Site-Based Decision-Making

Chapter 20 - Weathering the Storms: Reefing the Main and Managing Disappointment

Fullan's warning about implementation dips is worthy of considerable attention. The school council must attend to issues of morale and hope, keeping the spirit alive through the good times and the bad times alike. Sometimes the best strategy is to keep expectations reasonable by minimizing hype and exaggerated claims to begin with. Excessive promises and predictions can only lead to disappointment. Better to start off with a more practical, down to earth approach which includes warnings about the difficulties experienced by others who have tried similar techniques or programs.

Reefing the main is a fine metaphor to describe the process of reducing risk and exposure by tying down part of the sail. The irony is that a boat will actually sail faster if the sail is reduced under such circumstances. With regard to innovation in schools, this process may refer to the strategy of trying out the new program in small doses in a few classes. It makes little sense to commit the entire school to climbing a mountain peak before they have learned to scale boulders. In forming the action plan, the school council must make careful judgements about how far to move how fast.

Because innovation necessarily involves trial and error, because it almost always asks a school or a teacher to aim for a target that may be out of sight, disappointment is generally a given. There definitely will be times, and should be times, when the program will fall short of the mark. If the aim were set so low as to avoid that risk, there might be little to gain. Disappointment comes as part of the package. The challenge, then, for the school council, is to find ways to help all of the educational partners to know what to expect. Disappointment is most damaging and intense when the gap between expectations and reality is especially wide. Honest appraisals and forecasts can do a great deal to limit the damage.

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Copyrighted 1991 by Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.