from the engineering world can help. Theirs is the world of overcoming obstacles while managing time, costs, and interdependencies to achieve desired outcomes. So, how do you achieve engineering efficiency while educating children? Warm fuzzies, please…

Seismic shifts in education are destabilizing the industry, dislodging the embedded power structures, and creating conditions ripe for change. What changes are to be achieved and how they happen seem to be subject to debate. Nevertheless, the path to the future needs to be crafted with vision, ruthless commitment to deliverables, and equal devotion to personal dignity in the process.

Project management is a formalized approach to problem-solving that begins with the usual steps of analyzing the situation, identifying the problems, considering the possible solutions, and choosing the best responses. However, it takes the added step of intending every stage in the implementation of the solution. Project managers analyze the ongoing operations and the changes to be made, understanding linear dependencies, parallel functions, and overlaps between the two. The process of change is mapped out based on achievement of deliverables along a timeline using available resources under necessary constraints. Time, money, and manpower are limited, but so is the organization’s tolerance for disruption. Benchmarks for success are designed into the process to ensure successful completion.

Specialized project management developed out of the need for precision in engineering; however, it also serves the function of preserving the “business as usual” path as much as possible to normalize the function of the entity that is undergoing change. Nowhere is that more important than in a human services organization such as a school. So, how do we manage the intersection of project managers, teachers, and children?

With support from the District, school leaders need to address each of the following with staff, parents, and community partners…

  • Vision: the future that is now – compelling reasons for the process
  • Beneficiaries: the outcomes for stakeholders
  • Change agents: the people who will manage the project
  • Project outline: the timeline and key benchmarks
  • Stakeholder contributions: what is needed from the staff and school community
  • Seamless transitions: how the staff and children will be shielded from unnecessary disruptions
  • Fall-out shelters: process for seeking remedy with inconvenience
  • Adoption: staff, community buy-in
  • Exit strategies: options for those choosing not to be part of the future vision

Throughout the process, the security needs of the participants must be addressed explicitly. Change is difficult and met with trepidation almost universally. Issues such as control over ones classroom and job security are crucial for teacher cooperation. Quality assurance for the children and their education remains a current imperative. Access to leadership and preservation of voice in the change process are essential for all stakeholders. And, btw, this is probably not a good time to fire half the staff.

August 1, 2012 at 8:14 AM 1 comment

Taking the Project Management Approach to School System Improvement

Whether talking about district, whole-school, or classroom improvement, reformers tend to talk in terms of competing options as though we can only handle one process at a time. Given the seemingly endless list of needs, this mission seems impossible. However, borrowing the project management approach from the technology field can be a game changer. What if we applied a series of parallel processes to the task, reducing the impact of obstacles that shut us down when we get stuck on a linear trajectory?

In Seven Keys to Education Reform I recommend that we…

  1. Build the data infrastructure for the next generation of education leadership, from formulas for government funding to data on student outcomes and teacher effectiveness.
  2. Make teacher pensions portable.
  3. Place teachers and administrators in shared incentive programs linked to student achievement in their schools.
  4.  End pedagogy wars.
  5.  Reinvent school leadership modeled on the general manager role and asset-based management. Balance administrative teams with instructional leaders and community liaisons.
  6. Open up the dialogue in Special Education to include the children by 4th grade, and provide incentives for progress toward grade level proficiency.
  7.  Value people of all ages.

This multi-pronged approach seeks to address the system-wide obstacles within education operations without assigning blame on individuals. However, major changes will need to be made concurrently, and lead educators must create an illusion of terra firma within that system while it is in flux.

Meanwhile, schools must be on a path to improved outcomes based on a new service delivery model. Just a few of the innovations within schools will include…

  • Reinvention of the parent-teacher paradigm
  • New curricular standards and assessments, with vertical realignment of grade-level priorities
  • Development of diverse pedagogical approaches and team teaching
  • Implementation of new employee incentives and multiple-measure teacher evaluations
  • Innovations in special education and ELL programs
  • Longitudinal data collection on the whole child
  • Formalization of student growth and development strategies

Either we need a world-class symphony conductor, or we better develop a cadre of project managers to support school leaders and staff.

Whether motivated by Race to the Top, NCLB Waivers, the Parent Trigger, or bootstrap entrepreneurship, school reform requires a complex mix of one-time changes and evolutionary processes. Operationalizing the changes will mean serious task analysis, time lines, and strategic planning. Change agents with the unique skill set of project management must be allowed to become part of the landscape as they guide us through successive cycles of change, evaluation of results, plan adjustments, and renewal.

Rapid implementation of structural changes within schools is not unprecedented in existing public education systems.  The small-school movement happened overnight in many high schools. In addition, we have considerable experience with teacher collaboration as well as multi-disciplinary teamwork, especially in the area of student support services. However, change agents must be prepared to overcome the obstacle of institutional memory for past programs and their stewardship. Deep-rooted cynicism has become the legacy of school improvement fads that flopped as well as promising experiments that succumbed to the vagaries of grant funding.

As mentioned in my last post, high-powered veteran leaders will be needed to engender trust and confidence in the change process. Seamless transitions must be orchestrated by process pros. And meeting the security needs of the teachers and staff throughout the transition will be essential to success. More on that last point in my next post…


July 31, 2012 at 11:57 AM 1 comment

In Support of the Strong Individual Leader

The vision for school leaders of the future has them doing a lot more. Huh? Aren’t they already overwhelmed and looking for relief? How could they possibly be asked to be more hands-on at school, increase fiscal accountability, supervise more people directly, elevate the role of parents and the community, mine more data, implement new motivational strategies for staff, and know every child with an IEP personally…all while raising student achievement across the learning community? It is time for executive manager to enter the picture.

Conventional wisdom says the headmaster’s job is too heavy for one person. Part of that burden has been lifted through distributive leadership as instructional role models among the teaching staff were tasked with professional development and mentoring. Assistant headmasters and deans handled staff supervision and discipline. Meanwhile, heads of schools attended district meetings by day and managed administrative tasks into the evening. But were they off-loading the wrong part of the job?

The head of a school needs to be strong, visible, and accessible. As change agent, he or she has little time for the central district office. Nor is there time for bureaucratic procedures or focus on squeaky wheels. Top priorities include…

  • Development of measurements for teacher effectiveness and student outcomes.
  • Training and implementation of new motivational programs that include regular goal-setting, professional development, and evaluations for all members of the team.
  • Implementation of diverse pedagogical approaches and team teaching.
  • Reinvention of the parent-teacher paradigm.
  • Absolute accountability for student results.

An effective headmaster must hold the reigns of true leadership tightly and release less critical tasks appropriately.

Delegation of responsibility is an essential component of leadership, but first there must be a rethinking of how to manage top talent, technology, and support staff. Assistant headmasters need to elevate their practices to become more effective in staff development and evaluation, not better bureaucrats. Teachers need to become managers of pedagogy, technology, and para-professionals. Tasks such as paperwork and data management need to be analyzed and reduced, automated, or assigned to support staff.

One of the myths of leadership in schools is the emphasis on administrative minutia. Traditionally, department heads have identified strong teachers and recognized them by giving them content leader responsibilities. In reality, the role was a stipend opportunity in exchange for serving as the department’s administrative assistant…hardly a just reward for classroom excellence. However, such work was considered essential to future success as an administrator in the service of the bureaucracy. A good teacher had to show potential for treading paper while managing a classroom well.

Another myth is the union as an insurmountable obstacle to staff management. The real culprits have been scarce managerial advice and intervention, management by exception, infrequent evaluation and review, and absence of reliable data on staff performance. The headmaster needs to own that history and become the catalyst for change. Supervisors and teachers will rely heavily on their boss as they learn to function in a more effective system of talent management. Union support for this new system will depend on acceptance of collective tools of evaluation and equitable compensation strategies. They will be vigilant in their tracking of the outcomes with each school leader.

Meanwhile, the definition of a good teacher has been in evolution, and it will take unfailing support to maintain momentum for growth. Teachers must be kept energized as they embrace robust pedagogical models and collaborate with one another to reduce redundant efforts. Already, teachers have begun to integrate technology to replace grade books, support communication, and enhance lessons. They must delegate or eliminate more of the paper flow and accept more technology solutions. And they need to renew their relationships with parents. Under the guidance of a fair and collaborative headmaster, the academic goals of students and their parents must be met by the instructional staff; and psychosocial growth and development of the children must be fostered by the team as well.

The new school leader cannot arrive soon enough. Major constituencies have lost faith in America’s public schools. Along the way, we have declared the servants to the system to be lost causes, people to be replaced with high-powered rookies or virtual instruction. In extreme cases, whole schools have been discarded. However, the truly fearless leader can create a world in which new resources and incentives motivate change in the incumbents. They are not talentless or obsolete. They have merely suffered from being badly used.

Anyone who has consistently stood in front of a classroom full of children must be a natural leader. So, decentralize the money, spend a little more of it on automation and support staff, and allow the professionals to realize their own worth. But it all begins with an absolute leader at the top.

July 24, 2012 at 10:51 AM 1 comment

Failure…is not the data’s fault (Part 1 of 2)

When students do well in a school system, the system tends to work well; when students fail, the system breaks down. While there is a chicken-and-egg thing going on here, there also is a game of dodge ball that undermines problem-solving efforts. Dumping an unhealthy dose of blame on the schools with disappointing test results only intensifies that dysfunctional behavior. But making the data go away is not the solution; rather, we need a safe harbor for teachers even as they rush to learn to play by new rules.

Test obsession would seem to be the root of all evil. Results-orientation and accountability have not been nurtured in education historically; in fact, rigid standards have been declared antithetical to a milieu with safe harbors for children. However, it is the grown-ups in the education system who go more than a little batty when there is bad news, and the test data would seem to be the messenger. Get rid of it, and we can all go back to behaving like the professionals we know we are. Huh?

This logic has obvious flaws but seems to play well in a school culture that traditionally has rewarded success and offered excuses for failure. When the children were successful, the adults had their ego needs met and could go about the process of nurturing one another in an exemplary fashion. When the children failed, the scene looked more like the end of Casablanca: the usual suspects were rounded up, there was an inquiry, and the victims remained dead. Terminations happened, but the insiders to the culture developed an invisible hand that could deliver a failed teacher on an “as needed” basis. This latter case was part of failure cycle that tolerated passive aggressive leadership and cemented unofficial hierarchies among teachers.

NCLB challenged that culture, eliminating the protective cloak of the cognoscenti in troubled schools, who could no longer shield more than half the staff, and introducing the notion that successful schools could no longer get away with marginalizing their less successful populations. That alone was enough to wreak havoc on the social systems within schools; however, the legends of bad teachers became one of the hottest topics in politics and popular culture. Throngs of political leaders, parents, and education reformers organized around various themes of vigilante justice on behalf of the children. They were going to find those bad teachers and get rid of them.

School leadership programs changed in response to the new world order, reducing the emphasis on administration and focusing on instructional leadership. Using a distributed leadership model, new principals were trained to focus on data-driven instruction and use of a team of lead teachers to share in the administration of content areas and dissemination of best practices. Unfortunately, this approach was not terribly successful in driving structural change or accelerating student achievement. Perhaps, the new approach was too close to the existing informal leadership model, essentially formalizing some of the unofficial roles and even empowering the old-school bullies in some cases. Teachers walked around with targets on their backs, and relationships with students, parents, and colleagues became strained.

Outside of the system, charter schools were created to compete with traditional public schools and serve as incubators for new ideas. Outsourcing of teachers happened through alternative recruitment and boot-camp prep programs. Technology was brought into play to supplement and/or replace direct instruction. Each approach has contributed to the body of knowledge in education. However, none offered a rapid, scalable and resilient solution to reform within the existing public school system.

What a mess…all caused by those darned test results. Enter the defenders…new vigilantes going after the testing advocates, the test makers, and even the tests themselves.

To be continued…

July 13, 2012 at 1:07 PM Leave a comment

Mayors and Parents Begging for New Education Leadership

The Parent Trigger is a cry for help. Big city mayors want chronic problems in education to get off their desks, and all parents want access to high quality education for their children. Both will seek remedy in charter management organizations as a last resort…but what the politicians and the public really need is a new kind of leadership in public K-12 schools. It cannot come completely from within…but it must be embraced and welcomed within to fend off the real barbarians at the gate.

In the news…

June 17 (Reuters) – “Hundreds of mayors from across the United States this weekend called for new laws letting parents seize control of low-performing public schools and fire the teachers, oust the administrators or turn the schools over to private management.”

Tired of negative responses from parents to the question, “Are you being served?” politicians are seeking radical remedy in parent trigger laws. Educators are furiously fending off criticism and predicting draconian results in this trigger-happy environment.  School management companies are condensing from vapor as entrepreneurs and charlatans salivate over new business opportunities. Hopefully the children are on vacation and blissfully unaware of this hyperbolic folly. Otherwise, the adults may be schooling them in the game of divide and conquer.

A unified solution that links teachers and parents under enlightened school leadership will be the only enduring way out of the problem. Essentially, parents want their children to be well-educated, and they are looking for help in the political arena because they cannot achieve results within their community schools. It behooves the teachers and administrators to settle their differences with their local consumers and restore partnership. This will require a new kind of management and customer focus within each school.

Instructional leadership has been the panacea for education reformers who want educators to stay in charge of themselves. While this is a noble goal…clearly, teachers are natural leaders, and who understands the issues better than classroom veterans…teaching children does not train one in the management of adults or larger systems. Nor does it prepare leaders for the loss of control over their domains. A school leader is accountable for results that he or she cannot deliver without delegation of the process. That is the stuff of more generic management.

To date, a major debate in education reform has drawn lines between process and results, as if one could choose one over the other. In addition, good process has been allowed to supersede results in the face of disappointing outcomes for the children. After all…real learning cannot be measured. That’s where the disgruntled parents come into play. They are in the mayor’s office and not happy, and their votes can be counted. It is time for school leaders to get out of the echo chamber and change the conversation.

Twenty-first century education management must be sophisticated enough to handle more than, dare I say, simple instructional leadership. Schools will be managed by people who can balance a more complex production function in education services as well as an informed and empowered consumer of these servicers. Again, that is a general manager.

Change is afoot within major universities where schools of education and schools of management are negotiating plans for collaborative leadership training that would have been considered heresy a decade ago. Under the best of circumstances, the new education leader will have experience in the classroom and advanced training in management. However, if they are to be successful in future bids to manage themselves, traditional educators must welcome the opportunity for serious expansion of their management models as well as newcomers from the business community who will consider the classroom a step on their career ladders to school leadership.

June 25, 2012 at 8:23 AM 1 comment

Teaching in Never Never Land

Why do educators think that a program based on good intentions and an endless stream of New Heroes is sustainable? Like Peter Pan, each generation of New Heroes will never give up, they’ll never get old…and they will gather in large masses and clap until their dream comes back to life.

Every night I close my Twitter window after getting a glimpse of the latest pep rally of educators who are trying to stop the closing of a school, to put off a measure of accountability, or to prevent the end of funding for a good program. Nowhere do you hear anyone suggest, “I know what we should have done to save that school,”…”We should just do it – take the test and move on to teaching,”…or “That program was good enough to become a priority within our general fund.”

As new teachers become yesterday’s new kids on the block and then veterans, we stop noticing them. They fade to gray and must sustain themselves. And anyone who proposes training in a balanced life style during the school year can no longer be part of the solution. Teachers whose students do well on standardized tests are assumed to be cheating, or worse…teaching to the test. The fact that well-educated children rarely sweat the tests is irrelevant.

Skilled general management is similarly suspect. Administrators offer teachers privileged peers as role models in lieu of individual feedback and motivation. Meanwhile, millions of dollars’ worth of executive talent is devoted to grant proposals for nickel and dime awards; because Special Money is better…regular dollars are always over-committed to something that only the school finance dude really understands.

Yet we are surprised when the adults act like children and pirates become the anti-heroes who would bring grown-up values to a vital milieu. We love the story. We also love Peter, Wendy, Tinker Bell, and even Hook. So why did we all grow up to be Smees?

May 18, 2012 at 7:30 AM Leave a comment

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