Site-Based Decision-Making

Chapter 23 - Tacking Across the Wind

All too often we sail directly into the wind rather than tacking back and forth across the wind like a good sailor would. We have been taught that the quickest path between two points is a straight line, but we sometimes fail to recognize that it may take less time to go around the mountain than it requires to climb it. We may fail to acknowledge the power of the wind when it blows right at us. We try paddling madly up stream rather than figuring out how to go with the flow.

Those who would change human organizations have much to learn from eastern religions and philosophies such as Taoism. The intensity with which we approach change often blocks us from achieving it.

Heider's The Tao of Leadership: Leadership Strategies for a New Age is filled with helpful strategies such as the following:

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.

When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.1

A list of just some of these strategies from Heider's Table of Contents illustrates how counter-culture these approaches seem to those of raised in a western society:

While nearly all of these strategies require some degree of reflection and observation, we probably hold a preference for action and inaction rather than reflection. We act first, study later, or we keep our head buried in sand, but reflection and consideration are rarely required. If we act at all, we are too often impulsive and somewhat frenetic. This bias toward action may help to explain the long list of bandwagons which have rumbled through the profession for the past 20 years. "We must do some thing! Anything!"

School councils must provide time for all to reflect upon the wind and the natural way of things. They must provide for silence and thought. They must allow for the deep breath which precedes wisdom. And they must sometimes sail with and across instead of against the wind. They must learn to read the ripples as they cross the water and ask whether the wind is on its way somewhere worth-while.

What is the wind? For schools it may be the outward signs of the momentum and spirit of a particular group of children and families. It may be trends and tendencies in a community. The wind is a metaphor for the outward signs of movement and inclination. The wind is a chance to see the character or disposition of a school community. A thesaurus provides words such as the following to help us understand the meaning of the wind in this chapter:

bent bias drift

habit leaning partiality

penchant predilection preference

proclivity propensity tendency

character disposition nature

spirit temperament

How strange that a book on site-based management would suggest that leaders of school improvement study the wind. School administrators are often accused of "blowing with the wind" -- that they stand for no values and are quick to change course as the wind changes direction. But that kind of purposeless acceptance of the wind is far from what is being suggested here. One learns to read the wind and consider whether the direction matches the values of the school council. In most cases there will be some divergence which will require a course that takes power from the wind but heads in a somewhat different direction. At the same time, those who fail to read the wind may find themselves surprised by its ability to force one off course.

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Copyrighted 1991 by Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.