Vol 1 . . . No 8 . . . October, 1991
Part One: Jack-in-the Box is no longer just a Childhood Toy
Technology leaders are usually at the leading edge of change in school districts -- so much so that some are fond of claiming residence at the "bleeding edge." No pain, no gain?
Life in the 1990s is full of surprises, startling shifts which leave us breathless and often disoriented. We live in a topsy-turvy world with Jack-in-the-Boxes sprouting all around us.
Throughout our society there is steadfast and apparently growing resistance to change as adult workers find their middle years -- years which once promised serenity and the pleasure of consolidating the benefits of a well established career -- disturbed by galloping obsolescence. No matter where one turns, the workplace skills of yesterday are being shelved as new technologies and a global economy require new ways of operating and communicating.
For generations raised on promises of stability and serenity, the chaos of modern society is not attractive. When Tom Peters urges us to learn to manage chaos, many brows wrinkle with anxiety. When he states that what works today probably will not work tomorrow, the wrinkles grow deeper. When Rosabeth Moss Kanter likens management in this decade to a mad tea party, school superintendents may nod knowingly, but they are slow to applaud that reality.
The Popcorn Report claims that the cocooning of the 1980s is turning into burrowing as Americans pull inward, seek enclaves and avoid the sound and fury of the society. Faith Popcorn identifies downshifting as a major trend of this decade as many successful people step off the merry-go-round is search of simpler, less frantic experiences and careers.
Corporate take-overs and economic downturns have undermined long-standing conceptions of job security as millions have found themselves out on the street in mid life after decades of loyal service. New owners intent on the bottom line are quick to send workers packing. Loyalty counts for little and seniority quickly becomes a deficit.
"But what technology skills do you have?" the prospective new employer asks. Set free from the shelter of a once paternalistic and patient employer, the aging secretary finds herself wishing she grumbled less and learned more when her company first introduced new technologies.
"Out there in the job market, it's what you know and can do that counts," laments one unhappy job-seeker. "They don't care how many years you have put in."
While newspapers and evening news programs issue negative report after negative report claiming that schools are failing to prepare students for this turbulent and surprising world, the educational world seems seriously divided and confused over how to respond.
Major segments burrow ever deeper into the trenches, avoiding change or indulging in meaningless tinkering. Whole districts stumble into the future with heads in the sand content to offer up a smokestack curriculum in an Age of Information.
Other segments dash from trend to trend without ever seeming to create lasting and significant benefits for students. Bandwagon after bandwagon goes roaring through with great promises, hefty price tags and few dividends.
While school people rush about or burrow deeper, forces on our fringes are planning the equivalent of corporate take-overs -- new educational ventures meant to satisfy the public and put educational dinosaurs out of business.
One need only listen to the radio to hear the new ventures nipping around our edges. How often do we hear adds for Sylvan Learning Centers or Hooked on Phonics? They are wisely aiming at the market niches which exist because of our failures.
And Whittle Communications! Who would have thought that 10,000 systems would allow Channel One into their classrooms with daily dosages of advertising? "It will never catch on!" I remember hearing.
Now Whittle is planning a thousand new American schools, schools to compete with existing public schools.
"We can do it better and faster and make the client happier," these entrepreneurs will all claim. They will market their products with skills few public school people possess or understand, and the frustrated parents and children who have grown tired of "All that crap I learned in high school," (Paul Simon and Art Garfunkle) will flock to the new schools in the same way they flock to a new shopping mall, a new restaurant or a new movie theater.
Smokestack schools beware! If you do not quickly find a way to reach your clients, there may soon be more competition than you are prepared to handle. Powerful forces at the highest levels of government wish to force us into a free market situation in which educational funding flows to those who make the clients happy.
In this brave new educational world, underachieving schools will shut down and cease operating just as restaurants and retail stores have always done if they failed to "turn a profit." Teachers in these schools will find themselves out seeking jobs in an educational market place which asks, "But what technology skills do you have? What instructional skills have you mastered in recent years? What professional journals do you read? How do you keep current? How flexible are you? How do you feel about 5 preps daily? Do you like to work in teams? Are you willing to coach? Can you direct a student activity? Are you willing to keep learning?"
The Jack-in-the-Boxes of our adult years are the new schools likely to pop up all around us if President Bush and his corporate friends have their way. They will be lean and ferocious in their pursuit of market share. Survival in this new educational marketplace -- if it ever materializes -- will depend upon a major shift in educational planning and performance. Schools which cling to the past may find themselves working with a shrinking client base, and teachers who fail to acquire Information Age skills may find themselves in an earlier retirement than planned.
Part Two: Balancing Stability with Innovation
Classic systems theory argues that healthy organizations provide a balance between stability and innovation.
A degree of stability is essential if performance is to be strong. If the rate and level of change and surprise is too high, people lose their balance and performance suffers. People within the organization need some degree of predictability and certainty. If all rules and all procedures are always unclear, anxiety will reduce effectiveness.
At the same time, organizations can invest too heavily in stability, thereby cutting off messages from outside the organization which suggest the need for changes. If the organization fails to heed these messages or monitor changing conditions, it may not move swiftly enough to adjust its operations. This failure can result in obsolescence and actual extinction.
Commitment to some appropriate level of innovation protects the organization from obsolescence and extinction. In this sense innovation really means adaptation -- responsible shifts in practice to meet changing conditions.
At a minimum, an organization should devote resources to interpreting outside pressures and developments. Instead of ignoring and blocking such messages, the organization sends people to the "crow's nest" to scan the horizon and keep a lookout for new developments, new threats and new possibilities. Some people are charged with "thinking the unthinkable," with the realization that such thoughts may prepare the group for unlikely but plausible events.
As part of the commitment to healthy innovation, people are charged to learn about different planning models and cultural change models. Growth and adaptation require a commitment to organizational development. As new developments arise, someone must be responsible for figuring out how the organization may respond while maintaining a reasonable level of stability.
How does your school district rate on this issue of stability and innovation? Test it out with the survey which follows:
The Innovation and Environmental
This survey was designed to help you measure the commitment of your organization to managing the future. It is an organizational assessment tool which might be helpful in guiding you towards those changes and plans which will prepare your group for a turbulent and often surprising environment. The goal is to create reflective thinking about ways to intensify organizational commitment to innovation, adaptability and growth.
State to what extent each of the following statements tends to be descriptive of your organization.
1. We have a staff member who is clearly identified as responsible for keeping an eye on the horizon, scanning newspapers, magazines and current information of all kinds to keep us on the alert.
___definitely ___to some extent ___not really ___not at all
2. Discussion of the future and various emerging trends rarely occurs during meetings because our attention is devoted to today, tomorrow and next week.
___definitely ___to some extent ___not really ___not at all
3. We are very clear about our strategies to keep customers from running to our competition and we do a thorough and ongoing job of listening to our customers.
___definitely ___to some extent ___not really ___not at all
4. We have discussed most of Tucker's "Driving Forces" within the past year
(speed, convenience, age waves, choice, lifestyle, discounting, value-adding, customer service, techno-edge, quality).
___definitely ___to some extent ___not really ___not at all
5. We have inverted the organization chart to make the customer tops, with service people and front-line employees next, all for the purpose of emphasizing listening and getting close to the customer's needs.
___definitely ___to some extent ___not really ___not at all
6. New ideas and unusual solutions to problems are encouraged and rewarded in a highly conscious manner, with all employees aware that "idea champions" are well treated.
___definitely ___to some extent ___not really ___not at all
7. We have no real formal way of measuring how employees feel about working in our organization - whether, for example, they believe that new ideas really are welcome.
___definitely ___to some extent ___not really ___not at all
8. We have no real competition.
___definitely ___to some extent ___not really ___not at all
9. We commit a substantial part of our budget each year to training our staff in problem-solving, customer service and other skills which might give us a competitive edge.
___definitely ___to some extent ___not really ___not at all
10. Looking ahead 5-10 years takes up a good deal of our time.
___definitely ___to some extent ___not really ___not at all
Scoring The Innovation and Environmental Scanning Index
The scoring of your responses is fairly simple. Compare your answers with the chart below to determine how many points you have scored.
to some extent
not at all
In Severe Need of Future Thinking
Committed to Future Thinking
Once you have administered the survey along with a group such as your administrative cabinet, discuss the implications. Are there ways that your organization needs to modify its "infrastructure" to be more future-directed? The goal is to create reflective thinking about ways to intensify organizational commitment to innovation, adaptability and growth.
This same instrument may be used by groups of teachers, by a campus site-based management council or by the Board of Education. All educational players have a stake in assessing the future orientation of the enterprise.
Are we, like the dinosaurs of old, stuck in the mud? Are we incapable of adjusting to a changing climate and changing conditions? Do we have the institutional wherewithal to convert good intentions into effective action? Is there a sufficient balance between stability and innovation, or are we lopsided, leaning too far to one extreme or another?
Part Three: Monitoring the Driving Forces of Change
In Managing the Future: 10 Driving Forces of Change for the 90s (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1991, ISBN 0-399-13576-6), Robert Tucker identifies ten major forces and explains how organizations might examine their implications. In this section I will provide a brief synopsis of each force and suggest implications for education. The reader will quickly identify additional implications beyond my own.
According to Tucker, each of these driving forces becomes an important consideration for any organization serving the public because many people's choices and market decisions will be made with these issues in mind -- even when it comes to schooling for their children.
One of the side effects of enhanced information technology has been consumer power. In earlier decades it was difficult to know what consumers wanted. The sheer task of collecting and interpreting data was overwhelming. As a result, decisions about consumer preferences were based more on hunches and focus groups than on day-to-day trend analysis. Major shifts in preferences were discernible over seasons and months, but it was difficult to see daily and weekly shifts. Strategies were designed "on high" by top management.
With barcodes and daily data collection, the consumer has gained enormous influence, and the marketplace rules have changed dramatically. Successful companies are the ones with the skill and equipment to figure out in advance what the consumer will want today and respond with a customized response in time to meet the customer at the door with what they had in mind.
The race now goes to those who listen to the customer most carefully and most skillfully, adjusting their strategies and performance to meet what they have learned.
Tucker provides examples of organizations such as Federal Express which have capitalized on consumers' desire to "have it now or yesterday." If you run out of printer supplies and need an immediate "fix" of toner to get the report to the Board of Ed by tomorrow night, try to buy it locally. Many times they will be out of stock. "We can get it for you in 7-10 days," they mumble. "No thanks," you reply, turning to your copy of MacUser and an add you remember for a mail-order supply house. "We can have it to you by 10:00 A.M. tomorrow morning," they purr reassuringly from the far away state of Washington, ". . . as long as you are willing to pay an extra $18 surcharge for Federal Express." The sum seems small compared with the embarrassment of showing up at the meeting without your overhead transparencies. Of course, you learn to keep an inventory of toner to avoid such extravagances, but you will probably give your business to the Washington firm from then on rather than the smokestack business in town.
Industry is excited about concepts such as "real time" inventory which takes advantage of superior information to direct a flow of parts toward the factory and finished products toward the customer which minimizes shelf time and costly inventory. At its most refined future state, "real time" inventory will allow an automobile company to finish Mrs. Smith's new sports car before she has even decided to buy it. Careful forecasting of previous buyer behaviors allows the computer to order up a red little item with just the kinds of equipment Mrs. Smith would love to see in a car. One morning when she wakes up determined to cruise down to the showroom to see what they have available, a truck pulls into the dealer's lot and begins to unload a red sports car just in time to wheel it into the showroom before she saunters in.
"Mrs. Smith," beams the salesperson, "We were expecting you and I think you'll love this new red car we have for you."
"It's exactly what I had in mind," Mrs. Smith smiles. "How did you know I wanted a stick shift?"
The salesperson winks. "The magic of technology!"
What does SPEED have to do with schools? Very little, at present. We make relatively poor use of time and seem little conscious of its worth. Frequently we assign laborious practice items to large groups of students regardless of whether or not their learning and skill levels will be enhanced by completing the assignment. We are not at all reluctant to condemn students to long hours of tedium and drudgery which have little to do with student outcomes. Ignoring research which proves that curriculum could be compacted, we dole out ditto page after ditto page to groups without customizing or adapting to individual needs.
On the other hand, it does sometimes seem as if we are speeding through curriculum material at breakneck pace, especially when we are handed thick science or social studies texts -- biology and world history being prime examples -- which require a "nine month dash" to go from cover to cover. "No time for thinking in this class! No time for student questions! We have a lot to cover!"
And then we have the school lunch line. A generation raised on fast food often waits for as much as 10 minutes in line for lunch during a 25 minute lunch period. Small wonder participation rates have dropped in many districts.
How long does it take to get a paper back in high school? Good teachers are prompt. Some wait weeks, long past student interest and enthusiasm. Some retain papers and tests "for their files."
In a free market, choice-driven school system, some of these behaviors might change. Perhaps we will see the introduction of "fast schools" and "fast learning." The gifted and talented folk (Renzulli, et al) have suggested a learning strategy called "curriculum compacting." Someone must have watched what happens to trash and decided that some of the ditto pages, workbook exercises and other busy work deserved equal treatment. Renzulli suggests assigning only as much practice as an individual student needs to achieve mastery. Assessment prior to instruction relieves students from unnecessary drudgery. Many can then move swiftly on to other learning opportunities.
Not every thing that is good and worthwhile can or should be done swiftly, but many things which are not good and worthwhile should be dispensed with rapidly. We would be wise to examine all existing practices with time in mind.
Some would have us add more time to the school day and the school year in order to compete with the Japanese. Would it not make more sense to prune what time behaviors we have now so learning might flourish within existing resources? Is more bad wine a good substitute for careful aging and distilling?
How long must a parent spend waiting for someone to answer the school phone? How long must a parent or student spend waiting for someone to look up when standing at the school office counter?
How long must a teacher wait before receiving needed supplies or a chance to use the phone? How long must a teacher wait before copies are returned from the Xerox machine?
How long must a good teacher wait to receive acknowledgement and support for reaching out to students in a caring and effective manner? How long must the technology coordinator wait before the budget fully funds the support services which will make the technology hum?
Is it possible for schools to deliver "real time instruction?" Could we bring instruction and learning to students "just in time" to meet their needs?
Once the issue of time raises its head, it is quickly apparent that the subject is full of potential. Why not carry the analysis further and submit an article to From Now On about ways to treat time and speed differently?
What does CONVENIENCE have to do with schools?
Tucker demonstrates how convenience is often the deciding factor when a consumer makes a market choice. The basic product of two companies may be essentially the same, but various convenience factors can separate them in the minds of the consumer. To what extent does the company make it easy to pay for the product or order the product? What are its hours of operation? Does the consumer have to miss a day's work in order to be on hand for delivery?
Schools often seem to organize activities such as parent conferences as if convenience was not a factor at all. It is not unusual to send home a letter announcing that the parent's conference is scheduled for 10:00 A.M. on a weekday morning without ever asking the parent what is convenient.
In a similar fashion, little thought is given to the inconvenience teachers must suffer in contacting the outside world, either to speak with parents about school matters or to conduct personal business. Phones are few and far between. Phones offering proximity and confidentiality are even harder to come by.
Some schools now offer teachers phones in their rooms. Others provide portable phones which can be borrowed during prep periods. In an Age of Information, it is understood in these schools that professional performance and morale require convenient and confidential communications systems.
How convenient is it for a student to meet with a teacher to get help? How convenient is it for a teacher to meet with a colleague or conduct peer coaching? Why do college professors meet in classes with students 6-10 hours weekly, allowing them ample time for convenient access to each other and students the rest of the week while teachers of younger students have no such convenience?
What do AGE WAVES have to do with schools?
Tucker points out that the population breaks down into three main waves: the mature market, the baby boom and the baby bust. Each has its own preferences. Each requires special attention.
Take a look at school elections. In most towns a mere 8-10 per cent of the population bothers to vote. In many cases, the budget decision becomes a contest between two factions: the mature market (senior citizens) vs. the baby boom (parents).
If Tucker is correct that the over 65 group is the fastest growing segment of the population, what are the implications for schools?
What do schools do to redefine their services to satisfy all three waves? If the mature market is helping to pay the bills, what have we been doing for them to make them feel they are getting their money's worth?
In some districts there is a heavy commitment to community service. Students are out and about the town helping seniors with snow covered walks, providing shopping services and offering company for shut-ins.
In other districts, seniors are encouraged to make use of school facilities such as desktop publishing equipment which helps them reach their fellows through newsletters or dining facilities which provide healthy food and companionship.
During a decade when our client base may shrink in relationship to the population as a whole, we might be wise to redefine that client base, offering a broader array of services to a broader age spectrum.
Do we open our doors, for example, after hours to provide training space to small businesses who cannot afford classrooms of their own? Do we offer an adult ed program which is designed to help that age group stay up-to-date in the marketplace?
What does CHOICE have to do with schools?
We serve a public which is coming to expect that it will get what it wants in the form that it wants it. In the marketplace the companies which customize most successfully win the greatest market share.
The typical public school still operates under mass marketing principles. The main concession to market segmenting is tracking, offering different educational products to different groups. In many places little effort is expended on understanding the customers and little value is placed upon their preferences.
In classrooms themselves there is a remarkable sameness of instruction well documented by observers such as Goodlad and Sizer. Student questions and curiosity? National studies of student questions report a preponderance of teacher questions, almost to the exclusion of student questions, the ratio being something like 38 teacher questions for every 1 student question (Hyman). Students travel down a learning path determined by the teacher and the textbook publishers. They have little choice and little opportunity to make their own meaning.
In trying to make all our publics happy and the teachers within a school happy, we end up compacting half a dozen philosophies into a single educational package, relying upon the least common denominator. We round off the edges, eliminate the controversial and produce what is too often a bland form of learning. In the words of Pink Floyd (a team of great educational philosophers) we keep putting another brick in the wall.
Contributing to this phenomenon are state department of education testing initiatives which act to enforce standardization. At the very same time that fast food emporiums are having to swerve from their longstanding tradition of limited choice and standardization, we are being channeled into offering educational fast food by powerful forces outside our business. The final irony is the insistence of national proponents of school choice that we institute a national test!
Within certain limits, school choice has proven healthy in some places, especially within large public systems such as Buffalo, New York, when choice was actually a desegregation strategy. Every school in Buffalo became a magnet school, each with a special mission and flavor. Speak with staff members and they will tell you that their school is the best in the city. When the staff and the clients are in a school because they chose to be there and happen to believe in the principles associated with that school, there is a remarkable sense of purpose and passion often missing in schools which seek mass appeal.
Buffalo is an example of choice within the public system, but many proponents of choice want to throw all schools into an open market and provide parents with vouchers. They seem insensitive to arguments against segmenting the American population by color, creed, national origin or gender. They place little value on public schools as instruments of nation-building.
If these powerful people -- among them President Bush -- win their goal, we will see a dramatic shift in how education is provided and defined. Those systems which move today to listen to client needs and interests may learn enough about customizing learning to hold on to their market share, but those who move forward with heads firmly planted in the sand may wake up toward the end of the decade in serious trouble.
What does LIFESTYLE have to do with schools?
Tucker points out that major shifts in the way people spend their lives can have disastrous effects upon companies which are not alert and responsive to those changes. As many families shifted so that both parents worked full time, for example, activities such as sewing fell by the wayside and Singer found the sewing machine market hard pressed.
In schools we have seen changes in lifestyle dramatically alter the nature of childhood. The family dinner time seems a relic as each person eats a microwave dinner in a separate room in front of a different TV screen. Communication between parents and children has diminished. Many children go home to empty houses. Institutions such as families and churches which once played a major role in teaching children values seem to have much less influence than previously. Attitudes toward authority which broke down during the Vietnam era have undermined the traditional respect paid to teachers.
We see children dropped off an hour before school to wait in freezing weather for the doors to open. Many children make their own breakfast or skip it.
These lifestyle changes have a profound effect upon learning. Those schools which limit their definition of responsibility to classroom instruction between 9:00 and 3:00 may fail this generation of children. Those which reach out to bring the community into the schools, actively working on community-building and development, as has been the case in New Haven with Dr. Comer's successful projects, are shifting mission to match the needs of their charges.
In many cities and suburbs teenage students have become heavy duty workers outside of the school day, bankrolling extravagant lifestyles and wardrobes with earnings from retail and fast food jobs which keep them from their school work and leave them sleep-deprived by the time they show up for school each day.
The business world which is so quick to cast blame upon the schools for poor performance is quick to engage in such child labor even though it has serious negative consequences for the long term health of the nation. For those students whose stay in school is tenuous at best, the message seems to be that you can earn decent money without a high school diploma. If they do drop out of school, how many fast food and retail employers require that they return to school as a condition of continued employment?
As lifestyle changes swirl around us, the nature of childhood and learning itself shifts. Proponents of "schooling the way it used to be" argue for more hours of homework as if the American home were still the residence of Ozzie and Harriet. We are competing as educators with home-schooling in the form of TV and with employers who play to our students' materialistic lifestyle desires. TV creates the desires. Employers seduce students into evening employment. Learning comes last.
What can we do? Join the local Chamber of Commerce and educate business to its responsibilities. Work with political leaders to review state laws regarding child labor. Are the laws first passed at the turn of the century still valid and appropriate? What changes are needed?
What does DISCOUNTING have to do with schools?
In the business world some companies gain an early advantage in an industry which permits them to charge a premium for their product or services without worrying much about competition. After years of surging along making big profits with little competition, such companies often grow fat and lazy rather than lean and fit. They grow used to doing business with a bloated payroll and organization.
Along comes a newcomer with a lean and hungry look determined to offer the same product or service at a vast discount, cutting out all frills and extras in order to come in significantly lower in price. The pioneering company usually sneers and dismisses the potential threat, assuming that customers will remain loyal to the industry leader. The field is littered with the casualties of such arrogance as customers flock by the millions to the newcomer while the bloated company staggers along wondering why sales have dried up. Even after reality sets in, the old company cannot even begin to understand how the rules of the game have changed, cannot begin to restructure radically enough to meet the new competition on equal terms. In many cases bankruptcy is the only fate.
Whittle has already mentioned discounting in his description of the new schools he will be launching. He intends to approach school boards in poorly achieving urban districts and offer to educate students in his schools for significantly less per student than the board is capable of doing. Will they give it a try? What do they have to lose? What do they have to gain? Did Channel One fly?
If you are starting new schools from scratch, think of the economic advantages. You can avoid featherbedding and hire the most qualified teachers. You need not pay people based upon seniority. Are the dollars presently spent paying people for years of service and numbers of graduate credits related to quality? Could one buy better quality for less money? That remains to be seen, but it is clear that a free market approach to education may bring with it serious discounting which will leave dinosaur school districts staggering.
Would parents react favorably to a rebate plan? Imagine the advertising campaign . . . "Bring your child to us. He or she will learn twice as much in half the time. If test scores go up more than a year each year, you will qualify for a 10% rebate on your voucher. If not, we will provide a free summer program to make it happen."
Brave New World starts sounding tame compared to the marketing visions of the Darth Vaders who would seize control of our schools through free market strategies.
What do VALUE-ADDING, CUSTOMER SERVICE, TECHNO-EDGE and QUALITY all have to do with schools?
Educators may disagree about the implications of Tucker's driving forces, but they do deserve reflection and serious consideration. Readers of From Now On will find his section on TECHNO-EDGE especially interesting as you will read of how new technologies have transformed market relationships and reversed the fortunes of many enterprises. Within these pages you will find ammunition to bolster arguments on behalf of technology expenditures. How else can we prepare students for the workplace if they are not familiar with the techno-weapons which give employers the techno-edge in the techno-war?
Part Four: Future Perfect Planning
Much of the current talk about restructuring schools and national goals may be seriously flawed by the planning models urged upon school leaders by their erstwhile corporate "friends." Traditional strategic planning, which has served many companies poorly in coping with turbulence and discontinuous change, remains, unfortunately, the tool of choice for many districts planning their voyage of change.
Future Perfect by Stanley M. Davis (Addison-Wesley, 1987, ISBN 0-201-51793-0), which Tom Peters calls the "Book of the decade," offers a vastly different approach to planning, one which frees us from the anchors of the past, the blinders which block innovative thinking.
Davis sees traditional planning as seriously limited because it . . . "relies too heavily upon environmental scanning and existing paradigms." He goes on to say that " . . . if strategy is the codification of what has already taken place, then it is the enemy of innovation." (p. 27) Traditional planning does not address discontinuous change.
Discontinuous change represents major upheavals and transformations which change basic rules and structures. The changes in Russia are a prime example. We see a metamorphosis from world power to world beggar in a single year.
The trouble with traditional planning is its reliance upon projections. Once a trend appears traditional planning tends to assume that it will run its course. In times of turbulence it is likely that some trends will evaporate or reverse, only to be replaced by new ones no one predicted. In such times, we must be skilled at thinking the unthinkable because it is likely to occur.
Visions of the future formed out of a traditional planning base are not likely to exploit fully the potential of the future because the past will weigh too heavily upon the thinking of the group. What has been and what has failed in the past will serve to keep dreams and visions suppressed. The old paradigms will shape the thinking and the planning.
"What do you mean all kids can learn? That's nonsense!"
"What do you mean learning should take place outside of rectangular boxes? That's idiocy!"
"What do you mean students will be responsible for making meaning and developing insight while the teacher acts as guide? That's insanity. It would never work."
"What do you mean textbooks and ditto sheets should be banned? That's heresy!"
"What do you mean teachers will be held accountable?"
Davis argues that effective planning begins by getting to the new place out in the future which meets your dreams, ideals and aspirations.
For a school district it means that a team of planners, parents, teachers, students, administrators, board members, business people, professors and community members should devote a year or two to deciding what learning might be like in the year 2005. What should be the kinds of experiences and outcomes available? How should it feel to be a learner? What might the environment be? How would one spend a day?
Once the group has reached consensus on what the future should be, they turn their attention back to the present and ask (looking back from the future, from the year 2050, as if they are in that future condition), "How will they (the people in 1991) get here (the year 2005)?"
As Davis explains it, "The only way an organization's leaders can get there (the objectives of the strategy) from here (the current organization) is to lead from a place in time that assumes you are already there, and that is determined even though it hasn't happened yet." page 25
"Organizations that foster innovation are not to be wedded to strategy as formal planning, but to strategy as intuition." page 27
The path from 1991 to 2005 is much more open to imaginative thinking when viewed from this future perfect perspective Davis advocates. A team is less likely to create a four inch thick long range plan to guide the district forward through the next decade because it will be apparent that forward movement will require much experimentation and invention, that it will necessitate steering rather than operating on auto-pilot. Planning is not something that occurs once every 5-10 years. It is an ongoing, developmental process closely associated with learning.
Twenty years of so-called educational reform have shown little in the way of results because we persist with measurement and strategies better suited for a smokestack society than an Age of Information.
If we wish change to be more than an academic exercise in futility, we must through off our anchors and try some real sailing.
Part Five: Michael Fullan's Implementation Dip
One of the finest works on educational change is Fullan's The New Meaning of Educational Change (Teachers College Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8077-3060-2).
He was recently quoted by an ASCD curriculum newsletter as identifying an "implementation dip" which seems to greet almost any school innovation -- namely, a period of time during which high expectations are disappointed by the onset of discomforting realities. It seems that innovations are too often hyped by those who wish to see their birth. High promises accompany nearly every bandwagon, yet the morning after leaves us disillusioned.
In reviewing site-based management projects from around the country, I have seen considerable evidence of what Fullan describes. High hopes are often followed by months of negotiation and discussion with relatively little change for students and teachers in classrooms. In many articles the leaders warn others to prepare participants more carefully with regard to the change experience so that disillusionment will not be such a strong factor.
Part Six: Whatever Happened to Leadership?
There is some evidence that the society has grown wary of leaders and leadership. Clay feet are everywhere to be found. After years of speaking of the principal as instructional leader, we are suddenly thrust into a love affair with group decision-making. While there is some evidence that collaborative group process might be one of the best ways to develop group commitment to innovation, there is also considerable evidence that groups without the prerequisite collaborative culture and process skills can waste many hours and months in combat, gridlock and "group think" which does little good for students or teachers. We must not be naive about the prospects for instructional change which accompany a change in organizational structure. Some teachers will welcome the opportunity to forge ahead into new frontiers. Others will take advantage of the new power and influence to settle old scores. The same can be said for principals and parents. It may be the best of worlds or the worst.
Those who work in school districts as technology leaders have probably learned first hand of this societal trend to distrust leaders. Few would consider launching a major new initiative without very carefully cultivating the soil far in advance of planting any seeds. Unlike the entrepreneurs lauded by management guru Peter Drucker, we are forced to devote months to persuasion and argument before launching any real activity. True experimentation is rarely permitted since everybody is demanding certainty.
"How do we know this is going to work?"
Leadership in schools during this decade will increasingly require indirection and subtlety, persuasion and coalition building, consensus and partnership. Insight will not suffice. Boldness may be little valued . . . unless, that is, we are forced into a free market situation where the Whittles of the world will use boldness to drive us out of business, discounting their educational products, exploiting lifestyle changes and providing customer service which makes schools appear insensitive.
What price change? The answer will depend upon the stance we take and the rules we must follow. In times as turbulent as these we must remember the wisdom of Will Rogers:
"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."
Coaxing organizations toward a change ethic can be expedited by skillful use of metaphor. Metaphors can be seductive and reassuring or they can be repulsive and frightening, but, in either case, metaphors stir the emotions, tap the unconscious and awaken the spirit. The awakening may be rude or it may be kind and gentle. It might even be highly arousing. But in any event, you can count on metaphors to penetrate the slumber of Rip Van Winkles, inspire them to leap to their feet, grasp the nearest looking glass or telescope and call urgently for a razor.
With the arrival of the Information Age, the sands of time have run through the hour glass, and we must rotate the glass to begin the flow of sand anew. The Information Age turns life both upside down and inside out. Time-honored wisdom, time-tested skills and time-valued facts no longer suffice as our world changes swiftly and unpredictably. The future promises uncertainty . . . the breaking of rules, the dulling of skills, the obsolescence of facts . . . and unless we radically redefine our missions, we will enter the next decade with an organizational tool-kit designed for the 1950s. Some of us may not even get there at all.
A change ethic is more likely to emerge if human resource professionals combine with other managers to equip the workforce with an assortment of lenses to help shape and color the way they view their organizations and job assignments.
Some call it "vision." "We need leaders with vision," they proclaim. But most of us wonder where you get it. Can you buy it? Are you born with it? Can we train a workforce to have vision?
"Vision" is a mystifying and intimidating term reserved for corporate giants and Messiahs. We rarely define it. We merely exalt it. Is it some religious term related to a "state of grace?"
Nonsense! Vision is what you get when you have an assortment of lenses . . . looking glasses . . . which change how you look ahead or behind. Vision is what emerges when a workforce has been trained to use different lenses at different times.
Little Alice taught us much about these looking glasses. Do you recall her voyage through the looking glass? One day she peered through that glass and saw a completely different world on the other side, a world in which everything was reversed. Being an adventurous and inquisitive soul, Alice stepped through that looking glass to explore what lay on the other side.
A spirit of adventure and curiosity are essential ingredients of the change ethic mentioned above. Because a rapidly changing, highly technological society presents us with a world in which everything sometimes seems reversed or topsy turvy, we need a workforce which is eager to step through the looking glass in order to explore what exists on the other side. We must lay aside rear-view mirrors in favor of kaleidoscopes, telescopes, microscopes, open windows, crystal balls, computer monitors and all manner of looking glasses that provide some glimpse of the future.
How do we integrate these kinds of organizational values for a changing world order into the way we plan and make decisions on a daily basis?
We emphasize metaphor. We try on different lenses. We experience adventure together. And then we re-visit those metaphors as work teams, carefully blending them into the way we do business.
An Example of Lenses . . . DeBono's Thinking Hats
A quick introduction to lenses is Edward DeBono's Thinking Hat Book. DeBono uses metaphor to sort out types of thinking. He uses hats of six different colors to represent six kinds of thinking, six ways of looking at problems and solutions. Each kind of thinking is also really a lens, a perspective that might be brought to a problem.
Unfortunately, according to DeBono, most organizations rely entirely too much upon Purple Hat Thinking*. This is doubting and critical thinking. When new ideas or proposals emerge, many groups pull out their analytical knives and begin slicing and stabbing. "That would never work." "We've tried that before." "It's too crazy." "The boss would never go for it." "You forgot to include the hidden costs!" So many good ideas suffer "infant death syndrome." They are smothered in the crib or emerge stillborn. *DeBono calls this "black hat thinking," but we have changed to "purple" to avoid enlarging the cultural stock pile of racially offensive negative stereotypes.
A far better lens (or hat) with which to view proposals for change is Yellow Hat Thinking, looking on the "sunny side" of things. When a new idea surfaces, a group is trained to begin with positive comments. They look for the benefits. They explore the advantages. They examine the prospects for striking gold. They see things in optimistic terms. They let hope color their thinking. They trade their views in a spirit of support. And the thinker who dreamed up the new idea is rewarded with acknowledgement for insight.
Once the new idea has achieved "lift-off," the group can try a number of other lenses (or hats). They may put on their Green Hat Thinking, which is creative thinking to make something better and help it to grow. Group members seek ways to elaborate and synthesize elements of the new idea. They piggyback, extend, revise and seek opportunities to invent a better version of the original. "Maybe we could allay staff discontent and anxiety by involving several on the planning team." "Maybe we could reduce cost by . . ."
Or the group may turn to careful data gathering, White Hat Thinking, looking objectively for all the pertinent information which will be critical in evaluating the options and guiding the final decision. This way of thinking requires the special lens of objectivity so as to avoid the potentially disastrous trap of loading an argument with only those facts that bolster a favorite option. Those who gather information with blinders on may find themselves blindsided when the true facts catch up with them.
And, of course, it is extremely important that all proposals be viewed from the Purple Hat perspective since that kind of critical analysis identifies weaknesses, dangers and problems which must be addressed satisfactorily through green hat thinking if the new idea is to survive and the project is to succeed. At other times, suggests DeBono, we need to allow Red Hat Thinking to emerge, as emotional reactions must be respected and addressed. "I am really nervous about the way my team will respond to the extra pressure this plan entails!" or "This proposal is the most exciting thing I've heard since coming to this company, and I think it could turn around the morale problems we've been facing."
Timing is the critical factor in all of this switching around of hats, as one must be flexible enough to wear many different hats to view issues from many perspectives. Blue Hat Thinking is the kind of thinking which concentrates on process, asking which kind of thinking, which hat, which lens should be used at any given moment during the discussion. The group may designate a "process observer" or "group facilitator" to keep an eye on the kinds of thinking being done, wearing the blue hat at all times. Skill in this kind of thinking helps the group to avoid calamity and to move effectively toward choice of solution. Blue hat thinking requires some distance as well as the ability to view process from the outside.
A work team can learn this metaphor in less than fifteen minutes. Application to group process is immediate. Growth in skill takes a bit longer. But groups that have adopted these lenses find that purple hat thinking is abruptly reduced as participants begin to label the kinds of thinking and call for change. "Don't you think we're doing a bit too much purple hatting here?" The shift from doubt to hope can be swift and dramatic.
Once the organization feels reasonably comfortable with their new lenses, the tool-kit can be expanded to include kaleidoscopes, telescopes, microscopes, open windows, crystal balls, computer monitors and all manner of looking glasses that provide some glimpse of the future. As group members begin to see the benefits of new glasses, they go shopping for them, for they discover, as Alice did, that it is hard to return to viewing life in monocolor.
A Spirit of Adventure and Curiosity
Couch potatoes experience adventure vicariously. Their curiosity extends to the TV Guide. If we need a workforce with the courage and spirit to "step through the looking glass," we must find strategies to inspire zest for exploration.
A top management team from Apple Computer climbed to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Outward Bound runs white-water rafting trips for executives. Businesses build partnerships with colleges and school systems to share Project Adventure courses which engage participants in group problem-solving and risk taking on high and low ropes courses. Groups of managers join so-called "subordinates" in a rock-climbing experience on weekend retreats.
Why? Adventures do more than excite the imagination and awaken the spirits we hope to inspire. The adventure experiences are metaphors for work challenges that will provide new lenses to view those challenges, lenses that often stress human and emotional dimensions we overlook in our normal way of thinking. The rock climbing and risk taking will stick vividly in the memories of all and will become part of the culture of the organization.
"Only a fool "free climbs" a hazardous, sheer rock face!" Free climbing, they learn, is a solo operation full of bravado and stupidity. With no partner to belay one, the risks and fatalities soar. Risk turns to danger. What does this have to do with work life?
"If any member of your group falls off the wire walk and touches the ground, you must all return to the starting place and begin again!" Holding hands, the group inches across the wire walk which snakes from post to post a mere 18 inches off the ground. Sometimes the gaps between posts are an easy 6-7 feet, requiring little balance or mutual support. A nimble dancer can make the 6-7 feet alone, but sometimes the gaps extend to 12-15 feet, requiring that 3-4 people "spread eagle" across, holding hands, communicating, swaying and tottering as if about to topple into the abyss. What does this have to do with work life?
"You must be on the lookout for rocks, as these rafts can capsize and throw you into the rapids where you will be swept along, thrown against rocks and placed in considerable danger." The raft begins its float free of any hierarchy, as the excitement of adventure creates a wonderful spirit of comradeship. Paddling is disorganized. Here and there a few playful souls splash each other. Some rafts spin and rotate without any real sense of direction. Until rounding a bend, a groan of concern throws everyone on alert. "Look out!" someone cries. "Paddle to the left!" yells someone else. "Paddle on the right side!" yells a third voice. And the raft spins in a crazy circle as the white water calls. What does this have to do with work life?
Each of these events can be called up in future meetings to guide the group through business.
"I feel like you're asking me to free climb!"
"The rapids are just around the corner and we don't have any plan to respond. We're spinning like that raft we were on."
"If you expect us to get to the top, we're going to need a base camp with plenty of support people and a reasonable time line. We'll need to stop and adjust to high altitude, and we may need to dig in and wait for storms to pass by. There may be a tiny window of opportunity, just a few hours of good weather, and you can't shoot us if we don't make it all the way. We're willing to try if we know you don't expect miracles."
For an organization which is stagnant and unwilling to take risks, adventure experiences and metaphors can begin the process of transformation which will turn Rip Van Winkles into Marie Curies.
We can integrate organizational values such as the change ethic into the way we plan and make decisions on a daily basis by making metaphor part of our daily diet. A workforce which feeds upon the right kinds of metaphors will gain a spirit of curiosity and adventure along with a tool-kit of lenses which will help to inspire invention of desirable futures. Metaphors are the real breakfast of champions!
Improving Education In the Age of the Smart Machine
With the arrival of the Information Age, the sands of time have run through the educational hour glass, and we must rotate the glass to begin the flow of sand anew. The Information Age turns education both upside down and inside out. Time-honored wisdom, time-tested skills and time-valued facts no longer suffice as our world changes swiftly and unpredictably. The future promises uncertainty . . . the breaking of rules, the dulling of skills, the obsolescence of facts . . . and unless we radically redefine our mission, we will send our youth into the next century with a tool-kit designed for the 1950s.
"Those who back into the future may find themselves rear-ended."
For centuries the primary mission of schools was the transmission of time-honored wisdom, time-tested skills and time-valued facts. The world changed slowly and predictably then. Since the future threatened little change or uncertainty, the best preparation was study of what had worked in the past. Schools taught students to "back" into the future by memorizing rules and procedures. "Those who fail to study the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them!"
Today we hear the strident voices of many who call for a return to those time-honored truths, gracing this ignominious retreat from reality with the label of "educational reform."
New technologies, alien diseases, fragile ecologies, shifting values, endangered species and fractured social structures present us with a kaleidoscope of challenges . . . the star wars of the next century. Our students must face the future with the Force in hand . . . the power to invent the good. Because the next century will demand untold new wisdom, new skill and new knowledge, necessity will give birth to invention.
At such a time we need more than the blunted spears, wooden plows, buggy whips, and lists of cultural artifacts offered by the so-called reformers.
As change shakes the foundations of our society, culture imitates the phoenix, with familiar forms and traditions disappearing in smoke to reappear wholly transformed. We can ill afford to fiddle while our culture goes up in flames. Schools must turn to invention, learning how to pass the Force . . . the power to invent the good . . . from one generation to the next. Schools must lay aside rear-view mirrors in favor of kaleidoscopes, telescopes, open windows, crystal balls, computer monitors and all manner of looking glasses that provide some glimpse of the future.
Like Alice, we must step through the looking glass to see what lies on the other side and around the corner. And like Alice we must ignore those doom-and-gloom merchants who warn that we must run twice as fast to remain where we are. Those educational leaders who cling wistfully to the traditions of the past may find themselves relegated along with Dick, Jane and Spot to the Educational Hall of Fame.
"Look back!" they cry. "Look back at the glory of what used to be!" And those who recall history know that there never was an educational Camelot, a period without substantial numbers of drop-outs and school failures. Those who urge a return to such a mythical period are dealing in fairy tales, not history.
Planning and educating for the future require a dramatic shift in the culture and perspective of the schools; otherwise, efforts will mirror primarily traditional views and the lens of the past may distort images of the future. When we try to read messages in the glass, we are likely to get it all backwards.
The Importance of Dreaming
Conduct a workshop which paints pictures of ideal staff development . . staff learning experiences which ignite sparks and lead to fundamental changes in behavior and there is always someone in the audience who sits back, frowns and grumbles . . . "Pie in the sky. I need something practical."
Why is dreaming forbidden in our business?
Langston Hughes was worried about these dreams deferred...
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it rot
Does it run
Does it dry up
Like a raisin
And stink in the sun?
Hughes warned that...
Life without dreams
Is a broken-winged bird
A barren field
Covered with snow
Why is dreaming so often shunned?
What do people mean by "Pie in the Sky?"
What's wrong with "Pie in the Sky?"
So often our school lives are devoted to lists of problems -- not dreams. In compiling yearly lists of what needs fixing, we rarely look past the cracks in the sidewalks, the aging furniture and the ailing math curriculum to consider pies in the sky....
What are our dreams for schools? Our aspirations? What do we hope to see in 1995, 2000 or 2010? What does the community hope to see? Our teachers? The students? Where are we headed? And what kind of educational pies do we intend to bake? What filling shall we place inside the crust? Shall it be deep dish apple, or some wonderful new creation fresh from the ovens of our imaginations?
Many of those who would reform education fail to grasp the fundamental fact that we are changing vehicles. As with the horse and buggy, the whips, the harness and the halters which may have worked yesterday for some of our students must be replaced by new tools and understandings, by new forms of schooling as we develop education for the Information Age.
Shoshanna Zuboff identifies fundamental choices clearly in her study: In the Age of the Smart Machine (Basic Books, 1988). As information technology sweeps through the modern workplace, Zuboff demonstrates that we can either automate (dehumanize the work process so that machines do it all) or we can informate (give humans a major role in managing and analyzing enormous new mountains of information now available). According to Zuboff, the work place of the future might offer less hierarchy, more collaboration, the opportunity for imaginative problem-solving and the elevation of work to an inventive enterprise if we make the right choices.
Those who would "reform" education by emphasizing basic skills and content tied to standardized test scores would merely prepare a generation for automation. They see schools as factories, teachers as operatives and children as products.
The real challenge before schools in a democratic society is to balance the learning of content and skills with the development of what Zuboff calls "intellective" and social skills. Given mountains of information, we will need citizens and employees who can mine those mountains thoughtfully and powerfully. The next century will require that citizens be tool-makers, tool-shapers and tool-breakers rather than just tool-users. The most important skill will be the ability to fashion new tools to meet new challenges, and the educational agenda will shift to include questioning, cooperating, inventing, forecasting, voting-deciding, connecting-puzzling, metaphorizing, modeling-simulation, empathizing, as well as dreaming-imagining. Our students must face the future with the Force in hand . . . the power to invent the good.
A Crash Course in Workplace Basics
"What we need is people who know how to get from A to D without being told the path. We need people who can create their own path and their own solutions to problems without running to a supervisor every time they hit something new or surprising. Life in this office is a diet of constant change."
Thus spoke the tour guide leading a dozen teachers through a Squibb marketing operation on a day-long visit to the Princeton area's Carnegie Center, a dazzling new corporate office complex. The Center offers a community concept created by anthropologists and sociologists who began by interviewing office workers along the Route One corridor which has become a thriving center for research, finance and communications.
What were the dozen teachers doing in a modern office complex? It was all a part of staff development! Eager to close the gap between schooling and the modern workplace, the Montgomery Township Schools established a corporate partnership with Squibb and the Carnegie Center aimed at acquainting teachers with a modern, electronic office undergoing dramatic change with the advent of electronic information technologies.
The tour guide, Marketing Systems Manager Sue Benner from Squibb, had perfected her technique over half a dozen visits. This time she was asked what kinds of skills and attitudes she hoped to find in new employees. As was often the case, her answer brought looks of surprise, interest and concern.
One teacher was overheard to mumble, "I'm not so sure we teach that."
Schools persist in preparing students as if the year were 1955 and the United States was still earning its bread primarily through industrial jobs. Even though we have seen a dramatic reduction in the number of factory jobs and a vast increase of service and information-oriented jobs, the curriculum and the programs of most schools show little sign of having recognized those changes. As President Bush recently declared in his educational summit, schools require a radical restructuring.
Committed to a long-range planning process which involved the school district in asking how to prepare students for the next century, the Montgomery Township Schools began seeking staff development experiences which would help to break through the time barriers and perspectives of teachers raised and trained during the Industrial Age.
The basic strategy was to provide teachers with opportunities to learn by doing. In that spirit the district formed the partnership with Squibb and the Carnegie Center whose generosity made it possible for the entire staff of the school district to participate in the program.
The Goals of the Program
The main goal was to shift the perspectives of teachers to focus upon the future, hoping that the change in perspectives would also lead to changes in classroom behaviors. Put metaphorically, the goal was to create a "cognitive avalanche." If teachers noticed the gap between traditional schooling and the modern workplace, they would come to see themselves more as inventors and pioneers than as tradespeople. The planning team hoped to awaken teachers' curiosity and spark their interest. By the end of a year, the hope was the teaching staff would recognize that change must become a constant diet for schools if students are to be prepared for their futures.
Learning First Hand: Outline of a Day
8:30 The day began with a first-class, continental breakfast provided gratis by Carnegie Center Associates who also provided a comfortable conference room for the entire day. Relaxed around the conference table, teachers took turns sharing reactions to reading materials assigned in advance of the visit. A book review of In the Age of the Smart Machine by Soshanna Zuboff of Harvard Business School, chronicled dramatic changes taking place in factories and offices as computers have radically altered the ways that work is accomplished and information is gathered. A second article outlined skills future citizens will require in an age of rapid change, uncertainty and new technologies. Because these articles were assigned to generate questions rather than with the intention of providing answers, the first forty-five minutes were devoted primarily to the sharing of questions.
9:30 Their curiosities awakened, the teachers were next treated to an overview of the office complex by Sue Newman, the representative of the company primarily responsible for initiating the partnership with the school district. Ms. Newman explained how interviews had identified a list of amenities missing from the lives of most Route One office workers . . . such things as picnic tables, shower facilities, shaded areas, convenient restaurants, and professional services. Instead of merely stringing a new chain of box-like office buildings along the highway, Carnegie Associates created a community providing all of the amenities missing in other developments. Even after the office boom had turned to bust in the Princeton area, Carnegie continued to fill all available space and to attract top quality tenants such as Educational Testing Service.
10:00 After fifteen or twenty minutes of questions and answers, the teachers found themselves striking out across the greenway running down between handsomely designed buildings. With Ms. Newman in the lead, they walked past flower gardens, sculpture, a small band shell, a small lake, and an assortment of benches and sitting areas more reminiscent of a park than a workplace. Next they found themselves touring office buildings, each with its own shower facilities. From the top floor of one such building, Ms. Newman pointed out a nearby child care facility and the exercise facility dedicated to employees.
"When you're done at Squibb," she announced, "you'll be eating lunch in this cafe." We had come to the entrance of an Italian restaurant, just one of several convenient spots from which workers can choose.
10:30 After the walking tour, the group visited one office in depth, stopping to question members of Sue Benner's Squibbmark operation in considerable detail. Driven by the goal of obtaining absolutely current information about customers and sales, this corporate operation was caught up in a revolution, as paper and pencil gave way to computer and telephone line. Throughout the year there were dramatic changes in personnel, procedures and assignments as well as the use of technologies. The pace of change was so rapid that while employees gave high marks to corporate training opportunities they confessed that they remained personally responsible for learning the majority of the new skills and assignments as they could not afford to be away too often from their operation.
1:00 - 3:00 Following a wonderful luncheon in the Italian cafe and an opportunity to stroll through the park-like setting, each group of teachers concluded its tour with an afternoon of discussion back in the conference room. "What are the implications of what we have seen today for schools? What should we be doing to prepare students for this kind of work life?"
Lessons Learned: Workplace Basics Revisited
By visiting Carnegie Center, the Montgomery Township teachers discovered for themselves what a distinguished panel of corporate leaders and U.S. Labor Department officials declared in a 1988 report entitled, "Workplace Basics: the Skills Employers Need." With a remarkable degree of consistency, the visitors identified many of the same themes which appear in this federal report.
Learning To Learn: As the visits demonstrated that the modern workplace is characterized by rapid change, teachers found that all employees stressed the importance of learning how to learn. With rapid change as a steady diet, adaptation to that change has become a basic survival skill.
Group Problem-Solving: Many teachers expressed surprise and delight when they discovered the high level of interdependence and collaboration that characterized decision-making and production within the Squibb team. Old stereotypes of a competitive dog-eat-dog corporate environment fell to the side as they collected evidence of teamwork and mutual support.
Initiative and Imagination: The emphasis upon imaginative problem-solving made an especially strong impression as Sue Benner described the ideal employee as one who could discover independently how to get from A to D.
These basic themes provoked exciting discussions as teachers wondered how well they were doing in preparing students. Teachers were heartened by the district's three-year commitment to cooperative problem-solving as it seemed to addressed at least two of the major themes, but there was considerable concern voiced regarding the ability of students to find their own way from A to D. In many cases, teachers confessed that they probably drew too many maps and provided too much structure. One senior English teacher shared a story of student anger resulting from a recent assignment which had required students to create their own path.
As the day came to a close and teachers wandered out into the corporate parking lots an hour or so before the evening rush hour, many paused in small clusters to continue the discussions that had started in the conference room and a few glanced back almost wistfully at the sculpture, the trees, and the corporate architecture.
Staff development for teachers is often too didactic and left-brained to create major changes. Especially when we seek shifts in attitude, perspective and behavior, we need to provide learning experiences which may move teachers to reexamine their beliefs and challenge their assumptions. We need to provide opportunities to discover and explore the changing society first hand. Project Firsthand, judging from the highly positive ratings of teachers on evaluation forms, was a tremendous success. The district achieved the goals outlined at the beginning of this article as teachers stepped through a looking glass into a new future to find a world turned topsy-turvy.
Coach . . . Colleague . . . Canoeist . . . Celebrant
You are surging through thundering rapids with cold spray slashing across your face, jagged rocks all around you reaching out to grab and puncture your raft. Around a bend in the river, around the corner of a cliff, you hear an even more thunderous roar. If only you had hired that guide!
Teaching for thinking is like white water rafting. Because it is full of risks and surprises, supervision in support of such teaching requires a shift in the role of the supervisor to be more of a coach or a guide. The supervisor must climb into the raft and share the risks.
The teaching of thinking is suddenly fashionable . . . again. As with many educational initiatives, the teaching of thinking comes and goes with the times and the trends. Regrettably, initiatives which require a major shift in the meaning of schooling also require a more sustained commitment than what we normally deliver. Some new piece of technology or classroom landscaping bursts upon the scene and diverts our attention and resources to the latest trend. As Socrates learned, the teaching of thinking is hard for many people to swallow, and those of us who work with teachers must be especially inventive, collaborative and supportive as our colleagues enter into an experimental mode which will require much trial-and-error, some stumbling and substantial risk.
Time-honored, annual, summative visits and evaluative rituals must be replaced by supervision which draws the supervisor into the change process with shared risks, shared responsibility and shared opportunities. The supervisor must shed the cloak of expert, roll up his or her sleeves and enter fully into the teaching of thinking. We will not see teachers shift behaviors dramatically unless supervisors model the desired behaviors and share the frustrations and joys of making change.
Hard to swallow? If a teacher radically shifts classroom experience from mastery of information and basic skills to careful thinking with broad involvement of all students, the first steps will not be easy. Students who have spent many years responding to right answer teaching (recall learning) may be uncomfortable with questions that demand analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Students who have coasted along with little classroom participation may resent a teacher asking them to write out "first thoughts" and share them with the class. Students who are used to lively paced drill-and-practice recitations may rebel against carefully probing inquiries into profound issues. Students who have been led through questioning sequences, spoon fed and provided with the conclusions of other people's thinking may balk at the challenge of making their own meanings.
"Tell us the answer!" may be the reward for a teacher's first efforts. Students may become restless and irritable. Or, worse yet, the experimenting teacher may find that teaching for thinking is time consuming . . . so time consuming that it is difficult to "cover the material" required by administrators and measured by standardized tests. Research on teacher wait time shows an average of a few seconds per question. That means a teacher can cover 20-30 questions per minute and several hundred per hour, while proper attention to one good synthesis question may demand several class periods. Do we really have time to teach thinking? Goodlad and others have shown that schools rarely prize the teaching of thinking. To the contrary, the norms of most schools actually conspire against such teaching.
The teacher who ventures into this domain risks being thought of as a rebel or a heretic. We do little to test thinking, little to encourage thinking and little to protect or encourage those who venture into uncharted waters. At a time when carefully orchestrated lesson designs are considered the mark of great teaching, teaching for thinking is heresy, especially if the teacher allows students to "wander purposefully," the sure sign that real thinking is taking place.
Although some popular theories of instruction mainly project carefully sequenced, linear modes of learning and thinking, problem-solving, invention and exploration require the darting, weaving, sometimes lunging patterns of insight. Great thinking, great discourse and great discovery are often elliptical and recursive rather than linear. The teacher who initiates a classroom debate risks an adventure in learning. Teaching for thinking is a bit like white water rafting on a strange river. The teacher cannot be sure when the rapids will hit.
The appeal of packaged thinking programs to be taught at 11:00 each morning is the promise of "teacher proof" materials. They suggest what questions to ask, how to think and how to act. They also proceed as if teachers themselves are not thinkers. They seek to reduce the amount of risk taking. But they also seem a bit like rafting in a bath tub. What happens when you reach the real river? Sternberg's 1986 Educational Leadership review of the transfer of thinking skills after using such programs was disappointing. Paddling in a bath tub does not necessarily prepare you for the white water!
Techniques for Coaching
The teacher who is willing to try teaching for thinking deserves a supervisor who will act more as coach than judge. Because this kind of teaching involves a high degree of risk, the emphasis should be upon the provision of assistance with goal setting, planning and strategy. Pre-game conferences and huddles are essential. Half-time "pep talks" are laudable.
The coach points out what is working over time, suggests new plays, and holds off judgment until growth is assured. The coach takes game films and helps the player analyze past efforts before developing the next game plan. The coach notes data (cf. what kinds of questions, who participated, etc.) which are shared with the player over several weeks or months and many visits. The data is used for planning purposes and synthesis, not evaluation. The job of supervisor is what Costa calls "cognitive coaching," teaching teachers to think about the teaching of thinking about thinking.
When the growth has taken place and the player is confidently scoring victories in the classroom . . . when teaching for thinking has created a sense of adventure in the classroom . . . when evidence has accumulated that higher order thinking is flourishing, then the coach holds a victory banquet. The coach holds a celebration.
Colleagues with Shared Goals and Risks
Supervisors should get out of their own bath tubs and test the river themselves. If they can't paddle a raft through white water themselves, they had better learn fast and start sharing the same risks they ask of teachers. Demystify the supervisor and reduce the emphasis upon expertise. The supervisor joins in the experiment, teaches lessons, stumbles and recovers along with the teacher, and they both learn to take risks and grow together. Have you ever tried paddling down through the rapids solo? Two paddles are better than one! After several months of learning and growing together, the two colleagues celebrate together. The trip through the white water brings them closer together . . . a sense of pride in mutual accomplishment . . . a deep sense of mutual respect. No adult-child transaction here.
A Case Study: Making It Work
In one district the staff shifted the supervisory system to put into practice the values and beliefs expressed above. In the process, they set in motion events which led to the creation of an effective peer coaching system. The transformation took place in the following sequence:
Phase I - Spring, 1987
*Staff was involved in discussing the white water rafting metaphor. An early draft of this article was shared with all teachers at building meetings. These discussions validated the teachers' lack of investment in the existing observation system. They confirmed a general sense that yearly visits were rituals with little pay-off in professional growth. They also indicated that teaching for thinking was considered risky and unpredictable.
*Staff committee designed a "no risk," formative supervision model. A committee of teachers and supervisors met to invent a new approach to supervision for tenured, experienced, well-performing teachers which would set them free from annual "check-ups" to concentrate on some ambitious project which involved stretching and growing. Under this model experimentation was prized, the supervisor or some colleague(s) were partners, and the written summaries were to focus upon growth efforts rather than results. The administration reserved the right to switch back to normal evaluation if overall classroom performance became a problem for any individual.
*Staff discussed and debated the options . . . formative vs. summative evaluation. While few teachers had heard the formal terms, once "formative" and "summative" were defined and the proposed new model was before them in writing, teachers were able to explore the difference between gathering data to guide a project (formative) vs. gathering data to judge a performance or person (summative). Subsequent group discussions were lively and pointed. While many were intrigued by the notion of a "no-risk" supervision system, their initial reactions were colored by past attitudes toward observations and some suspicion that "no risk" was impossible to deliver.
*Staff was surveyed to see what level of support existed for a formative model. Following discussion of the two models, teachers were polled to see which model they would prefer. Data was overwhelmingly in support of the formative model, with some 70-80 per cent voting for the new approach.
Phase II - 1987-88 School Year
*Formative evaluation was offered as an option for those who wished to try it. Despite strong survey support for the new system, the percentage of experimenters was quite small in the first year - 10.8 per cent (13 out of 120 teachers). Hypotheses for this small percentage included a high level of teacher concern about vulnerability and a growing recognition that the formative model was very demanding. The administrative team applied no pressure to increase the percentage, preferring, instead to make the first year successful enough so that word-of-mouth would increase the percentage of volunteers in the second year.
*Staff Development was devoted to supporting the growth of teacher skills in the area of teaching for thinking. Teachers were provided with a menu of 10 courses designed to supply them with a tool-kit of techniques and strategies to enhance teaching for thinking. Each course met for 3 half-day sessions and was designed to stress peer coaching and practice following the Joyce/Showers model. Teachers and their supervisors were encouraged to take courses that matched the goals of their formative evaluation projects.
Phase III - 1988-89 School Year
*After a year's trial, the model was revised to reduce risk. A critical meeting with the teachers' Association revealed latent anxiety about the original model because teachers still felt the supervisor or administrator could write a damaging summary at the conclusion of their experiment. They asked that teachers be permitted to write their own summary statement with the understanding that the administration could always move back to a summative model if an individual teacher was experiencing performance problems of a general nature. The change was accepted, and the revised model was circulated among teachers.
*The administrative/supervisory structure was revised to emphasize peer coaching and support. A number of supervisory positions were abolished and replaced by new positions characterized by support responsibilities rather than evaluation responsibilities. Building principals became the ones most responsible for summative evaluation. Partnerships between teachers were encouraged.
*Formative evaluation was offered a second time as an option. This time the percentage nearly doubled to 19 per cent. The number of volunteers increased to 23 of 120 teachers.
*Teacher commitment to growth surfaced unexpectedly through the staff development model, sidestepping the formalities of evaluation. In response to staff requests, the staff development program offered a "project" option. This option permitted teachers to work on teams to develop thinking skills classroom units. Fifty six per cent of the staff volunteered to form such partnerships, many of which were models of the kinds of projects we had hoped they would form under the formative evaluation model. The message seemed to be, "Yes, we want to grow, but we don't want to take risks in the arena traditionally called "evaluation."
*Supervisors and administrators found themselves welcomed as project consultants. In contrast to nervousness about evaluation models, staff members were eager to include and involve administrators in their staff development projects. Perhaps this eagerness resulted from projects lying safely outside of either evaluation model, freeing both teachers and supervisors from traditional power relationships and concerns. "Climb into our rafts!" they seemed to be saying.
Summative evaluation and ritual annual visits will not help teachers become effective teachers of thinking. The relationship between teacher and supervisor must shift to emphasize collaboration, mutual support and joint risk-taking. Teacher growth must be seen as an experimental process requiring trial-and-error as well as some stumbling. Supervisors should be on hand to lend a hand , helping to convert each stumble into a step forward, and organizational structures must be revised to permit new kinds of teacher collaboratives which support rather than hinder inventiveness. Sometimes supervisors must also be willing to step aside as teachers support each other in growth.
Credits: The background is from Jay Boersma.
Other drawings and graphics are by Jamie McKenzie.
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