“For public education to benefit from the rapidly evolving development of information and communication technology, leaders at every level–school, district, and state–must not only supervise, but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systemic change.”
– From the National Educational Technology Plan
There are several elements involved in transformative and systemic change. First, there is the content of the change message; second, is the condition of the audience who will be receiving the message; and third, is the the condition of the person who will be delivering the message and leading the change.
For the purpose of today’s post, let’s pretend we all agree on the content of the message. We believe that technology can be a catalyst to transform teaching and learning so that students are more active and engaged in their learning. Now, let’s explore the environment into which this message, or any message of change, is being delivered.
The Environment- We all know that a school building culture can be complex environment and like any organization one description of the culture does not fit all. However, it is clear that some buildings, over the years, have devolved into an ‘us and them’ atmosphere. The ‘us’ being the teaching staff and the ‘them’ being the administration. In these situations there is a feeling that administrators are nothing but political animals who want to look good; but don’t understand or truly care about how difficult the teacher’s job is, nor are they fully supportive of the staff. There is little trust.
The building may be experiencing destructive levels of triangulation on a daily basis. The Principal holds a faculty meeting, or the technology committee or the curriculum committee holds a meeting and the staff participates; but as soon as the meeting breaks, there are people in the hallways or lavatories complaining about the Principal, the presenter, the committee chair, other members of the team, or the entire committee process. Rather than raising these issues in public where they can be discussed and remedied, they are relegated to private conversations. When people aren’t being candid with one another it erodes trust.
The teachers are open to the leader’s message; but they are overwhelmed. There are multiple initiatives going on and many committees meeting. The teachers feel like they cannot take on another thing. They don’t have the time or the intellectual shelf-space for another ‘high priority item’.
There may be a few staff members who are not meeting the teaching profession’s basic standards. In some cases these folks have been ignored and tolerated for years because engaging them will take an enormous amount of effort and has the potential to generate lots of political controversy.
The pedagogy in many classrooms within the building, especially secondary classrooms, is fairly traditional: teachers have the answers, they follow the curriculum, they talk a lot, while students listen and then take written tests. Also in the realm of pedagogy and transformation falls the ‘personality driven classroom’, where teachers who like to exert control or be the center of attraction find that the personality traits that have made them so successful, do not serve them as well in a more creative, project-based, student-centered classroom.
The point here is that bringing a visionary technology message, or systemic change initiative into these building cultures will be exponentially more difficult than bringing the same message into a building with a healthy, trusting, culture that has shared values and a shared vision.
“When you want to foster more responsible behavior in people, you can’t just legislate more rules and regulations,” says Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book “How.” “You have to enlist and inspire people in a set of values. People need to be governed both from the outside, through compliance with rules, and from the inside, inspired by shared values.”
Tthere are many elements of existing building cultures that need to be addressed before we can move ahead with transformative technology initiatives. Think of it as tilling the field before planting a new seed. We need to deal with existing building cultures so that our staffs are open to creating a new shared vision and implementing it.
The Leader – Last, but not least, there is the messenger; the leader. How prepared is the building administrator to lead systemic and transformative change? No doubt a challenge like shifting a building culture and introducing systemic change will be the challenge of a lifetime. Have we trained for this? or are we stepping up to the starting line of a marathon without having done any roadwork ahead of time?
If the building leader is like most of us, he learned on his own, and through his studies as part of his graduate certification program. There were courses in School Administration, School Law, Business Administration, Personnel Management, Supervision of Instruction, and School-Community Relations. He read, he attended class, he discussed, he wrote, and occasionally he presented; but little of his certification work had to do with leading transformative and systemic change.
Take just one of the scenarios above…If there is even one staff member who everyone in the building knows is not doing their job and the leader ignores them and lets them continue with business as usual, how much credibility will he have when he lays out his vision for the future? The staff will look at him and say to themselves, ‘Sure, he says he wants to make this school ‘world class’, ‘the best it can be’; but he turns his eyes away from the people who aren’t doing their jobs because it’s too much work to confront them. It’s too politically risky. Why should we stick our necks out if he won’t?” They’re right. In order to build trust with the staff the leader has to walk his own talk.
I am not trying to discourage us from moving forward. I have designed my life to help lead the effort; but if we are serious about transforming teaching and learning, we need to get serious about identifying the enormous challenges we face; and once we have done so, we need to take some serious steps to prepare ourselves, as leaders, to meet them.
It’s my belief that we’ll never get there if we continue to prepare our leaders in same manner as we have in the past. As the National Educational Technology says…”leaders at every level–school, district, and state–must not only supervise, but provide informed, creative, and ultimately transformative leadership for systemic change.”
Where will these leaders come from?