In the journey to Greatness, according to Jim Collins, establishing and maintaining "brand" occurs when the flywheel is really humming. Brand… Do we do that in education? If we were to market the "brand" of our school, what would that look like?
A recent article in the Harvard Business Review about the response of businesses to the Web 2.0 environment caught my attention. Many would argue that they have lost control of their "brand" due to the open source realities of a Web 2.0 world and most are struggling to figure out how to make this environment profitable. Hmmm…. Maybe we should be struggling with this too?? Can we capture the power of the Web 2.0 world to better establish "brand?" If we left articulating our "brand" to the public, what would they say? Take a look at the article and think public schools. Is there a connection here?
Every two years, public school districts must re-negotiate labor contracts with multiple bargaining units. I've participated in negotiations as a teacher, principal, and once while "shadowing the superintendent," and I have often reflected on how the process has such a negative feel. Boiled down to the basics, it's a process about one group arguing for what their side wants and the other side arguing for what they can/can't say yes to. I am very fortunate to work in an district that has established a significant level of trust with most units, however even in this situation the process boils down to the "we want" argument.
Negotiation processes sit poorly in my gut because they contradict the core of what I "preach" at school and what I want for my own children. Teaching our students to value service and to work for the common good is essential to the future of democracy. Media bombards children with hundreds of messages a week brainwashing them into believing that their own desires and wants are more important than all else. Even worse, media has convinced an entire generation that they deserve the luxuries of affluence without having to work for it. We've become an "I deserve, we want, give me" culture – all direct enemies of a successful democracy focused on the common good. In our home we work hard to keep these messages from our children, and we do our best to brain wash them into valuing self-sacrifice, loving thy neighbor, hard work, receiving gifts as a privilege instead of a right, and to use their energy to benefit others. These values just don't seem to line up with the processes of contract negotiations.
All of this said, one cannot overlook the incredible role that organized labor has played in making our country the great place it is and how it has benefitted me personally. Time and time again, those in positions of power have fallen to corruption and misuse of their authority in a manner that has hurt many, many people. Organized labor protects those of us who need protection and fights for an element of sanity in a world where one's work can completely dominate life. If not for organized labor, the greed and pull of profit would have us working 16 hour days without weekends. Indeed much of the rub lies in the character of the CEO and his/her core understanding of the work day and how to support those who do their jobs with excellence. To not recognize the value of what organized labor does would be blindness to a core piece of America's economic development over the past century.
Reflection on my internal struggle with the feeling of labor negotiations and my great appreciation for the work of organized labor has left me with an intriguing question. Our school has committed to making the leap from Good to Great. According to Collins, this requires level 5 leadership, confronting the brutal facts, getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off of the bus), disciplined thought, and disciplined action. These elements run in contradiction to the conversations I have been a part of at the negotiating table, however I am not convinced that this must be the case. Might it be possible for organized labor and district management to have honest, transparent, productive conversation about how to become Great? Might that table be a place to hold me accountable to being a level 5 leader and a place to model disciplined thought and action? Can we change the conversation from being about "wants and demands" to focusing on how we can measure greatness and work together to improve overall performance? Is that too far fetched? Can real Greatness happen without it? What do you think?
While not a new thought on leadership, the importance of emotional intelligence for effective leadership is now more arguable than ever with the developments in neuroscience research. Hear what Goleman and Boyatzis have to say in their post called Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership.
The current obsession with measuring learning certainly has some benefits (accountability is good), but it also comes with some serious drawbacks, since it diminishes all the forms of learning, like arts education, that can't be translated into a score on a multiple choice exam. That's why the research cited above is so important: it helps us appreciate the "soft" skills that we tend to neglect.
But I think that even this clinical evaluation of arts education misses an important benefit: self-expression. I shudder to think that second graders, at least in most schools, are never taught the value of putting their mind on the page. They are drilled in spelling, phonetics and arithmetic (the NCLB school day must be so tedious), and yet nobody ever shows them how to take their thoughts and feelings and translate them into a paragraph or a painting. We assume that creativity will take care of itself, that the imagination doesn't need to be nurtured. But that's false. Creativity, like every cognitive skill, takes practice; expressing oneself well is never easy.
Are we teaching children the essential 21st century skills of self expression, creativity, and design? How do we "double the time" for reading and math skills to make AYP and still deliver on what is presented in Lehrer's post as critical learnings for all kids? What are your thoughts?