In a recent exchange of Tweets, I saw that Stella Pollard (@Stella_Pollard) had started a blog she is calling Voyage of Inquiry at www.voyageofinquiry.blogspot.com/ in which she announced that she has chosen the word “Ignite” as her #OneWord for 2018.
I’m not that familiar with the One Word Challenge but I love the word “Ignite” because it denotes action that will spark an explosion of new ideas and a new level of commitment; to revitalize something—in this case—public education in America. We must ignite a movement to stop the failure of disadvantaged kids a disproportionate percentage of whom are black or other minorities
For those of you who do not know, I am a former organizational management and leadership consultant who opted to close out my consulting practice to pursue my life-long dream of writing books. It wasn’t long before I realized that I still needed to keep some revenue flowing. A family member suggested that I try substitute teaching.
Over the next ten years (2002 to 2011) during which I wrote four books, I subbed part time for my local public school district. This proved to be a marvelous opportunity to walk in the shoes of public school teachers. The public school district in my community serves an urban community that is diverse by almost every conceivable measure. Once I overcame the shock of being immersed in the challenges with which public school teachers and their students must deal, I began to look at what was happening around me much like I would examine a production or service-delivery process for one of my consulting clients. My clients were primarily small, privately owned businesses or not-for-profit organizations who were struggling to produce the outcomes that were acceptable to their customers.
Once I decided to step back and strive to understand what was happening around me as an integral system, it was immediately apparent that something was not right. This led to an in-depth assessment of public education as a process, just like any production or service-delivery process, and ultimately to the release of the last of my four books, Reinventing Education, Hope, and the American Dream: The Challenge For Twenty-First Century America (2013).
Although the overwhelming majority of the public school teachers for whom I subbed were dedicated professionals working to give their students a high quality education, it was apparent that this was not only a difficult thing to do but also that the way teachers, students, and classrooms were organized and the way they have traditionally gone about the work of teaching children made it seem an almost impossible job, no matter how hard teachers worked. Even in the highest performing classrooms, in this diverse school district, it appeared to me that the education process was more of an impediment to the important work of teachers and students than an enabling and empowering force.
It would have been easy to conclude, as education reformers with their focus on “choice,” that the poor performance in so many of the classrooms in which I subbed was the result of bad teachers and bad schools. It seemed clear to me that education reformers who are so critical of our publics school teachers and schools have not spent time in our classrooms nor have they made an effort to understand why so many schools and students are struggling.
There are many things that influence the academic performance of students in our public schools. These factors of influence include poor academic preparation; low motivation to learn; a lack of parental support; the consequences of poverty; and, once in a great while, a teacher who seemed to be in the midst of a burnout. I can assure the reader that although some teachers surely are at risk of burning out, they are at risk because they do care. It is the difficulty of what we ask them to do, and how, that is driving so many good men and women out of teaching.
One of the other contributing factors is the quality of leadership being provided by principals and superintendents. Before reacting to this statement please understand that the overwhelming majority of our principals and superintendents are every bit as dedicated to serving the best interests of our nation’s children as are their teachers. It is my assertion that issues with respect to quality of leadership have to do with the fact that our school administrators are trained to be, well, administrators and that very little of their formal education is devoted to teaching them how to be powerful positive leaders. Graduate schools of education that do not offer leadership courses are remiss.
Some people have a natural and intuitive understanding of the principles of positive leadership and many of the teachers who are fortunate to work with such people are nodding their heads as they read these words. Most of the other administrators, good men and women all, are neither natural-born leaders nor have they been taught. Leadership, particularly positive leadership, is a set of skills that most of us must learn. All organizations, including schools, reflect the quality of leadership being provided. Effective positive leaders view their role as a champion and supporter of their people and judge their own performance by how effectively they are able to help their people be successful. Most other administrators preside over their organizations, rather than lead them, and spend most of their time enforcing rules and looking for things to criticize rather than striving to help people be successful.
The biggest failure of leadership in education and in any other venue—and this is not the fault of individuals—is that one of the most important roles of leadership is to make sure their people have a structure and process that is designed to serve the needs of both their people and their customers. Like other educators, many principals and superintendents are so immersed in the traditional view of education that they fail to recognize that the education process at work in schools, both public and private, has grown obsolete. An obsolete process does not allow teachers and their students to perform at their optimal level. The process constrains—it has become an archaic mechanism that regiments—rather than a process that liberates teachers to adapt to the unique requirements of every single student. Students who arrive for their first day of school with a level of disparity that is cavernous, re: academic preparedness and motivation to learn, is one of the biggest challenges teachers face.
I challenge all educators to rally around our colleague Stella Pollards #oneword and “ignite” a conflagration—a wildfire that will challenge all of our assumptions about public education in America and transform, from within, that which reformers are attempting to destroy.
I offer my education model as a starting point and challenge educators to read it not in search of reasons why it will not work but as a tool to expand, exponentially, our paradigms so that we can view the American education process as an integral system https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ . Only then can we reinvent it to produce the outcomes that our children and society need, so desperately.
Such an “ignition” would be the perfect way to begin 2018,